Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #17: Yitro (Jethro) Sh’mot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-13
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:8-13
Many teachings addressing this parashah focus on Yitro, and this is appropriate because of the unique character of Yitro and his influence on Moshe. But this year we are going to focus on the 10 Words, otherwise known as the 10 Commandments, listed in Sh’mot 20:1-14.
Right away it is apparent that the 1st command is often ignored. For example, there is a song by the Statler brothers about Moshe and in one section it says that Moshe was commanded by G-d to write the commands down on a stone, the first one being “Thou shalt have no gods before me is my first command.” But tis is part of the second command.
The presupposition about who G-d is and His authority is undefined when the first command is omitted. Indeed, by omitting the first command, the door is left open for choosing any god and applying any, all, or none of the following commands. This fits nicely into the Secular Humanistic agenda that teaches our children and grandchildren that there is no G-d; that whatever the individual deems is right cannot be refuted or criticized at the risk of the one attempting to contradict such distorted philosophy with the fundamental truths of G-d being ostracized and criticized as intolerant and against inclusion. Yet, becoming and remaining a separate people is exactly what the G-d of Israel expects of anyone who calls him or herself one of G-d’s people. Let us verify this in Sh’mot 19:3-6: “ Moshe went up to G-d, and Adonai called to him from the mountain: ‘Here is what you are to say to the household of Ya’akov, to tell the people of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will pay careful attention to what I say and keep my covenant, then you will be my own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you will be a kingdom of cohanim (priests) for me, a nation set apart.’”
The setting apart of those who listen and obey G-d’s words are mentioned again in the B’rit Chadashah in 1 Peter 2:9 where Peter is speaking to G-d’s chosen people “ living as aliens in the Diaspora- in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bythinia-chosen according to the foreknowledge of G-d the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obeying Yahshua the messiah and for sprinkling with his blood (1 Peter 1:1-2).in 1 Peter 2:9 Peter is speaking to this group of believers and encouraging them to rid themselves of everything humanistic and of the Egyptian paradigm of a sinful lifestyle, and to keep trusting in the Word of G-d. Comparing true believers to those who reject the Messiah Yahshua who is the Word of G-d (1 John 1-4) we read : They [antinomians] are stumbling at the Word, disobeying it-as had been planned. But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim, a holy nation, a people for G-d to possess!” This scripture reflects on and confirms what Adonai told Moshe to tell the Israelites in the parashah. If the first command of G-d is ignored, none of the others and none of the accompanying scripture can make sense. It is critical to start with the correct premise from which to develop our value and belief systems lest we flounder attempting to live according to our own “wisdom” which leads to death (Prov. 14:12).
There are no punishments stated in the 10 Words. Obedience is motivated by G-d’s absolute authority and the peoples’ desire to live according with His will. As mentioned in our discussion on the first command, the belief that G-d is the author of the laws is a distinctive feature of biblical law. Again, looking at secular Humanistic thought, the paradigm is “no G-d, no law, no problem.” Just as in the ancient Near East, secular humanists made their own rules based on human thought and ‘wisdom,” especially that of the king. Where Mesopotamian kings claimed to have learned the principles of truth and justice from their gods, they chose to manipulate those principles into their own laws. Implicit in the biblical view is that G-d is the king of all true believers called Israelites. In the Tanakh the Israelites were biologic Jews but fellow travellers who followed the commands of G-d were included as they are today.
The perspective that G-d is the king of Israel and the legislator elevates the status of law beyond practicality, endowed with sanctity. Obedience to civil and moral law became a religious duty with obedience out of love resulting in righteousness and committing sins criminal and against G-d and man.
Even the order of the 10 Words has significance. The first five contain the phrase “the L-rd your G-d” or Adonai your G-d.” Five is the number of grace which is an attribute of G-d that allows humans to exist and to have the opportunity to share eternity with Him. The first five Words set the priority of believing who G-d is first, and how we are to behave towards Him.
The remaining five Words describe how we are to relate to our fellow man who is also of concern to G-d. These are commands that are ethical in nature. These commands are often misinterpreted by other religions including Christianity, but this subject requires a teaching that is beyond the scope of time for this lesson.
The second command is not a theological statement denying the existence of other gods but a behavioural injunction against worshipping other gods in addition to the G-d of Israel which was a unique concept. Polytheism was rampant as the people believed that no single god could control all of the natural phenomenon vital to human life. Israelites tempted to worship other gods would not abandon the G-d of Israel but would worship others in addition to Him.
The idea of graven images refers to images made for worship, which are prohibited. The worship of other gods is perceived by G-d as a type of adultery because He established a covenant [ a marriage contract] with Israel alone. G-d’s response to such adultery is that of an aggrieved husband; one of jealousy. This seemingly emotional response reflects His passionate involvement with His treasured people. However, this andromorphic terminology is more likely to be used for human understanding of G-d’s love and special relationship with Israel than human jealousy. Indeed, this was the opinion of Maimonides who maintains that G-d’s punitive actions are in accordance with the guilt of those who are to be punished, and not the result of any emotion as G-d is above all character defects.
The third commandment addresses those who would make assertions in court, public affairs, or even daily conversations backed up with conditional curses such as “I swear by G-d that I will ….” or “May G-d strike me dead if I did ….” He one swearing proved his sincerity by invoking punishment from G-d, who cannot be evaded or deceived. A false oath would show contempt for G-d by implying that the one swearing does not fear punishment from G-d.
The last command to be addressed today is the fourth and longest commandment in the Decalogue. This should tell us something about how important Shabbat observance is to G-d. Observing Shabbat is one of the quintessential expressions of love and loyalty to Him for it requires us to shut down our mundane activities fro 24 hours. We are to stop all labour and reserve it for the other six days at which time we are to find ways to glorify G-d through our work. The rabbis defined “work” by basing the inference on activities that were used in the construction of the Tabernacle. However, where a rabbi might define kayaking as work because it makes one perspire, the kayaker may enjoy this activity as a praise to G-d in a relaxing, natural atmosphere that may not be considered work at all and is not mundane. This is an issue that must be worked out (no pun intended) between the individual through prayerful supplication to G-d and the council of the rabbi with whom the individual affiliates. We cannot take what we choose to do on Shabbat lightly, but we need not sit in our homes in fear of violating this commandment. There are certain activities readily identified as “mundane” from which we should refrain. Keeping the Shabbat holy honours G-d by emulating His actions at the time of creation and by honouring the covenant [marriage contract] given on Sinai.
Contrary to the current social philosophy and what is taught in Christianity today about G-d’s laws, there are limits; the boundaries of which are defined by G-d’s laws, statutes, and rulings. Although this parashah is the first place we see the giving of the 10 Commands, G-d made some of His perpetual commands long before the 10 commands were given; (Ex. 15:25), redemption of the first-born (Ex. 13:11-16), Pesach observance (Ex. 12:14), circumcision (Gen. 17:11), and Shabbat (Gen. 2:3). Like so many other words and verses in the Bible, the commands have been distorted, changed, omitted, mistranslated, and misunderstood by individuals who have an agenda that is not in keeping with G-d’s Torah.
In preparation for the giving of the 10 Commands, the people are specifically told not to touch the mountain even at its base or they are to be put to death. They are not allowed to touch it until G-d chooses to have the shofar sounded (Ex. 19:12-13). Mount Sinai takes about three hours to climb so Moshe’s trek was not easy. The people are to prepare themselves according to G-d’s directions for the third day including washing their clothing. This act is a metaphor for repentance also mentioned in the context of the white robes worn by Yahshua’s bride in Revelation. Interesting that in this third millennium we fully expect HaShem to return after the Rapture as He comes to reign for another millennium. After that time, Israel (all true believers) are wearing white robes (Rev. 7:9) as they prepare to meet their Groom (Yahshua). Another parallel to Revelation and the marriage of Israel to Yahshua may be seen in Ex. 19:20: “Adonai came down onto Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; then Adonai called Moshe to the top of the mountain” just as a bride walks the isle to her groom. Next, the wedding contract is presented; not by the wife as in traditional Judaism, but by G-d. An important qualification must be made at this point. Although we know that Yahshua is G-d, in His role as G-d, He divorced the 10 northern tribes of Israel but remained cleaved to Judah and Benjamin the 2 remaining southern tribes (Jer. 3:8). Levi was included but was not a tribe. Because a man cannot remarry a previously divorced wife (Deu.t 24:1-4; Mat. 5:32), this leaves the 10 northern tribes on their own for a time. However, G-d in the role of Yahshua is eligible to marry Israel (10 northern tribes) as she repents and is regathered (Jer. 32:36-7; Isaiah 66:7-8; Zech12:3-6). Therefore, we are witnessing the original marriage between Israel as G-d’s chosen people before the split of the two kingdoms and G-d.
As the people hear thunder for the first time, see the lightning and the sound of the shofar, they are extremely fearful as would be expected. Moshe tries to calm them and inform them that G-d is testing them and attempting to establish a relationship whereby the people will love, fear, and obey Him for their ultimate good (Ex. 20:17-18).
Be aware that G-d can manifest himself in many forms. Listen intently for his voice. Remember, although He came to the Israelites in thunder, lightning, and a cloud when He gave them the commands, He was not found in the wind, the earthquake, or in the fire witnessed by Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). This time G-d was in a quiet, subdued voice that reassured Elijah nowhere at the same time. Let he who has ears hear G-d’s voice in everything as the Ruach walks beside us to guide our every thought and deed.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-13
This week’s haftarah discusses Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly Chariot (the merkavah), a revelation that all the Israelites experienced when G-d spoke the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Isaiah perceives sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. Isaiah describes the angels and their behavior in terms we can understand. During the course of his vision, Isaiah volunteers to be G-d’s emissary to transmit His message to the Israelites. He is immediately given a depressing prophecy regarding the exile the nation will suffer as punishment for their many sins and the Land of Israel will be left empty and desolate. An interesting comparison can be made between the scenario at Sinai and the vision of G-d’s throne Isaiah describes in Is. 6:1. The house is “filled with smoke, the s’rafim (guardian angels) are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy!’, and the doorposts shake “at the sound of their shouting” (Is. 6:2-4) Yahshua hears the voice of G-d and says, “Send me!” On Mount Sinai G-d surrounded the mountain with a thick cloud (Ex. 19:9). The mountain was smoking (Ex. 20:15). The thunder (Ex. 20:15) can be likened to the shouting of the s’rafim. Moshe can be compared to Yahshua in his willingness to be used by G-d.
An interesting point in Isaiah is found in reading Isaiah 9:7: “to the increase of His rulership and to completeness, there will be no end.” The Hebrew for increase begins with a mem sofit (final mem). This alludes to the fact that the whole peace of G-d is yet to come!
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:8-13
“If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah, in conformity with the passage that says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors. 10 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all. For the one who said, ‘Don’t commit adultery, also said ‘Don’t murder.’ Now if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah. Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah which gives freedom. 13 For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy; but mercy wins out over judgment.”
James was the brother of Yahshua, and he was well-grounded in the Old Testament. His teachings paralleled those of his brother and L-rd as we read the above passages. James reminds us that we need take great care in judging others until we look closely at ourselves. This parallels Yahshua’s teaching those who wanted to stone the adulteress. Those without sin were invited to cast the first stone. We see examples of people judging others on a daily basis. We are quick in our religious circles to condemn those of other religions forgetting from where we may have come prior to the calling out of apostate religion. In the context of a synagogue, some people condemn others for dancing or not, smoking, wearing their hair too long or too short; practicing too much liturgy or not enough, etc. Yet many of these same people do not tithe, do not keep the festivals of G-d, or celebrate the New Moon. None of us are righteous. Yet, YHVH/Yahshua reserves the right to show us mercy or not. As people who profess to love and follow YHVH/Yahshua, we are to show mercy, allow and encourage people to grow into the faith and truth even as we grow. Sometimes encouragement takes the form of admonishment or rebuke. We will be judged as we judge. If we see someone teaching another or openly judging another in error, we have a responsibility to correct that individual, privately when possible.
Dan is no longer a tribe as noted in the book of Revelation during this time (Rev. 7:5-8). If we go back and read the “blessing” of Dan by Jacob we read in Gen. 49:16-17: “Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a viper on the road, a horned snake in the path that bites the horse’s heels so its rider falls off backward.” We must give others an example to follow by our own lifestyle. That’s how Yahshua taught his disciples; one day and one mile at a time. That is a big order. However, if we realize we are to be a people set apart and act like it, we can assist others in their growth by leading a consistent lifestyle based on our continued learning and adherence/obedience to our new knowledge. Are we setting a good example as a representative of the Messianic faith? Are we glorifying Yahshua in our thoughts, speech and actions? “Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says, but do it! Whoever hears the Word but doesn’t do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror, who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).
“So everyone who hears these words of mine and act on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the winds blew and beat against that house, but it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does NOT act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the wind blew and beat against that house, and it collapsed- and its collapse was horrendous! (Matthew 7:24-27)
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart