Yitro
For the week of February 14, 2004 / 22 Shevat 5764
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 18:1 - 20:23
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6; 9:5
Originally published the week of February 17, 2001 / 24 Shevat 5761

A Broken Contract

And God spoke all these words: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Shemot / Exodus 20:1,2).

Have you ever had a contract? Most of us have. There are many different kinds of contracts: business contracts, marriage contracts, rental contract (leases), even a bill or sales receipt may serve as a contract. Contracts may be written or verbal. You may initiate or inherit a contractual agreement.

What most contracts have in common is that there are usually two parties. Each party may be an individual or a group. The contract will usually include a purpose, conditions, benefits for adhering to the conditions, and consequences for failing to meet them.

What God established at Mt. Sinai is a type of contractual agreement called a covenant. This covenant was imposed by God upon the people of Israel, based on God's rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. Its purpose was to establish a unique relationship between the nation and God. Its conditions were adherence to its specified regulations. Among the many benefits to the people were physical and mental health, security within their borders, and renown among the nations. The consequences for breaking the covenant included famine, exile and death.

It is essential when relating to a covenant or contract that we understand our current relationship to it. If a contract is time limited, it is no longer in force after the stipulated ending date. I once had a six-month employment contract with a training facility. I could have gone there the day after the date of completion, but the work relationship established by the contract would no longer exist. Acting as if the contract was still in force would have caused considerable trouble.

Contractual relationships can end for other reasons, depending on the details of the contract. This is all to say that it is not merely the existence of a contract that establishes its current status.

The Sinai covenant is very specific as to the conditions of its enforcement. One does not have to read that much of the writings of the Nevi'im (Prophets) to be confronted by God's warnings due to the people's neglect of the covenantís conditions. These warnings for the most part were not heeded and the covenant was broken. And if it is broken, it is no longer in force.

Those who reject this notion, claiming that the Sinai covenant is eternal and its conditions are still binding, have introduced religious activities and concepts into the covenant. These things are intended as substitutes for foundational aspects of the covenant that have been lost, as in the case of the sacrifices.

This is not to say that Israel has no covenant relationship with God. The earlier covenant made through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was unconditional and forever binding, but we wonít get into that here.

Notice that I have not used the word Torah when referring to the Sinai Covenant even though the two are commonly spoken of interchangeably. Torah is actually the direction and teaching of God. It was through the Sinai covenant that Godís Torah was most extensively expressed up unto that time, which justifies referring to the covenant as Torah.

But in reality expressions of Godís Torah have also been given prior to as well as following Sinai. Torah is actually both the direct commandments of God and his interpretations of those commands, whether expressed within the strict confines of the Sinai covenant or not.

In so far as the Sinai covenant contains the revelation of God, we have much to learn from it. But to try to relate to it in the same way that it was intended for the people at that time, is to ignore the reality of both our ancient failure to truly keep it, and Godís provision through the Messiah as a result of our failure.

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