Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #18: Mishpatim (Rulings) Sh’mot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 34:8-22; 33:25-26
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 9:15-22; 10:28-39
This parashah covers many important rulings to be observed to this day. Some include observance of Shmittah, non-partiality towards foreigners living with the biological Israelites, honoring widows and orphans in need, not coming before G-d empty handed during the pilgrimage festivals, and many others. Teachings on these rulings abound in Biblical literature and rightly so. These rulings provide the ultimate foundation for living as G-d’s people; a way of life that glorifies G-d and makes Him known to all nations; a way of life separate from all other peoples; and one that ensures a viable, safe society; a way of life we will not know in its fullness until Yahshua’s return. However, there exists little in the way of detailed information and teaching on the passage found in Exodus 24:9-11. This passage will be the focus of our lesson today.
“Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and seventy of the leaders went up; and they saw the (alef-tav) G-d of Israel. Under his feet was something like a sapphire stone pavement as clear as the sky itself. He did not reach out his hand against these notables of Israel; on the contrary, they saw (alef-tav) G-d, even as they were eating and drinking.”
This event takes place soon after the people accept the covenant; the 10 Commands given verbally by G-d and the sprinkling of blood over the people as a sign of being consecrated to G-d. G-d is about to call Moshe up to the mountain to receive the 10 commandments written in stone. Our questions about this passage might include:
1. How did these men see G-d and not die? Didn’t G-d tell Moshe that to see His (G-d’s) face would mean certain death? (Ex. 33:20 “And He said: ‘Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live’”). Conversely, because this was said after the event in question, does it mean man was allowed to see G-d and not die in this instance?
2. What form did G-d take at this time for humans to see Him?
3. What is the significance of the sapphire stone pavement appearing substance beneath G-d’s feet?
Examining the first question, we turn to the Hebrew scriptures where we see the two letters “alef-tav”; the first and last letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet. These letters are placed in the fourth position in the first sentence of the Bible. As Messianic Jews we understand the alef-tav represents Yahshua because Yahshua identifies Himself as the “Alef-Tav” in the book of Revelation. With that information, we know the scripture is referring to YHVH/Yahshua. The passage in question clearly indicates these humans saw G-d’s feet. It mentions nothing of His face. Although G-d himself is not a physical being, a symbol or emblem of His glory was distinctly, and at a distance, displayed before those chosen witnesses. Many think, however, that in this private scene was discovered, amid the luminous blaze, the faint adumbrated form of the humanity of Yahshua. Ezekiel 1:26; compare Galatians 3: 24).
There is no doubt that G-d’s allowing these humans to see His feet was an extraordinary privilege. This indicates that as glorious as this experience was, there was something missing or incomplete in the encounter. This was not a “face-to-face” encounter with G-d. These elders of Israel could see G-d but there was no direct communication between them and G-d. This would be reserved for Moshe. Seeing G-d, looking into the eyes and soul of the Creator, understanding and knowing G-d as we want to know another and be known–these are not possible with G-d, to whom we are not equal. The 74 elders do not look directly at G-d but see G-d from below; they look up at G-d. The focus of their gaze is on the pavement under G-d’s feet. They are aware of seeing G-d, but the center of their attention is on the path that leads to the Eternal. By following that path, we, too, can catch a glimpse of the Eternal G-d through Yahshua and His testimony for G-d/Himself.
Even more was the fact that they saw Him even as they ate and drank. This scenario represents the close fellowship G-d seeks with humankind. This is also a foreshadowing of the great wedding supper described in Revelation 19:9-10.
Answering the second question is somewhat more difficult. We weren’t there. The description is limited to His feet. This may indicate our relationship as servants of G-d privileged only to look upon the feet of our L-rd at this point in history. Recall the statement by John the Baptist as he conveyed his perceived relationship to his cousin Yahshua as his L-rd in Matthew 3:11. Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear – According to Barnes Commentary on the Bible, the word translated here as “shoes” has a signification different from what it has in our language. At first, in order to keep the feet from the sharp stones or the burning sand, small pieces of wood were fastened to the soles of the feet, called “sandals.” Leather, or skins of beasts dressed, afterward were used. The foot was not covered at all, but the sandal, or piece of leather or wood, was bound by thongs. The people put these off when they entered a house and put them on when they left. To unloose and bind on sandals, on such occasions, was formerly the business of the lowest servants. The expression in this place, therefore, denotes great humility, and John says that he was nor worthy to be the servant of him who should come after him. That the 74 chosen individuals saw only the feet of G-d reinforces the idea that we are certainly not equals with or to G-d. In His unmerited kindness, He allowed these men to see his feet to reinforce the fact of his presence. In today’s academic circles this would be called establishing his validity; his reliability to be proven at the close of the Tribulation (Rev. 1:14-15; Rev. where in Revelation references are made to His feet once more. Only this time, they are attached to Yahshua; G-d manifested as Messiah ben David! Let us now move to question 3.
“…something like a sapphire stone pavement as clear as the sky itself.” Sapphire is one of the most valuable and lustrous of the precious gems–of a sky-blue or light azure color and frequently chosen to describe the throne of G-d (see Ezekiel 1: 26, 10:1). Not surprisingly, the stone representing Judah was called a nofech in Hebrew. This is generally translated as turquoise. The Jewish Study Bible interprets the blue pavement as the base of G-d’s “palace,” adding this is why the sky is blue, although there is another explanation in the scientific realm. The color was a sky blue (Heb. – Techelet). The blue of the sapphire may suggest that the elders saw the sea of glass before the throne of G-d (Revelation 4:6), although they could not have been aware of it at the time. What is/was the significance of allowing the 74 men to see this physical manifestation? Was this a preview of things to come? Would any of these individuals describe what they saw to their children who might be witness to the events in Revelation? If so, will they make the connection between this event, Yahshua’s return as Messiah ben David, and the appearance of the environment and Yahshua in this future event? This may be a far stretch but one we cannot rule out. Is this narrative for our benefit in order that we may make the connection between the G-d of Israel and Yahshua as G-d himself manifest as a human form? Indeed, it is instructive for Christians, many of whom are taught that the G-d of Israel and Yahshua are two different rulers. After all, the Bible is replete with these “jewels” for those who read and study the Bible after the time of Moshe. Along with this theology Christians are taught that Yahshua (Jesus) changed the rules “mid-Bible” from grace and justice to “grace only,” abrogating G-d’s commands, rulings, and statutes. In Revelation 4:6, the emblem was designed to represent the pure worship of heaven without reference to any other symbolic design, and hence, the sea is wholly clear and pellucid, similar to the description in our narrative. As G-d was standing on this sapphire-colored base, its presence clearly indicates G-d standing on the throne as the King; the One true G-d on the mountain above all others. How much of this information was available to the men who saw G-d? Did they understand its significance? There is no literature that answers this question. We can only make intelligent deductions using hermeneutics and prayerful exegesis analysis. Hermeneutics is a way of studying a text for example, to understand the whole through a part, and a part through the whole. This requires looking at the topics I previously discussed and provided our congregation that are important if not crucial for conducting textual research:
1. Who (is the author)?
2. What (is the subject matter of the text)?
3. Why (was the text written)?
4. How (was the text composed)?
5. When (was, the text written, or published)?
6. Where (was, the text written, or published)?
7. By which means (was the text written or published)?
8. Who is the audience?
9. Is the information germane to our salvation, or are we being distracted from the task at hand?
Exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discoverable meaning of its author which is what we want to employ. The opposite, eisegesis, occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective when employed effectively while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective. This is why we must be careful when using eisegesis and use exegesis when at all possible.
Regardless of what these individuals perceived, they must have been totally awestruck. Although we have yet to have the privilege of physically seeing YHVH/Yahshua one day if we win the race, we can witness Him by proxy through close observation of all of creation including our encounters with our fellow man who were made in His image. We should experience the awe, fear, and love of G-d every time we enter His courts with praise, supplication, thanksgiving, meditation, or study. The very fact that we are allowed such a privilege should cause us humble ourselves as we spiritually bow at His feet and prostrate ourselves before His throne. Perhaps this narrative was meant as a teaching for us on the benevolence, tenderness, and unmerited kindness of G-d in his role as Adonai, even as the people would soon see the glory of Adonai as a raging fire. Once again we see the inextricable duality of grace (the beautiful clear blue base at His feet) and law (the raging fire of judgment and power) manifest throughout the Old and “New” Testaments. There is no greater privilege for a student than to set at the feet of the Master and learn His ways. Take advantage of His grace while there is still time.
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26
In this week’s haftarah, Jeremiah describes the punishment that would befall the Jews because they continued enslaving their Hebrew slaves after six years of service–transgressing the commandment discussed in the beginning of this week’s Torah reading.
King Zedekiah made a pact with the people according to which they would all release their Jewish slaves after six years of service–as commanded in the Torah. Shortly thereafter, the Jews reneged on this pact and forced their freed slaves to re-enter into service. G‑d then dispatched Jeremiah with a message of rebuke: “Therefore, so says the Lord: You have not hearkened to Me to proclaim freedom, everyone to his brother and every one to his neighbor; behold I proclaim freedom to you, says the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine, and I will make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” The haftorah then vividly depicts the destruction and devastation that the Jews would experience.
The haftorah concludes with words of reassurance: “Just as I would not cancel My covenant with the day and night and I would not cancel the laws of heaven and earth, so too I will not cast away the descendants of Jacob . . . for I will return their captivity [to their land] and have mercy on them.”
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 9:15-22; 10:28-39
Perhaps we can answer Question #2 in part by examining the first passage. Although in this scenario and time G-d is talking to Ananias about Paul (Sha’ul), we can apply the mission of Paul to Yahshua’s reason for coming to earth as G-d incarnate. “But the L-rd said to him [Ananias]. ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” We must examine this passage in the context of our parashah to make this connection. Through YHVH/Yahshua’s plan, Sha’ul was destined for a radical change in his life from one of human aristocracy to one of ultimate servant hood. Similarly, Yahshua left the very presence of G-d in heaven to assume the role of ultimate servant to G-d/YHVH (Isaiah 53). Paul’s role was to expose YHVH as Yahshua to the lost sheep of Israel first (Matt. 15:24) and not to the Gentiles at that time (Matt. 10:5). Then they were to go to the Gentiles and kings and teach the truth of the resurrection and what it means for humankind (Matt. 28:19). We read in this passage “Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Name, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.” Perhaps G-d as Adonai gave the 74 witnesses at Sinai a glimpse of Yahshua by allowing them to see His feet and the clear-blue base signifying deity while connecting with earth (man).
Going to the second passage, we read in Acts 10:28-29 another possible connection to the parashah “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But G-d has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore, I came without objection as soon as I was sent for…” We must put this passage in context to understand it correctly. Peter had just been shown by G-d that men of other nations are not unclean in and of themselves. It is their behavior from which we are to remain separated. Moving to verse 34-37 “Then Peter opened his mouth and said ‘In truth I perceive that G-d shown no partiality. But in every action whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which G-d sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Yahshua-He is the L-rd of all-that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached.”
The issue of impartiality is specifically mentioned in our parashah. However, G-d may have provided a demonstration of this concept by allowing mere humans to see the feet of G-d/Yahshua to illustrate G-d reaching down to verify His presence on the mountain and His reality. Although the blue base separated His feet from the earth, a connection was made as evidenced by the viewing of the 74 witnesses. These men could clearly understand that which was “not normal” (heavenly) in association with the “normal” (humanity) Similarly, Peter was shown this connection through a different illustration in a context that he could understand; through a vision of clean and unclean animals. Unfortunately, many Christian clergy teach this passage means we can eat anything we want. This is erroneous to say the least and indicates these Bible teachers are ignorant of the fact that G-d is teaching Peter about our relationship with non-Jews and has nothing to do with food.
Perhaps G-d allowed these elders, Moshe, Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu a glimpse of a symbol of G-d’s/Yahshua’s deity before they could fully understand its significance. Later, when G-d would articulate the intricate instructions for the priestly garments; colors, significance, and types of the stones to be used for each tribe in the breastplate, and instructions for building the Tabernacle, these individuals would experience a tremendous “aha!” moment. G-d allows these exhilarating “sparks” of insight for those who continue to ask, seek, and knock (Luke 11:9-13). These sparks are well worth the effort of continued prayer, thanksgiving, supplication, meditation, and study. May we continually seek these sparks of Torah knowledge and insight to enhance our ability to shine for the glory of G-d before a lost world (Matt. 5:16).
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart