Mishpatim — “Judgments”
Portion for the week leading up to February 25, 2017
Sermon on the Mount
The section of the sermon on the mount contained in Matthew 5 has some essential lessons to teach us about our life as a believer. Several perspectives have arisen on the words of Yeshua (Jesus) here, however. Do His sayings lie in opposition to the commandments? Are His sayings, as well as the commands He is expounding upon, an impossible standard we are not expected to actually live by?
Amidst the various commandments contained in Exodus 21-23, God tells the people that the commandments He gives them are the way they are to serve Him: "But you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst" (Exodus 23:25). If they do what is right in the sight of God, then He will bless them and prosper them in the land which He has promised to give them. In Deuteronomy 30, God explains, "For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach... But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it" (verses 11, 14). While it is true that no one is able to perfectly live out God's commandments (Ecclesiastes 7:20), when the people of Israel made it their goal and their aim to please God, He did bless them and prosper them. All He needs is a willing heart, one which is submitted to Him and willing to live in service to Him.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua mentions several commandments, as well as some of the common interpretations which had arisen around the commands: "You shall not commit murder... You shall not commit adultery... Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce... Fulfill your vows to the Lord... An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth... Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." Instead of lessening the commandment or making it easier to follow, Yeshua revealed the true heart or spirit which lay behind each commandment: "Be reconciled with your brother... Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart... everyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery... Let your statement be 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'... Do not resist an evil person... Love your enemies."
Yeshua's words here do not negate the commandments they are explaining, but rather straighten out what they actually mean. For example, there is no command that says one must make an oath, but only that one who does take an oath should do it in God's name (Deuteronomy 6:13). There are obviously certain legal situations where taking an oath is necessary, both then (Exodus 22:10-11) and in our society, but Yeshua explains that in one's personal dealings, it is better not to swear an oath by anything at all. Voluntarily swearing to the truth of a statement does not do you any good if you are not able to keep your word, and only goes to show to others your own lack of respect for whatever it is you swear by. By simply saying "yes" or "no," one also avoids the appearance of trying to overcompensate for a lie. In Matthew 5:34-36, we see that the people were apparently taking oaths which were not in the name of God, perhaps hoping to avoid being actually bound by their word, as is also seen in Matthew 23:16-22. Yeshua explains that since everything is under God's authority, any vow is counted as taking it in His name, and is therefore binding. Since all oaths are binding, it is enough to simply let your own word stand as it is without any oath.
Since we see that Yeshua is revealing just how far-reaching each of the commandments actually are, does this mean He is simply trying to show how impossible it is to live up to God's standard? Since we are unable to even keep the most literal interpretation of the Torah, how is it possible for us to live up to its advanced spiritual requirements? At the end of chapter 5, Yeshua says, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (verse 48). This seems to hark back to the phrase "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy" found in Leviticus 19:2 and other Scriptures which reference the way God's people are to behave. Since God is holy and perfect, and we are His children, we are to walk in His footsteps. Is it really possible that we are able to be holy, perfectly obeying all of God's commands?
It is not impossible to walk in a way that is pleasing to God (Genesis 6:9, Luke 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:10). Even though our actions are not always in line with God's requirements, He knows our hearts and He knows whether we are drawing near to Him in faith by walking in repentance and making a true effort to be holy in the way revealed to us through His word and the Holy Spirit. If we are trying to earn our salvation through these works, then we know that this will avail us nothing. But when we have faith in Yeshua and allow Him to do His work in our hearts, He will be faithful to live through us so that we may walk according to God's righteous standard. When we allow God to circumcise our hearts through the Holy Spirit, He will be faithful to forgive our sins and assist us as we struggle to daily put to death our sinful flesh nature. Since Yeshua's words and actions are nothing less than an example of how we are supposed to walk, let us make every effort to serve God in a way which is holy and perfect, just as our heavenly Father is holy and perfect.