By Collin Ross
We all know that we can listen without truly listening. The act of listening is more than merely allowing sound waves to enter our ears. It also includes the idea of responding to what we hear. Unless we respond, we are not truly listening.
When Moses introduces the commands of God to the people of Israel, he urges them to listen, that is, to hear and to respond. And yet, I find myself approaching God’s commandments more like how a teenager “listens” to their parents. But when we pause, rewind, and truly listen, something wonderful rises to the surface. More than anything, Moses wants Israel to hear and trust God’s commitment to their well-being.
Sometimes, we read the laws and commandments in Deuteronomy as confining, restrictive, or limiting. As a child, I raged against the law that banned running at our neighborhood pool. Why did the adults delight in limiting our fun? It wasn’t until I saw a friend slip and crack his head open that I recognized the true desire behind the rule. In the same way, we often don’t hear the true desire behind God’s law. A close listen reveals a refrain that is intended to show His desire for His people: Do these things so that you might prosper (Deuteronomy 5:16, 29, 33; 6:2, 3, 18, 24).
The goal of God’s commandments is the well-being of His people. God desires that our lives be characterized by a degree of flourishing that we are incapable of knowing on our own. Think about that for a moment. God wants more for us than we can do for ourselves. If that’s the desire of God’s heart, then what should stand in the way of our obedience to Him?
The obstacle is trust—that eternal nemesis of humanity. Do we trust that God’s desire is our well-being? That’s the question that has to be answered before any progress on obedience can be made. And because He knows the nature of our hearts, the Lord begins His commandments with a reminder about why He can be trusted: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (Deuteronomy 5:6). God’s past actions toward Israel show that He is for their well-being. If He has already led them out of death, how much more will He now lead them into life?
This is what Moses longs for his people to know. Obedience is not a response to God’s law, it is their response to God’s grace. And so it is with us. As the fullness of God’s liberating grace in Christ takes hold of us, we can grow to trust that His ways always lead us to abundant life. When we truly hear this, obedience to God becomes the expression of our love for the One who first loved us.