Mishpatim – “Judgements”

This week’s Parasha is entitled Mishpatim meaning “judgments” and covers Exodus chapter 21 verse 1 to chapter 24 verse 18.

In last week’s Parasha, after the children of Israel had been led out of institutionalized slavery in Egypt, they received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

In this week’s Parasha, The Nation of Israel receives the code of civil laws, which are to govern their lives.  It opens with the conjunction “and,” which links these civil laws to the Ten Commandments that preceded them.

A large majority of the reading deals with the laws, regulations and ordinances that were given to the nation of Israel. Adonai did not want His people to just “go about blindly” but instead, He provided them with laws which set boundaries for the nation to live within. Adonai brought order to Israel and we all know that without order everything eventually will just fall apart.

The presentation of Jewish civil law begins with the laws concerning slavery.

This portion of scripture emphasizes the seriousness with which God regards the limits of slavery as well as His compassion for the slave.

I believe that Adonai began with slavery because slavery had been Israel’s primary experience for the previous 400 years.

They were intimately familiar with it and it was etched into the very fabric of their being. Having been released from bondage in Egypt, the Nation of Israel were to be especially sensitive to the needs of the slave.

We condemn slavery today, but during these ancient times, it was a widely accepted practice, and God desired to place it in its proper perspective.

In that day, slavery could be beneficial or harmful, depending upon the nation where it was instituted and the character of the slave owner.

A slave owner who reverently followed the Torah would be much more considerate of the welfare of their slaves as compared to one who did not because the one who did not follow Torah likely saw their slaves as invaluable and disposable.

Therefore, God instituted these rules of justice over slavery that protected human dignity and individual rights. Those rules essentially made the slave owner responsible for the care and well-being of indentured servants.

Furthermore, it limited the length of time someone could be a slave. All Hebrew slaves were only to serve for six years and then be released in the seventh year.

This law pertained even to the Hebrew indentured servant who is working off a debt incurred by theft.  It also applied to those who fell into poverty and could not pay their creditors. They would owe for 6 years, but on the 7th year, their debt would be forgiven.

I find in scripture that this seems to be a common formula that Adonai uses. It’s interesting to note that He created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Also, He commands that farmers farm their land for 6 years, but let the land rest on the 7th year.

The laws given in Mishpatim were intended to create within the Nation of Israel a profound respect for every human being and also to set them apart from the nations that surrounded them. Then when the other nations wondered why Israel prospered so well, and why their people were joyful and blessed, they could point them to the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, the One True God as their source.

In the next few chapters, there were regulations given concerning marital rights, food, clothing, the death penalty, physical injury, and retaliation.

There were also laws given for property, safe-deposits (that is money or belongings, including animals, given to a neighbor for safe-keeping), laws about sexual intercourse and seduction, care for the needy, reverence for God, observing the Sabbaths, and laws about the annual holidays.

All of these laws and commandments deal with our relationship with God and our relationship with each other.

We learn in Parasha Mishpatim that God wants to be involved in all of our relationships and He expects us as Christians and Messianic Jews to behave in a certain way in our personal and professional relationships.

The teaching ends by showing us how Adonai prepared the people to live in their new Land of Promise. They were not to follow the Gods of their neighboring lands and they were to remain Holy unto the Lord.

Between Genesis and Deuteronomy there are a total of 613 commandments and a host of Laws and regulations.

But Yeshua taught us that all of these commandments, laws and regulations can be summed up by loving Adonai with all of your heart, soul and might, and by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Yeshua did not come to abolish the Torah and it’s laws, but He came to fulfill it.  The Law revealed our sinful nature and inability to follow it. Because of this, the sacrificial system was instituted by God to cover or atone for our sins. But animal sacrifices were only good for a year. Adonai, in His infinite love for us, sent His only Son to dwell among us. He came and showed us what the Torah is all about and He lived it out perfectly, without violating a single law. Adonai then used Him as the ultimate and final sacrifice for all time.

Yeshua took the punishment that you and I and all of mankind deserve and suffered an excruciating death. Elohim raised Him from the dead and He sits at the right hand of the Abba Father to this day interceding on our behalf. When we transfer our loyalties to Yeshua by believing in our hearts and confessing with our mouths that Yeshua is Lord, we receive the atoning sacrifice and we ourselves are covered by His blood until the day we pass from this world.

Yeshua showed us how to operate in love and not in condemnation.

We can be trying so hard to keep all the rules, all the mishpatim, to the letter and still miss the spirit of the Torah if we are doing it all without love.

Rabbi Paul went as far as to say that if we don’t have love for others, then we are nothing.

I pray that this week, we will all go out in love and show people the goodness of God.