Many people are not aware that there is no mention of synagogues, rabbis, Pharisees, Sadducees, or yeshivas, in the OT for they only developed in the 3rd century BC onwards with the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. However, they are referred to in the NT during the time of Yeshua and the early church as something that had been by then firmly established. All of these systems were developed from a text that is included in our Torah portion this Shabbat from Deut 17:8 – 13:
“If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So, you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously.”
In this text, God provided the Israelites at that time with the priesthood who they could approach with issues mentioned but not directly addressed in the Torah. But later on in history, the synagogue became established, the court system, the Sanhedrin and the whole rabbinical system – all of these things emerged in the inter-testamental period that had not existed beforehand.
The world had changed and the Jewish people who had returned from exile in Babylon now faced issues as an established people within a new culture. Out of this, the Torah now became accessible to everyone instead of a small minority – anyone wishing to study and learn and, along with it, became developed their own interpretations. Decisions on points of Torah were now made through discussion and debate among rabbis rather than waiting for divine revelation on every issue. All this evolved based on the one text from our Torah reading this Shabbat.
Yeshua became well known as a popular Pharisee rabbi who preached in the synagogues throughout Galilee: “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding regions. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” – Luke 4:14,15
This did not necessarily mean that He identified or agreed with their lifestyles or teachings, as the NT makes very clear. But, we do know that He used this very same text in this week’s parasha from Deut 17:8-13 to instruct His disciples and other followers. In Matt.23:1-3 He taught them saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.”
In other words, to walk the walk is as important as the talk because otherwise our words are empty and devoid of any meaning. When we blew the shofars we made a declaration before the spiritual powers in the heavenly realm that our authority is in Yeshua alone and in no other name before which all of heaven and earth must bow the knee. This is what walking the walk and talking the talk is all about – combining our words and actions that brings about change and transformation in a world that has fallen into decay.
Let’s change the atmosphere in the spiritual realm and one way in which we can do this powerfully is through our worship as we declare His praises and give Him all the glory due. As it is in Heaven, let it be on earth!SHOFTIM (Judges) Deut 16:18–21:9; Isa51:12–52:12; Matt 26:47–27:10
A bridal identifier of a true believer is someone consumed with an intense desire for nurturing an ever closer walk with God: The Psalmist cried out: “Search me and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts (not just my actions) and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the everlasting path.” (Ps. 139) This is the month of Elul, the month of Shuva – returning to the One who is waiting to embrace us with open arms.
This is the type of yearning we experience when we make Yeshua Lord of our lives. Just enough is unacceptable for the true believer because Adonai Tzva’ot is a God of more than enough, and never of too little!” How can one explain such a thing?
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidic Judaism, had a visitor, a medical doctor, who conducted a routine medical check after which he happily told him that he was in a state of excellent health. The Baal Shem Tov immediately responded, ’I am not surprised that you couldn’t find my sickness. I so desire the presence of God that my heart cries out in pain when I cannot feel it. You missed the profound sickness I have for the constant yearning for God.’
The medical doctor was stunned as the Baal Shem Tov took his hands, gazed into his eyes with a piercing look and asked him:
‘Have you ever lost something very valuable?’
‘In fact,’ replied the doctor, ‘I once had a large jewel, but it was stolen from me.’
‘Ah! That is your sickness!’ answered the Baal Shem Tov.
The medical doctor was puzzled and so asked the Baal Shem Tov for an explanation who replied,
“My sickness is yearning after God but your sickness is you’ve forgotten you ever had that desire.”
Yeshua described (Matt. 13:45-46) the kingdom of heaven like a jeweller on the lookout for the finest pearls. “When he found a pearl more beautiful and valuable than any jewel he had ever seen, the jeweller sold all he had and bought that pearl, his pearl of great price.” Don’t allow Satan to steal from you the most precious gift that God is offering! Are you thirsty? Yeshua invites us to come to the water and drink from the ‘river of life’ without money, without price, because salvation is a free gift but to possess it we must be willing to surrender all else.
“No. My sickness is yearning after God. Your sickness is that you have forgotten that you even had that desire.” Is our desire for God above all things? This is one of the things we should be asking ourselves in the month of Elul.
It is sad that during the Temple period, the Jewish people sang the psalms as they worshipped in His presence, but following its destruction the melodies were lost. What I am saying is that although the Jewish people have the Torah they have yet to regain the substance because the One who is the substance has been cast aside. It is no different for many within the Church who substitute relationship for legalism and a social gospel based on works that deteriorates into a hollow substitute for the fullness which God desires for us. Is the Law then irrelevant? God forbid! Yeshua clearly stated that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it.
Paul teaches that the law of God serves as a tutor or a schoolmaster, revealing our need for salvation, so in a direct sense, Yeshua is our schoolmaster who leads us to salvation and onward from glory to glory for those who earnestly seek Him! The Psalmist wrote “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Ps. 40:8) As a Messianic Psalm we can say that He who delighted in the law of God offers it to those who trust in him, that they might delight in it, as well.(Psalm19:7-11) declares that,
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the [whole] person; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure and bright, enlightening the eyes.
9 The [reverent] fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even than much fine gold; they are sweeter also than honey and drippings from the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is Your servant warned (reminded, illuminated, and instructed); and in keeping them there is great reward.
Why do I labour my point? It is because we need to understand that without His grace we are utterly lost, but without Torah we are also doomed – we need both! Obeying His Word is an outflow of our relationship with Him, who searches the minds and the hearts of man, and the fruit it yields is defined in Gal 5: “unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. You won’t find any law opposed to fruit like this. 24 Those who belong to (Yeshua) have crucified their old lives and put to death the flesh and all the lusts and desires that plague them.”
Psalm 19 begins with a declaration that, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork…” David then shifts from praising God who reveals Himself in creation, to praising Him for revealing Himself in His Torah. Although Creation tells us much about God, His word tells us much more! And later, in the fullness of time, God revealed His Word through Yeshua, the One who is THE WORD (“In the beginning was the word…” John 1:1)
What is the desire of our hearts? How much do we yearn for more of Him for that ‘pearl of great price’? This is such an important issue facing all of us at Elul in these times we live in. May our lives reflect His radiance that chases away the darkness and stench of evil as we occupy our time before His soon return!
The Torah portion from Deuteronomy is called ‘shoftim’ meaning ‘Judges.’ The idea of justice is largely ignored or flaunted in our society today and driven by self-interest, and political interests, but God reminds His people in Micah 6:8 that, “8 He has showed you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God? What better definition for justice is there than that for those responsible for its implementation?
The Hebrew word used frequently in the Scriptures for justice is “mishpat” which means ‘to right the wrong’ – to acquit and restore the innocent and sentence the guilty and prevent anything else bad from happening.
God commanded Moses to instruct the people of Israel to appoint shoftim, and ‘shotrim’ (officials) who would rule at the gates of the cities and implement the law as interpreted by the judges. These appointed leaders (or shepherds) were expected to judge with fairness, equality and wisdom, without partiality or falsehood. Transparency and integrity were to be the hallmark of both the judges (the custodians of the law) and the officials who implemented them.
A judge in biblical times was someone who knew and understood Torah (rightly dividing the Word of God) Moses set up judges over tens and twenties and fifties and hundreds and thousands.
Solomon understood that there is a judicial system in the heavenlies and that God is a righteous judge who set up the universe with checks and balances. Justice is a spiritual law no less so than mercy and grace and is something Yeshua described as a weightier matter in the Torah. In Matt. 23:32 He said, “You scribes and Pharisees tithe to the nth degree, but you leave behind the weightier matters of Torah, being love, justice and mercy.”
Paul wrote in Phil. 4:8 that justice is an important thing in the day-to-day outworking of our lives: “whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].”
The wonderful thing for us is that we have Yeshua as our defending attorney because none of us keep the law perfectly. Although Satan is the accuser of the brethren, God the Father is our judge and Yeshua acknowledges that we are guilty. We deserve judgement because justice always requires a penalty for sin and Yeshua has accepted that penalty on our behalf, paid in full through His blood.
The enemy seeks to ‘steal, kill and destroy’ (John 10:10) because he is the accuser of the brethren, who attempts to keep us in court with trivial lawsuits and false charges. He strives to keep us away from our settlement because he knows that justice not only calls for wrongs to be righted, but it calls for a settlement. The problem is that if we neglect to show up in court, the accuser wins and we live our lives under condemnation and in defeat. Let’s humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and He will lift us up. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves but if we acknowledge our sin and turn away from it, He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Exodus 22 tells us that “If you catch a thief he shall repay you.” If satan has stolen your health, he has to pay it back seven-fold, but one has to bring him before the judge. If he has stolen your future, your life, your future, your family, your ministry, he has to bring restitution, but one has to bring him before the judge.
When we understand the principle of the Divine judicial system it clarifies what mishpat really is with respect to ourselves and others.
So now we walk by faith with the highest desire to walk in fellowship with God through Yeshua who broke the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us through his shed blood on the cross for our sins.
And because of this, our greatest delight is to walk in harmony with His revealed will in accordance with His Word. This is highlighted in the month of Elul where God provides the possibility for us to establish a living relationship with a living God when we behold the ‘King in the Field’ ‘face to face’ and allow Him to change us from glory to glory through the precious blood of Yeshua shed for us!
The empty shell of performance-oriented religion is seen and exposed for the worthlessness of all it represents. And so, we echo the words of our Messiah in Psalm 40: “I delight to do Your will, O my God. Yes, Your Torah is within my being!”
We thank God for His amazing grace towards us with all our imperfections knowing that He alone is the only One in creation who can lay claim to being perfectly righteous, the just Judge over all the earth, the Great I AM worthy of all praise and honour, power and dominion, glory and majesty throughout eternity!