20220129 Parsha Mishpatim – Under Law or Under Grace
Torah Portion Exodus 23:20-28
Haftarah Jeremiah 34:14-17
Brit Chadashah Galatians 3:23-29
The eighteenth reading from the Torah is named Mishpatim, which means “judgments.” The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading,
וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְפָּטִים אֲשֶר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם׃
Ve-E-Le Ha-Mish-Pa-Tim A-Sher Ta-Sim Lif-Nei-Hem
which could be literally translated to say, “And these are the judgments which you will place before them” (Exodus 21:1). The first three chapters of this Torah portion deliver a legal code of laws and commandments that form a nucleus for the Torah’s laws. The last chapter tells the story of how the people of Israel consented to keep these laws and entered into a covenant relationship with God through a series of rituals conducted by Moses.
Last week we looked at a couple of ways to characterize the Covenant between God and Israel. Was it a code of conduct imposed on a subjugated people or was it a marriage contract between a loving husband and his bride? We saw that it was perhaps a little bit of both. It was indeed a Suzerain treaty format with God as the Sovereign and Israel as the Vassal. But it was also a marriage with the Torah serving as the Ketubah.
Today, I want to dig a bit deeper into the characteristics of the Torah, God’s written instructions, His standard of holiness.
This week’s Torah Portion contains a lot of laws and commandments. When Christians talk about the “Law”, they are probably thinking about lists of dos and don’ts. But we must remember that the Torah also contains stories from creation through the days of Moses. All that preceded Moses is a valuable commentary that is much more than just a legal code.
But, I have to admit, there are a lot of laws and commandments in the “Law”. The word Torah actually means “instruction.” Have you ever bought your kids something that comes in a big box with a gazillion parts in it? What is the most important piece of information that is included in that box? Not the warranty. That’s right, it is the instruction manual. Without it you would be lost and perhaps never get the toy assembled properly. In the same way, the laws and commandments found in the Torah are God’s instructions for how He wants His people to live. The Torah is the user’s manual for life.
This week’s Torah portion contains a lot of laws. Exodus 21-23 reads like an ancient legal code. Of the 613 commandments that the sages traditionally derive from the Torah, more than fifty of them are found in this week’s portion.
For some reason, many Christian teachers seem to view the laws of the Torah as if they are a bad thing. It is commonly taught that the law is the opposite of grace. You might hear someone say, “We are no longer under the law. We are under grace.” The implication is that since we have received the Messiah, we need not concern ourselves with the laws in the Old Testament. We can call this idea “Grace vs. Law.”
But before anyone begins to think that the Law is not good, let’s look at some of the innovations brought about by the law. These items were not practiced in the Ancient Near East in 1446 BCE. One that immediately comes to mind that we will see in an upcoming Parsha, is the treatment of women captives after winning a battle. Contrary to the prevailing custom of the day, Israelite soldiers were not allowed to ravage women captives. If they found one that they were attracted to, they had to take her home and treat her with respect. After a month in which she was able to mourn her captivity, he could marry her but she had certain rights not granted to women captured by other nations.
The treatment of slaves was also much better than other countries. There were provisions that allowed slaves to be free after 7 years.
Involuntary manslaughter was dealt with by having cities of refuge that allowed sanctuary against family avengers.
Women could inherit property just like men. Unheard of in that era of human history.
There were laws that prevented perpetual slavery and indebtedness. Property was reverted back to the original clan at the Jubilee years. (Every 50 years)
So we see that the Law, far from being a repressive burden was actually progressive for its day.
Let’s think about the Grace vs. Law idea. What do we mean when we say that we are not under the law? Does that mean we do not have to keep God’s rules? For example, does it mean that we can commit adultery and theft? Of course not. No one would say that. So what does it mean?
The Grace vs. Law concept is derived from the writings of Paul. In his epistles, it seems that Paul pits the two in opposition to each other. He often says things like
“Now before faith came, we were being guarded under Torah—bound together until the coming faith would be revealed.” (Galatians 3:23)
“But if you are led by the Ruach, you are not under law.” (Galatians 5:18).
One might misunderstand these statements to mean that Believers in Yeshua do not need to keep God’s rules. Of course, that would be absurd. Paul realized that some people might misunderstand his teaching, so he cautioned us not to suppose that grace gives us free license to sin against God:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
Do we then nullify the Torah through faithfulness? May it never be! On the contrary, we uphold the Torah. (Romans 3:31)
If Paul was not teaching believers that they did not have to keep God’s rules, what was he talking about? In Paul’s day, many of the Jewish believers taught that before Gentiles could be part of the kingdom of heaven, they needed to become Jewish. The idea that a Gentile must become Jewish before being saved is what Paul calls being “under the law.” Paul believed that Gentiles became sons of Abraham and part of the people of God through faith in Messiah. They did not need to earn that status by becoming legally Jewish. They did not need to first come “under the law” in order to enter the kingdom.
The Bible does not actually teach the idea of Grace vs. Law. Grace is God’s free gift of salvation for those who believe in His Son. Law is His loving instruction for how His people should live. Grace vs. Law is a false dichotomy. They are not opposed to each other. They are meant to work hand in hand.
The Law of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Grace of the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) ultimately serve one purpose and one purpose only. That being the process of bringing us into right standing before God.
In doing so, there is a duality in the Law. Paul says that the Law acts as a guardian, mentor or tutor guiding us to faith in the Messiah.
Galatians 3:23-25 Now before faith came, we were being guarded under Torah—bound together until the coming faith would be revealed. (24) Therefore the Torah became our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we might be made right based on trusting. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
It would be like having a tutor or overseer to guide us through the years of our education. At the end of the process, when we have graduated high school or university, there is really no need for the daily guidance of our tutor. We are now on our own and not under his tutelage. The Torah serves as that guide pointing us to the time of graduation when we have come to understand the principle of salvation and have accepted Yeshua as our savior.
So, do we fire our tutor, the Torah, or does he remain our friend, guide and companion as we go forward. Of course, we keep Torah in our lives. Can you imagine the confusion of not knowing what is right and wrong? For me that would be like trying to participate in a game of cricket. I know it looks sort of like baseball, but not really. The scoring is absolutely incomprehensible. I would need someone to teach me the rules of the game if I ever wanted to be competitive.
Life sometimes is like that rhetorical game of cricket. How do you compete and excel if you don’t know the rules? Torah provides those rules even though you are a Believer, there are still rules. We have to know God’s standards of holiness if we want to continue walking with the Lord. What did Yeshua say about that?
John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”
John 15:10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
To what commandments was Yeshua referring? It was the commandments of the Law. Yeshua didn’t come and bring a new Law with Him. No, He said that He didn’t come to change the law.
Matthew 5:17-18 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets! I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. (18) Amen, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things come to pass.
Yeshua didn’t change the Law. He didn’t say it was alright to eat pork or shellfish. He didn’t say we could change the day of Shabbat, disrespect our parents or cheat on our spouses, lie or cheat. Yeshua didn’t nail the Law to the cross. He clarified the Law. He gave us a better understanding of the Law. We already had the letter of the Law, but Yeshua gave us the Spirit of the law. It is like studying the Legislative Notes of the Law, which give the reasoning behind the law and gives a sense of the intended purpose of the Law. Yeshua’s teaching gives us a clearer picture of what God intended when He gave us the law on Mount Sinai.
Are we under the Law or under Grace? Like the analogy from last week, it is a bit of both. We are under Law because the Law has not been repealed. Hello!!! The Law will never be repealed. The Law is STILL God’s standard of Holiness. God never changes and neither does His standard of Holiness. Sin is still sin. Lying, cheating, stealing, fornication, homosexuality is still sin. So, yes we are still under the Law.
But we are also under the mantle of grace because 2000 years ago, Yeshua lived a sinless life and became the perfect sacrifice for the atonement of our sins. Because of God’s grace we are no longer under the penalty of death. We have eternal life with the Messiah. We are no longer condemned because we couldn’t follow Torah perfectly. We have an advocate in Yeshua that brings us into the throne room of God through grace.
We don’t observe Torah in order to be saved. Observance of Torah will not save you. We observe Torah BECAUSE we are saved. Because of the grace of God and the sacrifice of Yeshua we are saved and therefore we observe Torah.
Torah is a Law of Grace and Grace is how we are saved. We need both.