Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not make one hair white or black.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)By thy head.—This is apparently chosen as an extreme instance of a common oath in which men found no reference to God. Yet here, too, nothing but an implied reference to Him fits it to be an oath at all. He made us, and not we ourselves, and the hairs of our head are not only numbered, but are subject in all their changes to His laws, and not to our volition.
Because thou canst not make one hair white or black - You have no control or right over your own life. You cannot even change one single hair. God has all that control; and it is therefore improper and profane to pledge what is God's gift and God's property; and it is the same as swearing by God himself.
Ver. 34-36. Doth our Saviour here oppose himself to the law of God, which saith, Deu 6:13 10:20, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and swear by his name? Doth he condemn Abraham, who sware his servant by the Lord God of heaven and earth? Genesis 24:3. Doth he destroy such a useful means for the end of strife? Hebrews 6:16. None of all these. We must consider that our Saviour is here opposing himself to the corruptions of that age brought in by the Pharisees, who had taught people that swearing was nothing, if they did not forswear themselves; or at least swearing by the heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, by their head, or in suchlike forms, was no sin, if they forbore the name of God; that they were only obliged to swear by the name of God in public courts of justice, but they were not tied up to it at other times. To these and such like corruptions our Saviour opposeth these words, I say unto you, Swear not at all; not at all voluntarily, but where it is necessary for the end of strife; not at all in your common discourse, Jam 5:12: and so it is expounded in the next verse. The law doth not only forbid false swearing, but common and ordinary swearing, needless swearing, which speaks a great want of reverence in the heart of the name of God. And let not your teachers cheat you, in telling you God, or the name of God, is not concerned, in your swearing by heaven: is not heaven the throne of God? Or by earth: is not that the footstool of God? Or by Jerusalem: is not that the city of God? Or by your head: is it not God that hath given you your life and bodily members? Is it in your power to make a hair of your head white or black? So as the great thing here forbidden, is common and ordinary swearing, where God calleth us not unto it for the determination of strife. Do not only think that false swearing, but be assured that ordinary, common, needless swearing, is forbidden by God.
"If anyone is bound to his friend by an oath, and says to him, vow unto me , "by the life of thy head"; R. Meir says (u), he may retract it; but the wise men say, he cannot.''
Again (w), a certain Rabbi said to Elijah,
"I heard "Bath Kol" (or the voice from heaven) mourning like a dove, and saying, woe to my children; for, because of their sins, I have destroyed my house, and have burnt my temple, and have carried them captive among the nations: and he (Elijah) said unto him , "by thy life, and by the life of thy head", not this time only it says so, but it says so three times every day.''
Once more (x), says R. Simeon ben Antipatras, to R. Joshua,
"I have heard from the mouth of the wise men, that he that vows in the law, and transgresses, is to be beaten with forty stripes: he replies, blessed art thou of God, that thou hast so done, , "by thy life, and by the life of thy head", he that is used to do so is to be beaten.''
This form of swearing is condemned, for this reason,
because thou canst not make one hair white or black: which shows, that a man's head, nor, indeed, one hair of his head, is in his own power, and therefore he ought not to swear by it; as he ought not to swear by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem, because these were in the possession of God. Some copies read, "canst not make one white hair black".Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)36. by thy head] A common form of oath in the ancient world: cp. “Per caput hoc juro per quod pater ante solebat.” Verg. Æn.Matthew 5:36. Κεφαλῇ, head) Their sin is still graver who swear by their life or their soul.—μίαν τρίχα λευκὴν ἠ μέλαιναν ποῖησαι, to make one hair [thereof] white or black) The dye of human art is not real whiteness or blackness. Not merely is a single hair, but even the colour of a single hair, beyond the power of man.Verse 36. - For thou canst not, etc. As each of the other objects included a reference to God, so does also thy head. For even that recalls to mind the power of God, since every hair of it bears the stamp of his handiwork.
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