I am struck by the opening of Deuteronomy. In verse 5, it says that "Moses undertook to expound this law, saying,…" What follows is not a bare list of dos and don'ts. It does not read like our law books today. Instead, Moses begins to recount the history of the people. Included in this recounting are the laws, statutes, and instructions that God gave to Israel. So, not only does Moses recount the laws that God gave, but he also recounts the circumstances and history surrounding those laws.
This reminds me of the instruction about the Passover in Exodus. From chapter 11-13 of Exodus, God gives instructions concerning how to keep the Passover. However, the text does not give a bare list of instructions about how to keep the Passover, but gives the historical context as well. Instructions for the Passover are interwoven with the story of the Passover.
I find it interesting that the first five books of the Old Testament are referred to as "Books of Law," yet the majority of what I find in these books are historical narratives and stories about God and his people. I have read law books in the library, and they are nothing like the "books of law" in the Bible.
What does this say about God's law, and the kind of God that we serve?
Those who understand Hebrew will remind us that the English word, "law" doesn't carry the full range of meaning of the corresponding Hebrew word, "Torah." Torah can be rendered law, or instruction. The verb form or Torah means "to instruct." This, along with the way Torah is presented, indicates that God did not give a list of arbitrary rules. God was interested in much more than just compliance with a set of arbitrary rules. The stories and historical accounts give a fuller picture than a bare list of dos and don'ts would have. Even more significant is that the historical accounts surrounding the giving of the law demonstrates the nature of the God who gave them. God's desire is not compliance, but knowledge. He wants his people to know him and love him. A few chapters later in chapter 6, Moses tells the people that these words were to be "on their heart," and that they were to love Yahweh, their God, with all their heart, soul, and might. Later in their history, God will reveal through Hosea in Hosea 6 that his delight is in loyalty, or steadfast love, rather than sacrifice, and in the knowing of God rather than burnt offerings.
No wonder God refers to his people as his bride, or the child whom he loves! God is inherently a relational God and has always desired a relationship with his people. 1 John 4 reminds us that God is love. Therefore, his "law" or "instruction" is more like the rules and instructions that a loving parent gives to his children rather than the laws on the law books of a nation. Out of love, God gives his Torah to his people for their good.
This should affect how I see and understand God's laws, statutes, commandments, and instructions. Like the Psalms exclaims in both the 19th Psalm and the 119th Psalm, I should savor them as sweeter than honey. I should love God's law and look forward to meditating on it in the night watches. I should rely on God's law as that which gives wisdom, understanding, and life.
Lord, please forgive me for those times I have relied on something other than your word. Your word reveals your goodness, compassion, holiness, and beauty. In keeping your word there is great reward. Lord, may I be sustained by your word because it is the word of life. May your word be my meditation all day and all night and may it continue to transform my heart into the beauty of your holiness. Thank you Lord for your guidance, life, and love. In the name of your Son, Jesus, your word that has become flesh, Amen.