Torah: Exodus 21:1-24:18
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8–22 and 33:25–26
Brit Chadashah: Matthew 5:38-42, 17:1-11
This Torah portion, Mishpatim, meaning ‘Judgements’ is probably the most law-rich portion there is, containing laws on agrigulture, civil law, liability, finance, family purity, the sabbath and the festivals, slaves, property, justice and mercy. At the end of the portion, Moses makes a sacrifice, sprinkling the blood on the people in a symbolic ritual confirming the Covenant and their agreement to it. At the end of the portion, we are told that “To the Israelites, the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire”
The selections in Matthew are: firstly, part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus expands on the requirements of Torah, saying “Do not resist and evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” and so on. (Read to the end of chapter 5) And then the second passage is the Transfiguration, linking Moses’ time on Mount Sinai with Jesus’ time on the mountain with Peter, James and John.
The passages in Jeremiah refer to a time during the reign of King Zedekiah when the people had remembered the Covenant, repented and set slaves free, but then had forgotten it once more and enslaved them again, and a warning for the consequences of this. The Haftarah ends with God confirming the Covenant and his care of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.”
The symbolic sprinkling of blood by Moses of the people is mirrored by the declaration of the witnesses at Jesus’ trial by Pilate “Let his blood be on us and on our children” when Pilate declares Jesus innocent and washes his hands symbolically and literally, absolving himself of responsibility of condemning this innocent man. Ironically though, in Scripture the covering of blood represents not guilt and shame but rather washing and cleansing. In Hebrews 9:22, the writer tells us that “without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins.” 1 Peter 1:2 alludes to all believers being sanctified by the ‘sprinkling’ of Jesus blood, and in Hebrews 12:22 -24 we are told that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, and refers to the ‘Blood of Sprinkling’. The passage in Hebrews 12 goes on to offer a warning, which ends with an allusion to the Parsha: “Our God is a consuming fire.”
There are many things that can be taken away from this portion. The whole of the longest psalm, Psalm 119, is about studying and loving the laws of God. Messianic believers tend to make a big deal about Sabbath and the Festivals, often forgetting and neglecting the laws of justice and mercy and social responsibility – what Jesus refers to as the ‘Weightier matters of the Law’. For Christians, the question of the New Covenant should be uppermost. What is the New Covenant? What does it mean? What are we agreeing to when Jesus’ blood is sprinkled over us? The people responded: “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” – Exodus 24:7 Are we prepared and willing to make such a declaration? And what will it mean for us? Do we imagine that the obedience under the New Covenant is less demanding and easier than the Old? Do we view God as a terrible, consuming fire as well as the meek and gentle Jesus or do we prefer to ignore the wrath in favour of His love and mercy?
“How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” Hebrews 2:3