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Parashah 18: Mishpatim

by Michael Bugg

Torah:  Sh’mot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18

Haftarah:  Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 34:8-22, 33:25-26

B’rit Chadasha:  Galatians 4:17-5:1

The Theme

Through Jeremiah, the Holy One says,

Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh.  For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.  But this is what I commanded them, saying, "Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you." (Jer. 7:21-23)

Some have misunderstood this passage and charged the Bible with self-contradiction, not understanding a peculiar Hebraism:  When the Bible says, "not this, but that," it doesn't mean that God never really meant the former thing or that the former thing never happened, but rather, "this first thing wasn't the main issue, but this second thing was."  Thus, Jeremiah's words should be understood to mean, "I didn't primarily speak to your fathers about sacrifice, but about obeying My commands."  It is no mere happenstance that God opened His mitzvot (commandments) with a dissertation about properly treating one's neighbor rather than a collection of ceremonies.  That is not to say that the ceremonies are without value, only that they are without value to those who mistreat their neighbors!

Prominent among the commandments are the strange laws about setting one's bondservant free on the Sabbath year.  It was for violating this commandment--indeed, for initially giving the slaves their freedom and then depriving them of it again!--that Adonai took away the freedom of the whole nation.  Indeed, many miss the significance of 2 Ch. 36:21 because they don't realize this:  The reason that the Holy One set the number of years of exile according to the number of Sabbath years missed was not because He was so much concerned about harvesting on the Sabbath year, but because He was concerned about freedom being given on it!  Indeed, the rabbis recognized that this sin was so severe that they reversed the normal order of the Haftarah reading to that one would read the promise to never destroy Israel after reading the depths of her sin!

Yeshua came to give us freedom; not freedom from Torah, but freedom from sin and fear and death.  Because we have known His grace, we have been set free indeed, just as Israel was set free from bondage to the Egyptians.  This is why the attempt of some Jews, who were not believers in the Messiah (Gal. 2:4) trying to force Gentiles to become Jews by the ritual of circumcision so vexed Sha'ul:  How could those who have tasted of the freedom of deliverance by God want to put others under a yoke of slavery?  God freed the Jews from bondage to the Gentiles so that they could become the nation of Israel; how then could Israel demand that Greeks stop being Greeks, Romans stop being Romans, Persians stop being Persians, etc., when the Eternal One had made it clear from the beginning that His plan was to save the whole earth--indeed, to call even the Gentiles by His Name!

Therefore, we should respect one another's freedom to be accepted fully in the way in which we were called, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, bachelor or married.  Such distinctions have not ceased to exist, but they have ceased to divide, for One Lord has set us all free together!




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