WORD STUDY – ENGRAVE AND FREE – חרת
Exodus 32:16: “And the tables [were] the work of God, and the writing [was] the writing of God, graven upon the tables.”
“Had the first tablets not been broken, no nation or people could have subjugated the Jewish people, as it is written, ‘Charut on the tablets.’ Do not read charut (engraved), but cheirut (free); on account of these tablets, Israel would have remained forever free.” Talmud Eruvin 54a
In reading the Talmud this morning I ran across something I had never really considered. Apparently, God gave the ten commandments to Moses while they people themselves were building a golden calf, yet God knew they were breaking the law and according to His oath, He could not intervene on the destruction of His people. They had a free will and God by a personal oath could not violate that personal will. But Moses interceded for the people and on behalf of the people and God was able to annul His oath and intervene on the will of the people.
In the Midrash Rabbah we learn that the ancient sages interpreted: Numbers 30:5 “But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”
Moses in the role of a father was granted by God the power of annulment of oaths. This power of binding and releasing played an important rule with the Hebrews and led to the Tradition of the Fathers later the Talmud. Jesus confirmed this authority in Matthew 18:18: “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In other words we are given the power to establish certain rules and to free someone from those rules. By Jesus’s day, however, they abused this privilege so much that they turned God’s laws from something meant to enhance their lives and their relationship with God to an abusive system of do’s and don’ts where Jesus finally had to remind them: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27.
The Apostle Paul dealt with this issue with the eating of the meat of the idols. Some Jewish Christians felt it was wrong and sinful to eat the meat of an idol. This was established by the Tradition of the Fathers. Paul felt free from this tradition but for the sake of love and fear of offending a brother and maybe even causing a brother to stumble he would not eat the meat offered to an idol. For those who were bound by that law it was sinful. Since I am not Jewish I do not wear a skull cap, but I like the reason for the skull cap. It is to remind oneself that you are always in the presence of God and whatever you do you do as unto God. So I wear a baseball cap and I will wear it in church where casual dress is acceptable. However, deep seated in Western culture there is the practice of removing a hat as a sign of respect. Men used to always remove their hats in presence of a lady. We don’t do that anymore for fear of getting wacked on the head by a feminist. But in a church where they believe one should wear their Sunday best and men must remove their hats as a sign of respect to God I will remove my hat. Even if it is to me a sign of respect to God to wear the hat. To wear that hat in such a church would be sinful for it was something bound on earth to show respect to God and thus it is bound in heaven. If the pastor explained to the congregation why I wear my hat then the congregation can loosen that on earth and it will be loosened in heaven and I am free to wear my hat.
Ah, that brings us to the word cheirut or free. Charut means to engrave or be bound and cheirut means to set free or to loosen. Yet both are the same words in the ancient Classical Hebrew. The Masoretes seven hundred years after the birth of Christ narrowed the word down giving a distinction between the two. This is why the Talmud felt free to say that the passage should read not engraved on the tablets but freed on the tablets. The ten commandments were meant to bind us to certain rules which would result in our freedom.
We have many laws in this country that bind us. We cannot go through a red light, we cannot speed. That is very binding when we are in a hurry, yet ultimately it frees us to travel he streets and roads safely. If not for those laws it would be so unsafe to travel the streets that we would not travel the roads. Yet an ambulance, a police officer on a call or some other emergency vehicle are not bound by that law. By general consensus they are loosed from that law to bring freedom to others.
This word expresses a dichotomy, when we bind ourselves to something, we are also freeing ourselves to something else. By binding ourselves to God we are freeing ourselves from sin. By binding ourselves to the Word of God we are freeing our spirit to draw close to God. Charut reminds us that we should not bind ourselves to something unless it gives us freedom somewhere else.
One other thing, Moses was given the authority to loosen the people from the oath of God that if they sin they must die. I think a better Scriptural expression for that is to stand in the gap or to intercede. Maybe God is bound by His laws or oaths but we have the authority to free God from that oath if He so desires to be freed. God cannot violate his laws. If your family is exposed to a disease they will get that disease that is the design of God. He cannot break that design, but we have the right loosen God from that law if he so desires to be loosened for whatever we loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. But it is up to use to act, we must pray, we must intercede, we must stand in the gap as Moses did.
Note something else Moses was the one who broke the first tablets not God. I will let you chew on that one for a while.