In Hebrews 13 the anonymous author writes,
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as ones who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no benefit to you.Hebrews 13:17*
It would be easy, in today’s political climate, to take off on a treatise about obedience to those in government who have been placed in authority over us. It really does not matter whether speaking of the United States or Israel, as I hold citizenship in both countries and vote for our leaders in both places. If I were to follow this stream of thought, I could also lean on Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the Yeshua-believers in Rome to whom he wrote,
Let every person submit himself to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are put in place by God.Romans 13:1
However, this week’s thoughts do not have a political bent. Instead, I hope to encourage each of us to consider those who are in leadership over us in areas of the spirit, as well as moral and ethical conduct. The second phrase in Hebrews 13:17 states concerning those in leadership over us, “for they keep watch over your souls as ones who must give an account.”
For many in the west, with our tenacious leaning toward independence and personal rights, considering our rabbi, pastor, or priest as having “authority” over us is somewhat of an anathema. I mean, let’s face it, we are free in the Ruach (Spirit) (John 8:36), and we need no man to teach us, as it is written,
But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you.John 14:26
As for you, the anointing you received from Him (Ruach ha-Kodesh) remains in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things—and it is true and not a lie—and just as it has taught you, abide in Him.1 John 2:27
While I agree with the concept of being “free in the Spirit” as well as being taught by the Ruach, this does not negate the fact that there are leaders over us. In Acts 2, after Peter and the remaining talmidim (disciples) addressed the crowd, explaining what was happening, the crowd looked to Peter and the others to tell them what to do (Acts 2:37), accepting Peter and the disciples’ authority and leadership. In the next couple of chapters of Acts, the nascent kehilah (congregation) continued to grow under the leadership of Peter. By chapter 6, the kehilah had grown to the point that men had to be chosen to divide the responsibilities (spiritual and physical). Those who became responsible for the physical needs of the kehilah, did so, enabling those in spiritual authority to continue their work on behalf of the kehilah unhindered and to “keep watch … as ones who must give an account.”
Before one thinks that this responsibility to “keep watch” was merely an issue needing to be dealt with post-Shavuot (Pentecost) in the growing Yeshua-believing communities, consider this week’s parasha, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10).In this reading, the clothing and vestments of the high priest, his sons and future progeny are described. Twice the high priest was commanded to bear the names of Jacob’s sons as a memorial before HaShem (Ex. 28:12, 29).
Fasten the two stones upon the shoulder pieces of the ephod, to be memorial stones for Bnei-Yisrael. So Aaron is to bear their names before ADONAI on his two shoulders as a reminder.Exodus 28:12
Aaron will bear the names of Bnei-Yisrael in the breastplate of judgment on his heart, whenever he enters the holy place, as a continual memorial before ADONAI.Exodus 28:19
Commenting on this, Rabbi Sarna states that concerning for remembrance (memorial & reminder in our text) – This twice repeated word (זכרן) points to the dual function of the engraved stones: as a reminder to the High Priest as noted (that he was to carry the children of Israel before HaShem) and as an invocation to God to be mindful of His people Israel, with whom He enacted a covenant.**
The high priest’s clothing set him apart from everyone else for two primary reasons. The first was to designate him as an intermediary between HaShem and the children of Israel (offering of sacrifices). The second was to physically keep the people of Israel always on his heart and mind (breast plate and ephod) in recognition of his responsibility for them, or as the writer of Hebrews explained, he was to keep a watch over their souls. In other words, the primary work of the priests were to serve HaShem and serve the people – not to serve themselves.
While most rabbis and pastors today do not wear special clothing as the high priest did, the primary work remains the same; they are to serve HaShem and the people for whom HaShem has made them responsible. At different times they may inspire or motivate, instruct or even discipline. With this in mind, let’s remember the last part of Hebrews 13:17. If we approach obedience to our leaders with the proper kavanah (heart attitude), then they will be able to exercise their authority with joy and not with groaning. In the following verse, the writer of Hebrews describes his desire to lead with “a clear conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.” (Hebrews 13:18)
Aside from having the right kavanah or attitude toward those in authority over us, Rav Shaul gave Timothy another piece of advice,
Therefore, first of all I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people for kings and all who are in authority—so we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness.1 Timothy 2:1-2
Here Rav Shaul seems to bring the political leadership (kings) into the same concern as the spiritual leadership (all who are in authority). If we want quiet, peaceful lives we, need to lift all of our leaders up in prayer before HaShem, trusting that he will provide the leaders that he alone allows.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
** Nahum M. Sarna. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus. Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society, 1991. Verse 12, footnote, p 179.