This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be blotted out nor destroyed from before me.”
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Did you know that the longest chapter in the Bible is essentially a love song written about God's commandments and decrees? In Psalm 119 the psalmist goes on and on about how perfect God's commands are. How he loves to study them and meditate on them and how they bring him life. The Bible regularly extols the virtues of God's commands. It speaks of them as a precious treasure given to Israel to show them how to live the blessed life. We don't speak about God's commands like this anymore. It's easy for us to look back at the Old Testament commands and think they are outdated, out of step with today.
This is made easier by the fact that not all of these commands apply to the New Testament church. We are allowed to trim the edges of our beards (Leviticus 19:27) and wear clothes made of a mixture of cloth types (Leviticus 19:19). In the Old Testament, God was creating an earthly kingdom. He was setting aside a nation as His own, and this physical people required absolute holiness from the rest of the world. God dwelt among His people literally. His literal presence rested on the tabernacle. So sin had to be dwelt with swiftly and severely, lest His holy presence strike out at the whole people or worse, lest His presence be removed from the people altogether. In the New Testament God begins a new work with Jesus. No longer is He creating an earthly kingdom, instead, He begins creating a spiritual kingdom. It can be hard to determine which laws in the Old Testament are specifically related to the program of nation building, which God is no longer doing and thus no longer apply to us. The New Testament helps us out by repeating a bunch of the most important laws that do still apply. plus, God makes clear shifts in His dealing with man to help us understand as well. In the New Testament God deals with sin not with stoning after stoning but with a single crucifixion. All of this can lead us to think that the Old Testament law, and even rules in general, aren't important. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the type of behavior that pleased Him in the Old Testament, pleases Him still today. God has set our world up a certain way. Sin brings death, obedience brings life and peace. God's commands are the path of life. When we choose to ignore them, we do so at our own peril. While it is most certainly true that being good won't earn God's favor or your way into heaven, it is equally true that God has told us that those who keep His commands bring peace and blessing into their lives. Obeying Him is "what is best for you" and "the way you should go." So how do you look at God's commands? Are they a worrisome chore or a precious treasure intended to bring blessing and life to you?
For further reading...
- Read all of Psalm 119. It's an acrostic poem with a stanza for each of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet.