Matot begins with an account of how Moses instructed the leaders of the tribes about vows and oaths – how they should be kept and how they may be annulled. The Israelites are commanded to wage war against the Midianites because of their hostility. There is an account of what is to be done with the spoils of war.

Two tribes, Reuben and Gad, together with half the tribe of Menashe, ask permission to stay east of the Jordan where the land is ideal pasture for their cattle. Moses is initially angered, but eventually agrees on condition that they first join and lead in the battles for the land west of the Jordan.