When I hear the words “law” and “command” my first thought is not of love and compassion. I understand the value of authority and laws for keeping order, but I dislike being told what to do. And, while I understand rules are in place for the general good, I almost never think they are expressions of affection and love, let alone words of promise and hope. Instead, they strike me as warnings: “disregard this and you’re in for it.” So reading passages like Deuteronomy 4 often left me puzzled. At least, until I became a parent.
I have a law of sorts for my children, a whole set of rules. And when I remind my daughters of these rules, it is as a warning, but it is also to paint a picture of promise: do this, and things will be so much better for you. I want them to understand that obedience is a way of peace and joy, that I have their best interest in mind, and that the rules which may feel restrictive are for their good and protection. This is God’s heart for his people, too: keep His law and it will bring life and joy.
The huge and obvious difference between any rules I have in place and God’s law is perfection. His law is perfect because He is perfect, therefore His enforcement of the law is perfect. He is just both in consequence for breaking His law and rewarding devotion to Him. Even as Moses warns the Israelites of the consequences of rebellion and turning to other gods, he reminds them that after the consequences of their rebellion they “will search for the LORD your God, and you will find him when you seek him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).
What we must remember is that God, unlike imperfect parents, is not searching for reasons to punish. He is not vindictive, but rather “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth” (Exodus 34:6). This means that for all who are devoted to Him “He will not leave you, destroy you, or forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them by oath, because the LORD your God is a compassionate God” (Deuteronomy 4:31). He is not fickle or capricious; He is a covenant keeper for the good of His people because of His very character.