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    Mishpatim  
(Exodus 21:1 - 24:18)

Shemot/Exodus 23:20   Behold, I am sending a messenger before you to guard you in the way


The commentators are broadly split here over the identity of the messenger; the word is translated as both 'angel' and 'messenger'. From a textual point of view, scholars suspect that the word - a messenger - should perhaps be - My messenger - as it is in just three verses later in the same speech: "For My angel will go before you..." (23:23, NASB), but the presence of a possessive suffix - as found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the What Is ...

Septuagint: Also known simply as LXX, the Septuagint is a translation of the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, probably done during the 1st century BCE by the Jewish community in Alexandria to have the Scriptures in their "first" tongue; the quality is mixed - some parts, such as the Torah, were in frequent use and are quite well rendered, in other less used parts the translation is rather patchy and shows signs of haste; it was widely deprecated by the early rabbis
Septuagint and Vulgate - would not alter the debate. One group agrees that the messenger is divine; one of these is the Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Ramban, who identifies this messenger with the Angel of the L-rd who appears to Joshua once Moshe is dead and the people have entered the Land. Asked by Joshua, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" (Joshua 5:13, NASB), the messenger somewhat enigmatically replies, "No, rather I come now as captain of the host of the L-rd" (v. 14, NASB). The Ramban takes the 'now' to show that this was the messenger who had been promised before but had not actually been sent until Moshe died.

The other group of commentators argue that the messenger was human. The most obvious candidate, in spite of the difficulty of this passage, where The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem is talking to Moshe about sending a messenger, is Moshe himself. Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch, connecting this text to very similar words sent by Moshe to the King of Edom some forty years later: "But when we cried out to the L-rd, He heard our voice and sent as angel and brought us out from Egypt" (B'midbar 20:12, NASB), comments, "so we must ... take it that Moses is specifically to be understood by this term." Hirsch explains that since Moshe was clearly - with hindsight - the agent by whom HaShem led the people and through whom He had done the miracles that brought us out of Egypt and kept us alive in the desert, he must have been the person being spoken of in this text. Hirsch must have been well aware of the Christological view taken by the church as to the identity of the Angel of the L-rd and is perhaps keen to deny any supernatural involvement here except G-d Himself.

Taking a different tack altogether, Friedman points out that not only is this language to be repeated twice more (32:34 and 33:2), it is also a recurrence of language used in the accounts of the patriarchs: "Abraham told his servant that G-d will send 'His angel ahead of you'" when the servant goes to find a wife for Yitz'chak (B'resheet 24:7). "That," Friedman says, "is now a reminder that the proceeding angel on a journey is an assurance and protection." This matches the text closely, identifying that the purpose of the messenger is to guard or protect the people in their way. We can see a hint here of the famous verse: "And your ears will hear a word behind you, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right or to the left" (Isaiah 30:21, NASB).

Rav Sha'ul is very clear about the identity of G-d's messenger in the wilderness time; he infers that all the people ate and drank supernaturally, "For they drank from a Spirit-sent Rock which followed them, and that Rock was the Messiah" (1 Corinthians 10:4, CJB). Sha'ul doesn't want us to lose sight of the fact that just as it was G-d who provided for our people during the Exodus, and that that the means of the provision was Messiah, it is always Messiah who provides the interface between G-d and man. "He is supreme over all creation, because in connection with Him were created all things... they have all been created. through Him and for Him. He existed before all things, and He holds everything together" (Colossians 1:15-17, CJB).

In these modern days when everyone has a position and a title - chief assistant to the assistant chief - and the world is full of replacement parts and man-made alternatives to the natural materials or products that used to be the only choice, when the cost of the real thing often forces us to accept a cheaper substitute in the hope that no-one - often including ourselves - will notice the difference, we need to be careful that we don't set up or accept a substitute for G-d. Rav Sha'ul reminds us that, "there is but one Mediator between G-d and humanity, Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Timothy 2:5, CJB); there is no-one else who makes peace for us with G-d, no-one else who brings the comfort and presence of G-d into our lives. No matter how hard we look - and there are plenty of people who who are looking very hard - we will not find any substitute for Yeshua. Yeshua's own words - often seen as deeply offensive by those who think they have found another way, or are trying to pretend that they don't need a way - are very clear: "I AM the way - and the Truth and the Life; no-one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6, CJB). As a modern advertising slogan expresses it: Accept no alternative, insist on the real thing!

Further Study: 1 Chronicles 12:15-18; Acts 4:12

Application: Have you set up or accepted a substitute for G-d? Has your relationship with G-d dwindled as you have been beguiled by a plausible alternative for spending time with Him? Has the cost and commitment been so high that you have opted for as easier way that is not so demanding? Now is the time to reconsider that there is no alternative and no other way. Come back to G-d now and resolve never to accept a substitute for Yeshua again. He's waiting for you.

© Jonathan Allen, 2009

17Feb09 23:50 Logan: Enjoyable, educational, and devotional. Thank you.

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