Mishpatim & Shekalim
For the week of February 21, 2009 / 27 Shevat 5769
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 21:1 - 24:18; 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Melachim / 2 Kings 12:1-17

God's Rules

Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. (Shemot / Exodus 21:1; ESV)

This week's Torah portion includes rules regarding personal property liability, the penalties for causing bodily harm, parent-child relationships, behavior towards handicapped persons, equity of the law with regard to non-citizens, the consequences for engaging in certain kinds of illegitimate religious activities, and so on. The wisdom in many of these rules is self evident and can be found in the law codes of many societies throughout the world today.

Those desiring to take the Scriptures seriously typically ask the question, "How do we know which rules still apply in our day?" Traditional Judaism asserts that everything in the Torah (five books of Moses) that was directed to the people of Israel still applies to the people of Israel. The exception would be the elements of the sacrificial system. Some traditionalists look forward to the day when a new Temple will be built and the sacrificial system will be reinstated.

There are some New Covenant believers who have a similar understanding of Torah precepts. They see that the Torah as given at Mt. Sinai is eternal. They may or may not look forward to the reestablishment of the sacrificial system due to their understanding of Yeshua's role in fulfilling that particular aspect of the Torah. They tend to see that one of the purposes (if not the prime purpose) of the Gospel is to bring the Torah to the nations.

This view of the Torah doesn't jive with the teaching of the New Covenant Scriptures, however. In fact, it doesn't jive with the anticipation of the Old Covenant Scriptures either. The Torah as given to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai was more than a law code. It was a covenant, something similar to a national constitution. It governed more than behavior; it established the relationship between Israel and God. When Israel broke the covenant, God determined to establish a new covenant, not like the old one (see Jeremiah 31:31-34).

This New Covenant was established by the Messiah Yeshua. The New Covenant's foundational difference from the Old Covenant was the basis through which right relationship with God was established and maintained. Under the Old Covenant this was founded on the Levitical priesthood and the Temple and was fundamentally for the people of Israel during the years of preparation until the Messiah's coming. Under the New Covenant right relationship with God is founded upon the person and work of Yeshua and is freely open to the full participation of all people regardless of nationality.

While there is wonderful continuity between the Old and New Covenants, the Old Covenant as a system of regulations is incompatible with the New. Since the basis of relationship with God has been transformed because of what the Messiah has done, the Old Covenant system is obsolete.

This understanding of Torah is actually similar to that of traditional Judaism. The absence of a temple with its priesthood and sacrifices along with the rejection of Yeshua as the Messiah forced a complete overhaul of Judaism. Some may think that Judaism upholds the Torah when the fact is it cannot without its Levitical foundation in place. Attempts by some messianics to make Yeshua the new foundation of the old system is misguided and uninformed.

This leaves us with the question of what do we do with Torah regulations such as many of the ones listed in this week's portion? Just because the system within which these regulations were communicated is transformed doesn't mean that every detail is irrelevant. Certainly when God communicated his ways to Israel of old, while there were elements unique to that covenant, there were also a great many things that apply to all people of all times. Determining which ones those are require humility, spiritual sensitivity, and much study. The New Covenant emphasis of love of God and neighbor should drive us to delve into the Scriptures to discover God's heart for the specifics on how we should live our lives.

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