Parsha: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18)

by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970

Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock!

Mishpatim  מִּשְׁפָּטִים (“Judgments”) Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

The Torah reading for this Shabbat is called Mishpatim, meaning ‘judgments’ and spans Exodus 21 through 24. This section of the Torah contains extensive case law; fines and/or punishments for a broad spectrum of offenses having to do with personal injury and property. Everything in this parasha demonstrates that, as beings created in the image of God, we have innate dignity and worth. But rather than a summary of the many statutes, let’s consider a truly enigmatic passage at the end of the parasha. Look at Exodus 24, beginning at verses 1-3.

Then Adonai said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.” Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!”

In what is a singular, enigmatic passage in the Torah, the Creator invites Moses and Aaron, two of Aaron’s sons and the seventy elders of Israel to meet Him up on Mount Sinai. But even within this small privileged few there are degrees of separation. Moses is the only one who will draw near to Adonai. Modern Judaism may balk at the idea of our needing a representative to stand between us and God, but the one who penned the words of the Torah knew better. Moses himself was exactly that – a ‘go-between’, an intermediary, as would be the High Priest and the Cohanim. Considering the infinite power and holiness of God, I am grateful that He appointed middlemen!

Moses conveyed God’s terms to Israel, and our people responded “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” After offering sacrifices to Adonai and then sprinkling the people with the blood, this affirmation was repeated in verse seven:

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!”

Israel did not enter into God’s Covenant ignorantly. There was full and complete disclosure. We heard the terms and agreed to them. We promised to comply. We promised obedience. Contracts are not something we should enter into cavalierly. If this is true of agreements between men, how much more when it is a Covenant God is offering? Once Israel declared their agreement, it was time for Moses and Aaron and company to ascend the mountain and meet with God.

Verses 9 – 11
Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

The first question that comes to mind is: how is this encounter reconciled with Exodus 33, in which God says to Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man may see Me and live”? How too is it reconciled with the statement in John 1: No one has seen God at any time…? But we are told here in Exodus 24 that they both saw God and lived to tell about it. Rather than avoid what seems to be a cosmic contradiction, let’s explore it.

There are many passages in the Tanach in which the interposition of personal pronouns between God and the Angel of the Lord occur, and in Isaiah we read,

In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old (Isaiah 63:9).

The rabbis wrestled with these same tensions and suggested that this unique angel or messenger (the Hebrew word is the same for both: malach) who dwells in the Shechinah of the Lord and speaks with His authority is called Metatron, who is alternately called ‘Youth’ or ‘Forerunner’ or ‘The Prince of the Face’ and which some have suggested is Messiah Himself! Our own Rabbi Loren wrote an article several years ago entitled “An Angel You Ought to Know” about this enigmatic ‘angel’ who we believe to be Messiah prior to His incarnation. I suggest everyone read this article.

How then did they see God and yet not die? I believe because they saw Messiah Yeshua, who is the radiance and the express image of God, as the writer of Hebrews tells us; sharing His name and nature, deity and essence, yet is a unique person; God the Son. Those who behold and believe the Son of God not only do not die, but are made alive forever!

And so we have this remarkable passage in which God invites men to draw near and to in His presence. It would not be the last time such an offer was made. God is still beckoning to us. Yeshua declared, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20). So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. There is coming a day when we who have responded to His invitation will dine in His presence.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”…Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb'” (Rev. 19:7, 9).

But we dare not presume on that intimacy with God. He invites us near, but He does not invite us casually. We must not only love and adore Him, but revere Him. We must come on His terms. We are not free to ‘make it up as we go’ in worshiping God. I would remind you that Nadav and Avihu were among those privileged men whom God invited near, and who ate and drank in the presence of God. Yet not very much later, they walked cavalierly into the Holy Place and burned unauthorized sacrifices before God, for which they paid with their lives. They saw God and lived. They presumed on God and died.

May God give us greater love and reverence for Him, as we await the joyous day when we will recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and delight in the presence of Messiah!

Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Mishpatim מִּשְׁפָּטִים‬.