Weekly D'rash Mishpatim
This week our Torah portion is filled with a variety of laws that describe a way of life that is moral, ethical, and reflects the character of God. As you read them, you might find it hard to relate some of them to life in the 21st century. That makes sense considering that they were given to people who lived five thousand years ago! However, there are many principles that help us to make wise choices as Messiah followers in our lives today. The portion can be divided up into four sections. The first section contains the laws pertaining to the way we interact with others. The second section contains laws pertaining to the three fasts of pilgrimage: Shavuot, Sukkot, and Unleavened Bread. The third section is about the promise of the conquest of the land. The fourth section is the affirmation of the covenant by the people.
I would like to focus on just one verse found at the end of the first section, Exodus 23:13, “Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth." Up to this point, everything that Moses has said has to do with ethical and moral ways that we interact with others. Even the Shabbat laws in Exo 23:10–12 are primarily referring to giving rest to the people around you and to the land—i.e., ethical ways of interacting with others. Exodus 23:13 is a warning. It essentially says: “be on your guard to be loyal to God.” Why doesn't he say, "be on your guard to do everything that I have said?" He does not say that! Concerning all the ethical and moral laws, he says: be on your guard to be loyal to God. Moses is saying that you demonstrate loyalty to God by the way you live in your everyday life.
Loyalty to God is not about "doing the right religious activity.” Loyalty to God is demonstrated primarily by obedience to the Torah way of life. Later on in Jewish history, when the Temple was being constructed, we have the directions for building the Temple in 1 Kings chapter 6. Right in the middle of the instructions there is an interjection which is an admonition from the Lord. We read in 1 Kings 6:11–13, “Now the word of the LORD came to Solomon saying, ‘Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes and execute My ordinances and keep all My commandments by walking in them, then I will carry out My word with you which I spoke to David your father. I will dwell among the sons of Israel, and will not forsake My people, Israel.’” God is reminding them that building the Temple is not a substitute for Torah obedience. In other words, as sincere as it may be, religious ritual is not a substitute for living a moral and ethical way of life as described by the Torah.
In Jeremiah's day, this substitution is exactly what was happening. In Jeremiah chapter 7, he warns the people not to simply say that we have the Temple as insurance of God's protection and blessing. This is sometimes referred to as "Temple Theology" vs. "Torah Theology." In the New Covenant Scriptures, we see this in the accounts of the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees held to a "Temple theology" while the Pharisees held to a legalistic form of "Torah theology". Yeshua challenged the Pharisees in their legalism, and the Sadducees in their reliance on Temple ritual. As Messiah followers, we must be on guard against both. As the Torah portion states, we must be on our guard against placing undue emphasis on ritual at the expense of the way we treat each other. We need to be on our guard against both legalism and assuming that our spirituality is gauged by how many prayers we say or how many responsibilities we have at the congregation.
The truth is that our spirituality is gauged by a heartfelt integration of our love for Yeshua in all of our everyday activities. It is not compartmentalized religion—but a way of life! That is the point of Exodus 23:13. As we read in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through Him to God the Father”. Paul said it, but may I suggest that he got it from Moses in this week's Torah portion!