18. Mishpatim (Laws) Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

Why is Truth a Lonely Business?

Torah Portion for week 18: Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

מִּשְׁפָּטִים

Mishpatim (Laws)

This week’s portion takes place when the nation of Israel is in Sinai, right after the Ten Commandments are given. The nation of Israel is in great awe from this outstanding event (מעמד) and asks Moses that only he talk to God, and they will obey: “And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do’ (Exod 24:3b).

With that as context, let us look at two very meaningful verses spoken by God: “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (Exod 23:1-2).

As we know from the Ten Commandments, four commandments deal with our relationship with God, while six have to do with human relationships. Many places in the Scriptures tell us that the way we act in our human relationships bears a strong witness to our relationship with the Lord.  In the words of Yeshua: “. . .  love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). In a very real sense, our human relationships are a reflection of our relationship with the Lord.

In all of Scriptures, there are less than fifteen places where God is saying that he hates something. In the great majority of these places, God is referring to how humans treat each other. Most of the texts have to do with prideful attitudes and behavior, showing favoritism, or bearing false witness.

So it is a small wonder that right after the Ten Commandments are given, God talks to us about how we are to behave toward one another. God says we should “not spread a false report.” The Hebrew word translated as “spread” actually has the connotation of hearing as well; that is, we are told not to listen to or spread gossip.

Of special interest is the expansion of this command in Exodus 23:2: “You shall not fall in with the many to do evil.” This expression “with the many” is repeated twice in the verse. As people, we are often seeking human acceptance, and sometimes we may even be willing to pay with the currency of our integrity in our attempt to get it. During times of persecution and testing because of our faith, we may be tempted to deny our faith in Messiah to gain social acceptance. The book of Hebrews, specifically written to Jewish believers in the first century, was written to encourage us to stand strong in our faith during a time of trial, persecution, or testing. And Yeshua said, “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).

In summary, while it is definitely a normal human tendency to desire acceptance by other people, this is secondary to acceptance by God.  Put another way, when our vertical relationship is not grounded, we seek comfort in our horizontal ones, even if we need to compromise. But when our relationship with God is firmly grounded, we do not depend upon the comfort of human acceptance and approval.

Sixteen times in the Hebrew Scriptures, God mentions to the nation of Israel that he sent his servants the prophets to them again and again, to encourage them to believe in him. God’s prophets were almost always in the minority – not accepted by their contemporaries. Why? Because the ‘cool’ majority did not believe the prophets. Let us take courage and stand against the tide, strong in God and his word!

“You shall not fall in with the many to do evil!”

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