Mishpatim (Rulings) Shemot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18 HafTorah: Jer. 34:8-22; 33:25-26

1.Exodus 23:7 is the only one of the “thou shall not” of the Torah where G-d tells us more than “thou shall not.” Here G-d says, “Flee from lying” or stay far away from falsehood. Why is that? Are there other verses in scripture that has the same message?

We are told to tell the truth under all circumstances and to avoid any trace of falsehood. There are many other scriptures about lying. Psalms 119:163, Proverbs 14:5, Acts 5:1,     Col. 3:9-10, Matt 15:19, John 8:44, Ezek 13:8. This is just a small sample of verses on this subject. So what is the problem here? One thing, it is very tempting right? We don’t see anything wrong with stretching the truth, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, avoiding responsibility. The list goes on and on.

The thing is, if we really believe that G-d runs the world, then lying must be seen as self- defeating. If G-d is aware of our every action then when we lie we are undercutting that belief. Lying always drags more in its wake. 

In a courtroom, we must resolve to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, no matter the cost. That does not mean we are uncaring about people’s feelings or not concerned with how they may take the truth. Mercy and compassion should still rule how we do it but not if we do it. Flee from falsehoods.

2a.Why did G-d not forbid slavery instead of listing rules on treatment of slaves?

Israel had been slaves for hundreds of years in Egypt. They lived in a world where slavery was the accepted practice. It was the way the world worked. For G-d to have said no more slavery would have done nothing to change the attitude of the people toward the person that was their slave or the institution of slavery. 

People were seen as property with no rights. G-d put laws in place that would change this perception. He put laws in place that made the condition of slavery temporary – 7 years. Even one day in seven a slave was completely free from any obligations. The slave had to be provided with equal housing and food as the owner. This broke the cycle of dehumanizing people and over time brought about an end to the practice. 

The lesson was to never see a people as less or to see a race as inferior. We are all children of G-d and carry the spark of holiness within us and as such – all equal in His sight.

In the world, at that time in history, slavery was part of every society. So, as we read these verses keep that in mind. The commandments here go light years ahead of what was the norm of the time. What was the prevailing social attitude toward slavery? The slave had no rights at all. They were no different from a cow or donkey. They were there to fulfill a purpose with no protection or rights. So practically these commandments go far ahead of what was at the time. It would seem this was G-d’s way of bringing Israel, on their own, to the point of doing away with slavery as a common practice. It helped them to change their outlook and begin to see these people as people not objects, a way to introduce compassion and mercy into the situation.

2b.What does our Haftarah say in Jer. 34:8-22; 33:25-26 about G-d’s thoughts on slavery?

The word came to Jeremiah from the L-rd after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. Everyone was to free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Hebrew in bondage. 10 So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. 11 But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.

12 Then the word of the L-rd came to Jeremiah: 13 “This is what the L-rd, the G-d of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, 14 ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you six years, you must let them go free.’[a] Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me.15 Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. 16 But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.

17 “Therefore this is what the L-rd says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the L-rd—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. 19 The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, 20 I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.

21 “I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them, to the army of the king of Babylon, which has withdrawn from you. 22 I am going to give the order, declares the L-rd, and I will bring them back to this city. They will fight against it, take it and burn it down. And I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.”

2c.And finally, our last question concerning slavery. When is slavery acceptable and beneficial?

Romans 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to G-d, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”   

3.Why do you think Exodus 23:4 says we should help our enemy? Couldn’t the verse just say help other people in need?  What is the point being made here?

Look at Exodus 23:4-5. Why should you Help an enemy, not just an enemy but one you hate. To answer this question we have to look at ourselves first. My battle is within myself. What motivates me? Does the “yetzer hara” say to me, “Let your enemy work it out the best he can, you don’t owe him anything. He got himself into this, he can get out.”  Eph. 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Sometimes this puts us in a situation where, if not careful, we can give in to that small voice that is leading us further from G-d not closer to Him. We must nurture our spiritual nature even when our emotions or feelings tell us to take the logical or easy way. Seldom does that bring redemption into the world. G-d gives us these ordinances to train us spiritually each day to become more like Him and in the process bring Him into the world.

Also we sometimes look at a person we hate or dislike as less than ourselves. Most of the great crimes against humanity have been committed against one not like us. Humans are tribal creatures. We tend to relate to and have empathy for those in our tribe, people like us. We sometimes have less for those not like us. When the Germans killed 6 million they did not see them as people but as something that had to be eradicated from society. The Greeks saw non-Greeks as barbarians and waged war on them. The Torah and the Messianic Scripture calls us to treat people who may not be part of our family, group, or religion as being created in the image of G-d. 

4.In Exodus 24:7 it says, “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the L-rd has said we will do and be obedient.”  Some translations say, “we will do and we will hear.” Does this statement apply in any way to us as believers in the Messiah? What verses in the Messianic scripture have the same message for us? 

Humans usually try to understand what is being ask of them, and only after understanding do they choose whether or not to act.  Here the Israelites are saying they will be obedient even before they totally understand the depth of what is being ask of them. They said, “we will do and we will hear.” It is a declaration of faith. It is a declaration that is based on a faith that all that G-d is demanding will lead to ultimate good. Obedience to our Heavenly Father inevitably leads to deeper understanding.

This is the same faith that motivated Abraham to go forth into a land that he did not know and Ruth to declare in Ruth 1:16, “For where you go I will go.”  Do we delay in obeying G-d’s beckoning because we don’t totally understand the beginning and the end of what He is asking of us? Do we need the complete, full picture before we too can say, “We will do and we will hear?”

I John 2:5-6, “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Yeshua did.”

1 John 5:3 “This is love for God: to obey His commands.

The following is a portion of an article I read from First Fruits of Zion called The Grace vs. Law Concept.  I thought it was worth adding on to the end of our study. I welcome feedback.

The Torah contains many laws and commandments. The word Torah means instruction. These laws and commandments are G-d’s instructions for how He wants His people to live. It is like a user’s manual for life.

Many Christian teachers seem to view the law of the Torah as a bad thing. It is commonly taught that the law is the opposite of grace. You might even hear someone say, “We are no longer under the law. We are under grace.” This implies that anyone who believes in Yeshua need not be concerned with the laws of the Torah.

The grace vs. law concept could be derived from the writings of Paul. It seems Paul pits the two in opposition to each other. He often 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. This could be misunderstood to mean Christians do not need to keep G-d’s rules.  But Paul also cautioned us to not suppose that grace gives us free license to sin against G-d.  Romans 6:1-2, “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?”

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” Romans 3:31

The Bible does not teach the idea of Grace vs Law. Grace is G-d’s free gift of salvation for those who believe in His Son. Law is His loving instruction 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.