For the week of August 9, 2008 / 8 Av 5768
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27
Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:26; ESV)
There are two types of commandments in the Bible. These two types could be broken down into sub-types, but at a certain level, there are only two. The first are what we might call general commands. These are directives by God that apply beyond a certain place, time, and circumstance. "Do not murder" is an example of that, but so are the regulations concerning the sacrificial system. While the former applies to all people for all time and the latter only to the people of Israel during the time of the tabernacle and temple, both were intended to be followed by more than just the original hearers of the command.
The second type we might call specific commands. These are commands that apply only to those to whom they were spoken. This is what Moses is referring to in the verse I read. The book of Devarim (English: Deuteronomy) includes a retelling of some of the key incidences in the story of the people of Israel up until that time. This includes how they failed to trust God to enter the Promised Land. Twelve scouts had searched out the land and brought back a report to the people. The twelve spies were in agreement that the land was good. But only two of the twelve believed that God would enable them to successfully possess it. The people were influenced by the ten and refused to enter the land. In fact they wanted to return to Egypt.
While they faced a great challenge, naturally speaking, the real issue for the people was that God had commanded them to go and possess the land. He didn't offer it to them as a good idea. He told them to do it. That they were scared, we can sympathize with. But their decision to not do so was an act of rebellion against God's command.
While there are differences between general commands and specific commands, they are still commands. When we read specific commands in the Bible, we are not obliged to do them. They only apply to those to whom they applied at the time in which the command was given. Therefore whether or not to obey the commands of Scripture is not a matter of whether or not they should be obeyed as much as which commands should be obeyed.
God directs our lives through his commands. The way of life he provides for us is not just a nice offer that we can take or leave. God commands. He doesn't ask us to do things; he tells us to.
This is as true in the New Covenant writings as it is in the Tenach (Old Testament). The Messiah said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). To claim that his commandments are limited to loving God and loving our neighbor without understanding these as broad generalities intended to summarize and include everything else God dictates to his people is to totally miss his point. While Yeshua corrected all sorts of false notions about God and life that were popular in his day, he called his disciples, just as he calls us, to obey his commands.
The Bible gives directives, not suggestions; commandments, not requests.
We need to understand that neglecting to obey the commands of God which do apply to us is no different from what that meant for the people of Israel when they refused to go into the Promised Land. God doesn't take rebellion lightly. We may not always immediately see the consequences of rebellion, but it won't get by God.
If you think that God speaks to us in polite requests and that we have no obligation to obey him, read the Bible again.
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