Mishpatim (Statutes)

Torah: Exodus 21:1-24:18 Haftarah: II Kings 11:17-12:17 Brit Chadasha: Luke 21:29-38

The Bondservant

This week’s portion begins talking about servants.  Here in this portion we find a really odd statement about a servant who wants to remain a servant forever in his master’s house.

[i] The odd thing is the master taking this servant and piercing his ear to the doorpost with an awl.  Doesn’t that seem a bit strange?  What is the business of piercing with an awl all about?  I like the explanation of Tony Robinson.  Tony says, “During the bondservant ceremony, the person’s ear is pierced through with an awl onto the doorposts.  We know that after the ceremony the bondservant has a hole in his ear.  In other words, the servant’s ear has been opened!

Can you think of a Scripture from the Psalms thematically related to the law of the bondservant?

6Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering [olah] and sin offering You did not require. 7Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. 8I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart Psalm 40:6-8 (emphasis mine).”

So, what was the significance of piercing the ear through on the doorpost?  That question may be answered with another question.  What is on the doorpost of any Torah observant Israelite?[ii] The bondservant had his ear pierced on doorposts that contained the commandments of YHVH.  Therefore, his ear was “opened” to hear and be obedient to the commandments of YHVH!”[iii]

So there you have it that doesn’t seem quite so ‘odd’ after all now does it.  It’s about being obedient.  You and I have been called to be obedient to the Father in doing His instructions.  How well are we doing?  Can you and I call ourselves bondservants?  Have our ears been truly ‘opened’ or are they stuffed full of cotton?

Is it really about revenge?

The next thing I would like to focus on is this business of eye for eye and tooth for tooth.[iv] Growing up in Sunday school, I was always taught that this passage meant that in the ‘old mean out of date Law’ you could do in return to someone what was done to you.  For example if someone let’s say run over you with a wagon; then you had the right to go out and run over them with a wagon.  How silly is this?  How many times have you and I read something and totally took it out the context in which it was written?  I have plenty of times.  If this isn’t what this passage is referring to then what is it trying to tell us?

Mostly what this portion is about are different instructions on how to give restitution.  It isn’t about giving us the permission to go out and take matters into our own hands and start dishing out revenge.  For example, if I injure someone’s hand and they no longer can work and make a living for themselves.  The whole eye for eye and tooth for tooth passage or you could say hand for hand means that now it is my responsibility to bring restitution to this individual that I have brought harm to.

Meaning that I now would have to work not only to supply for my family but I would have a responsibility to help provide for the person I harmed since I caused him damage.  That is what this eye for an eye is all about.  It is 100% you and I making restitution for our actions and being responsible human beings in this world in which we live.  To say it better it’s about giving value for value when making restitution.

I believe this is something that has been lost in Christianity.  We have been taught that all we have to do is go to an altar, shed a few tears, say I’m sorry and get up and walk away like nothing ever happened.  That isn’t the way it works.  Sure we ask for forgiveness but we are instructed to go further than just lip service.  We are to make it right through our restitution.

What a great example we have of restitution in the story of Zakkai (Zacchaeus).  This brother was doing what Torah said to do.  He truly repented not by saying I’m sorry please forgive me Father but by telling the Messiah that he was not only going to give half of his money to the poor but he would repay anyone that he was dishonest with fourfold.  Folks this is a great example of someone making restitution and what is even more interesting to me is that we find this in the ‘Newer Testament’.  I thought that ‘Law’ stuff had been done away with?  Hmmmmm

Thought for the Week

And having entered, He was passing through Yeriḥo. And see, a man called Zakkai! And he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich, and he was seeking to see who Yahweh was, but was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. And having run ahead, he climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, because He was about to pass by. And as Yahweh came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zakkai, hurry and come down, for I have to stay at your house today.” And he hurried and came down, and received Him, rejoicing. And seeing it, they all grumbled, saying, “He has gone in to stay with a man who is a sinner.” But Zakkai stood up and said to the Master, “Look, Master, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have taken whatever from anyone by false accusation, I repay fourfold.” And Yahweh said to him, “Today deliverance has come to this house – since he also is a son of Abraham. “For the Son of Aḏam has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:1-10


[i] Exodus 21:5-6
[ii] A mezuzah, containing the commandments of YHVH.
[iii] http://restorationoftorah.org/WeeklyParsha/MBMMishpatim.htm (accessed February 10, 2010)
[iv] Exodus 21:23-25