Torah, Mitzvah, Choq, & Mishpat

Shavuot is typically described as the appointed time celebrating the “giving of the law” or “the sending of the Holy Spirit”, but I hope that these last 4 weeks have shown more of a relational progression, rather than just one event or a single theme.  Every hero of faith experiences this same arch in their lives, so why would Yah expect any different from his people, or even those sojourning with us?  Every believer at every time in history faces the same obstacles while traveling on The Way as Moses and our original spiritual ancestors—bitterness, spiritual thirst, lack of rest, fear, family disputes.  This is why these stories and His Feasts are so timeless and important. 

Just as important, of course, are the laws and the principles contained within these stories. Moses’ role was as a mediator between Yah and Israel, and here in Exodus, we see exactly how Moses guided the people.  

You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know The Way in which they must walk and what they must do.” (Exodus 18:19-20

This is why Moses was such a crucial figure. The Way is NOT self-explanatory. The Way is NOT common sense. We CANNOT trust our hearts or intuition. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9

Paul expounds, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:15-20

“Life stinks, and we are horrible at it”.  (Ben Schminke) 

Since we humans are essentially lost and clueless, it would seem wise for a loving Creator to give us timeless principles and guidelines for life. Now that Yah has spent these past several weeks baring His heart to Israel, He is preparing to shift gears to begin sharing lots and lots of specifics. Remember that we’ve been camped at Rephadim for three weeks now in SST (Shavuot Study Time).  Here is a short and helpful primer defining the words we’ll begin to see more and more. 

Torah” is typically translated simply as “Law”, but there’s nothing simple about this word since it’s a very broad term that actually encapsulates all of the definitions. The term is so broad that it’s used poetically as a term for the first five books of the Bible, but it’s also used for just one specific “law” or principle such as “the law of Sin and Death” (man’s fate if un-redeemed, and left to our own devices).  Because of this, we must be very careful to discern what “law” is being discussed by using context and looking closely at the original language—not simply the English translations. This is especially true in some of the New Testament Epistles, where literally a handful of verses have been confused and misused to overthrow the other 80% of Scripture! “Love your neighbor as yourself” for example, is Torah. “Do not murder” is Torah. No one would suggest that these “laws” are temporary, or simply for “Old Testament” believers. Yet, somehow, even “laws” literally set in stone, such as “Keep the Seventh Day Holy” are commonly explained away as “done away with”.  

If we followed the pattern set here in Exodus 18, for example, if there was confusion as to how the Sabbath worked, we’d just go to Moses and see what he’d say.  WWMD?  (Where has that bracelet been my whole life?)  Instead, we’ve been poorly trained to follow the footsteps of the “early church fathers”—which is exactly like the game “telephone”, except of course, the biblical version is a matter of life and death. 

This was Messiah’s advice in Matthew 23:1-3, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.  For they preach, but do not practice.” 

If the path your Spiritual leader is leading you on doesn’t match The Way taught by Moses—just follow Moses!  Practice what Moses preached!

Here again in John 5:44-47, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”  

In other words, Moses and Messiah are literally on the exact same page. The standards set by Yah through Moses are the exact same standards and expectations for us set by Yah through Messiah. If anything, Messiah came to raise the bar on those standards—not to through the bar away. 

Even the common Christian idea of “let the Holy Spirit guide you” sounds REALLY hard to argue with, but if what you are calling “The Holy Spirit” isn’t lining up with Messiah, who lines up with Moses, who lines up with the Torah, which is given by Yah—then DON’T LISTEN TO THAT SPIRIT! 

Back to definitions. 

A “Commandment” (a ‘Mitzvah’ in Hebrew) is the type of Torah that is a direct order or charge. This word is typically used as a straight-forward rule we are to actively “keep” or “observe”. Observe the Sabbath on the seventh day, for example is a “command”. As we’ll learn next week, not all of the Ten Commandments, are “commands”. In fact, the phrase “Ten Commandments” is not even what the Hebrew calls those first 10 words Yah speaks. 

A “Statute” or an “Ordinance” (based on the word ‘choq’ in Hebrew) is a fine-tuning of a command. “Observe the Sabbath” is a “command”, but “let your animals rest on Shabbat” would be an “ordinance”.  

A “Judgement” (Mishpat, in Hebrew) is a decision or a ruling, consistent with the other ‘commandments’ and ‘statues’ that sets a precedent for future expectations for Israel. The idea of a Second Passover (Numbers 9:1-14) for example, wasn’t given as Torah from the mountain, it was added when the people came to Moses to ask if there was a do-over available.  Once Moses received the Holy download, it became a permanent Judgement. Judgments are partly why the written “Book of the Law”—the book made into a Holy Covenant on Shavuot itself, is placed NEXT TO the Ark of the Testimony. Moses would amend that book as circumstances warranted, as Yah would provide more insight. However, after Moses died—not even Joshua (Yeshua!) was allowed to add or subtract from that Book!

At this point in our narrative, in Exodus 18, there is no “Book of the Law”, yet. The Sabbath is still being trained into the people, based on the scheduled arrival of the miracle manna, but there have been very few Commandments, Statutes, Ordinances, or binding Judgments being offered by Yah.  There is very little specific behavior expected from Israel, beyond trusting faithfulness.  Despite this reality, “Torah” has been continually flowing from Yah through Moses this entire time: 

The Blood of the Lamb is the sign of our redemption.

Yah is our healer.

Don’t live life like a fugitive

Yah will quench our thirst

Yeshua will defeat our enemies

Yah wants to share His authority with us if we’ll use it to glorify His Name

Shalom is expected within the Body.

This is ALL Torah.

Here’s the challenge: If we embrace the “Commandments” and related “Statues, Ordinances, and Judgments” without first grasping and REALIZING that the various “Torah” listed above take precedent…Israel will really find ourselves in a sad and pathetic state. This is why Yah’s heart and eternal principles are being taught FIRST on The Way.  The rest of the “Commandments” will shortly be added as a means to assist in our mastery of these more crucial Torah principles.  

We’ve already looked at the parallels that have proven that The Torah (as a whole) and The Holy Spirit are NEVER at odds with each other.  But if we think that obedience to the letter of any “Command” is more important than the heart behind the command, we are not really on The Way—we are not “in step with The Spirit”. If we think that our redemption is earned by being really, really, good at “ordinance keeping”, we are not in step with The Spirit. If we wrongly believe that a physical circumcision alone (not accompanied by trusting faithfulness and whole-hearted commitment to Yah) somehow earns us brownie-points or heavenly rewards, we are not in step with The Spirit. 

Since our hearts are wicked, defective, and self-serving we can’t tell what is good and evil without immovable guidelines and goal posts.  This is why Yah lovingly offers his Commandments, so there is no doubt.   This is why Moses will write them down in a book.  

Also, don’t forget that commandments (whether man-made OR Yah-breathed) are NOT meant to be a checklist for redemption. THERE IS NO SUCH THING. When we pervert His commandments (one of them, or all of them) and give them that sort of power, we are misusing His Holy tools (like when I use my wife’s favorite knife as a screwdriver). Worse than that, we have converted The Way into simply another pathetic and powerless religion. We risk living our lives “under the law” instead of “by the Spirit”—both lifestyles may look similar from outside, untrained eyes, but as Messiah said in Matthew 7:20, “you will know them by their fruits”.  In the letter to the church at Galatia (ironically misinterpreted as an anti-Torah essay), this is what Paul is trying to say.  

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law [not simply following rules for rules sake]. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these—I warn you, as I warned you before, those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no Torah. And those who belong to Messiah Yeshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-26

This message of Galatians (and that whole letter, actually) is at the heart of The Way to Shavuot, and I really hope these last 34 lessons have made that truth consistent and clear. The Torah lays out the expectations, Messiah taught the same message as Moses, but with more power and even higher expectations.  The various letters at the end of the New Testament (especially Paul’s) are addressing specific community concerns and often “Torah-less” doctrines.  The letters are consistently redirecting the path of those communities back onto The Way of Shavuot. 

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