Ezekiel 20-22: A Study of Old Testament Judgment

         The Hebrew word for judgment is the word “tpvm” which is pronounced, “mishphat.”  Judgment doesn’t quite effectively convey the essence of this Hebrew word.  An example of what it means may readily explain what it means.  Solomon, when he prays for wisdom, asks God to give him wisdom so that he can “misphat” the children of Israel.  Mishphat means to establish an order.  The establishment of the correct understanding of order or government is mishphat.  The essence is the establishment of an order where justice is the normal function of the recognized system.  This word has also been translated as manner or custom.  This implies that Mishphat establishes a system that yields a social more or law that all are expected to follow and order their lives according too.  This is what Solomon asked God for and this is what was granted to him.  Mishphat became the spiritual environment from which he ruled Israel  It became what he “did.”

     The most common form of the word for “to judge” is a similar to “mishphat”.  It is the Hebrew word “tpv” pronounced “shaphat.”  One will immediately notice that this is the same word as mishphat but it is missing the “m” or the Hebrew letter “mem m”  The primary function of the word is to exercise a form of or process of government.  This involves deciding between what is right and what is wrong.  This comes in many forms in the Old Testament.  For example, the congregation (Numb 18:22-28), certain individuals (Ezekial 22:2), and God (Ps 96:13) all judge and this judging is the Hebrew word “shaphat.”  Additionally, it was a function of the priest to teach the people the difference between what was clean and unclean according to the law, which is also a type of “shaphat.”  The Greek word that is used in the Septuagint and the New Testament is “krinos” pronounced “krinos.”  Krinos carries a very similar meaning but also carries the idea of separation.  This implies that “shaphat” will separate the people of covenant from all other peoples.  Shaphat is just what we do.  In shaphat, there is no favoritism and all deserve to be treated equally.  There is no bias regardless of talents, looks, or personal attributes.  Holiness is the standard.  Law is not shaphat but the “doing” of the pentatutacheal ordinances by God’s people is considered mishphat and shaphat.  Mishphat and shaphat is how we relate to God, who holds the ultimate seat of government” and how we are to respond to Him, as His covenantal people.  God says “do” and in our “doing” we are guarding and keeping Mishphat. The application here of the commandments/torah of God is self-evident.

In Ezekiel 20:10-15 it states, “Therefore, I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert.  I gave them my decrees (Mishphat) and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them.  Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I, the Lord, made them holy.  Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees (Mishphat) but rejected my laws-although the man who obeys them will live by them-and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths.”  When we properly understand the meaning of mishphat we get a different sense of the verse than what appears in the English translation.  God was giving Israel something much deeper than just some written “decrees.” (as the NIV translates it)  God gave Israel His Order, His Government, and the “way that things ought to be.”  This is the mishphat that He established.  This mishphat would give them the ability to “shaphat” or to judge between what was sin and what was not, what was clean and what was unclean.  The order established by God at Sinai is what Israel rejected and what Ezekiel calls to mind in chapter 20.  This is the first understanding of “judgment” from the Old Testament.

In Ezekiel 22:2-3 we read, “Son of man, will you judge (Shaphat in Hebrew and Krinos in the Septuagint) her?  Will you judge this city of bloodshed?  Then confront her with all her detestable practices.”  God is calling the prophet to make a decision and to judge between what is right and what is wrong.  God is telling Ezekiel to us what He knows about the law, what he knows about the spiritual realm, and what he knows from his prophetic insight and make a judgment about what is clean and unclean and what is right and what is wrong.  The answer to God’s question is never answered in the text but it is implied that Ezekiel answered in the affirmative as God then tells Ezekiel “what to do” after he agrees to decide between what is right and what is wrong.  This is the function of krinos and shaphat in both Greek and Hebrew.  This is further evident later in the text of Ezekiel.

In Ezekiel 22:2 it states, “He priest do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.”  It is obvious that the function of the priest was very similar to the function of the prophet.  That both, through their experience with God, their knowledge of the scripture, and their relationships with the people of God were called by Him to render judgment on what is right and what is wrong.  What is acceptable and what is not acceptable in a holy community.  The current condition of the church may not be far from where Israel was in Ezekiel’s day.  Many will have us believe that there is not difference between the unclean and the clean and that the Sabbaths of God have been relegated to the past.  However, like the priests and the prophets, we are also called by God to use our knowledge of the spiritual realm, our relationship with Him, and our understanding of the scriptures to make a decision and judge what is clean and what is unclean, what is righteous and what is not, and what is holy and what is common.

Advertisements

Do Not Judge the Things of the Sabbath

“So, let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths” (Col 2:16 NKJV)

     As a torah-observant Christian, this verse is often thrown at me as theological justification for ignoring the Feast Days of the Old Testament that were commanded by God.  It is also used to make the case that the Old Testament has been “done away with.”  Obviously, these statements don’t exactly sit well with me because many of these feast days were commanded by God to be “statutes forever.”  This seems to suggest that they were meant to be continued. (It is my opinion that the commandments of God didn’t just vanish with the resurrection of Messiah)  This premise tells me that God’s intention, from the giving of the torah (or instruction), has been for us, His people, to continue to observe these holy days.  (And not, subsequently, replace them with ones of pagan origin) However, in all fairness and on the surface, the above-quoted verse seems to really enforce this idea of the “doing away” with the torah.  Even among sabbaterians, this verse has caused some confusion.  I recently read one commentary which states, “Paul’s warning may mean that Christians should not be drawn into keeping ceremonial events—festivals, new moons, and ceremonial Sabbaths as described in the OT.” (1)  This explanation is simply not tenable.  Why?  Because the very first mentioned “feast” in the Old Testament is the weekly seventh day Sabbath. (see Leviticus 23)  Hence, this interpretation by seventh day advocates actually bespeaks against their own observance of the Sabbath.  Something else must be at the heart of this verse.  I believe that there is something else to this verse and it has to do with the interpretation of the Greek.  To begin with, the translation in the NKJV doesn’t get all the meaning of the Greek text.  So, we must dive deeper into the language of the New Testament.

     The verse in Greek reads: 

Mh oun tis umas krinetw en bresei h en posei h en merei eorths h noumhnias h sabbatwn.

     Perhaps a little syntaxical exegetical dissection will shed some light on why this verse is grossly mistranslated.  To begin with, the verse is written in the imperative mood. (The etw on the end of the verb krinetw tells us the mood)  In Greek, this is the mood of commands.  The Mh at the beginning is a negative particle and the verse will begin like this, “Therefore, no one is to judge you.”  The “let” is generally always added by translators when translating the third person imperative but it doesn’t exist in the Greek and oftentimes softens the sense of the Greek command.  What follows this is a string of future third person verbs (as evidenced by the sei on the endings of them) which are translated with the English “ing” on the end of them and are eating and drinking (en bresei h en posei.)  The phrase “merei eorths” is basically a direct translation from Hebrew and means “any particular feast day.”  The word eorths is used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the Hebrew word “gj” pronounced “chag” meaning feast day or festival day.  What is interesting about the use here in the Greek is the ending “ths” which will indicate the genitive case of the noun.  This is where the breakthrough will come for us.  In fact, the next two nouns of the verse will also be written in the genitive case, they are the words for new moons and Sabbath. (The ias and the twn ending indicate the genitive case for these nouns in their respective declensions.)  This makes a tremendous impact on how the verse is translated and on how the author intended the verse to be interpreted by the Colossians.

     The genitive case is the case of “possession” or “ownership.”  The expression “The people of God” would be written, in Greek, in the genitive case.  This is making a statement about both the people and about God and their relationship but mainly, that God has possession of the people, they are His.  Let’s now apply this to the verse in question.  The feast days, new moons, and the Sabbaths are in the genitive case which tells us that they have the possession.  So, we must add a “things” to the verse to clarify what the text is saying.  For example, the best English translation of the verse might be, “Therefore, no one is to judge you in eating and in drinking or in any particular things of a feast day and a thing of a new moon or in the things of the Sabbath.” (italics indicates that it is not in the Greek but is added in the English for clarification of what the Greek is saying)  You see, the genitive is almost always translated with “of” in front of it and this gives an entirely different meaning to what the verse is saying.  What Paul is saying is not that all those things are relegated to the past and done away with; on the contrary, he is telling us that we have freedom to observe and keep these holy days as our own conscience is clear before God.  This is the freedom in Christ that Paul is incessantly talking about in his epistles.  He is always telling us that it is not any man’s place to tell another man how they ought to keep the Sabbath.  This was a constant source of tension between the religious leaders of the time and Jesus.  They had constant debate about Sabbath observance and Messiah position was that it is not the business of another man to judge what another man does on the Sabbath as long as that man’s conscience is clear before God.  This verse has nothing to do with getting rid of the statues and commandments that were given by God in the Torah.  It is a point of clarification.  In Colosse, religious teachers were attempting to tell the believers that they had to obey torah in a specific way or they were sinning (Hence, in the beginning of chapter two Paul is talking about the commandments and doctrines of men.  He never mentions the commandments and doctrines of God.)  Paul is saying that it is not their place to tell someone how to keep a particular commandment.  This agrees with the teachings of Jesus on the matter (see my article entitled, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”) Rather than announcing that this verse does away with the law, it actually, when read in the Greek and translated correctly, demonstrates that not only were New Testament gentile believers observing Torah but that they had a freedom to keep the “instruction” as each man conscience led him to before God, who ultimately, will judge him and not his fellows.

      This seems to make much more sense to me.  We know that Jesus kept the instruction (or torah), as did all of the apostles, including Paul.  Hence, this interpretation of the Greek, which is what the Greek actually says, makes much more sense of the entire letter than anything else that I’ve read.

 

Endnotes

  1. 1.       Dybdhal, Jon, (General Editor),  Andrews Study Bible, Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, MI, 2010.

The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

“And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.   So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27-28 ESV)

Having discussed previously that the Law has a role in the life of every believer(see the law and the believer), let’s discuss exactly what that role is.  In the aforementioned passage, Jesus makes some statements about the Sabbath and who is the ruler or “lord” of the Sabbath.  As we define exactly what Jesus is saying, this will gives us some insight into the keeping of the Sabbath, and subsequently, into the keeping of the law.  The idea presented here is that, it is up to each individual believer to determine, through their relationship with God, exactly how they are going to “keep” each commandment. The Law was given to us and we are the “lords” of that law.  It is to serve us and not us it.  Therefore, every believer, through their consciousness before God, must determine how they are going to “keep” the commandments.  First, let’s discuss this passage and draw conclusions from what Messiah is telling us.

The most common interpretation of this passage is as follows:  “In what sense now is the Son of Man Lord of the Sabbath day?  Not surely to abolish it–that surely were a strange lordship, especially after just saying that it was made or instituted for man–but to own it, to interpret it, to preside over it , and to ennoble it, by merging it into the Lord’s Day, breathing into it an air of liberty and love necessarily unknown before, and thus making it the nearest resemblance to the eternal sabbatism.” (1, please see footnote for additional information)  What we can infer from this traditional Christian commentary is that the passage “Son of Man” is a Hebrew idiom in which Jesus is referring to Himself.  With this interpretation, we completely agree.  Jesus was the “Son of Man”, the God-man, who put on flesh and dwelt with us, and who came as Messiah to give us the complete interpretation of the Law. (as was previously discussed in the post “Jesus and the Law”)   However, if we delve deeper into the Hebrew of this passage, we can come up with an additional interpretation, that will shed some light not only on the Sabbath, but, on who we are as a people of God.

“In Hebrew, ‘son’ can mean not only a male offspring, but also ‘descendant’, citizen, member and even  disciple…Actually its range of meaning is even wider than we indicated”  ‘son of a house’ is one who is such a close friend that he is like a member of the family; ‘son of death’ is one who deserves to die, or who has been condemned to die; ‘son of Gehinnon’ (hell) is someone who is bound for hell;…and there are many other idiomatic usages in Hebrew of the word “son”.” (2)  So, if someone was considered a son of something, then, it meant that they had the characteristics of that particular lifestyle.  Well, son of man, basically means that a person is a human being.  It is the most common designation that God uses when he is talking to the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.   Repeatedly, God calls Ezekiel, “son of man.”  This gives us a different and unique interpretation of the aforementioned passage.   Jesus is telling us that first, the Sabbath was created for us.  Meaning, that God gave us the Sabbath (Exodus 16:29) for our own benefit and that we as “lord” of the Sabbath determine exactly what activities are prohibited and what is permissible based upon each ones consciousness before God.  We do not serve the Sabbath, the Sabbath, was given to us by God and as lords of the Sabbath we determine how we celebrate it before God.  As Paul writes, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. “  (Colossians 2:16 ESV)  With this interpretation, noted Jewish scholar David Stern agrees.  He writes, “It may be, therefore, that Yeshua’s comment in v. 28, that the Son of Man is Lord of the Shabbat, does not refer only to himself but to everyone, since Hebrew ‘ben-adam’ (literally, son of man) can mean simply ‘man, person’ with no Messianic overtone:  ‘people control Shabbat’ and not the other way round.” (3) Also, with this interpretation, that Talmud agrees as well, “Rabbi Yonatan ben-Yosef said:  ‘For it (Shabbat) is holy unto you.’ (Exodus 31:14)  That is, it is committed into your hands, not you into its hands!”(4)  Additionally, David Friedman gives us both interpretations.  He writes, “I understand Yeshua to be saying that collectively; men rule over the Sabbath,  Yeshua, as a special “Son of Man” (in Second Temple language, son of man denoted an apocalyptic figure, or the Messiah) had authority from God to teach the Jewish people about correct Sabbath priorities.” (5)  Hence, Jesus has the authority to tell us that we are the ‘lords’ of the Sabbath because He is the “Son of Man.”

If we can spring-board off of the Sabbath and apply this principle to the law, we determine the role of the law in the life of the believer.  We do not serve the Law, the Law serves us.  It is up to each individual believer to determine which commandments they are capable of keeping and how they will keep those commandments in their own individual relationship with God.  It matters not to me how one keeps the commandments.  What matters is that we believe that we ought to keep them as an expression of love toward God.  Paul agrees with this when he writes, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but obeying God’s commandments is everything.” (I Corinthians 7:19, ISV)  We were not created for the Law, but, as God’s chosen and special people, the law was given to us.  Therefore, it is our obligation as holy people, to determine how we are going to “keep the commandments of God.”

Endnote

1.  Jamieson, Robert; Faussett, A.R.; Brown, David, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody Mass, 2002 second printing,  page 70.  Of course, we completely disagree that Jesus was here changing the Sabbath to Sunday worship, which seems to be the inference from this passage, as is also noted in the Matthew Henry commentary.  We will discuss the changing of the day of worship by the church in another post.

2.  .  Bivin, David, Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994, page 55 & 127.

3.  Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland, 1992, page 89.

4.  The Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b, as quoted in Stern, page 89.

5.  Friedman, David, They Loved the Torah, Lederer Books, Messianic Jewish Publishers, Baltimore, MY, 2001, page, 16.