Terumah

Terumah

Contribution

“The Heart of the Matter”

Exodus 25:1-27:19
1 Kings 5:26-6:13


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, details the construction of the Tabernacle which the glory of God occupied during the Ancient Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. This temporary dwelling place was used by Israel until the First Temple was constructed in Jerusalem by King Solomon. As you read through the details of the Tabernacle’s materials and its construction, you can marvel at the minute particulars that come forth from the instructions of the Master Builder. The finest natural materials are utilized, which are all thought to have significant symbolic interpretations. But regardless of the specificity of the blueprints and materials, two overwhelming themes bubble to the surface as you read the account:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution’” (Exodus 25:1-2).

From the title of our parashah, terumah, meaning “contribution, offering, for sacred uses” (BDB),[1] you find that the Holy One of Israel is looking for people who have a strong heart’s desire to offer valuable contributions for the construction project. God was looking for a people who would love, honor, and respect Him enough so that they would be entirely willing—from the heart—to offer up their valuable resources in order to build the Tabernacle and fashion all of its furnishings and accoutrements, for the priestly service. We learn from some later comments that the response to the request was overwhelming to the point that an order was issued to stop the outpouring of freewill gifts:

“And they said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded us to perform.’ So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, ‘Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.’ Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more (Exodus 36:5-6).

From the beginning of the wilderness journey—after witnessing the miracles of the defeat of the Egyptians, the provisions of manna, quail, and water, hearing the voice of the Lord bellowing from Mount Sinai, and receiving the Ten Commandments—the Ancient Israelites were prepared to give freely of their possessions for the assembly of the Tabernacle. The God of Israel articulates the second theme which is evident not only in this Torah portion, but throughout the Holy Scriptures, as He makes His great desire made known to Moses:

“Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).

The Lord has a strong desire to dwell (Heb. verb shakan)[2] among His people. This is an important statement because even though He desires for a sanctuary or mishkan to be built, our Heavenly Father is really stating that He desires to just dwell among His people. Even though there is a construction project for a specific structure to represent His holiness, He actually says that He wants to dwell among human beings. From this wording, you get the impression that the Holy One just wants to walk among His people in a similar fashion to the way He established the relationship He had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).

As you ponder the theme of dwelling with the Creator, we see the intimate relationship that God is attempting to establish with His chosen ones. He desires a people whose hearts yearn for Him and with whom He can dwell! The rest of the account in Mishpatim simply concerns details that have significant meaning, and which convey the majesty and dignity of the Tabernacle and priestly service—serving as tangible manifestations of His heart’s desire.

When you take a look at the associated Haftarah portion in 1 Kings 5:26-6:13, you discover that in spite of the impressive construction project developed by Solomon and Hiram during their time of relative peace, the overwhelming theme is still God simply wanting to dwell with His people. For whatever reasons, it is apparent that humanity needs physical structures in order to imagine spiritual and relational principles. The Creator knows this attribute, and consequently fulfills this need by orchestrating both the wilderness Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple to be constructed.

The Good Shepherd

The most significant point that the Lord is trying to convey from Mishpatim regards the melding of one’s heart attitude, and His intended residence among His people. Probably the most vivid analogy, that is used to communicate the essence of this relationship, is the image derived from the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep. The Holy One is often described as a Good Shepherd who is constantly walking among His sheep tending to their needs. Recall how when the Patriarch Jacob communicated some of his final blessings, he referred to God as a shepherd (Heb. verb ra’ah)[3]:

“He blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day’” (Genesis 48:15).

Later, when blessing Joseph specifically, another reference to God as the Great Shepherd is witnessed:

“But his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)[4], from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers” (Genesis 49:24-26).

Of course, most Bible readers are eager to remember David’s reference to God being his Shepherd in Psalm 23:

“A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd [ADONAI ro’i], I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).

Less well-known words come from Qohelet, as he summarizes his life experience:

“The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd [nittenu m’ro’eh]. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14).

The Prophets are also replete about referring to God as a Shepherd:

  • “Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd [k’ro’eh] He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (Isaiah 40:10-11).
  • “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock [k’ro’eh]’” (Jeremiah 31:10).
  • “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD [v’amad v’ra’ah b’oz ADONAI], in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:2-4).

And of course, perhaps most important, Yeshua referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd to His Disciples, as He explained the mission and purpose of His ministry:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd [Egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos][5], and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:11-16).

The author of Hebrews summarized his treatise by calling the workings of the Holy One, the works of the Great Shepherd:

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep [ton poimena tōn probatōn ton megan] through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Yeshua our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Yeshua the Messiah, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Earlier in his work, the author quoted extensively from the Prophets in order to communicate many of the principles relating to the wilderness Tabernacle and how it applies to Believers’ lives through the inauguration of the New Covenant:

“Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘SEE,’ He says, ‘THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN’ [Exodus 25:40]. But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first[6]…had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, ‘BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD. FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, “KNOW THE LORD,” FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM. FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE’” (Hebrews 8:4-12; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34, LXX).

In Hebrews chs. 8-9, the author gives his audience a description of the wilderness Tabernacle, and the distinction made between it and “the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11). This is what Yeshua entered into in Heaven, as He performs the required priestly duties, as our intermediary between God the Father and humanity at large (Hebrews 4:14-15). The author of Hebrews quotes directly from the Prophet Jeremiah, who describes that the New Covenant that God will make will write the Torah onto the hearts of the people by His Holy Spirit:[7]

“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

These conclusions come after Jeremiah has described the work of God as Shepherd to scatter and then gather His flock:

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock’” (Jeremiah 31:10).

Hear O Israel

One of the awesome works of our God, as the Good Shepherd, is that He will supernaturally transcribe His Torah onto the hearts of His sheep, as He is their God and they will surely be His people. As this transformative action occurs in every heart, of every man and woman of God who recognizes Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel, he or she can fully live forth the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

The imperative here is that each individual is to love the Lord God of Israel with all of his or her heart, and to see that the principles of God’s commandments are embedded within his or her mind. This can be conducted by a number of crucial exercises and disciplines. The Father knows human beings’ propensity to wander and to avoid following His commands, and so in order to help inscribe His Instruction upon the heart and mind, He has detailed some basic guidelines to help with the process. This includes a daily routine of waking up and thinking about Him, and instructing our children about Him and His love for us. Going to sleep at night, our final thoughts should be focused on the Lord. Everything that we put our hands to, or every thought that we consider, should be viewed through the grid of His understandings. In the Shema, we are even told to put the commandments of God on the very doorposts of our houses and gates, so that we will be reminded as we leave our home and return—of the imperative need to focus all of our attention, love, and loyalty to Him!

As you read and reflect upon the Shema, you almost get the impression that the Holy One of Israel wants as much of our attention just as your husband or wife would. He wants our hearts to be turned toward Him so that we will be one with Him in thoughts, deeds, and actions. We can yearn for such intimacy with our Creator that many of our spiritual forbearers in the faith have modeled for us. Figures like King David knew the Lord intimately, and his Psalms reflect the great love he had for Him. Psalm 19 is an excellent example for us to consider:

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:1-14).

Here, we see how King David has such a desire for intimacy with the Lord, that he does not even want his thoughts to be unacceptable in His sight. I pray that each of our hearts would be as sensitive!

The Tabernacle of David

Today, our gracious Heavenly Father surely continues to look for people He can indwell with His intimate presence. We are each called to be a tabernacle for Him to occupy. We know that the Prophet Amos in the Seventh Century B.C.E., and James the Just First Century C.E., both affirm a rebuilding of the Tabernacle of David as a key part in the eventual restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. Amos first decrees,

“‘Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares the LORD. ‘For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground. All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, those who say, ‘The calamity will not overtake or confront us.’ In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,’ declares the LORD who does this. ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,’ says the LORD your God” (Amos 9:8-15).

Amos’ prophecy looks forward to the restoration of the fallen Tabernacle of David. This includes the return of a sizeable part of Israel (mostly from the Northern Kingdom) that had been sown into the nations, as well as many of the nations themselves being integrated into the holy community. As God let him see into the future, Amos knew the time would surely come when the captivity of Israel would be over, and His people will return to the Promised Land to rebuild cities, plant vineyards, drink wine, make gardens, and eat their fruit.

At the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, upon hearing the testimony of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter regarding the salvation of Jewish people and various Greeks and Romans coming to faith in the Messiah of Israel—James the Just makes a distinct connection between the non-Jews coming to faith and Amos’ prophecy. Rather than capitulate to the demands of a few hyper-conservative Pharisees that such non-Jewish Believers be ordered to keep the Mosaic Torah (Acts 15:5, Grk.), James instead acknowledged that the words of the Prophets were in play. He places the salvation of the non-Jews in the First Century within the scope of expectations regarding the eventual restoration of all Israel:

“After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, ‘Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, “AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO. Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:13-21).

The difference between what Amos prophecies is that James says “so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles who are called by My name” (Acts 15:17, HCSB). Luke’s transcription in Acts does not follow the Hebrew text of Amos, but the Septuagint rendering which reads with hoi kataloipoi tōn anthrōpōn for the Hebrew sh’eirit Edom. The LXX Rabbis understood Edom to be connected to adam, also the Hebrew word for “mankind, people” (HALOT)[8] and rendered it in Greek as “those remaining of humans” (NETS), referring to God’s faithful remnant that would come forth out of humanity’s masses. James makes a connection between the salvation of Israel and those of the nations coming to faith in Israel’s Messiah.

James would have had to recognize that a critical part of Israel’s restoration would have been an obedience to God’s Torah by all coming into the fold. In Ezekiel 37:24, we are told that when all Israel is restored “they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.” As James was considering the salvation of the nations, he was reflecting on the restoration of the Tabernacle of David described by the Prophet Amos. Why force the non-Jewish Believers to keep the Torah, when prophecy should be allowed to take its natural course? The nations were to come to Zion to be taught God’s Instruction (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3), and the promise of the New Covenant was that the Torah would be supernaturally transcribed on redeemed hearts as a special work of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27).[9]

Today, almost two millennia later, we have yet to see the complete fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy. The presence of today’s Messianic movement, and the unique work it has in seeing Jewish people brought to saving faith in the Messiah Yeshua and evangelical Christians brought into a tangible appreciation of their Hebraic Roots—leads me to believe that “the words of the Prophets” (Acts 15:15) are going to become increasingly more important to recognize in the days to come. As we all begin to truly understand this, we need to allow ourselves both individually and corporately to be a people who can be filled up with the Spirit of God, serving as a living sacrifice that faithfully emulates the Lord Yeshua (cf. Romans 12:1-2). If we are truly able to do this, then we can all compose that holy nation and separated people, truly accomplishing the mission of God, which the Apostle Peter says we will be:

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Messiah Yeshua. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘BEHOLD, I LAW IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED’ [Isaiah 28:16]. This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone’ [Psalm 118:22], and, ‘A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE’ [Isaiah 8:14]; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20], a royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY [Hosea 2:23]” (1 Peter 2:4-10).[10]

When we can all truly understand how every redeemed man and woman in Yeshua is a part of “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (NIV), then we can marvel in our privilege to serve the Lord fully—most especially in terms of declar[ing forth] the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (NIV)! When the world at large can see us demonstrating the Lord’s goodness toward them, as we testify of the salvation He has provided, then we can really begin to see the complete restoration of David’s Tabernacle.[11]

As we contemplate these awesome truths, we must reflect upon our own hearts, wondering in which capacity we can serve God and make a difference in our generation. We need to search our hearts and consider what the meditations of our hearts are. What motivates us? Do we wake up with His thoughts on our minds? Do we go to sleep considering His ways? Are we training up our young people according to His precepts? Everyone will be accountable for their actions, deeds, and thoughts.

In the end, it comes down to being a matter of the heart. May our hearts be His and His be ours!


NOTES

[1] BDB, 929.

[2] Appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice) in Exodus 25:8, shakan means, “settle down, abide, dwell” (Ibid., 1014).

[3] Largely meaning “pasture, tend, graze” (Ibid., 944).

[4] Heb. m’sham ro’eh even Yisrael.

[5] John 10:14 includes one of the many “I am” sayings, where there is a deliberate connection being made between egō eimi and the Lord’s declaration in Exodus 3:14, ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I AM WHO I AM,” rendered in the Septuagint as egō eimi. The intention is to clearly associate Yeshua the Messiah as being the “I AM,” the LORD God in human flesh.

For further consideration, consult G.M. Burge, “‘I am’ Sayings,” in Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), pp 354-356.

[6] Grk. Ei gar hē prōtē ekeinē; “for if that first were faultless” (YLT).

Editor’s note: While many translations provide “covenant,” the subject matter is actually the priesthood/tabernacle/ministry-service of the Levites (Hebrews 8:1-3). Feminine nouns that can be associated with hē prōtē do include diathēkē or “covenant,” but can also include skēnē or “tabernacle,” hierōsunē or “priesthood,” or leitourgia or “ministry.”

For a further evaluation, consult the article “What is the New Covenant?” by J.K. McKee.

[7] For an examination of some of the issues circulating around the Messianic movement concerning the reliability of the Epistle to the Hebrews, consult the article “The Message of Hebrews” and the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[8] HALOT, 1:14.

[9] For a further evaluation of the events of the Jerusalem Council and the Apostolic decree, consult the commentary Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[10] Cf. Kurt Aland, et. al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Stuttgart: Deutche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1998), pp 788-789.

[11] For some further thoughts on what might compose the Tabernacle of David, consult the author’s article “Restoring David’s Tabernacle,” appearing in the March 2007 issue of Outreach Israel News.

Mishpatim

Mishpatim

Rulings

“Rules Unto Others”

Exodus 21:1-24:18
Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As we turn to Mishpatim this week, we are reminded that the Israelites have just received the Ten Commandments and have heard the terrifying voice of the Lord as He shook Mount Sinai. We recall that the Israelites were so frightened by the sound of God’s voice, that they requested that Moses be their exclusive intermediary to receive the further instructions about how to conduct their lives. As they trembled at a distance, the fear was so great that they thought they would die if they had to continue to hear the voice of the Almighty:

“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’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

Apparently, the presence of God was so awesome that the Ancient Israelites relinquished their individual rights to hear Him directly, by choosing Moses to be their intermediary. In this capacity, Moses received instructions about how men and women should conduct their lives with respect toward one another. At the end of Mishpatim, we see the commitment of the Israelites to keep the commandments that Moses delivered to them:

““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 24:7-8).

In many ways, as you read Mishpatim and its listing of rules, ordinances, and judgments—the thought comes to mind that these practical instructions are quite consistent with what we often call “the Golden Rule,” treating others as we would have them treat us (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). Examining Mishpatim gives us the annual opportunity to rethink many of the basic instructions on how we should treat others, when human interaction creates inevitable conflict.

Interestingly, the first rulings that Moses focused on relate to the treatment of slaves (Exodus 21:2-11). Here, the Ancient Israelites, having just been freed from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, are given specific instructions about how to lovingly handle the relationship between a slaveholder and slave.[1] Hopefully, with memories ripe with remembrance of this condition, they will be able to relate to people confined to this humble station in life. The Holy One definitely communicated grand attributes of compassion and lovingkindness to all members of humanity, no matter what their relationship might be one to another.

A New Creature

The instructions in our parashah relate to a variety of interactions that typically occur in any society, especially given the fallen state of man. We are reminded that in spite of us being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; James 3:9), we have inherited a sin nature from Adam (Romans 5:12). Because we are fallen creatures, we require redemption. The nature that we have all inherited in Adam must be replaced by a redeemed nature only available through the salvation of the Messiah Yeshua. Once a person can understand who he or she is in Adam, confessing and repenting of sin, and dying to oneself—then and only then will you be able to receive the new nature provided as the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of you. You are finally able to be born again! You become a new creature in the Messiah, just as the Apostle Paul describes to the Corinthians:

“Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Messiah, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

To many of you this may sound very basic, but if you will recall, even the exemplary Torah teacher and Pharisee Nicodemus did not understand some of these foundational concepts. For whatever reason, Nicodemus could not comprehend the concept of being “born again,” even though he was considered a leader among his people:

“Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Yeshua answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?’” (John 3:9-10).

Many of us are familiar with this passage from the Gospels, and yet have we ever considered the thought that even the foundational teachings of the Torah are frequently not understood by its teachers? It has long been recognized in Biblical Studies that being “born again” or “born from above” was used in Second Temple Judaism to describe proselytes. The Talmud records, “R. Yosé says, ‘A proselyte at the moment of conversion is like a new-born baby’” (b.Yevamot 48b).[2] Yeshua the Messiah simply took the terminology “born again,” and rather than apply it to proselytes to Judaism—applied it to His followers. This might not always be obvious to some of you, so think about whether the Torah teacher you listen to on a regular basis is really familiar with its basic instructions regarding holiness and proper living.

It is critical for us to consistently turn to Moses’ Teaching in order to learn more and more about our human condition and how we should conduct ourselves. The main reason that the Torah exists is to help define sin for humanity, and regulate the behavior that the Lord expects His people to demonstrate in the world.

We must each be thankful for the opportunity to be reckoned as the sons and daughters of the Living God, via our adoption in Yeshua. But for whatever reasons, we frequently need to be reminded of our responsibilities, even after we have inherited new life in the Messiah. Paul comments about the awesomeness of Believers’ adoption into God’s family in his letter to the Romans:

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:15-23).

Just as Paul writes, we as Believers in Yeshua do not walk in a spirit of slavery, but instead in a spirit of adoption as children of the Most High. Hallelujah for His mercy to us! Yet, we each eagerly await the complete redemption of Creation, including our total selves at the resurrection. But, let us now turn to the Torah portion and see what our Father wants us to consider, as once again His Instruction communicates basic life principles to His sons and daughters.

Civil Laws

As you read through Mishpatim, you are reminded of some of the basic instructions about how we should treat one another when the inevitable problems of human interaction occur. We see detailed, various ordinances about personal injuries (Exodus 21:12-36), property rights (Exodus 22:1-15), sundry laws (Exodus 22:16-23:9), as well as the stipulations to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 23:10-13) and observe the three festivals of ingathering (Exodus 23:14-18). The basic yardstick of instruction is essentially “the Golden Rule.” When God’s people face challenges today, these various instructions surely articulate and inform us on how He would have conflicts resolved.

Interestingly, as you read these rulings, you will note that a tenor of fairness, equality, and compassion seems to permeate the statements. If the Spirit of God resides inside of you, then when you read these various ordinances, the Spirit should bear witness that the remedies and treatments for various violations of conduct seem perfectly equitable. Over many centuries, these very statements have been incorporated into the civil laws of societies influenced by the Judeo-Christian values established in Holy Writ. This is not to say that all of these laws are reiterated exactly, but that the essence is certainly there in our Western judicial system. (Even pagan societies that do not acknowledge the God of Israel have benefited from the Torah’s moral message.)

The difference between when these commands were originally given to Israel and today is that we live in a post-resurrection era that has made the understanding of these rulings much clearer, through the teachings of Yeshua and His Apostles. We do not stone children for striking or cursing their parents, because Yeshua has atoned for this penalty (cf. Colossians 2:14). However, when you encounter statements that speak of capital punishment, you realize how important God considers adherence to the commandment regarding how parents should be honored (Exodus 21:17).

When you couple these kinds of statements with other reiterations about: keeping the Sabbath, the appointed times, the first-born offerings, not bearing false witness, properly treating the poor, widows, orphans, speaking out about leaders, lending money, etc., you begin to realize that at times throughout your life you have probably not followed these rulings too well. You have probably broken all the rules. As a result of breaking these rules, you are therefore guilty and need to pay restitution. Some of the restitution principles are articulated in this parashah, but when you are completely honest with yourself, you begin to realize that you have probably not paid the price perfectly for your various transgressions.

The Almighty God Himself is most aware of each and every transgression we have committed. He knows the when, where, and to what degree each of us has sinned. He knows that each person is indeed bankrupt in trespasses and sins. Eventually, in spite of our various mortal attempts to keep all of these commandments, especially coupled with the remaining instructions that are seen throughout the Bible, one should hopefully come to the logical conclusion that he or she cannot possibly avoid the penalties that ultimately lead to death and eternal separation from God. If you really think through all of these things seriously, the final conclusion would be not too unlike what many cried out to the Apostles at various times: Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:33). An inability to keep God’s Law is to show us the need for a Savior (cf. Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4, Grk.).

Yeshua’s Upgrade

Yeshua came to Earth and was sacrificed at Golgotha (Calvary), paying the penalty for our sins and offering a permanent atonement. But long before being executed, He spent time with His Disciples and others, trying to help them understand some of the basic principles of His Father’s Instruction. Yeshua’s teachings bring a great depth and dimension to what we are constantly learning in the Torah—some of you for the first time. Many of the things Yeshua says are almost impossible for a person who has nothing more than a natural, fleshly mind. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, a natural person is incapable of receiving things from the Spirit:

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM [Isaiah 40:13]? But we have the mind of Messiah” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Consequently, we have a great number of people throughout the ages who have attempted to understand and comment about the teachings of Yeshua and the Apostles—with many now trying to understand the Torah. Unfortunately, many have not dealt with the reality about coming to the end of themselves and being born again from above, in order to have the spiritual capacity to even understand the basic teachings of the Bible. This, you can imagine, can create a tremendous amount of confusion, as one will be most prone to misunderstand the essentials of salvation, holiness, and accomplishing God’s mission for His Creation.

When one reads the words of Yeshua, and His clarification about and/or elaboration upon the Torah principles that are seen in a reading like Mishpatim, many are befuddled. Consider the instruction that deals with the loss of an eye or a tooth (Exodus 21:24, 27). Read how Yeshua applies this in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH’ [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

In Mishpatim, some commandments are given about how one is supposed to be compensated for the loss of an eye or a tooth, or whatever else has been lost. Some of these circumstances will arise due to fallen human nature. Out of anger or passion, a person might strike someone and cause an eye or a tooth to be lost, and so the Torah issues instruction on how restitution is to be made. But Yeshua remarks about the spiritual causes of such a loss. The natural inclination when injured is to injure back, but the Messiah instead directs people to receive another blow and turn the other check. If love for one’s fellow human beings is imperative, what is going to convict a person who has lost his temper and control of his emotions more? The perfect restitution for the infraction, or a response out of love that indicates how physical harm can ultimately do little damage? As Yeshua continues in this particular passage, He expresses the meaning of true love established by the Torah:

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHRBOR [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:40-48).

Yeshua tells those in His audience to give up shirts, walk extra miles, give freely, love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute. Why? Because then and only then will you be “sons of your Father who is in heaven.” He concludes with the stellar requirement that one is to be perfect, just as the Father in Heaven is perfect. Yeshua knows this is impossible for human beings to attain in their own strength, and yet He clearly declares it as a requirement for following Him. Following Yeshua’s teachings are virtually impossible without the Holy Spirit and His atoning work covering our lives. The status of being excellent in the Lord, much less perfect—requires total commitment, steady spiritual refinement, and consistent discipleship in maturity.

We have much to consider this week as we reflect on the ordinances and precepts that God has established for His people. May we hold fast to those rules, so just like the Israelites in the wilderness, we too can claim what the ancients claimed:

“He took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people, and they said, ‘Everything that HASHEM has said, we will do and we will obey!’[3] Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and he said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that HASHEM sealed with you concerning all these matters’” (Exodus 24:7-8, ATS).

Today, as Believers in Yeshua, we can experience the fullness of the things that the ancients only heard about. While Moses only sprinkled animal blood on the people, the author of Hebrews testifies that the blood of Yeshua Himself inaugurates the New Covenant—where the commandments of God are to be written upon our hearts and we can have great confidence to go to the Father:

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

We should not only have a new heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27), washed by the blood of the Messiah—but we should also have our hearts and minds made clean, eagerly able to perform God’s service. May we all be blessed in this understanding as we consider His rules, and live them out as a testimony of what He has done for us!


NOTES

[1] This is definitely a section of the Torah that can only be adequately understood when read against its Ancient Near Eastern background. For a further discussion, consult the article “Addressing the Frequently Avoided Issues Messianics Encounter in the Torah” by J.K. McKee.

[2] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. MS Windows XP. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005. CD-ROM.

[3] Heb. kol asher-diver ADONAI na’aseh v’nishma.

Yitro

Yitro

Jethro

“Divine Service Toward Others”

Exodus 18:1-20:23[26]
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6[6-7] (A); 6:1-13 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week we continue our examination of the Book of Exodus, coming to a Torah portion that includes one of the most significant sections in the entire Bible, as we witness God giving His people the Ten Commandments. After some of the initial trials of the journey into the wilderness as considered last week in B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), with a lack of water and food, and a battle with the Amalekites—in Yitro the people of Israel come to the base of Mount Sinai and receive instruction from God. Most readers understandably focus their attention upon the reception of the Ten Commandments, transcribed by the very finger of the Most High onto stone tablets (Exodus 20:1-17).

Without any doubt, the Ten Commandments are very important, because it is upon such aseret ha’devarim or Ten Words that the remainder of the Torah’s commandments are somehow based. Yet in one of the most well-known statements made by the Messiah Yeshua in the Gospels, it might be said that the very basis of the Ten Commandments themselves are the Torah’s instructions to faithfully love God and one’s neighbor:

“And He said to him, ‘“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40).

When we understand how the Ten Commandments have a tendency to point disobedient persons—not only within Ancient Israel but throughout human history—back to remembrance and obedience, the words of Yeshua make perfect sense. But rather than focus on the significant volume of material that has been accumulated on the Ten Commandments,[1] as well as the critical importance of loving God and one’s neighbor, there is another topic within Yitro which precedes the reception of the Ten Words. In the opening chapter of our parashah, Exodus 18, the character and actions for whom this reading is entitled are described. The individual named, of course, is Jethro (Yitro), the father-in-law of Moses. The ancient advice that he gave to Moses, and consequently what it means throughout the Biblical narrative and for us today, is something that we need to consider.

A society with specified rules, regulations, and statutes can implode and fall into disarray if its people fail to heed the guidelines issued for proper leadership. There are far too many historical examples of societal failures that we can reflect upon. Needless to say, Ancient Israel itself, in spite of what is issued in Yitro, did not always implement the godly instructions on whom to regard as those in authority. So as a Messianic faith community which truly desires to be in compliance with Holy Scriptures, what principles do the leadership instructions of Yitro deliver to us, who want to be successful in a time when God’s people are witnessing significant restoration?

The Big Picture

When you often study the Torah, the corresponding Haftarah selections can be used to prompt some major introspection. This week, some of the selected verses from the Book of Isaiah reminded me of the concept of Divine order. After all, the Holy One of Israel is a God of order, and it is through His order that He is going to accomplish all the things that He has providentially ordained:

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

As you review this classic passage from Isaiah, the Prophet is looking forward to a time when the Son of God will actually be born as a human being. He will be given the awesome titles of: pele yoeitz, El gibor, avi’ad, sar-shalom, or Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace. These titles, in and of themselves, leave no doubt in my mind that Yeshua the Son is indeed Divine, God in the flesh.

In an interesting choice of words, the Prophet states that “the government will rest on His shoulders,” and “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.” All rule and dominion will clearly rest upon Yeshua the Messiah.

When I consider the visual picture of the government of God’s Kingdom resting upon the shoulders of the Prince of Peace, I envision a scene of Yeshua in all of His glory, with the government literally resting on His shoulders. Now in order to conceptualize this, I picture the governmental structure like an upside down pyramid with its pinnacle held up by the Lord. In my mind, this represents the order of God by Yeshua serving His people. It notably includes the Messiah at the bottom, rather than at the top; He holds everything up by His supreme power.

According to the author of Hebrews, Yeshua is presently seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son being the One who sustains the Creation—certainly with this governmental structure resting securely upon Himself:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:3-4).

When I couple this mental image with the conceptual reality that Yeshua has clearly stated, “He came not to be served, but to serve and offer Himself up as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), the idea of serving means to humble oneself, and often be at the bottom of the heap. But with all of these mental images of the Messiah and His dual role as the Servant-King—the One who has led by His service and ultimate sacrifice for sinful humanity—I am drawn back to our Torah portion this week, and the advice Moses received from Jethro.

Jethro’s Wisdom

We need to understand that the insertion of the episode we read with Jethro comes at a very strategic time for Moses and the Ancient Israelites. The deliverance from Egypt and the battle with the Amalekites were behind them. Jethro brought Moses his wife Zipporah and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer, to the Israelite camp (Exodus 18:1-7). Jethro heard of the great salvation acts (Exodus 18:8) and was convinced that the God of Israel was the One True God (Exodus 18:9-12). But, this highly respected elder witnessed the leadership model Moses was using, and he had the wisdom and the impetus to make some astute recommendations. As the text indicates, Moses was exhausting himself with meeting the ever-present requests of thousands, not to mention all of their unspoken demands:

“It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws’” (Exodus 18:13-16).

Jethro immediately detected that Moses was wearing himself out, and that he had to do something to avoid fatigue and the impossible task of resolving all the disputes within the community of Israel. The logical advice was to develop a way to duplicate his authority, and choose capable leaders who could handle varying degrees of responsibility. Jethro’s advice was two-fold: (1) Moses was supposed to continue in his position as the intermediary between God and the people, but (2) he was to raise up those who would learn the commandments and precepts of the Lord, being able to apply them at the various levels to which they would be assigned:

“And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk, and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to his father-in-law, and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:17-24).

Moses was certainly not going to give up his unique relationship with the Holy One. After all, Moses had a special call upon his life that was apparent to those who knew him. Maintaining his relationship with God was critical to continue functioning as the leader of the emerging nation, as they would be taught God’s statutes and laws. And as we know, the Lord continued to give Moses an incredible amount of revelation that is recorded throughout the Pentateuch. However, since this channel of communication needed to be maintained, it was important to delegate the work of administration to others who were qualified to handle various day-to-day administration responsibilities within the community of Israel. Jethro established the essential criteria Moses would use, for selecting those who would be capable of handling various responsibilities:

Within Exodus 18:21-22, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised four important attributes for the leaders who would be raised up within Ancient Israel. They were: (1) to be able or accomplished, (2) God-fearing, (3) truthful, and (4) hate dishonest gain. In many respects, these same virtuous character traits were to define the elders and deacons that Timothy and Titus were to appoint, respectively, in their administrative capacities in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:1-12) and on Crete (Titus 1:5-9). Whether we look to our Torah portion Yitro, or Paul’s instructions within the Pastoral Epistles, I believe we will discover that servant-leaders of God’s people need to all be of impeccable personal quality, as they not only teach, guide, and mentor others—but also help to implement solutions for the problems that they face.

Able and Accomplished

When you go back and contemplate Jethro’s advice and the qualifications he articulated for the leaders within Ancient Israel, there is no doubt that subsequent generations of God’s people were informed by these early stipulations. Jethro stated that the selected leaders must be able or accomplished (Exodus 18:21a), with the text employing the word chayil, meaning “ability, efficiency, often involving moral worth” (BDB).[2] “The basic meaning of the noun is ‘strength,’ from which follow ‘army’ and ‘wealth’” (TWOT).[3] We see that those chosen need to be as dependable as one would want the army to be, defending the nation from hostile forces. This would mean that leaders must be disciplined, strong, and courageous to handle any of the challenges that might threaten Israel’s welfare.

When you consider some of the instructions issued to Timothy in Ephesus, as he served as Paul’s authorized representative to help fix the negative effects of the false teaching that had circulated, there is an amplification of what it means to be able. Within the mid-to-late First Century, the Messiah followers out in the Mediterranean basin were largely meeting in small communities that typically gathered in homes. In Ancient Ephesus, the false teaching (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4-7) had influenced some of those in leadership, and so Timothy had to see that new elders and deacons were appointed. The Apostle Paul directed his disciple Timothy to choose new leaders from among those who were mature in the faith, and who demonstrated godly character within the home:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the [assembly] of God?); and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-6).

God-Fearing

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who fear God (Exodus 18:21b). Fearing the Lord is a concept witnessed throughout the Holy Scriptures, perhaps epitomized by Proverbs 18:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Within the Tanakh, the references one sees regarding how to fear God give readers the distinct impression that a fear of God leads to a great respect for Him, and consequently how He expects His people to live and conduct themselves. Here are two significant examples from Psalms:

“Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant” (Psalm 25:12-14).

“Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly. Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them. Splendid and majestic is His work; and His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever. He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:1-10).

These Psalm passages can really intensify our understanding about the kind of fear for God that leaders of His people are to demonstrate. A healthy fear of God is a true indicator that a leader not only believes that He is real and exists, but also that consequences of disobedience and disbelief are severe. A healthy fear of God is important for good leadership, because those who fail to fear God will often fall into sin. Jude reflected on this reality in his letter composed in the late First Century, because those without a fear of the Lord had entered into the Believers’ love feasts with intentions to do great harm:

“But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 10-13).

Discerning that a leader has a healthy and true fear of God is extremely important. By evidencing a godly fear, the leader will rely upon the Lord for His wisdom and counsel, for the difficult decisions which need to be made.

Truthful

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who respected the truth (Exodus 18:21c). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the term emet has a variety of meanings, including: “reliability, sureness,” “stability, continuance,” and “faithfulness, reliableness” (BDB).[4] The Greek Scriptures likewise reflect this, often employing pistis, meaning: “persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance,” “good faith, trustworthiness, faithfulness, honesty,” and “an assurance, pledge of good faith, warrant, guarantee” (LS).[5] Emet is frequently translated with pistis in the Septuagint, and these meanings are all employed in the Apostolic Scriptures. Leaders are required to not only know the truth, but to be able to teach it well because they have experienced it in their lives.

Given the influence of various troublemakers on the island of Crete, the leaders Titus was to appoint needed to be able to be steadfast with the truth of the gospel:

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word[6] which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7-11).

The emphasis on being able to “hold firmly to the trustworthy message” (NIV), of the good news of salvation in Yeshua, is evidenced in actions like being able “to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (HCSB). On the island of Crete there had been various troublemakers and errorists who had circulated controversial ideas for their own self-serving purposes, which was quite problematic especially given the low estimation that Cretans had in the ancient world (Titus 1:12).

Jethro’s words would be comparable to telling the people of Israel to choose leaders who truly understood God’s Law. Moses was told, “enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow” (Exodus 18:20, NJPS). These leaders were to clearly be trained to know the truth, and consequently discern error and lead the assembly through a proper interpretation and application of instructions when various situations would arise. By knowing the Word of God, leaders can be able to discern His will and character when crises erupt—but they should also clearly have a relationship with the Holy One Himself, being filled with His presence to guide their hearts and minds.

Hating Dishonest Gain

Jethro’s fourth requirement was that Moses should choose leaders who hated dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21d). Most frequently, we associate this with honest people who are not consumed with a love of money (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10). These are persons who are absolutely convinced that life should operate according to a system of equal weights and measures, so when it comes to judicial matters they will be absolutely sure that those accused or being subjected to review receive proper justice. The concept of treating others as you would have them treat you is inherent in their nature (cf. Matthew 7:12).

In Exodus 18:21 the Hebrew word betza is used to describe “ill-gotten gain” (NJPS) or a “bribe” (RSV). It can mean “gain made by violence, unjust gain, profit” (BDB).[7] The first time it is used in the Torah is when Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Midianite traders as a slave.[8] When we see this term used in the narrative of Yitro, is a connection being made back to this event? Certainly, able leaders in the community of Israel were not to accept bribery or any kind of “dirty money.”

The false teachers Timothy had to face in Ephesus included many who simply wanted to get rich. The Apostle Paul informs his dear friend about how love for money (philaguria) is a significant cause of evil:

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

Rather than pursue money, Paul instructs Timothy and the Ephesians to instead “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” These are all attributes of a leader who can be responsible for the children of God, and are also to be found in the lives of all Messiah followers who are mature and are accomplishing the Lord’s tasks in the world.[9]

Divine Service Toward Others

In this day of restoration, how important is it that we should heed the leadership qualifications advised of Jethro to Moses? As he had surveyed the assembly of the Ancient Israelites, Moses would have to discern who was capable of handling the different levels of responsibility. Some were given responsibility over thousands, and others responsibility only over hundreds, fifties, or tens (Exodus 18:21e). Each leader, however, had to be godly. The magnitude of responsibility was most likely a by-product of age and experience. Today, we need to consider these principles, and others elaborated on throughout the Holy Writ, as we look for capable, godly men and women to lead the Body of Messiah in some formal or full-time capacity.

We obviously need to be very careful regarding those who are placed in positions of leadership, especially given the many Biblical, extra-Biblical, and historical examples of abuse of religious power. If we are mindful of this, then we will be less apt to make the tragic mistakes of recognizing those who are not qualified or fit to lead.

Too often, this is a major factor given much of the contention that manifests within in the Messianic community. Too often, I have witnessed people who have—through the force of their personality—self-anointed themselves to be the leader of a group. When you really take a serious look at their personal qualifications, you realize that they have more in common with Ancient Israel’s opponents or the false teachers Timothy and Titus had to face in Ephesus and Crete—then they do Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles, but most especially the Messiah Yeshua. Unfortunately, I think we are all aware of how problematic leaders will be a constant bane in the Body of Messiah until the Lord returns.

Perhaps if we considered the substance of what is described in this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings, we could begin to minimize many of the problems inherent with poor, unqualified leadership. Moses certainly listened to the wise counsel of his father-in-law, and implemented a leadership model that has stood the test of time.

But lest we forget, as one takes on more and more responsibility within the Body of Messiah, no one “climbs” the proverbial ladder to the top—but rather descends further down to the center of the government which rests upon the shoulders of Yeshua. As you get closer to Him, the Servant of all, you realize that it is by your service to others that you descend down deeper to where all the muck of life floats. Down there, closer to Yeshua, you not only sense His presence, but you require it in order to handle the greater responsibility that you have been entrusted.

In the end, according to the Biblical model of leadership, you will get closer and closer to “the bottom,” in your service capacity as a follower of the Most High. You learn the simple axiom that through service you lead. Relying upon the Lord’s example, you learn to properly navigate through all of the “stuff” that settles down at the bottom. By walking in and being led by the Spirit of God, all of the junk does not seem to affect or influence you as much as might have previously. As you grow in faith and maturity, your leadership abilities that manifest are closer to those of the Messiah Himself. Humiliation and insults do not hurt as much as they once did, as you recognize the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God—who endured the agony of the cross so that we all might be saved (Philippians 2:8)!


NOTES

[1] Consult the author’s reflections on the Ten Commandments, compiled for the Ten Days of Awe between Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, in the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

Also consult the relevant chapters on the Ten Commandments appearing in Torah In the Balance, Volume I by J.K. McKee.

[2] BDB, 299.

[3] Carl Philip Weber, “ḥayil,” in TWOT, 1:271.

[4] BDB, 54.

[5] LS, 641.

[6] Grk. pistou logou.

[7] BDB, 130.

[8] “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit [betza] is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood’?” (Genesis 37:26).

[9] For further examination on the instructions regarding leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9, and some of the situation-specific circumstances in Ephesus and Crete, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.