This section of the Torah is where we see the judicial, or penal code, side of the Torah.
Torah doesn’t mean “law” but is properly translated more as “teachings”, and is a multi-faceted book. It is a Ketuba (marriage certificate), a penal code (as we see in this parashah and other parts of the Torah), a constitution (in that it defines the way the nation will operate and the rights of the citizens, therein) and a historical documentation of the birth of the world and the creation of humanity. It is also a prophetic book, which tells us exactly what will happen to this new “nation of priests”, of the coming of Messiah and where humanity will finally end up.
The regulations in the Torah come from God, directly, and one of the arguments I have heard from people who constantly try to demean God and the validity of the Bible as His word is that it is not a unique document. They use the fact that other cultures and peoples had the same or similar laws in effect before the Torah, so because these rules and regulations were not original they imply the Bible is the work of men. The History Channel (which I normally like to watch, so long as they are not doing something about God) has historically (pun intended) debunked the Bible, and even brought God’s existence into question. But it’s not just them. The argument against these laws (as I started to talk about before I went a little off tangent) are meant to make it seem that the Bible is not the word of God, because what He is proclaiming to the children of Israel are not “original”. It is often pointed out that Hammurabi had these in his code before Moses, and there are other such arguments.
So what? Leviticus 11 outlines the rules about which animals we can eat and which ones we can’t eat, yet Noah already knew this. He brought on 7 pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean. Just because laws are written down in Torah doesn’t mean they have to be original and new to prove they are from God. And, likewise, just because they weren’t written down before Torah doesn’t mean they weren’t valid.
Shaul tells us that the Torah created sin, in that before there was Torah there was nothing telling us exactly what was wrong and what wasn’t. Because Torah spelled it out, it made the right “right” and the wrong “wrong.” Shaul never argues against the Torah, however, even though Romans and other letters have been misconstrued to make it seem that way.
Just because a law exists doesn’t mean it is a good law, and if it doesn’t exist that doesn’t mean the actions not specifically outlawed are good. How many laws do we still have on the books that are outdated, either culturally or technologically? Here are some examples I just took off the Internet:
* Horses are forbidden to eat fire hydrants in Marshalltown, Iowa.
* In Fairbanks, Alaska it is considered an offense to feed alcoholic beverages to a moose.
* (Prescott, Arizona) No one is permitted to ride their horse up the stairs of the county court house.
* (Calif.) Animals are banned from mating publicly within 1,500 feet of a tavern, school, or place of worship.
* (Devon, Ct.) It is unlawful to walk backwards after sunset.
* (Florida) If an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle.
I don’t know how true these are, but I am sure everyone reading this knows what I am talking about with regards to crazy laws that are still laws. Just because laws are written down doesn’t make them realistic, just because they were not written down doesn’t make the action valid, and just because they already existed somewhere else doesn’t mean they aren’t from God.
The point of all this rhetoric I am spouting is that just because the mishpatim (regulations) that God gave to His people aren’t the very first time someone was told how to act doesn’t mean there is no God. It doesn’t mean Moshe made these up himself, and it doesn’t indicate or diminish the importance of what they represent: the encoding of a system of just and fair laws that, at that time, were more respectful of the individual rights and the treatment that each person should receive under the law than any other codes or laws of that day.
Another wrongful argument is that “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” requirement is cruel and unjust. The Rabbi’s are explicit in the Chumash (Soncino edition) about this: they say “life for life” (specifically in Ex. 21:23) is a legal term meaning “fair compensation.” They justify this by referencing Lev. 24:21 where it says “He that killeth a beast shall make it good; and he that killeth a man shall be put to death.” The “eye for an eye “, which is similar to the Code of Hammurabi, is different here in that it is not an absolute term to be taken literally (as it was under the Code of Hammurabi), but instead is, as the Rabbi’s say, telling us justice should be rendered in a fair and reasonable manner.
This parashah is about God commanding that we should have compassion and fairness when we render justice. It is a penal code. He also states that the widow and orphan, as well as the stranger, must be treated with (as I see it) a little extra compassion because they have no one to represent their rights or to protect them in the world. In fact, God says that if these people are not treated well, and they call out to Him, He, Himself, will act on their behalf. I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want God to be angry with me!
What I take from this parashah is that we should all be fair and just to each other, the rich treated no differently than the poor, no one offering or accepting a bribe, and to remember that God is aware of what we do and if there is no one on Earth to protect or enforce the rights of a person, when that person calls to God for help, God will answer on their behalf.
That is both a warning to those who think to oppress others, and a comfort to those who are being oppressed.
The parashah ends with God telling the people how He will bring them into the land, and also warns them that He has provided His angel before them (Moshe?) and not to rebel against the angel because, ultimately, God will punish them for disobedience. He tells them, as we see throughout the Torah, that they will receive blessings if they obey and if they don’t (which usually ends up more a prophecy than a warning) they will receive the same treatment that God has planned for the people there already. In other words, as He reminds us throughout the Bible, God will use the Israelites as His rod of punishment against those nations that have rebelled and sinned against Him, and if the people God has chosen should end up doing the same thing that the ones they punish do, then they, the punishers, will become the punished.
And that’s exactly what happens, isn’t it? And it didn’t take them long, did it? The people make an oath and form a blood covenant with God to obey all these mishpatim. Then Moshe climbs up Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) and within 40 days the people break their covenant.
The Torah is valid: it was before Moshe wrote it, and it has never changed. God gave us the Torah and told us that these laws and regulations are to be observed throughout all our generations. That means forever.
And despite what you may have been taught about Torah being only for the Jews, the truth is that Yeshua upheld the Torah, Shaul upheld the Torah, James upheld the Torah and God hasn’t changed His mind about any part of the Torah. So if you think that you don’t have to obey the Torah, you better get your head out of where it is now and back where the sun can shine on it! The Torah tells us how God wants us to act, to Him and to each other, and He hasn’t changed any part of it.
And God will hold YOU responsible for what you do or what you don’t do when you have to face Him. With Yeshua as our Messiah we are saved from our sins, true, but there are different levels in heaven and some will be the greatest and some will be the least. I am glad just to know I will be there, but since I am going to be there, why would I want to be the least? Those who obey God will be told, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” and those that don’t will be told something else. I don’t know what, and I won’t tell you what because, well…I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something along the lines of, “Okay, you’re in, but someone has to clean the toilets and since you didn’t want to do anything else I told you to do while you were on Earth, you can do this while you are here in Heaven.”
Sit at the table with God or clean the toilets? Make your choice now.