Whose Side Are You On?

For the week of February 10, 2024 / 1 Adar 5784

Message info over a man holding a Bible, staring up to heaven

Mishpatim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 21:1 – 24:18; B’midbar/Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24

But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. (Shemot/Exodus 23:22)

I find reading something like this difficult in light of what’s been going on in Israel since October 7. Frankly, I am hesitant to bring it up mainly because I fear those who might weaponize it against my people. “See!” they say. “If the people of Israel were truly godly, they wouldn’t be constantly facing extermination by their enemies, let alone the horrific attack by Hamas on October 7.” Among Bible-sensitive people, I suspect that many wonder if the current crisis might be a purposeful act of judgement on God’s part. If Israel lived up to its biblical calling, they may think, then there would be peace within its borders, as God would keep its enemies at bay.

To start off, let’s consider that this might be true. That is a possibility that the slaughter of 1200 Israelis and others, including women, the elderly, and children, plus the taking of hostages, many of whom were also women, the elderly, and children, was an act of judgment by God against Israel for its sins. What’s that to you? The Messiah was confronted by a similar question when he was asked about certain Galileans who were slaughtered by the Roman governor:

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).

I like to say that when we read the Bible, it is always speaking to me (if you are reading it, it’s speaking to you). There is always a temptation to think in terms of other people who, “really need to hear this!” And perhaps that’s true to some extent. But before considering others, we need to start with ourselves.

I imagine when almost three thousand people perished in the terrorist attack upon the World Trade Center in September 2011, many people wondered, “What did they do to deserve that?” There are so many supposedly miraculous stories of people who should have been there but weren’t. Were they more righteous than the selfless rescue workers who perished, for example? Who are we to make such determinations? Yeshua’s words are designed to turn us from judging the dead to questioning ourselves. Such disasters should cause us to take personal inventory of our own lives and make sure that we are right with God before we face our own disaster, which will come for all of us eventually.

We also have to take into account how a promise like the one I quoted from this week’s parsha (Torah portion) actually works. We might assume that it’s a simple cause-and-effect principle, as in “behave yourselves and everything will always be fine.” Scripture doesn’t reflect such a simplistic interpretation. The Book of Job, for example, focuses on the problem we have with life not always working out as we expect. Job’s friends wrongly assumed that his suffering was proof positive that he was being punished for his sins. In reality, he was suffering because he was such a good man.

David is another example. Labelled as “a man after God’s own heart,” he suffered at the hands of a demonically oppressed tyrant, not for his wrongs, but because God had chosen him to be Israel’s righteous leader.

Do these and other examples, therefore, contradict Torah? Absolutely not! What they do is provide fuller understanding as to how life with God works. Note we read, not that Israel would not suffer, but rather that if they were careful to be attentive to God’s directions, then their enemies would be God’s enemies. It would be presumptuous to think that God was fighting on their behalf, if they were not treating him as their commander in chief.

I would hope that the current crisis in Israel is provoking Israelis and all Jewish people everywhere to consider their relationship with God. But shouldn’t we all?

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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