|This portion begins with the words “Shoftim v’shotrim titen-l’cha b’chol-sha’arecha—You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates.” It then continues on by saying that Israel should do this once God brings them into the Land that He is giving them. The word “appoint” used in the above verse is the Hebrew word “titen.” This word can also mean, “give.” In essence, what God is saying is, “If I give you the Promised Land, then you must give for yourself Judges and Officers.” The gifts of God always come with responsibilities. As we grow, God’s gifts grow, which means our accountability grows. You could also reverse this idea and say that as God’s gifts grow, we grow as well. God stretches and molds us through His gifts so that we can accomplish His will in the world. |
God’s gifts require that we also give. There is an order by which God’s gifts/blessings descend into this realm. How can we ask God to bless us if we aren’t creating vessels = doing actions into which God can pour forth His blessing? God’s gifts are like a buffet; there is a never-ending abundance, but if you don’t bring your own plate, why would you ever expect to be able to partake? In this case, it is our job to “create plates,” meaning, we do actions and create situations where God can “fill our plates with His blessing.” As Psalm 68 says, “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits…”
The appointment of Judges and Officers was a very serious task which God had given to the nation of Israel. The third verse of this portion (16:20) tells us, “You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Without Judges there is no judgment and there is no ability to decide on what true justice looks like. When this happens, people do what is right in their own eyes and create their own standards of right and wrong. Therefore, God made Israel’s dwelling in the land contingent upon the fact that they establish Judges to instruct them in the ways of justice. Judges and justice are so important to God that He gave the Torah to balance 2 basic concepts humanity needs in order to live; Order and Freedom.
In the Torah, the nation of Egypt represents a land ruled by order without freedom. The Israelites were enslaved, yet their lives were structured and meticulously controlled from sunup till sundown.
|On the opposite side of the spectrum, the 7 nations dwelling in the land of Canaan (before the Exodus from Egypt) represent a land ruled by freedom without order. Canaan was known for its idolatrous, anarchic, make-up-your-own-rules type of peoples. These two different lands represent the outcome of what happens when you leave freedom or order out of the picture.The Torah was given to balance these 2 very complex concepts in a perfect way to enable people to live in a free and yet ordered society. The Torah is mankind’s instruction manual. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The Torah is a formula for the construction of a society, not (primarily) a roadmap for the salvation of the soul.”|
Many people think of the Torah as the “Old Testamant Version” of Yeshua, a book that if kept perfectly would bring salvation and justification to the individual. But as Rabbi Sacks points out, this wasn’t the primary reason for the Torah. Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul talks a lot about this idea throughout his letters. The written Torah has never saved, will never save, and was never meant to save. The Torah was given to separate Israel as a nation and to create a balanced, harmonious, God-fearing society. This is why when Yeshua came He said the now famous words that have been argued down through the centuries, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill…” Yeshua didn’t replace what was written in the Torah, rather He, the living Torah, fulfilled what had been spoken of Him in the written Torah. Yeshua not only upheld the Torah, He also raised the standard of Torah. He began to teach what in Judaism is called “HaTorah Shel HaMashiach—The Torah of the Messiah.” He said, don’t just “not murder,” instead, don’t even hate someone in your heart. If we hate someone in our heart does this then mean we ought to receive the same punishment as an actual physical murderer? No! Of course not! What Yeshua is teaching is that hate in the heart is what leads to murder. Lust in the heart is what leads to adultery…sins that begin in the heart, if not dealt with, are what ultimately lead to the downfall and destruction of a society. Next Yeshua says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person…” Here is where Yeshua begins to make Torah invalid, no? He quotes a verse from the Law and then says…do the opposite? But let me ask you, if we applied Yeshua’s words here “[Don’t] resist an evil person…” could we have a just and ordered society? Notice that the entire chapter of Matthew 5 is dealing with interpersonal relationships. Murder, adultery, divorce, vows, greetings and love; Yeshua is not throwing out the need for a Judicial system. Instead, He’s saying that there are a lot of people who have problems who aren’t dealing with them. They are holding onto their squabbles and quarrels, all the while, using the Torah to justify their gripes with others. Yeshua is saying, “Make peace in your interpersonal relationships. Don’t use the Torah to hold onto your bickering. The Torah was meant to bring peace.”
Latter in the book of Matthew, Yeshua says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Yeshua doesn’t say, “Come to Me and you’ll be free! I don’t have any yokes! That’s OT stuuuff!” Rather, He says, take “My Yoke upon you…” And the “Yoke of His instructions” is a.k.a. the Torah. In Hebrew the Torah is referred to as “Ohl Malchut Shamayim—The yoke of the kingdom of heaven.” Just as a good citizen would follow the laws of one’s own country, so too, Yeshua is instructing us to follow the rules of His Kingdom. Just as a king’s authority is empowered when his subjects follow his laws; God is glorified when we follow His laws…for His laws bring life. Not salvation, but life.
The Torah is a Constitution of sorts. A constitution as defined by Meriam-Webster is, “the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it.” Today, the modern state of Israel has no constitution. People wonder why this is the case, however, many religious Jews say it is because Israel already has one, found in the Torah.
Though Israel’s Torah constitution may never be ratified in the current state of Israel, we are looking forward to the time of “Melech Mashiach—King Messiah” when He brings His kingdom and “out of Zion go[es] forth the law, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” There are 4 references in the book of Judges where it basically says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Well, again we live in a time with no ‘earthly’ King. (Not meaning that the King is earthly, rather that the King is not reigning on the earth) We must prepare the world to receive their King!
|If a king were exiled from his land because his citizens rejected him, what would bring him back? Maybe if he heard that his former populace was once again following the edicts and rules that had been laid out by him. We must prepare the world to receive the King! We just entered into a new month known in Hebrew as “Elul.” It is the month before the High Holidays of Rosh HaShannah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Judgment). It is a month of introspection and reflection preparing for these times.|
Rosh HaShannah has another significant aspect to it. In Israel’s history, during the times of the kings, it was the day when a new king was crowned and announced. Obviously, a new king has not been proclaimed for a long time…but during this month of Elul it is known in Judaism as the time when “the King is in the field” and the Hebrew letters that make up the Hebrew word for this month of Elul can be an acronym for the phrase “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li—I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This month is a month of love. It is a time when “the King is in the field,” meaning, the King/God is personally meeting with his subjects. He’s not in the throne room, or “in the counting house, counting out his money…” This month the King of the universe is asking for us to invite Him into our lives. He wants to experience life with us and not the other way around. He is the parent who wants His children to choose the adventure and take Him with them! God wants to be a part of your adventure of a lifetime, quite literally!
This month as we prepare for a New Year on the Hebrew calendar, let us learn the balance between Order and Freedom as defined by the Torah and also draw near to the King of Universe, Who is the lover of our souls!
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,