Mishpatim – “Judgements”

The name of this week’s Parasha is Mishpatim, which means “Judgments”, and it takes us from Exodus 21:1-24:18.  Moses gave the Jewish people specific instructions on how to treat Jewish slaves.  These slaves were to be released in the 7th year of their servitude and a man could take his wife with him if she had already been married to him when he first became a slave.  If she was given to him by his master, she and her children would stay with the master when the man was freed.  If the slave wanted to stay with his master, he would be brought before God and make an oath and have his ear pierced, signifying that he would serve his master for life.  A female slave was to be released without penalty if her master did not take her for himself or his son.

Moses then gave the Jewish people laws describing the penalties for harm caused by one person to another.  Murder, kidnapping, and even cursing one’s parents brought the death penalty, while damage to another person’s property required monetary compensation paid to the victim.  Slaves were also protected from abuse and could be freed if their master assaulted them, depending on the severity of their injuries.

In chapter 22, Israel was given additional laws regarding the penalties for property damage.  If someone stole something, the penalty was payment of 2 to 5 times the value of the item stolen.  A man who seduced a virgin that wasn’t engaged would be required to pay her father a dowry, even if her father refused to give him his daughter in marriage.  The penalty for idolatry, bestiality and the worship of false gods was death. God was to be honored, and so were Israel’s earthly leaders.  Foreigners, the poor and needy were to be protected, and the Jewish people were to be generous in their offerings to God.

Adonai commanded the Jewish people to be fair and honest in dealing with one another in chapter 23.  They were commanded to rest on Shabbat, the 7th day of the week, as well as to let the land rest in the 7th year so that the poor would have food to eat, as well as the wild animals.

Adonai gave Israel three annual “pilgrimage” feasts, for which every Jewish man was required to appear before Him: Passover, Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).  Everyone was required to bring the foods Adonai commanded for these holidays.  But anything containing blood and yeast were forbidden, and the fat for the festival offerings was to be burned, not saved until morning.

The Jewish people were also forbidden from cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk, which was part of the false worship of the Canaanites, and was a form of cruelty to animals.  It’s interesting to note that later rabbinical interpretation of this commandment led to separate dishes for meat and for dairy products.  Although separate dishes for meat and dairy may seem excessive (in my opinion), it’s important to note that this command was given so that the Jewish people would not imitate the false religion of the Canaanites and be led astray.  Keeping ourselves focused on true worship of Adonai is far better than anything this world can offer!

Adonai promised the Jewish people that His angel would accompany them to the Promised Land, and that they must obey what the angel tells them, for he is from the Lord.  The Jewish people are told that God will fight for them against the nations who are in the land, and that they will be blessed if they remain faithful to Him.  Adonai establishes the boundaries of the Promised Land and commands the Jewish people to expel the nations living there.

Israel was also commanded to make no alliances with these nations and to reject their religious practices. However, they would later be deceived by the Gibeonites in Joshua 9, with whom they made a covenant without first seeking the will of Adonai.  This allowed the Gibeonites to remain when the Jewish people entered the Promised Land; they would serve as woodcutters and water carriers.  However, their sinful ways may have contributed to the spiritual corruption of the tribe of Benjamin, and could explain why the tribe of Benjamin was nearly destroyed because of the sin of the men in the city of Gibeah in Judges 19-20.  If we seek and obey Adonai’s will, we will be blessed, but if we insist on doing things by our own strength and wisdom, we will surely experience difficulties.

The parasha ends in chapter 24 as the Lord summons Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two older sons Nadab and Abihu, and seventy Jewish elders to Him.  Only Moses could come near to God; the others were commanded to keep their distance.  Moses announced Adonai’s words and laws to the nation, and they declared they would obey what He commanded.  After sacrifices were offered at the bottom of the mountain, Moses sprinkled the Jewish people with the blood of the sacrifices to signify the covenant with the Lord.

Moses and the others went to see Adonai on the mountain, but only Moses would write the commandments on the stone tables.  Moses told the elders that Aaron and Hur could settle disputes in his absence. Moses proceeded up the mountain, which was covered by a cloud for six days, and the glory of the Lord was on Mount Sinai.  On the 7th day, Adonai spoke to Moses in the cloud and His glory on the mountain appeared to the Jewish people as a consuming fire.  Moses remained on the mountain for forty days and nights.

There are several principles from this passage that we can apply to our lives.  First, we must realize that sin carries serious consequences, which are summarized in Exodus 21 as a life for a life, an eye for an eye.  We see that the greatest punishments are for the taking of human life, regardless of the victim’s social status, but that damage caused to animals and other possessions carried penalties as well.  These verses teach us that God will hold us accountable if we harm others, either intentionally or through criminal negligence; so let’s be obedient to God and respect the lives and possessions of others.

We also see the importance that the Lord places on caring for those who are in difficult situations and need help.  The commandments in this passage to care for those in need are also affirmed, and even amplified, in the New Covenant. Believers in Yeshua are commanded to care for widows and orphans, and to visit those who are sick or in prison.  When we use what Adonai has so graciously blessed us with to help others, we show that we are good stewards who can be trusted!

Finally, we see that turning in obedience to Adonai isn’t always easy.  When we have harmed or wronged others, restitution can be very costly.  How much more when we have sinned against Adonai? In fact, none of us, through our own effort and works, could ever provide restitution to Adonai for our sins against Him.  Even the slightest sin against an infinite Being carries infinite consequences. Yet it has always been His purpose to reconcile mankind to Himself. The Good News is that we serve a blameless and faultless Savior who paid the ultimate price of His own life to eternally redeem us from the curse of sin and death – Messiah Yeshua!

Just as the blood of bulls was used to signify Israel’s obedience to the covenant with Adonai, in a greater way, Yeshua’s blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.  Christians and Messianic Jews remember Yeshua’s willing sacrifice on the cross when partaking of the Lord’s Supper, with the bread symbolizing His body that was broken for us and the cup symbolizing His blood of the New Covenant that was poured out for many.  We must be obedient to Adonai’s standards, and not try to worship Him as we see fit.  Nadav and Avihu tried to worship Adonai as they saw fit in Leviticus 10, but were destroyed by Adonai for their disobedience to His commands.

Despite the belief of some that Jewish people don’t need a mediator, God’s word clearly shows that they, along with the rest of humanity, need a mediator in order to be reconciled to God.  We have been blessed by Adonai with the Perfect Mediator, Messiah Yeshua, who is the mediator of the New Covenant and the sacrifice of His sprinkled blood brings eternal hope, life and salvation to all who accept Him as Lord and Savior.  Let’s be reconciled to Adonai by being obedient to Yeshua as our Lord and Savior, for His obedient sacrifice paid the price for our sins that we could never pay!