Taking Down the High Places

Parashat Mishpatim (Ordinances or Statutes)
Shemot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18
Special reading for Shabbat Shekalim Shemot (Exodus) 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Kings 11:17-12:17 (Sephardic)

What sets apart faith in Yeshua from any other religion? I believe faith in Yeshua, whether you are Jewish or Gentile, means that believers are motivated not by what we get from our faith, but by what we already received through our faith. In other words, because we have received the greatest love known to humankind, the “byproduct” of our faith is action clothed in reverence and gratitude to the LORD. We get to serve the LORD; we do not have to.

Now comes the question that we should all ask ourselves, and I believe that the answer must be based on God’s standards and not our own: by which standards and precepts are we live?

Our weekly Scripture portion opens with a very interesting verse, which is usually interpreted negatively. However, I believe we misunderstand the essence of what the LORD is saying to us in it, and I argue for a more positive interpretation of it:

And these are the ordinances (statutes) המשפטים that you shall set before them.
Exodus 21:1

(*All quoted scripture is my translation directly from the Hebrew.)

God tells Moses that He is about to give statutes (המשפטים) to the Children of Israel.  I chose to translate the Hebrew word, ““המשפטים (mishpatim) as “ordinances/statutes” and not “judgments” since they are far more than just a set of laws. And we know that the LORD never uses a word without a specific purpose, so I believe that as we dig deeper into the different laws, we will find a profound and logical basis to them. Furthermore, I believe that we can find the solutions to the world’s problems in God’s Word, and that its statutes make sense when we look at them from the right perspective.

For example, this week we have a special reading this week for “Shabbat Shekalim”, which is the Shabbat before the Hebrew month of Adar. The Hebrew word “shekel” stands for the monetary currency that we use in Israel until today, although the shekel referred to in our reading was of greater value.

In our special reading for this week from Exodus 30:11-16, we see a unique kind of giving:

The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to count them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD when you count them, so that there will be no plague among them when you count them. This is what everyone who is counted 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 counted, 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. And you shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and give it for the service of the tent of meeting, so that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”

What is interesting about this specific collection is that it was to be taken from anyone twenty years old and over, and there was no distinction between the rich and the poor; every person paid the same amount as a sort of ransom for himself. This is a concept that we also find in the New Covenant that points to the fact that everyone will have to give an account of himself to God.

In our Haftarah portion, we see a principle that I believe exists within all our lives:

In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash became king, and he reigned for forty years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. Jehoash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all his days that Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Only the high places did not end; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.
2 Kings 12:1-3 (4 in the Hebrew Bible)

Just like in the days of Jehoash, so it is today; we may be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord, but there are still areas that we have not completely surrendered to Him. We all have those “high places” that we have not yet torn down and given to Him. Sadly, the reality is that oftentimes instead of acknowledging these areas, repenting of them, and getting rid of them, we double down and justify them to ourselves, and others, sometimes even misusing the Word of God in the process.

This Shabbat, let us reflect and repent of those areas, not because we have to, but rather because we get to, motivated by our love for God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Check out previous blogs on this parashah!

Did you know? — Lone Soldier

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