The word ‘Mattot’ means “staff”. A staff is inactive, inert and incapable of changing and bringing forth new life. It symbolises the authority of Yahweh - in Moshe’s hand it opened the sea, gave victory over the Amalekites, brought water from the Rock.
The Parashah concerns three things primarily:
- Vows (Num 30),
- War with Midian (Num 31), and
- the Tribes who settled in the Trans-Jordan (Num 32).
These episodes revolve around two elements: the responsibilities of the tribal chiefs, and the importance of keeping one’s promise. It is for this reason that the Torah introduces this section with the laws of vows, which are first addressed to the tribal chiefs
The Question of Vows
Moshe begins the Mattot portion with a short and concise teaching about vows and oaths for males and how Israel is to handle the potential problem that develops when young girls and women make vows that have not been approved by their spiritual covering. A vow/neder is literally a pledge to do something. It places upon oneself or others or upon objects of one’s choice, a status equivalent to that of a commandment of the Torah (AS Stone Edition Chumash, p. 900). One’s word is one’s bond. A neder is so strong that a person violating it could suffer the court-imposed penalty of lashes according to the Chumash.
The Holy One of Israel is not a man that he should lie (Num. 23:19). If we are to be set-apart/kadosh as he is kadosh (1 Pet. 1:16; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 2:9) we must be people of our word not only in large matters, but in the smallest of matters, too. We need to be careful not to be too casual with our words and make commitments without the serious intention of fulfilling our obligations. Yahweh is very clear when He instructs us on how to behave when we make a vow or we formally obligate ourselves to someone else. He is not to break his word and is to do all he said he would do. Liars will have no part in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:8).
We as believers can take covenant too lightly. We rely on redemption and atonement too easily and forget our obligations to those we have entered into covenant with. Covenant, ‘brit’ in Hebrew, implies the spilling of blood in the act of the consummation of the covenant. Covenant is also forever. I do not think that it is by chance or grammatical coincidence that the start of this portion is addressed to men. In this section we see that Yahweh establishes order in the family structure. The man, as the head of the family, holds veto power over promises made by those under him in his family. That is because the husband and/or father holds responsibility for promises made by those in his family (Numbers 30:15) Men as the priests and heads of the home and family unit are responsible, by virtue of the covenant they have with their wives, for the success and failure of that relationship.
Every marriage, covenant, wedding or union is witnessed by Yahweh in heaven. Two people cannot have a relationship in the physical without Yahweh being witness to it. The Brit Chadashah is clear on how men and women need to relate to one another. (Eph.5:22-33) We are to love each other as He has loved us. If husbands are to have their wives submit to them and to the leadership they are to exercise, they are to love them as Messiah loves the kehilah (congregation) of believers. If men are to expect their wives to be subject to them, as they are to Yahweh, they need to fulfill their responsibilities as husbands and these include giving themselves up (denying themselves in whatever way Yahweh may lead) that they may be holy. A husband is to cleanse his wife by washing them with the Word!
We too are to love our wives as we love our own bodies, this in a way of self respect and nourishment and not in self worship. In this way, when the two become one flesh, the covenant will be upheld. If any other practice is at hand, the covenant will not stand and we as husbands will have to answer to Yahweh.
For men it is a straightforward commitment to keep one’s word - If you make a vow, fulfill it. The situation for females is different. They can make a vow and have it undone by their father or their husband. If the husband or father hears of the vow, he can either affirm it or cancel it as he sees fit. If he does not negate it at the time she first told him, then it stands and can’t be annulled. This ruling does not limit or “put down” women as much as it protects them from the consequences of bad judgment.
Look at verse 15 - the man bears a consequence to his responsibility if he makes a vow null and void after he has heard it, he will bear the consequent guilt. Scriptures like these have been used to show that men are “in charge” and that women can’t even make a decision for themselves. Perhaps the better lesson here is to realize that men will bear the guilt if we get in the way of wives’ righteous plans.
Chapter 30 is devoted to addressing these issues and for those who are today trying to claim the equality of the sexes, for Israel at least, there are some very specific instructions on how to deal with misspoken vows and oaths that usher forth from the daughters and wives of Israelite men. Interestingly, if you read these verses, then you will be able to understand some of the words that the Apostle Paul wrote concerning the role of women in the assemblies of the set apart people of the Holy One of Israel. For those men who are blessed with godly, women, these words can be misconstrued. But for those of us who are learning Torah, interpreting what Paul was saying seems to make a lot more sense. We know from further revelation, from Paul in particular, that the women are supposed to concentrate on teaching the other women and younger women of the assembly.
Some women have difficulty with these words and the interpretation of them, especially if they are the spiritual leaders of their respective households. Without getting into the details, suffice it to say that when Moshe was writing his words in this parenthetical statement in chapter 30, he was reflecting the norm of the society in which he lived. The men of ancient Israel were the heads of their homes. They were in charge of the responsibilities that came with headship.
Paul enjoins married men to “love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” (Colossians 3:19) The Bible never commands husbands to “make your wives submit to you.” The mitzvah (command) of submitting to one’s husband belongs solely to the woman. It is the wife’s mitzvah, not the husband’s. A husband need not fret that his wife is not submissive to him. That is her responsibility before Yahweh, not his. (Ephesians 5:22–23) His responsibility is to ensure that he loves her and fulfill his responsibilities to her as Yeshua does to His Body of believers. If he does that it should be a joy for a woman to submit to him.
The biblical husband is to nourish and cherish his wife. One cannot cherish a person and at the same time bully and force her into submission. Messiah-like headship is defined as servant-hood. Lording it over another person is something that the Master ascribes to the ways of the pagans. (Matthew 20:25–28) The scriptures do not give a man license to force his wife to obey him. Instead, he is to love her and treat her as “a fellow heir of the grace of life.” She is his partner, not his servant. Peter says that a brutish, authoritarian man who does not show his wife the dignity of being his “fellow heir” and live with her “in an understanding way” is not worthy of even having his prayers answered. (1 Peter 3:7) After all, he does not listen to his wife’s entreaties, so why should Yahweh listen to his?
In Titus Paul encourages the young married women to “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” (Titus 2:4–5) Shimon Peter also instructs married women that they are to “be submissive to your own husbands,” (1 Peter 3:1) even if they are unbelievers. The biblical position on family order is unanimous. The husband is the head and he bears the responsibility for that.
This portion of scripture teaches us the principle of authority and submission:
- A man is under the authority of the leaders, 30:1-2.
- A young woman is under her father’s authority, 30:3-5.
- An adult unmarried woman is under her father’s authority concerning the annulling of promises, 30:3-5.
- A betrothed woman is under her husband’s authority, 30:6-8.
- A widow or a divorced woman does not have any direct authority over her that can annul her promises. However, she is under the authority of the leaders, just as the men are, 30:9, compare with verses 1-2.
- A married woman is under her husband’s authority, 30:10-15.
East of the Jordan Bamidbar/Numbers32:1-7
“‘Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock. So when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that it was indeed a place suitable for livestock, the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben came and spoke to Moshe and to Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon,Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon, the land which Yahweh conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock. ' They said, ‘If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not take us across the Jordan. ' But Moshe said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, ‘Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which Yahweh has given them?'”
When Reuben and Gad saw this fine, fertile land outside of the land that had been promised to all Israel, they wanted to stop and take it for their inheritance. Moshe was angry at them at first but later agreed, provided they would help their brothers take the Promised Land. Moshe suspected them of choosing the comfortable easy way in desiring what the whole army had already conquered. He is also concerned that it will discourage the others from crossing over into the land Yahweh had given them. They had already conquered the cities of this region. Yet the other tribes had war ahead with the Canaanites. Moshe did not want these tribes to fail to do their part in that war.
What does this represent or mean for us today? All too often, when Believers are going about their lives, they get to a point where they are comfortable where they are and they want to stop and take their inheritance. Or, they are satisfied with the perceived “spiritual rewards” that they are receiving and they are not willing to go further in their faith. Reuben and Gad did not really want to go “the extra mile” and wanted to take as an inheritance land that Yahweh had not promised them. Reuben and Gad did not really want to go and help their Israelite brothers, but eventually had to when Yahweh said that the land would only be theirs if they did so. A prime example of “staying put” includes those who do not wish to obey the Torah. There are people who are “comfortable” in their walk of faith, and they do not want to make any changes. They are unwilling to admit that they might be wrong with how they practice their faith. Such individuals often have, whether they realize it or not, a stagnant faith that is not growing. They are often not maturing and moving forward.
Yahweh informed Moshe to prepare himself to leave this life and he gathered the congregation together at a place which bore the named “Abila” near the Jordan, according to the Book of Jasher, and there he counselled them and exhorted them and gave them the laws and constitutions of government and social ethics written in a book. He also instructed them to build a temple after they had defeated their enemies and the land was in peace. It was at this time that he foretold the destiny of each tribe in the latter days and gave to each of them his blessing. They were greatly distressed at the thought of losing him and his oversight that had been over them through the many trials and difficulties of the journey, and he was comforted at their appreciation of him. Taking leave of them he went up the mount Abarim which is over against Jericho together with the leaders and the elders, and left them. As he ascended up into the mount a cloud descended and removed him from their sight. (Jasher Chapter 8)
The nation mourned him for thirty days and then under Joshua’s leadership went forward to conquer the land.
The blessings Moshe prophesied over the Tribes:
Joseph for his commitment to the will of God and also because as king of Egypt he treated his brothers with high honors although they had thrust him from their midst. For that reason he said “so shall little Joseph’s sons be yoked into service by the empires; as the unicorn with his horns pushes away all other animals, so, too, shall Joseph’s sons rule the nations, even to the ends of the earth.”
Zebulun was the tribe that before all the other tribes devoted itself to commerce and providing for the nation, and in this way acted as the agent between Israel and the other nations, and so he said, ‘Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out’ on commercial enterprises; at thy instance shall many nations pray upon the sacred mountain of the Temple and offer their sacrifices.”; One other blessing of Zebulun was that it would always be victorious in battle.
Issachar, closely bound up with Zebulon, was blessed by its distinction in the “tents of learning.” For Issachar was “the tribe of scholars and of judges,” wherefore Moshe blessed them, saying that in “the future time,” Israel’s great house of instruction as well as the great Sanhedrin would be located in this tribe;
Gad, dwelling on the boundary of the land of Israel, received the benediction that in “the future time” it would be as strong in battle as it had been at the first conquest of Palestine, and would hereafter stand at the head of Israel on their return to the Holy Land, as it had done on their first entrance into the land; Dan, who like Gad had his territory on the boundary of the land, was also blessed with strength and might, that he might ward off the attacks of Israel’s enemies;
Naphtali’s blessing read: “O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full with the blessing of the Lord: possess thou the west and the south.” .. .. But Naphtali was blessed not with material blessings only, but also with spiritual; for it was the great house of instruction at Tiberias to which Moshe alluded when he said of Naphtali, “he is ‘full with the blessings of the Lord.'”;
Asher was called the favorite of his brethren, for it was this tribe that in the years of release provided nourishment for all Israel, as its soil was so productive that what grew of its own accord sufficed to sustain all .. .. “The treasures of all lands shall flow to thee, for the nations shall give thee gold and silver for thine oil.” He blessed Asher moreover with many sons, and with daughters that preserved the charms of youth in their old age.