Vayikra – He called
by Mark Huey
In the Book of Leviticus, Torah students get an opportunity to mainly study the sacrificial system, which was formally instituted, to cover the transgressions of human sin. The Ancient Israelites in the desert have just completed the construction of the Tabernacle, and have witnessed God’s glory descend upon the structure. The weight of His presence was so intense, that Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting in order to communicate directly with the Almighty (Exodus 40:34-35).
At the end of the Book of Exodus, Moses’ credibility with the people of Israel was at its pinnacle. The instructions on how to build the Tabernacle, its furniture, and the elements needed for the priesthood, were followed to precision. The result had to be an awesome sight, to these former Egyptian slaves, who were privileged to participate in the construction projects. From a distance, they were all eyewitnesses to the pillar of fire and cloud that was guiding them by night and day.
A Sacrificial System
The main theme of the Book of Leviticus, easily seen from a survey of the text, is that it details the intricacies of the priesthood and sacrificial system, which are to regulate Israel’s national life. Without any significant interruption, it appears that the Holy One, from His new location in the midst of the community, began to address the need for individual atonement for the sins of the people:
“Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” He shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting’” (Leviticus 1:1-4).
In these opening verses of Vayikra, we discover that the sacrifices for transgressions are a very personal thing. The one who was guilty of a sin offense was to place his hands on the head of the animal, to transfer his personal guilt to the offering. The animal was then to be personally slayed by the sinner, and Aaron and his sons were to take the blood and disperse it in the appropriate places.
Can you imagine the impact this ceremony would have on you, if you were required to participate in this ritual? If you have ever slaughtered an animal—which the great majority of modern-day people have never done—you might have some understanding of the significance of what was mandatory. But can you visualize actually placing your hands on an innocent animal’s head, with the knowledge that your transgression has required a blood atonement, that (temporarily) returns you to a right relationship with your Creator?
Many of these thoughts are difficult to fathom, but as you read through the the Book of Leviticus, the variety of offerings and their significance for the array of sins of commission and sins of omission, can be overwhelming. It is understandable that many, especially in the past two millennia since the destruction of the Second Temple, have had a tendency to not really comprehend what is being communicated in the Torah about sacrifices. In the post-resurrection era, after all, final atonement for sins has been accomplished in the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah (Hebrews 9:28; 10:10). The propensity for Believers to focus on His atoning work can help us understand why there has not been a great deal of Christian examination of Leviticus. The ability to personalize the gravity of sin and what was required to restore a right relationship with God has been mitigated. Many just claim the “blood of Yeshua” when they transgress God’s Instruction, if they are aware of such commandments.
If we are mature Bible readers, then Torah students should be able to properly value the sacrificial instructions of Moses’ Teaching—even with salvation history having moved forward, with a permanent sacrifice for human sins available.
Having a greater, conscious awareness of what God defines as sin—is one of the primary reasons why the Lord is inspiring many people to return to a foundational understanding of their faith, through a consistent study of the Torah of Moses. For by actually reading through something like Vayikra this week, and meditating upon the sins that require atonement, a man or woman should certainly be able to analyze areas of his or her life where some “fine tuning” would be appropriate. For who among us is not personally guilty of various sins of commission or omission at times? Consider the following words of the Apostle John:
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
Some have been known to describe 1 John 1:8-10 as a kind of “Christian confessional bar of soap.” If people can acknowledge themselves as fallen sinners, then they can know that they need redemption—something that God is surely faithful to provide! A little further on in the Epistle of 1 John, the Apostle goes on to describe some of the benefits of a true salvation experience for those who have become the children of God:
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:1-10).
We are found to be in Him and abiding in Him—with everything about who we are as people focused on and around the Lord—then we will not sin. The problem is that in our spiritual journey, the sanctification process is not often something instantaneous. We must each learn to abide more and more in Him, and pressing into the Lord must be exercised by our free will and desire to mature.
Where do you stand in the Lord today? Take this one example from Vayikra as a starter in your personal, confessional appraisal:
“Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt”(Leviticus 5:1).
Have you ever been in a predicament where you were a primary eyewitness to some sinful circumstances that were being investigated or adjudicated by some authority? This could be a civil or criminal offense, from a minor misdemeanor to felony. Perhaps you did not want to be involved in the investigation or prosecution, because of your relationship to the offender. Or perhaps you were concerned about your potential loss of time. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, you might have justified your decision to disobey this command. On the other hand, by thinking and meditating on many of the different implications from this Torah commandment, you could hopefully become a better corporate citizen to the community where you live—especially when you realize that if you do not come forward as a credible eyewitness, then you will bear the guilt of the offender! Think about this.
But what if you are an employee at a company, and you witness some people stealing some of the company pens and paper for their own personal use? What if the owner of the company asks all the employees to report any known offenders? Are you going to come to the employer and report what you have witnessed? Or are you going to remain silent and bear the guilt of the offender?
On a spiritual level when we witness fellow Believers in sin, there is an admonition that allows us to deal with our brethren in love. In his closing word in his epistle, James gives us a strong encouragement to go to a brother or sister, turning them back to the truth:
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
This strongly parallels some teaching of Yeshua, in terms of approaching someone about a sin committed:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED [Deuteronomy 19:15]. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if he refuses to listen even to the assembly, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).
The problem we face, on all of these levels throughout the world, is that most people do not know the ramifications of just this one Torah commandment (Leviticus 5:1). If we understood that the guilt of our lack of performance to testify for the society or company or spiritual groups when we have personal first hand knowledge of offenses falls upon us, then perhaps we would follow the instructions. In so doing, our culture would improve as offenders are duly prosecuted. Companies would avoid the loss of assets from internal theft. Congregations and assemblies would function more righteously, as the “sin in the camp” is properly addressed. Most importantly, those who refuse to confront flagrant sin, that they have personal knowledge about, would not be burdened with the guilt that should rest upon the offender, rather than the one who keeps silent.
If you take the time to reflect on all of the different offerings in our Torah portion, I am confident that you will be able to identify with some of the different sins of commission or omission. Let the indwelling Spirit convict you of where you need to confess, repent, and be restored by His grace. The Holy One of Israel is still building a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), to bring light to all the nations of the Earth (Isaiah 42:6). If you are one of the called out ones, chosen to represent Him in this generation, then it is your responsibility to be holy, because the Lord God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Do not take this responsibility lightly! (Click to Source)
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Ki Tisa – When you take
1 Kings 18:1-39 (A); 18:20-39 (S)
by Mark Huey
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, is perhaps best remembered for the infamous golden calf incident. Because of this, it is significantly easy to overlook a variety of other details, ranging from the required half-shekel offering, the anointing oil formula, a description of the skilled artisans, reminders about the Sabbath, appeals to the Lord and His response including a description of Himself, and a return to the mountain to receive yet another set of instructions after the first tablets were shattered at the base of the mountain. The differences between how Moses handled his responsibility, versus how Aaron and a certain segment of the Israelite population, impatiently rebelled, is difficult to ignore (Exodus 32:1-10, 19-35). Recorded for future generations to ponder is the human proclivity that is prone to wander away from the Creator. Nevertheless, some benefits for His people accrue, as incredible insight into the essence and attributes of the Holy One are communicated to Moses, as he implored the Lord for mercy (Exodus 33:19; 34:6-7). Thankfully, because the Lord has an ultimate plan for His Creation, this potential deviation from following Him is averted, but not without commensurate punishment for the malefactors.
However, before getting into some of the details about consequences of false worship, it is critical to note that our Torah reading initially delineates more instruction about what the Lord expects from His chosen people. In our previous Torah portion, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), the Lord had communicated considerable detail about the high priest, the institution of the priesthood, and its respective duties for service in association with the Tabernacle. But now as Ki Tisa continues the record in the Book of Exodus, there is the imperative that individual responsibility is expected of all the people of Israel:
“The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, ‘When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD. Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves” (Exodus 30:11-16).
In this instruction, it is noted that a wide segment of the Israelite community, regardless of its financial wherewithal, was required to make a contribution. The blessing of compliance to this was an avoidance of plagues. The essential principle established by this instruction was that every person would be responsible for his own actions. While such a “ransom” was useful to conduct a census, the Lord was requiring Ancient Israel to literally entrust its wealth to those responsible for continually ministering unto Him. In some regards, this foreshadows a similar principle enunciated by Yeshua the Messiah, when He was telling His followers about where they should direct their resources:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
From the census instructions is witnessed another principle that applied originally to the Levitical priesthood, but now is applicable to a wider community of God’s people. This was the requirement that in order to appropriately minister to the Lord or approach Him, one should do so in a state of cleanliness, respecting the sanctity of presenting oneself before Him as the Holy One:
“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing; and you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it. Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it; when they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, so that they will not die; or when they approach the altar to minister, by offering up in smoke a fire sacrifice to the LORD. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die; and it shall be a perpetual statute for them, for Aaron and his descendants throughout their generations” (Exodus 30:17-21).
This basic principle, of cleanliness before the Lord, was expanded upon by King David, as he had the privilege of approaching His presence after the Tabernacle was relocated to Mount Moriah. Note the reverence and awe emoted in this Psalm, which takes the concept of clean hands to a much higher level, as it concerns the need for a pure heart:
“A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates, and lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah” (Psalm 24:1-10).
From the opening verses of Ki Tisa, the Lord communicates some universal principles regarding individual responsibilities, and how He wants people to approach Him. So while contemplating the balance of this reading, it will be personally edifying for us to reflect upon just how well we are accepting our individual duties before the Lord and how we are seeking Him. If our hearts are focused on the things of this world, or we have impurities impeding our relationship with Him—perhaps this would be an appropriate time for us to confess our transgressions. For in further reading, we will not only discover how the Lord deals with idol worship, but most crucially that He is a compassionate and merciful God who is slow to anger. He is surely willing to forgive those who faithfully come to Him with a broken spirit and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
Once the issues of personal responsibility and properly approaching the Holy One are addressed, we see various instructions about the fragrant anointing oil with some prohibitions about its usage, a brief description about the artisans designated to make the Tabernacle and the elements of priestly, and a reminder about the importance of remembering the Sabbath rest (Exodus 30:22-31:18). After this, Ki Tisa turns to focus on the tragic golden calf incident. The Israelites were unaware that Moses was receiving two tablets with the testimony of God etched by His own finger, on what would be his first ascent of Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:16-18). But being accustomed to his role as mediator, while viewing from a distance the glory of the Lord like a consuming fire in a cloud shrouding the mountaintop, some became frightfully anxious about his lengthy absence. At this relatively early stage in the desert sojourn, it is safe to say that the faith of the Ancient Israelites was being tested.
After a number of weeks, a segment of the impatient population turned to Aaron, the designated leader in Moses’ absence, and they made an idolatrous request of Aaron to make a tangible “god” which they could follow. In much of the Ancient Near East, the bull was a symbol of lordship, leadership, strength, vital energy, and fertility—and was either deified and worshipped, or used to represent fertility. Aaron complied with their demand. Ironically, not yet aware of the silver half-shekel requirement that was to be instituted, Aaron without any apparent resistance to this unfaithful appeal, perhaps fearing for his own life, asked the people to donate their gold jewelry for the fashioning of a molten calf:
“When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.’ So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 31:18-32:6).
It is difficult to fathom why Moses’ older brother Aaron succumbed to this demand. After all, Aaron had been with Moses from the very beginning of his role as deliverer of Israel, being used as the spokesperson (Exodus 4:14-16) for the inarticulate Moses. Aaron had witnessed all the miracles, from the courts of Pharaoh to an intimate Mount Sinai dinner with the Holy One (Exodus 24:9-11). Aaron’s personal involvement in, or observation of, the Lord’s activities, required him to know that the Lord forbade the making of idols (Exodus 20:3-4). Yet, because of either social pressure or the threat of physical harm, Aaron not only requested the gold jewelry, but he also fashioned the golden calf—even though he later protested to Moses that the golden calf simply emerged from the fire (Exodus 32:24). Aaron’s direct participation and culpability, for these idolatrous acts, were later confirmed during Moses’ reiteration of these events in the Book of Deuteronomy. Apparently, the Lord was about to execute judgment on Aaron, but Moses interceded for him:
“The LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him; so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time” (Deuteronomy 9:20).
In studying the incident of the golden calf in a variety of Torah commentaries, one discovers different interpretations found in assertions made by the Jewish Sages, which in various degrees are intended to provide excuses for Aaron’s actions. Whether it is blaming the idol worship on the non-Israelite “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38) that departed Egypt, or avoiding the threat of death, Aaron was involved in the sin and still bore some guilt.
In this instance, upon the delay of Moses’ return from the mountain, the people insisted that Aaron “make a god” to go before them. The proper, faithful reaction, would have been to refuse the request regardless of the consequences. But this is not what Aaron did. Instead, because Aaron complied with their demands, when the golden calf was presented to Israel, the people actually declared that this “god” had brought them out of Egypt! How absurd this exclamation must have been to Aaron, and many within the crowds who had escaped bondage in Egypt—but such sentiments were enough to prevent a wide number from wanting to worship their new deity. We see a classic example of mixing the holy with the profane, and Aaron should have known better. This is a vivid reminder to Messiah followers today, how it is possible for anyone—including designated leaders—to have a lack of, or lose faith, and fall into error.
Several centuries later, history would repeat itself. When King Solomon died, and his realm was split in two, King Jeroboam of the newly established Northern Kingdom resorted to this same practice of fashioning golden calves. His intention was to divert worship from the Lord in Jerusalem, to the false gods set up in Bethel and Dan, so there would be no demand for reunification with the Southern Kingdom:
“So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi” (1 Kings 12:28-31).
Apparently, these people did not learn their lesson from the golden calf incident that their ancestors had participated in, and were beguiled by a desperate leader to worship false idols. This should be a warning alarm to all who currently follow the One True God, especially in light of another spoken word. Yeshua the Messiah spoke the following, per the days that would transpire prior to His return:
“And Yeshua answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Messiah,” and will mislead many” (Matthew 24:4-5).
In a similar manner to Aaron invoking the name of the Most High for a feast before a false idol, there are going to be some teachers or leaders who come via the guise of proclaiming Yeshua in some way—but in reality will be misleading people, unable to discern the mixing of the holy and profane. This is why it is imperative that the faithful followers of Yeshua invest the time to truly understand the ways of the Lord in His Word, so that they may avoid being deceived. In the case of the Ancient Israelites in this week’s Torah reading, the result of false idol worship was a devastating death:
“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies—then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.”’ So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day” (Exodus 32:25-28).
The golden calf incident is one of the main examples to be considered from the Torah, as warnings have been issued to all of God’s people throughout the ages (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11-14). So, as today’s Messianic Believers study the Torah and consider its applications elsewhere, in the Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures, the multiple warnings that have been issued by God need to be heeded. The fact that every person is individually accountable for his or her own relationship with the Lord—and that people are required to approach Him with cleans hands and pure hearts—should make true worshippers more discerning when tempted by misguided leaders or false teachers.
God’s Merciful Solution
Thankfully, this Torah portion also establishes a foreshadowing of the arrival of the Messiah, often in how a mediator has to bridge the gap between the Eternal and humanity at large. In Ki Tisa, we see how Moses intervened on behalf of the Ancient Israelites, pleading before the Holy One for mercy to be shown to them:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, ‘Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation. Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, ‘O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, “With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth”? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:7-14).
It is notable in this passage that the Lord’s first inclination upon speaking to Moses about the rebellious acts of the obstinate Israelites was to eradicate the Ancient Israelites, and to start over with Moses to make a great nation. In capacity as mediator, Moses immediately questioned the Lord’s statement, by reminding Him of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then in a statement that has raised eyebrows for centuries, the text states that the Lord “changed His mind.” This passage illustrates for Bible readers, how the role of a mediator before the Father, is ultimately consummated in the atoning work of the Son. He is currently seated at His right hand, interceding:
“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:33-34).
Additionally, while noting the critical role of a mediator in God’s plan for the ages, our Torah portion also goes on to reveal some magnificent attributes about Him. After God’s justice is executed by the Levites (Exodus 32:28), Moses still wanted to know more about the One he served. Noting that he had found favor in the sight of the Lord, Moses wanted to know not only the ways of the Lord, but know Him in a more intimate way:
“Then Moses said to the LORD, ‘See, You say to me, “Bring up this people!” But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, “I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.” Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.’ And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’ The LORD said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.’ Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ Then the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:12-23).
In this compelling passage, Moses was able to observe some of the glory of the Lord passing by, with only His “back” viewable. In the course of this interaction, the Lord noted that He was gracious and compassionate. This brief description of the mercy of God was followed by a much more complete explanation, after Moses was commanded to return to the mountain with two new tablets. Now, rather than the Lord exclusively producing the stone tablets, the responsibility of mortals to be involved, in the process of receiving the commands, is noted. But beyond the principles communicated, the Lord expanded upon the description of Himself that eloquently detailed His mercy and forgiveness:
“The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’ Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, ‘If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.’ Then God said, ‘Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you’” (Exodus 34:5-10).
The Almighty Creator God is the epitome of love. In all other Ancient Near Eastern societies, when the people worshipping a god or goddess would demonstrate disloyalty—their mythologies describe how great catastrophe and penalties would often immediately come—perhaps by them destroying the nation. Here in the Torah, we do not see this. We see the great disloyalty of the Ancient Israelites who worshipped the golden calf, and the significant restraint of God’s judgment upon His chosen ones.
Ki Tisa commences by emphasizing individual responsibility and accountability for Ancient Israel, with the admonition that approaching the Holy One requires a cleanliness before Him that is more than just physical. It continues with a vivid reminder that faithless impatience can result in following after false idols, and even infect those who are placed in positions of leadership. But the teaching and parallel readings also illustrate that a loving and merciful God will respond to the pleas or actions of a mediator, as was the case when Moses’ pleadings for God’s mercy on Aaron were heeded.
As we each read and reflect upon our parashah for this week, it is crucial to recognize that people are ultimately going to be held accountable for their actions, before a holy and righteous Creator God. But will you be evaluated for punishment, or for the dispersement of rewards for your good works? Many are susceptible to a lack of faith, impatience, impure thoughts, a lack of discernment, and a bevy of iniquities that can seriously impede our relationship with the Holy One of Israel. Hence, it is beneficial to frequently go before the Lord—if and when any thoughts or actions disrupt the blessing of intimate fellowship with Him. The beloved Apostle John honestly described the need for those called into the light of truth, to faithfully confess whatever sin might darken the soul:
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:6-10).
May we all forever embrace this eternal truth! (Click to Source)
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 Exodus 30:11-16.
 Exodus 30:22-33.
 Exodus 31:1-11.
 Exodus 31:12-18.
 Exodus 32:11-14; 33:12-23.
 Exodus 34:1-35.
 Cf. Nosson Scherman, ed., et al., The ArtScroll Chumash, Stone Edition, 5th ed. (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2000), 495; Nahum M. Sarna, “Exodus,” in Etz Hayim, 531.
Mishpatim – Rulings
Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26
by Mark Huey
Last week, our Torah reading Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23) centered on the dramatic events surrounding the appearance of the Almighty Creator God at Mount Sinai, as He conveyed the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel through His servant Moses. The original recipients of these foundational building blocks of faith were primed for embracing them, after they witnessed and participated in their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. So magnificent were the miracles and display of God’s power, that even before Moses went up on the mountain, the Ancient Israelites unanimously proclaimed a desire to faithfully do whatever He would proclaim:
“And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do!’ And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever.’ Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD” (Exodus 19:8-9).
After given the opportunity to hear the voice of the Lord proclaim His Instruction to the multitude stationed at the base of Mount Sinai, we find that the Israelites were terrified about their physical survival. So, they implored Moses to maintain his role as an intermediary between the Lord and them:
“And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:18-20).
Moses calmed the fears of the Israelites, by telling them that God’s display of His power was designed to test them, and so that they would fear Him and avoid any sin that would displease Him. However, the Lord did not give His people just the Ten Commandments, without some specific details about how one could make these directions an integral part of their walk and relationship with Him. So without leaving the recipients in the dark, Moses added some more actions, which should be avoided and/or taken, in order to please the Lord:
“So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves. You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it”’” (Exodus 20:21-26).
Making idols of gold and silver was strictly forbidden, but the requirement to build an altar of uncut stones in order to present sacrifices is also witnessed here. From the giving of the Decalogue, God was very concerned about the Ancient Israelites falling into the pattern of many other people groups, who had a tendency to make physical tokens of gods out of gold and silver. Perhaps this was a forewarning about the infamous “golden calf incident” that was forthcoming (Exodus 32), so that there would be no excuses for deviant behavior. On the other hand, by describing the details of the construction of altars, the Lord was definitely reminding His chosen people from the very onset of their desert sojourn, that He desired to be worshipped at places and in ways that are not profaned.
With these reminders, Mishpatim or “Rulings,” largely deals with a selection of ordinances, which in many respects, adds details to how God wanted the Ancient Israelites to behave appropriately to His calling them into holiness (Exodus 19:6). Our Torah reading details about how people should interact with one another, given the challenges that ensue from the imperfections of our world. Surprisingly, perhaps, Mishpatim ends with a desire by the Ancient Israelites to be faithful to perform all the words that the Lord had spoken:
“Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!’” (Exodus 24:3).
With what appears to be another unanimous declaration that the people of Israel will do all of which the Lord had spoken, let us take a look at some of those very words.
A Covetous Overlay
The Ten Commandments undeniably have formed much of the basis for judicial and legal systems throughout the Judeo-Christian world. It can be argued that following the Sinai theophany of God delivering the Ten Words to Ancient Israel, that many of the instructions and regulations that are witnessed in the Torah thereafter, are somehow based upon the Ten Commandments. After delineating the Ten Words, adding a warning about making idols and describing proper altar worship, we should see how Mishpatim goes into great detail, further defining the rights and responsibilities of individuals when issues of life erupt. Much of this could be said to amplify what was communicated by the Tenth Commandment, the prohibition against coveting:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).
The sin of covetousness in one’s heart is perhaps one of the most insidious offenses detailed in the Holy Scriptures—because it can be one of the most difficult to detect, and can be the seed of deceit that instigates other sins. Surely, sinful acts committed against fellow humans—such as murder, adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness, as forbidden in the Decalogue—are conceived when a person covets something that another has (James 1:13-15), be it life, a spouse, property, or position in the community. Additionally, it might be said that when one covets his or her own self or personhood, by becoming a god unto oneself or by idolizing oneself, one is exposed to be a violator of the immutable Law of the only One God. By acknowledging that there is a Supreme Being who desires worship, this should impose some limits and restraints on people who would be otherwise inclined by their own willful actions. Alas, though, when confronted with God’s Torah, many people know instinctively that they must obey—but they choose to instead reject it. When speaking of the person who struggles with the power of sin, Paul referenced the Tenth Commandment prohibition against covetousness:
“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COVET’ [Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21]. But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead” (Romans 7:7-8).
As we turn to Mishpatim this week, its ordinances break down to a discussion of civil and criminal matters in Exodus 21:2-22:6, humanitarian considerations in Exodus 22:17-23:19, and warnings against assimilation into paganism in Exodus 23:20-33. I would ask you to try filtering these instructions through a fuller appreciation of what coveting entails. Even if someone were able to follow each of these ordinances to the presumed letter, there will likely be the nagging problem that people will still inevitably stumble over some covetous thoughts, which will convict us of our need for a Savior and His redeeming work. James the Just, half-brother of Yeshua the Messiah, starkly reminds us,
“For whoever keeps the whole Torah but stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10, TLV).
Mishpatim, perhaps ironically to some Bible readers, actually begins with God giving instructions to Ancient Israel on how to handle slavery. What makes this a bit odd—other than slaves being some of the lowliest of human beings on the social ladder—is that these directions were given to a group of people who had just been delivered from slavery themselves. Is this at all a bit strange to you? If you have thought that a group of former slaves being told that this is how they were to regulate their own slaves, appears a bit out of place in a Holy Bible ultimately authored by the God of Freedom—then you are not alone. The best answer, that conservative Jewish and Christian scholars can often provide, is that Hebrew slavery in the Tanakh largely pertained to economic status, and was significantly subversive to other Ancient Near Eastern forms of slavery, where masters or slaveowners were literally able to do whatever they wanted with the people whom they owned. Here, in the opening of Mishpatim, we clearly read that this was not the case in Ancient Israel. Limitations were placed upon the status of an eved:
“Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them: If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently” (Exodus 21:1-6).
As you read this small piece of instruction on slavery in Ancient Israel, note how the Lord was especially concerned about the relationship of the slaveowner and the slave. The slave was someone entirely reliant upon the owner—implying that he was someone destitute, who really had no other place to go for sustenance and basic needs. One of the expectations of the owner was to actually provide the slave with a wife with whom he could have children. While to many moderns, the concept of slavery is something that is rightfully repugnant—what we have to consider is the difference between slavery in Israel versus slavery among Israel’s neighbors. Israelite slavery may be regarded as being decisively “liberal.” The Torah’s instruction regarding slavery was greatly different when compared to many of the other law codes of the era, and it decisively laid the foundation back to the human equality that was lost in Eden, but which has been restored in Messiah Yeshua (cf. Galatians 3:28; Colossians 2:11).
A Civil Society
The balance of Mishpatim summarizes a variety of mundane circumstances that occur in practically every society. God foresaw a wide degree of challenges, which would plague a civilization, where people lived and interacted in relative proximity to one another. The Lord detailed a list of instructions that specified actions to be taken when various incidents arose. These included, but were not limited to, how to handle capital offenses ranging from murder to kidnapping, striking or cursing parents, physical abuse, controlling livestock, stealing, maintaining proper boundaries, borrowing implements and lending money practices, proper restitution claims, protecting innocent young women, prohibitions about bearing false witness, avoidance of bribes, and not oppressing strangers (Exodus 21:12-36). By assigning punishments that discourage harmful behavior or establishing guidelines that check greedy inclinations, these Torah commands were designed to mold Israel into God’s desired kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).
While volumes of commentaries and legal briefs have been written to deal with the different ordinances encounters in Mishpatim, the instruction to apply capital punishment to a person who strikes or curses parents, is something particularly difficult to encounter. Although we later find a repetition of this in Deuteronomy 21:19-21, there is no recorded evidence that it was ever actually practiced in the Holy Scriptures. However, to reflect back on the Decalogue, note how the Fifth Commandment is one of the instructions that offers its adherents a blessing if properly followed:
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12).
The Fifth Commandment was reiterated by the Apostle Paul in his instruction to Believers in Asia Minor, urging children to honor their parents:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH [Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16]” (Ephesians 6:1-3).
Obviously, the family unit is a key unit of any ordered society. If families are found to be disintegrating, due to children not respecting their parents, further disrespect for civil and communal authority can devolve into blatant civil disobedience—resulting in societal deterioration.
When encountering Mishpatim, it can take a student of the Torah down many paths—as the variety of subjects to study or meditate upon range from Hebrew slavery to not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19). As you can imagine, there are many things one can consider during this week of examination. However, it is beneficial to once again recognize that even after these ordinances were given to the Ancient Israelites in the Thirteenth Century B.C.E., there was a universal acceptance by the people to strive to perform all that the Lord had spoken. Accordingly, Moses wrote down those words, and then at the foot of Mount Sinai after the offering of many sacrifices, he took blood, and sprinkled it on the altar, and then on the people who agreed to obey the words of the Lord:
“Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!’ Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:3-8; cf. Hebrews 9:19-22).
How should we approach Mishpatim? Our Torah reading undeniably demands that God’s people live in a different manner than those of the world at large, offering care and concern for other people. That those who are privileged should offer relief and mercy for the destitute is absolutely imperative to consider. Our Torah reading also forces Messianic readers today to exhibit considerable trust and reliance in our Eternal Creator, as we strive to understand His mind in interacting with ancient people with widely different values than our own—and as Twenty-First Century Messianics seek to adequately evaluate the trajectory of Holy Scripture. The faith to be exhibited in understanding the instructions given in Mishpatim, as I must personally confess (and I am sure I speak for many other Messianics), is significant. (Click to Source)