Please make sure you read the Grace v’s Law Section and share. “These are the ordinances [mishpatim הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים] that you are to set before them.” (Exodus 21:1). In last week’s study section of Scripture, Israel received the Commandments at Mount Sinai (more than ten). This week, YHWH God gives specific instructions (legislation or laws called mishpatim, which means judgements). These are intended to guide the daily lives of His holy nation in justice and righteousness. Deu 4:7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? Deu4:8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? 2Sa 7:23 And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for you great things and terrible, for thy land, before thy people, which thou redeemedst to thee from Egypt, from the nations and their gods?
Torah (God in Human Terms).
Torah is God’s righteous instructions (mitzvahs). Modern, Western readers find many of the laws in this Torah portion harsh, primitive, or otherwise distasteful. The laws reflect a different world from our own. When the Torah begins to speak in a matter-of-fact manner about the institution of slavery, about selling one’s daughter, about repaying measure-for-measure, it disconcerts the modern reader. He is tempted to comfort himself with the notion that the unpleasant laws have been done away with by the New Testament and replaced by kinder, gentler, and nobler virtues. On the contrary, the mouth of God spoke every commandment of Torah. Human society may change, but God does not change. Each mitzvah is holy and eternal. Every commandment distils His essence and communicates a pure revelation of His person. The study of the commandments is the study of God.
As soon as we begin to discard commandments, we have begun editing God and reshaping the Almighty into an image which we deem more appropriate. The Torah contains both law and revelation. It provides a rule of conduct, but at the same time, it expresses God in human terms. If a person realizes that Torah is God’s own self-disclosure to the world, he will appreciate the enormous gravity of declaring that same Torah null or void or even changing a part of it. Even the smallest commandment of the Torah is suffused with godliness. To declare a commandment irrelevant or obsolete denies the eternal and unchanging nature of God. (Mal 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not).
The Torah contains laws about murder, abuse, murdering one’s parents, slavery, bestiality, incest and a host of disagreeable things. How can this be a holy, Godly revelation of the Infinite Light? The Apostle Paul explained, “All things become visible when they are exposed by the light” (Ephesians 5:13).
In total, study section “Mishpatim” contains 53 mitzvot (commands), 23 imperative commandments and 30 prohibitions. This series of laws, also called “The Covenant Code” by some Bible scholars, specify penalties for various violent crimes such as murder, kidnapping and assault. Pre-meditated murder, kidnapping and striking or even cursing a parent all carry the death penalty.“And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17). Laws were also given regarding how to make preparation for assault and injuries caused by animals, as well as damage to crops or livestock. They prohibit seduction of virgins, the practice of sorcery, idolatry and mistreating the disadvantaged of society. Infractions of these laws often carry the severest of penalties, death by stoning, since God wanted to keep peace and order within the camp (and family); but it is more than that. God has genuine concern for justice and the well-being of the individual. For instance, if a widow or fatherless child is to cry out to God because of someone’s ill treatment of them, God promises He will pour out His fierce wrath upon their oppressor and kill them so that their wives would be widows and their children fatherless (Exodus 22:22–24).
We should note that the Torah was not given to angels. Instead, God gave the Torah to flawed and sinful human beings. The Torah speaks directly into human society with all of its wrinkles and it speaks in the language of the flawed and imperfect in order to infuse godliness into the world. It has descended from a very high place (God) to a very low place (man), yet it has still retained its Godly essence. That Godly essence might be wrapped in garments of human concern (such as the laws of slavery or compensation for negligence); but if one takes the trouble to unwrap the commandment, it will blaze forth in his hands with the brilliance of heaven.
Paul alludes to the dichotomy of the holy, concealed within matters of the profane. He tells Timothy that the Torah is good if one uses it “lawfully,” that is in the administration of justice:
But we know that the [Torah] is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that [Torah] is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching (1 Timothy 1:8-10).
Once We Were Slaves.
When you acquire a Jewish bondsman, for six years he shall work and in the seventh year he shall go free...” (Exodus 21:2).
Since the Israelites had just been released from slavery, the first of God’s mishpatim dealt with servants and slaves.
Several verses later in this passage, the painful experiences of the Israelites in Egypt are highlighted again, this time to elicit empathy for the foreigner. God commands the Israelites that foreigners be treated with kindness and respect. “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21).
The exodus from Egyptian slavery culminated with the giving of the covenant to a new nation of ex-slaves. The people of Israel carried on their bodies and souls the indelible marks of their former brutal and harsh slavery. The people of Israel were free men, and their relationship with the Torah was to be one of voluntary compliance, not forced compulsion. By the instruction of Ex 21:2 it may seem that by offering laws regarding slavery, the Bible is condoning it. Slavery is ugly. Slaves in North America were kidnapped, maltreated, bought and sold, subjugated to all sorts of cruelties and denied basic human dignities. It has been done by almost all nations throughout history. Whether between clans of the nation or to other nations. Why does the Torah give laws about slavery? We must remember not all humans or nations are Godly. What do we think Nimrod in Genesis 10 was doing with conquered people?
The Bible's laws about slaves are meant for the protection and well-being of the people enslaved. The Israelites had just left slavery. They had experienced it in its ugliest form. It is only natural that God would address that institution and lay out rules to prevent the perpetuation of the maltreatment of slaves. God did not want the Israelites to treat their servants the way that they themselves had been treated. This can be compared to an abusive home in which a son is beaten by his father. When the boy grows up, he beats his own children because that is the manner of parenting he learned from his father. The Bible's laws of slavery are meant to break that pattern of the mistreatment of other human beings.
Slavery in the ancient world was a normal part of the entire economy. In those days, there was no standard of currency, and people did not ordinarily work jobs like we do. People lived primarily off the land. This meant that if you were not a landowner or independently wealthy with your own flocks and herds, you probably had no secure means of supporting yourself and your family. The concept of work for hire was risky, short-term and had no guarantees. There were no labour laws, minimum wage requirements or retirement plans. For the landless lower-class, servitude was an attractive option. It offered the acquisition of meaningful skills, lifelong employment and food and shelter for a person and his dependents. However, in most societies, slaves had no rights. The Torah changes that. According to the laws in this Torah portion, slaves were to be treated as servants for hire rather than property. After six years of service, they were to be given the option of going free. God also gave each family land when Joshua distributed it and that land either stayed in the family or returned to them in the year of Jubilee.
The Bible's laws of slavery were designed to prevent the type of enslavement experienced by many black Americans in North America prior to the Civil War. In the Torah, kidnappers face the death penalty (Exodus 21:20). If a man seriously hurts his slave, the slave is to be immediately released (Exodus 21:26-27). If a slave is killed by his owner, the man faces the death penalty (Exodus 21:16). Nevertheless, one might say that since slavery has been abolished, the Bible's laws of slavery are irrelevant to the modern world. That is not the case. If we remember that slaves in the biblical period were roughly equivalent to the concept of employees in today's economy, we can learn several things about God's heart for how we treat our employees. The Torah would have us treat them fairly, with dignity and worthy compensation i.e. Lev_19:13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
It Is In The Name.
The name of this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (משפטים), means “judgements.” The Torah portion contains a list of commandments and guidelines for the exercise of righteousness and justice (mishpat, משפט). Our Master Yahshua declared justice to be the first of three weighty matters of the Torah: “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
The twin concepts of righteousness and justice stand like pillars at the center of Torah, Messiah, and the kingdom of heaven. Righteousness can be understood as the fulfilment of legal and moral obligations. In the judicial sense, it implies an exonerating verdict: “Not guilty.” Justice can be understood as the fair administration of authority, rightly deciding between contestants, rightly rewarding, and rightly punishing. God loves righteousness and justice. He desires them more than sacrifice. They support His throne which is founded upon them.
God chose Abraham because He knew that Abraham would teach his children after him to do “righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:19). He appointed the kings of Israel to dispense justice and righteousness: “David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people” (2 Samuel 8:15). The Psalmist says, “The strength of the king loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob” (Psalm 99:4). A good king brings peace to his kingdom through righteousness and justice: “The king gives stability to the land by justice” (Proverbs 29:4).
When Israel practiced righteousness and justice, God blessed the nation; but when the people strayed from them under the influence of wicked kings, the prophets rebuked the people. Yahweh said, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level” (Isaiah 28:17). Psalm 72 prays for King Solomon, “Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice” (Psalm 72:1-2). Yahweh gave the son of David supernatural wisdom in order to administer justice. The Queen of Sheba uttered a blessing regarding King Solomon:
Blessed be the LORD your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness (1 Kings 10:9). The queen’s blessing will apply equally to King Messiah when we see Him on the throne of His father David, administering justice and righteousness. Ultimately, Yahweh will send the Son of David to administer justice and righteousness: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth” (Jeremiah 33:15). Then Zion will be rebuilt, as it says, “Zion will be redeemed with justice, and her repentant ones with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27).
Remember the Sabbath and the Appointed Times.
This week’s study also reveals the law of the Sabbath(s), which is more than a Sabbath rest for people every seventh day or on the others of Ex 23:14-17. There are weekly and annual Sabbaths, holy days (see Ezekiel 20:20; Lev 23:3, 24, 31, 32, 39 using KJV). Every seven years, the land is to enjoy a Sabbath rest called the Shemitah. Israel ended its seventh year of letting the land lie fallow in September 2015. “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat.” (Exodus 23:10–11).
As well, the three pilgrimage festivals are mentioned as a time when all adult Jewish males are to appear before the Yahweh: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” (Exodus 23:17).
In this section, Moses reads before all the people the Book of the Covenant that God has given Israel (Exo 24:4-7). After the people commit to keeping God’s law, Moses sprinkles blood upon the altar and on the people as well, since all covenants are formally ratified and are usually sealed with blood.
“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that Yahweh has said we will do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:7–8).
Likewise, the New Covenant was sealed with blood that of the Messiah, Yahshua, the Lamb of God. At the Passover meal with His disciples, Yahshua held up the cup of redemption and said, “Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you..” (Luke 22:20).
The most righteous of all men, Yahshua, HaMashiach (the Messiah) became the final atonement for all generations who accept His sacrifice on their behalf. “I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6–7). How was this to be achieved? Acts 13:47 and Rom 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed.
Grace v’s Law.
This week’s Torah portion contains a lot of laws. Exodus 21–23 reads like an ancient legal code. Of the 613 commandments that the sages traditionally derive from the Torah, more than fifty of them are found in this week’s portion. For some reason, many Christian teachers seem to view the laws of the Torah as if they are a bad thing. It is commonly taught that the law is the opposite of grace. You might hear someone say, “We are no longer under the law. We are under grace.” The implication is that since we have received the Messiah, we need not concern ourselves with the laws in the Old Testament. We can call this idea “Grace vs. Law.”
Followers of pure grace accuse followers of the law of denying the Messiah (Christ). The accusation is not grounded. Following a law means you need a judge (Messiah) as spoken of in the law and prophets (2Tim 3:15). Some law keepers as the Orthodox Jews believe a Messiah will come only that Yahshua is not him. Messianic Jew law keepers and similar Christians accept Yahshua is him. That His blood has replaced that of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. Law, repentance, forgiveness through Yahshua all exist as it previously did with law, repentance, forgiveness through animal sacrifices when the temple existed.
So let us think about the Grace vs. Law idea. What do we mean when we say that we are not under the law? Does that mean we do not have to keep God’s rules? For example, does it mean that we can commit adultery, murder and theft? Of course not. No one would say that. If there were no laws to be kept, there would be no violation or sin, no punishment nor need for a saviour as there would be nothing from which to be saved. Get rid of the law and you get rid of the Messiah.
So what does it mean? People derive the Grace vs. Law concept from the writings of Paul. In his epistles, it seems that Paul pits the two in opposition to each other. He says things like “Before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law” (Galatians 3:23) and “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Galatians 5:18). One might misunderstand these statements to mean that Christians do not need to keep God’s rules. Of course, that would be absurd. Paul realized that some people might misunderstand his teaching, so he cautioned us not to suppose that grace gives us free license to sin against God:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2) .
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:31)
Peter also said some people who are unlearned in the Old Testament would misunderstand Paul’s writings to their destruction (2Pet 3:16). If Paul was not teaching believers that they did not have to keep God’s rules, what was he talking about? In Paul’s day, many of the Jewish believers taught that before Gentiles could be part of the kingdom of heaven, they needed to become Jewish by circumcision (i.e. Acts 15:1,2,6). The idea that a Gentile must become Jewish before being saved is what Paul calls being “under the law” (pertaining to circumcision not the whole law). Paul believed that Gentiles became sons of Abraham and part of the people of God through faith in Messiah. They did not need to earn that status by becoming legally Jewish in their foreskin. They did not need to first come “under the law” in order to enter the kingdom. When using the phrase “the law”, the user somewhere in their speech identifies which of the numerous laws their are talking about (unless it is obvious as in the case of driving). Paul, for example, identified which perceived law he was talking about in Galatians 2:3, 7, 9, 12 etc and ends on the same in Gal 6:12, 13, 15.
The Bible does not actually teach the idea of Grace vs. Law. Grace is God’s free gift of salvation for those who believe in His Son for their repented sins. Law is His loving instructions for how His people should live. Grace vs. Law is a false dichotomy. They are not opposed to each other. They are meant to work hand in hand. I can imagine when seekers are told in Matthew 7:23 they were committing iniquity and they ask God and son where is their grace, they reply being the same place as our commandment! A difference between the bible’s law keepers and the grace believers is the former has both as mentioned in Rev 14:12, 22:14 and the latter, at best, keep some of the commandments having changed some of the others or the day, time or method they are to be kept and think God will forgive them.
Just because the death penalty cannot be enforced today does not mean the law is off the books. Each one of these sins carries the same grievous weight. In God's book, it is just as grievous a sin to curse one's parents or to strike them as it is to murder someone. "For Moses said, 'Honour your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death' (Mark 7:10).
The Torah says that murderers, kidnappers, and insolent children are to be put to death. "He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:15). There is no indication that the parent was killed or even badly hurt in the altercation with the child. The mere act of hitting one's father or mother is enough impudence that God deems it as bad as murder. This shows us how God's values are sometimes different from ours. Of course, we would never advocate striking one's father or mother, but neither would we feel comfortable putting someone to death for doing so. Family counselling? Yes. Anger management classes? Sure. Death by stoning? Probably not. God sees it differently. When He says, "Honour your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12), He means it.
Similarly, Exodus 21:17 says, "He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." What does it mean to curse one's parents? According to traditional Judaism, the passage is not speaking of simply abusive language; it is speaking of a real curse. If a son or daughter uses the holy name of Yahweh to utter an intentional curse against one of their parents, that son or daughter is worthy of death. Without a sovereign Torah-court wielding civil authority, the death-penalty no longer applies. No one has been stoned by Torah-law in almost two-thousand years.
The extreme punishment for striking or cursing one's parents teaches the importance that biblical religion places on the integrity and decency of the family. Rebellion, violence and insolence against one's parents, whether physical or verbal, is as much a threat to the fabric of society as murder and kidnapping. In today's world, society teaches children to disrespect their parents. It is normal to hear teenagers speak to their parents with impertinent and insolent words. It is embarrassing to be around a family where the children are out of order. Children who disrespectfully speak back to their parents are a public disgrace to their family. As a society, we have lost the biblical value of honouring father and mother. Some children even steal from, fight or kill their parents for an inheritance. The apostle Paul warned that in the last days, a spirit of rebelliousness would be unleashed upon the world. He said that men will be "arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable" (2 Timothy 3:2-3). He advised us to "avoid such men as these" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Paul's recommendation is good child-rearing advice. If you don't want your child to grow up to be disrespectful and mouthy toward you, don't have him socialize with other children who are disrespectful to their parents. It's a serious matter. If you knew that your son's peers were murderers and kidnappers, you would not allow him to be under their influence for even a moment. According to the Bible, children who scorn their parents are just as bad.
Haftarah (Prophetic Reading) for Mishpatim.
Haftarah Mishpatim opens with a covenant that King Zedekiah (last king of the First Temple time) and the people of Jerusalem made with each other before God in His holy Temple. In that covenant, they agreed to free the Hebrew slaves who had been held longer than the prescribed term of six years.
Sadly, it seems the people tried to manipulate God by freeing their slaves as God commanded so that He would turn back siege forces coming against Jerusalem. Once those siege forces turned back, the people broke the covenant by forcing the freed men and women back into slavery. God reminds them of the seriousness of this covenant with each other by including in Jeremiah's prophecy their act of walking between two halves of a slaughtered animal.
Why such a gory scene? Covenants are not to be taken lightly. As covenant parties walked through these bloodied carcasses, they saw the punishment to themselves of violating the covenant they made, they would also be cut in two, metaphorically if not literally. In this Haftarah, God chastised the people for violating the covenant they made. They also violated the law God gave their ancestors when they left Egypt to free slaves after six years of work. As a result, God promised to release famine, pestilence and the sword over the city, to bring Babylon against Jerusalem, which occurred under Zedekiah's watch. Jeremiah 34:8–16, therefore, is a judgment prophecy against the re-enslavement of Judean slaves and the breaking of covenant.
Still, today, we cannot make a covenant with God in order to get a particular result and then renege on our agreement once we get what we want (see example of Judges 11:31-39). Just as God had His eye on the covenant made with Zedekiah, He has His eye on the covenants and promises that we make with Him and with one another. When we claim to be God’s law abiding believer then do not act as He desires to our brethren we pollute His image in the eyes of others (Jer 34:16). Moreover, we cannot expect to treat people as less worthy than ourselves, to take away their inalienable rights or take advantage of their time, talents, or labour and expect God's blessings. God is not like that; He is a covenant-keeping God and He wants us to be just as faithful.
"If I have not made My covenant with day and night and established the laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them" (Jeremiah 33:25–26).
Many have falsely said that God is finished with His Chosen People (Israel) and they, their church or the gentiles have replaced them. However, Bible prophecy clearly states that this will never be so. In fact, in these Last Days, God is moving among His people to physically and spiritually restore them as He said. Rom 11:1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin."He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope." (Isaiah 42:4).
Colossians 3 Deals with putting on a new self, just as Israel was expected to do on leaving the bondage and land of Egypt. They were to take on the religion (faith) in the God of their fathers rather than the false ones of Egypt with which they grew up. New righteous laws and way of thinking as prescribed by God and even a new yearly calendar of God which contained appointed times of worship. In other words, become a new creature.
Some verses to note:
Col 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; Col 1:10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Col 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Col 1:19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; Col 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
Col 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. [too big a topic to explain here; but Collossians is speaking about being judged by the traditions of men not commandments of God. Paul cannot change the commandments of God].
Col 3:6 For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: Disobedient to what? [compare with Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Eph 5:6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Rev 22:15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie….(law breakers) Eph 2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Eph 2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
Col 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Col 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.[compare with Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (His laws).
Col 3:25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. [What is wrong and what is right and where is the list, partly in Exodus 20 – 24].
Shalom and happy studying.