Why does God give us his commands? Why did he make certain commands for Israel to follow? I often push back against an attempt to puzzle out the rationale behind the commands of God. After all, God is God, and he has every right to command us without explaining to us his reasons. We do not need to know why Israelites could not eat pork, cut their hair a certain way, or boil a goat in its mother’s milk. Of course, there may be obvious reasons, but the point is that God makes the command, and that is enough.
Yet, when God chooses to give us reasons for his commands, he wants us to see those. And in my reading of Deuteronomy 8-10, I see two places where the Lord pulls back the curtain and tells the people why he commanded what he did.
Deuteronomy 8:2 – And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.
The first reason that God gives for his commands that I saw in this reading is a test. God says that he gave Israel the terms of the covenant and the commands that followed as a way to test them, to prove whether or not they would follow him. Of course, the Lord is all-knowing, and he does not need to gain knowledge. So, obviously this test is to prove in a public way, to prove to Israel and those who observe Israel from outside, whether or not the people would follow the Lord.
This is a reason that the Lord may still give commands. For you and for me, in New Testament times, the commands of God are still tests that prove our loyalty to the Lord. Are you willing to obey God? Even when the world says that an act is OK, are you willing to show in a real and public way that your commitment is to God and not to your position in the culture? Many in our world have decided that they will only obey the commands of God that they feel are culturally acceptable. They suggest that if culture has radically changed, we can determine that there is no way that certain commands apply. But I wonder if, in many of those cases, what is happening is that we are showing that our hearts lie with the culture rather than with the Lord.
Do not assume that I am saying that culture makes no difference. Sometimes we must see what the underlying principle of a command is so as to apply it in our culture as compared to first century culture. But this is different than simply assuming that a change in accepted morality frees us from God’s command and design.
We show our love for the Lord and our loyalty to the Lord through our obedience to the commands of the Lord. If a person watched your life from outside, would they see that? Would they see that your heart belongs to God in all things? Would they see that the Lord is your first love and your soul’s Master?
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 – 12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
Here is the second reason for the commands of God that we see today. God commands his people for their good. The commands of God are good for the people of God. This should not surprise us, but I wonder how often we actually feel that way. God’s commands are not to burden us or to hurt us. Instead, God shows us what is right for our good as well as for his glory.
This, of course, is the point when many of us will use this to leap off and attempt to puzzle out how certain commands are for the good of the people of God. How were the dietary laws good for the people? How were the clothing laws good for the people? But that misses the point. God is infinite in his knowledge. God is perfect in his ways. I think we make a mistake if we determine that we will only believe something is for our good if we can figure out how. God is holy. If God in his holiness and infinite perfections says that something is good for me, it is.
What ought we to gain from these two passages in Deuteronomy? I think it is the same thing that is gained by the commands of God. We learn that God is God and we are not. We learn that God is good, far better than us, and his ways are good for us. We learn that our response to the commands of God is a clear revelation of our hearts’ commitment or lack of commitment to God. The commands of God show us whether or not we trust God and believe God to be good.
Even in New Testament times, we should see that the word of God is still doing the same work in our lives. God’s word tests you. God’s word is good for you. Will you, Christian, submit to his word and demonstrate that God really is your Lord? Will you trust that God’s ways are higher than yours and his goodness is actually the measure of goodness? Will you let go of trying to make God prove to you that he has a good reason for his commands and simply trust him that he has a reason that is perfect, even if you cannot make your mind get there?