This week’s parasha is entitled Mishpatim, which is translated “Statutes” or “Judgments” and covers Exodus chapters 21 through 24. This section of the Torah contains extensive case law; fines and/or punishments for a broad spectrum of offenses having mostly to do with personal injury and property. Everything in this parasha demonstrates that, as beings created in the image of God, we have innate dignity and worth. But everything in Mishpatim also demonstrates that we are a fallen race; that because of the rebellion of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, the image of God in us was marred, and we are prone to selfishness, greed, and indifference to the needs of others, and that those sinful tendencies need to be reined in.
Those who think the legal codes in the Torah are unimportant will have a quick change of heart just as soon as someone harms them, steals from them, or borrows something from them and returns it damaged. The sad fact of life in a world broken by sin is that conflict is inevitable. A just set of laws, based on clearly defined standards of right and wrong, is the necessary foundation for a just society. It may not hold our interest as much as the narrative portions of Scripture, but these mishpatim are very important!
This morning I’d like to highlight two passages that have a decidedly New Covenant flavor, each found in chapter 23. The first reads:
Do not follow the crowd in doing evil.
When you give testimony in a lawsuit,
do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.
One of the more heartbreaking aspects of the sin nature is cowardice; the lack of moral courage to stand apart from the majority when they are doing wrong. We call it “peer pressure” but to be honest it’s our own weakness. When we fail to confront the majority for fear of what they will think about us, we act contrary to both the Torah and the Brit Chadashah.
Imagine, for a moment, the Bible history we wouldn’t have, were it not for great examples of moral courage. Suppose, for example, Daniel and his friends had gone along with everyone else and eaten Nebuchadnezzar’s food, which had been dedicated to idols. Suppose Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego had gone along with everyone else and bowed down to the king’s golden image? They might have avoided danger, but we wouldn’t learn about the mighty power of God to rescue them. Their moral courage has inspired generations of young people.
Consider the implications if Shifra and Puah, the Jewish midwives in Egypt, had complied with the murderous edict of Pharaoh.
Consider how much better things might have gone for Israel if Aaron had refused, rather than capitulated, to the demand of the mob to make that golden calf. Imagine if he had stood his ground and called on our people to repent and to be faithful to Adonai.
Imagine what we would be lacking if Isaiah ben Amoz had remained silent rather than face disapproval when told by God to cry out to the nation and declare it’s sin? And what of Jeremiah? Of Joshua and Caleb?
Do not follow the crowd in doing evil.
If godly men and women like these could put their lives on the line in order to be faithful, certainly you and I can weather a little disapproval or ridicule for not going along with the crowd.
The second of these passages is found in verses 4 and 5:
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.”
That has a decidedly New Covenant ring to it. We are commanded to do good even for our enemy! As an example, we are not to turn a blind eye when our enemy’s donkey has wandered away and we find it, or whose donkey collapses under its load. Picture this: there’s a guy at work that really doesn’t like you – maybe is even hostile towards you. And one day you see him broken down on the side of the road with a flat tire, so you pull over and help him put on the spare tire. That’s roughly the equivalent. It’s hard to keep hating someone who helps you in a time of distress. And isn’t that precisely the point? Under the weight of agape love, hatred begins to crumble; and when they ask why, you tell them about God’s love for us when we were still His enemies.
And, of course, this is what Messiah taught us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.”
But love of one’s enemy doesn’t come naturally. Do you remember how the prophet Jonah ran away from his assignment to go to the Assyrians, whom he hated? Even after his change of heart he only fulfilled it grudgingly. And ultimately it did not go well for the Assyrians. But centuries later, another Jewish man, Simon bar Jonah, a.k.a. Peter, embraced his assignment to go to a Gentile (a Roman Centurion no less). And the result was the beginning of the Good News going to men and women of every nation and language and people!
To love your enemy is to transcend your feelings. It is a matter of simple obedience to God. And often right feelings follow right actions. So this week if Adonai gives you an opportunity to show kindness to someone who in your book doesn’t deserve it, seize that opportunity. Love your enemy. It’s both Torah and Brit Chadashah. And through it Messiah Yeshua is glorified.