Reputation for Honesty 5:33-37
The corrupt oral traditions in Jesus’ day saw the Pharisees and friends holding forth a catalog of various oaths. Each one was supposed to be appropriate for different contexts. These men were swearing on everything imaginable: the Temple, the altar, certain offerings, the City, their own heads — you name it. The really sharp fellows would keep track and watch in case someone tried to be sneaky by using an incorrect oath when making a promise. The Talmud specifically absolves you from having to keep an inconvenient promise if you were smart enough to use a non-binding oath, and the creditor didn’t catch you on it.
Jesus was stating something rather obvious, quoting from Leviticus 19:12 that God forbade people swearing on His name for something they had no intention of doing. It was literally “taking God’s name in vain.” The whole point was to convince someone of your earnest intention. By calling God as witness to the transaction, it was assumed you would incur His wrath for deception, since He was a party as Guarantor. In effect, it was an IOU to God.
Matthew uses a Greek term typically translated as “perjure.” Don’t tell a lie when you use Jehovah’s title as Creator and God to defraud someone trusting you. Jesus said the whole thing had gotten completely out of hand. It doesn’t matter whether you actually believe God is going to hold you accountable; He was merciful and patient about such things. And sometimes He allows you to dirty your own reputation.
What kind of people will the Messiah be seeking for His Kingdom? What would it take to repent from the abuses of that day and restore a pure Covenant?
First, toss aside all of the crazy nonsense used by the Pharisees and Scribes. Don’t trust them, especially in terms of leadership. They have all these silly rules and the whole point is to defraud the peasants. Even when they taught, the leadership often kept back their nifty little secret codes for dealing with each other. Jesus cut through the deceptive nonsense by pointing out just how worthless the whole system was. Such people have no place in the Messiah’s Kingdom.
Jesus was not proposing a new law. His final injunction was meant to provoke pondering. What kind of world does it depict here? Would it not be a society, a covenant community, where people simply told the truth and kept their promises? How do you build social stability? Can we not spend more time concentrating on ways to strengthen shalom? Don’t set out to defraud anyone by deception. By the same token, stop fooling yourself by making rash promises. We are already bound to God by a covenant; trust in Him and keep the focus on His promises.