Welcome to Mishpatim (Laws), this week’s Parasha (Torah Portion).
· Exodus 21:1–24:18
· Jeremiah 34:8–22, 33:25–26
· Colossians 3:1–25
“These are the ordinances [mishpatim] that you are to set before them.” (Exodus 21:1)
In last week’s portion of Scripture, Israel received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.
This week, YAHUVEH gives specific legislation – Laws called ‘mishpatim’, meaning ‘judgements’. These are intended to guide the daily lives of HIS Holy Nation in justice and righteousness.
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 YAHUVEH’s mishpatim deals 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. YAHUVEH 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)
In total, Parasha Mishpatim contains 53 ‘mitzvot’ (commands): 23 imperative commandments and 30 prohibitions.
This series of laws, 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 reparation for assault and injuries caused by animals, as well as damage to crops or livestock. They prohibit seduction of virgins, the practice of sorcery, bestiality, idolatry, and mistreating the disadvantaged of society.
Infractions of these laws often carry the severest of penalties – death by stoning – since YAHUVEH wanted to keep peace and order within the camp.
But it is more than that. YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH because of someone’s ill treatment of them, YAHUVEH 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).
Remember the Sabbath and the Appointed Times
This week’s Parasha also reveals the law of the Sabbath, which is more than a Sabbath rest every seventh day.
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 YAHUVEH: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).
“Three times in the year all your males shall appear before YAHUVEH GOD.” (Exodus 23:17)
In this Parasha, Moses reads before all the people the Book of the Covenant that YAHUVEH has given Israel. After the people commit to keeping YAHUVEH’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 YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:7–8)
Likewise, the New Covenant was sealed with the blood of Messiah, YAHUSHUA, the LAMB of GOD. At the Passover meal with HIS disciples, YAHUSHUA held up the cup of redemption and said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in MY blood.” (Luke 22:20)
The most righteous of all men, YAHUSHUA Ha Mashiach, became the final atonement for all generations who accept HIS sacrifice on their behalf.
“I, YAHUVEH, 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)
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 YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH by freeing their slaves as YAHUVEH 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.
YAHUVEH 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, YAHUVEH chastised the people for violating the covenant they made. They also violated the law YAHUVEH gave their ancestors when they left Egypt — to free slaves after six years of work.
As a result, YAHUVEH 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.
Just as YAHUVEH 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.
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 labor — and expect YAHUVEH's blessings.
YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH is finished with HIS Chosen People; however, Bible prophecy clearly states that this will never be so. In fact, in these Last Days, YAHUVEH is moving among HIS people to physically and spiritually restore them.
"You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19)