Matthew 5:33-37

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

OATHS AND TRUTHFULNESS

INTRODUCTION:

 

The Sermon on the Mount tells us of God’s expectations for people. It shows us that we are not good enough for God, that we are sinners who need to be saved. It requires perfection.

 

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

 

The problem is not with the Sermon on the Mount. The problem is with sin in the human heart. We cannot keep the Sermon on the Mount because of our old sin natures.

 

I remind you of something we have already studied in this series on the Sermon on the Mount –

Matthew 5:19-2019 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

 

Verse 19 indicates that keeping the law and teaching it to others in the manner in which it should be taught is very important. This is also indicated by for in verse 20 which confirms and illuminates what Jesus has just said in verse 19.

 

Jesus has been showing that the righteousness of the kingdom is in complete agreement with the moral principles taught in the Old Testament. In verse 20 Jesus has shown that this righteousness was not consistent with the current and traditional interpretation and application of the law being taught by the scribes and Pharisees.

 

Jesus showed that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is in contrast with another righteousness, a righteousness in which God delights.

 

The scribes and the Pharisees have adopted and continued to teach the same wrong meaning that the ancient rabbis had taught. Thus, they were not teaching the original intention of the law with its proper application.

 

Immediately after making this statement Jesus becomes very specific. He has shown in verses 21-26 how the ancient rabbis have taught Thou shalt not kill, and then He has shown what it really means. Next, He has shown in verses 27-32 what the ancient rabbis taught regarding Thou shalt not commit adultery, and then He has shown what it really means. Now in Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus will show how the ancient rabbis have taught the law concerning oaths, and He will also show what it really means.

 

Jesus will continue to contrast the false interpretation of the law with the true interpretation of the law throughout the rest of the chapter. It is apparent that Jesus is pointing out and condemning the evil disposition of the heart that lies at the root of the sin.

 

Accordingly, Jesus is demanding a righteousness with is nothing less than complete conformity with God’s holy law in all that a person is and does.

 

In Matthew 5:33-37 , we see that Jesus taught that someone who is not truthful is guilty of sin and deserves to spend eternity in hell, paying for his sin.

We see –

    I.     THE TEACHING OF THE ANCIENTS - 5:33

 

Matthew 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.

 

Remember that Jesus has just stated that He came to fulfill the law rather than to destroy it; so, He is not finding fault with the law but with an improper view of the law which the ancient rabbis taught and which the scribes and Pharisees were continuing to teach.

 

In verse 33 Jesus refers to another statement which has been made by the ancients. The ancients taught that no one should swear falsely. It was also taught by them that oaths made to the Lord must be kept. The implication in their teaching, however, is that other oaths which are not made to the Lord need not necessarily be kept.

 

Again is used in the sense of furthermore or also.

 

Ye is you (plural) and refers to the ones listening to the Sermon on the Mount. It is also applicable by extension to all those who read it.

 

Have heard is heard, and it has been translated in a way which emphasizes the result of its action.

 

What the people have heard is that it hath been said by them of old time, i.e. that it was said by the ancients. Although some have translated by them of old time as to the ancients, it is better understood as by the ancients because Jesus is not criticizing the statements made by God. Instead He is criticizing how the truths contained in these statements have been taught in ancient times and how they were still being taught by the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

 

Them of old time were the ancient rabbis, the expounders of the law. The scribes and Pharisees were continuing to teach the same things which had been taught by the ancient rabbis.

 

What was said by the ancients is, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.

 

Their teachings were drawn from three Old Testament passages: Leviticus 19:12 , Numbers 30:2 , and Deuteronomy 23:21 .

 

Leviticus 19:12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

 

Numbers 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

 

Deuteronomy 23:21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack [i.e. delay, be slow] to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.

 

There is nothing wrong with what the law said. The problem is that the ancient rabbis, as well as the scribes and Pharisees, changed the emphasis of these commandments.

 

Thou shalt not forswear thyself means you (singular) shall not swear falsely. This part of their teaching was correct.

 

In each of these commandments there is an emphasis on being truthful. A person must be truthful whenever he makes a statement, whether it is with or without an oath. He solemnizes his promise with an oath. He must really mean what he says. He must also keep whatever oaths or promises he makes.

 

It is not sinful to make a promise or to take an oath. We know this because even God made promises which He confirmed with an oath.

 

Psalms 132:11 The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.

 

Hebrews 6:13-1813 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things [i.e. by two unchangeable things. These two unchangeable things are God’s promise and God’s oath.], (i.e. that by two immutable things) in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation [i.e. encouragement], who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.

 

Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.

 

God wants people to be truthful.

 

Psalms 15:1-2 – (1) Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? (2) He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.

 

Psalms 51:6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

 

Psalms 24:3-4 – (3) Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? (4) He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

 

Proverbs 8:1-81 Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? 2 She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. 3 She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. 4 Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. 5 O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. 6 Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. 7 For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.

 

Proverbs 12:19 The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.

 

Although God wants people to be truthful, truthfulness does not characterize the old sin nature. It shows that we are sinners who need to be saved. You don’t have to teach a child to lie. It comes naturally.

 

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

 

The Pharisees swore oaths frequently but always seemed to have some built-in way of getting out of keeping their oaths. As a result, the word of the Pharisees, even when affirmed by an oath, could not be trusted. It’s like someone who crosses his fingers when making a promise. To a person like this, his oath means nothing.

 

But introduces a statement in mild contrast to thou shalt not forswear thyself.

 

Shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths is you shall keep your oaths to the Lord. It implies that only the oaths made to the Lord were really binding. It implies that only those oaths sworn unto the Lord were really important and had to be kept and that the rest of the oaths were really not that important and could be broken. Of course, this was never what the Holy Spirit intended in these Old Testament Scriptures.

 

The emphasis in Leviticus 19:12 was changed. I remind you of this verse again.

 

Turn to Leviticus 19:12 please –

Leviticus 19:12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

 

God placed the emphasis on falsely. Ye shall not swear by my name falsely, but they changed the emphasis from falsely to by my name, i.e. You shall not swear falsely by my name. It’s subtle, but it implies that it is all right to swear falsely as long as it was not by God’s name.

 

Similarly the emphasis in Numbers 30:2 was changed. I remind you of this verse again.

 

Turn to Numbers 30:2 please –

Numbers 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

 

In if a man vow a vow, God placed the emphasis of on he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. The emphasis was changed to if a man vow a vow unto the Lord. It’s subtle; but thus, in their teaching, vows made unto the Lord had to be kept, but vows made to someone or something other than the Lord could be broken.

 

Also, they changed the emphasis in Deuteronomy 23:21 . I remind you of this verse again.

 

Turn to Deuteronomy 23:21 please –

Deuteronomy 23:21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack [i.e. you shall not delay, you shall not be slow] to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.

 

They changed the emphasis from thou shalt not slack to pay it to unto the Lord thy God. The proper emphasis of when thou shalt vow a vow is thou shalt not slack to pay it. They changed the emphasis to be when thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God. . . . It’s subtle; but once again, they were teaching that a vow made unto the Lord had to be kept but that a vow made to someone or something else did not have to be kept.

 

In the thinking of the scribes and Pharisees and of their forerunners, the ancient rabbis, an oath sworn to the Lord must be kept; on the contrary, an oath in which was not sworn to the Lord was of lesser significance. One did not need to be conscientious about keeping it.

 

As a result oaths became commonplace. People swore by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, by the temple, and by the altar. The attitude, however, was that breaking one’s oath was not a problem as long as he had not sworn to the Lord.

Next, we see –

  II.     THE TEACHING OF JESUS - 5:34-37

 

The word of many Jews was no good, and many constantly affirmed what they said by taking an oath to back it up, an oath which they had no intention of keeping. In 5:34-37 Jesus condemns the practice of taking oaths indiscriminately. He forbids this practice of regarding some oaths as binding and others as not binding.

 

Matthew 5:34-37 – (34) But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: (35) Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (36) Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. (37) But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

 

Jesus taught –

            1.   Swear not at all – 5:34-36

 

Matthew 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne.

 

In verse 34 Jesus begins to indicate God’s intent in His instructions regarding oaths.

 

But introduces a statement in mild contrast to verse 33.

 

I is Christ and is emphatic.

 

I say is I am saying, I am declaring, or I am asserting.

 

Unto you is referring to those who heard Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and also includes those who read it.

 

Swear not at all is not to swear at all, where the tense of swear implies that they are never to swear. He then lists four things by which no one should never swear or take an oath: heaven, the earth, Jerusalem, and your head.

 

Neither by heaven is parallel to nor by the earth (v. 35), to neither by Jerusalem (v. 35), and to neither shalt thou swear by thy head (v. 36).

 

For introduces the reason no one should ever swear or take an oath by heaven. It is the word ordinarily translated because and is used in this sense in this statement.

 

It is God’s throne means that heaven is God’s throne. Heaven is the place from which God rules the entire creation.

 

Matthew 5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

 

Verse 35, which begins with nor, introduces two additional things by which no one should ever swear or take an oath.

 

By the earth suggests the planet on which humanity lives.

 

For is again the word ordinarily translated because and introduces the reason no one should ever swear or take an oath by the earth.

 

It is his footstool means that the earth is the footstool of God’s feet. This is what we call an anthropomorphism, something which pictures things about God in human terms so that people might understand them. It pictures God sitting on His throne in heaven with His feet resting on the earth.

 

Neither by Jerusalem, which is understood in the sense of nor, introduces a third thing in the series by which no man should ever swear or take an oath.

 

It is by Jerusalem.

 

The reason no one should ever swear or take an oath by Jerusalem is for (i.e. because) it is the city of the great King.

 

As such Jerusalem will be the city from which the great King (i.e. the Messiah, the King of the Jews) will rule the world during the millennium.

 

Matthew 5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

 

Verse 36 concludes Jesus’ list of things by which no one should ever swear or take an oath. Neither is understood in the sense of nor.

 

Shalt thou swear by thy head is shall you take an oath by your head, and its tense indicates that this is something that should never be done.

 

By thy head is by your head and is emphasized by its placement in the Greek text.

 

Because introduces the reason no one should ever swear or take an oath by his head: thou canst not make one hair white or black. It suggests that a person’s ability to keep his oath is limited because of things he cannot do.

 

Thou canst not is you are not able, and its tense indicates that this is always true.

 

He is always unable to make one hair white or black.

 

Jesus also taught –

            2.   Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no – 5:37

 

Rather than swearing oaths, Jesus taught that a person’s word should always be good. If someone does otherwise, his statements are intended to deceive; and they have their source in evil.

 

But introduces a statement in mild contrast to taking oaths.

 

Let your communication be is a third person command for which English has no equivalent. It means that your communication must always be.

 

Communication is the term ordinarily translated word. In this context it is understood in the sense of what you say.

 

What you say must be yea, yea; Nay, nay. It means that your yes must mean yes and your no must mean no and implies that whatever you say should never need to be backed up by an oath of any kind. You should always speak the truth.

 

For is understood as continuing the thought in the sense of and.

 

Whatsoever is more than these is what goes beyond these things or what is more than these things, i.e. what is more than yes or no.

 

Cometh of evil means is of evil or is from the evil (one). It means that statements which go beyond yes and no have their source either in evil or in Satan himself. Of evil has been placed in a position of emphasis in the Greek text. It suggests that saying more than yes and no is intended to deceive people.

 

Does this mean that by saying, Swear not at all . . . But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay . . . that Jesus is forbidding even those oaths that are made in court? Is He teaching that there is never any place for a solemn oath based on the name of God. No, He is not teaching this.

 

God Himself confirmed His promise to Abraham with an oath. Oaths were used frequently in the Bible and approved by God. What Jesus is condemning is the flippant and hypocritical oath which is intended to make an impression but not to be kept. Jesus is promoting simple truthfulness in thought and word.

CONCLUSION:

 

Jesus has just pointed out to these people that failure to keep their word is sin. Because every human being has at some time or other been less than truthful, all humanity stands guilty of sin before God and deserving of spending eternity in hell.

 

Praise God, we also see God’s provision of salvation and forgiveness of sin.

 

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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