Torah Portion: Shoftim (Judges) D’Varim (Deuteronomy) 16:18-21:9
Haftorah Reading Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 51:12-53:12
This Torah portion, like most, contains a multitude of subjects that can occupy us for hours but we will limit ourselves to a few that I think will challenge us spiritually. To do this I want to begin with my three questions I sent you this week.
First, let’s look at the verses concerning the choosing of a king to be the person to lead the people of Israel and also to give them spiritual insight into G-d’s Word. In D’Varim/Deut. 17:15-17 we read the guidelines for choosing the person to fulfill this role in Israel. He must be an Israelite not a foreigner. He shall not multiply horses to himself or cause the people to return to Egypt. He shall not have many wives nor shall he greatly multiply himself gold or silver. In verse 18 it further stated he had to write his own copy of the Torah and read it all the days of his life that he would fear G-d and keep all the words of the Torah.
In I Samuel 8:5-7 we read where Israel went to Samuel and demanded he pick a king to set over them to judge them like all the other nations. Samuel was upset by this request and prayed to G-d about it. G-d told Samuel to listen to the people for they had rejected Him not Samuel. What caused this reaction since here in our portion today we read where G-d gave His permission based on the guidelines we have read? The problem arose when the people said that this king would judge them like all the other nations. I think we can learn an important lesson in these verses. Who is our king? To whom do we bow down in our own life? Sometime we begin to think that we can handle all of the temptations of our world today. We read, watch, participate in things that we are confident will not really affect us in our spiritual life.
In scripture we read of at least one example of a king of Israel that fell into this trap. King Solomon had many wives. In fact, he had over 1,000 wives and concubines. (I Kings 11:3) This eventually brought his kingdom to ruin and even led him into idol worship. (I Kings 11:6-7) It is easy to lose our way and very difficult to find our way back to G-d. This example should give us all pause. We must never come to the place of putting someone or something in the place of G-d. Nothing should be allowed to judge us except G-d Almighty, not money, power, or position. We are servants of only one King.
Question two is based on D’Varim/Deuteronomy 19:15 where it says that one witness shall not rise against a person for any sin or guilt that he may commit; according to two witnesses or according to three a matter shall stand. Our current judicial system and in many other countries, have at their foundation this principle. Witnesses are supposed to be truthful and in agreement before a person is found guilty. Of course, this was open to abuse. The most glaring example being I Kings 21:1-15. King Ahab wanted the vineyard of Naboth his neighbor. Naboth refused to sell so the King pouted. His wife, Jezebel told him not to worry. She had him (Naboth) arrested on false charges and then had untruthful witnesses to testify against him. As a result, he was put to death and Ahab got the vineyard.
In the Messianic Scriptures, Mark 14:55, we read also of Yeshua being brought before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy. The court had men come and give false testimony but they did not agree on all the facts and were disallowed. We know that eventually Yeshua confirmed He was the Messiah and they took Him away. In both of these cases we see these commandments of the Torah being used to come to a decision by a court, even if it was a wrong decision based on false witnesses.
Lastly, let’s look at the eye for an eye commandment in D’Varim/Deut. 19:21 and compare it to Matthew 5:38-40. How can we reconcile these two scriptures? Does the Messianic verses cancel out the Torah commandment?
To get a clear picture here we must determine if they both are talking about the same subject. In our verse from the Torah what was the subject? The Torah here is speaking of a crime and what was the appropriate punishment. What is revolutionary here is that limits were set on punishment. If there had been a crime and someone lost a tooth or an eye from an assault the punishment was limited to an equivalent sentence. The assailant could not be put to death. His punishment had to be limited to fit the crime.
Now, when we come to the Messianic scriptures what is Yeshua saying? He is not talking about a crime but rather about our responsibility to love our neighbor and over enemies. He is not saying we should not defend ourselves but to react out of G-d’s love.