What God Wants Us to Do
During the early days of this earth's history, God spoke to all mankind in some way through the heads of families. However, as He began to carry out His scheme for the redemption of mankind, He chose the descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel, as His own peculiar people through whom the Messiah would come to bring salvation. God sent the Israelites down into Egypt during the days of Joseph in order to preserve them from famine, but when a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph and the Egyptians enslaved his people, God raised up Moses to deliver them from Egyptian bondage, lead them through the wilderness, and bring them to the borders of the promised land. While they were waiting in the plains of Moab just east of the Jordan River for the time when they would cross over and conquer Canaan, Moses gave a series of speeches to remind them of what God had done for them and to prepare them for their new home.
These speeches are recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, which means the second giving of the law. In Deuteronomy 10:12-13, Moses said, "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, too serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?" The heading in the New King James Version calls this "The Essence of the Law." We recognize that these words were spoken to the nation of Israel, not to us, and that the law which contained them is NOT God's law for us today. Yet, the Old Testament Scriptures are preserved for our learning, and this passage states some general principles that are still true. In simple, easy to understand terms, these verses explain what God wants us to do.
"Fear the LORD your God"
Though derived from same basic root meaning of awe and terror, there are two senses of the word "fear." One is a feeling of being afraid or scared, and the other is a state of deep reverence and respect. When God tells His people to fear Him, the word is being used in the second sense. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge....The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom..." (Prov. 1.7, 9.10). Anyone can gain bits and pieces of knowledge, but the only way to have proper understanding concerning the knowledge of this world that brings true wisdom is to begin with reverence and respect for the God who created it and us.
What does fearing God mean? In Eccl. 12.13-14 Solomon concluded
his search for meaning to life by saying that we are to "fear God" But how do we
show that we fear God? It is by keeping His commandments; Moses will talk more
about that later, but this is an essential part of fearing God. Yes, we
certainly should be afraid of what would happen if we disobey God (Heb.
10.26-30). However, God's people do not obey Him just because they are afraid or
scared of being punished but because they have an abiding reverence and respect
for God because of who He is and what He's done. Such reverential fear will
guide and control everything that we do. "Therefore, since we are receiving a
kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God
acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12.28). Moses told Israel to
fear God, and we need to fear God too.
"Walk in all His ways"
We all know that the literal meaning of the word "walk" is to locomote by means of the legs and feet. However, we often use it as a general figurative to refer to a person's way of living and doing things. Thus, throughout the Bible, the term identifies a person's conduct, behavior, or manner of life. Both Enoch and Noah "walked with God" (Gen. 5.24, 6.9). God told Abraham, "Walk before Me and be blameless" (Gen, 17.1). Therefore, using the idea of walking in this sense, everyone basically has two choices.
Some people choose to walk in the ways of this world, which is
in actually walking the way that Satan the tempter wants us to do. Paul wrote
about those who "walked according to the course of this world, according to the
prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of
disobedience" (Eph. 2.1-2). Because all have sinned, each of us has chosen to
walk this way at one time or another. Many continue to travel in the ways of the
world, but a few decide to change and walk in all the ways of God. "If we say
that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not
practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have
fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us
from all sin" (1 Jn. 1.5-7). To walk in the light simply means to walk in all of
God's ways, just as Moses told the Israelites to do.
In an earlier part of this second speech, Moses had already pointed out the importance of loving God. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut. 6.4-5). The Israelites were to love the Lord with all heart, soul, and strength, and then in the succeeding verses to teach their children to love God. Again, while this was written in the Old Testament law, Jesus said that it's the greatest commandment. "Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment'" (Matt. 22.35-38). Thus our Lord Himself put His divine stamp of approval on the idea that the most important thing that we can do is to love our God.
However, as in the case of fearing God, we must ask, what does loving God mean? Is it just having a tingly, emotional feeling when we think of God? "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5.3). Again, we shall note that Moses has more to say about keeping God's commandments, but it is interesting to note that this is the acid test for both fearing God and loving Him. This leads to conclusion that what Moses says here is not five different, separate things that God wants us to do, but that he uses five separate terms to identify different aspects of the same thing, namely the kind of attitude that God wants us to have, and that includes loving Him.
"Serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul"
The word "serve" basically means to work for and wait on. Families, especially wealthier ones, used to have, and some still do, servants who would cook for them, bring their food, clean their houses, tend their grounds, and so on. For example, Abraham had many servants, the oldest of whom he sent to find a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24.1-6, 34). So when the Bible says that we are to serve the Lord, this is the background of the word. We are to work for Him, wait on Him, and do what He tells us to do. However, we have to remember that because God is what He is--divine, almighty, and infinitely wise--He does not need our service. There is really nothing that we can do for Him that provides for His needs. Rather, He wants us to serve Him because that is what WE need to do.
Because we are created beings, we are going to serve someone or something; and as we mentioned in our discussion of walking, it is either going to be the things of this world or God. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6.24) Some think they can serve both God and mammon, which refers to the things of this world, equally, but Jesus says we cannot--either one or the other will capture first place in our service. One word that is sometimes translated "servant" is also translated "slave" (in the ancient world, many times household servants were actually slaves), and again we're either going to be slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6.13-18, 23). So we can choose to serve sin, but the wages of that service is death, or we can choose to serve God, who in return gives us eternal life.
"Keep the commandments of the Lord and his statutes"
We have already talked about the importance of keeping the Lord's commandments as it relates to fearing and loving Him, but now Moses specifically says that God wants us to keep His commandments and His statutes. Why? The purpose of God's commandments and statutes isn't to take all the fun out of life or to trip us up so that He can gleefully cast us into hell. "When your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son:...'And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day'" (Deut. 6.20-25). God's commandments are for our good. God is our Creator. He knows what is best for us. And He has given us commandments and statutes that are in our best interest.
We see this in the physical realm. Those who continually break the commandments of the civil law live in shame, have to keep on the run and hide, get a bad reputation, are often in jail or receive other punishment, and sometimes suffer and early and tragic end to their lives. However, those who keep the commandments of the civil law do not have to worry about all these problems. Consider what David thought of God's commandments. "Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet Your commandments are my delights (Ps. 119.143). "You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth" (Ps. 119.151). Yet, someone says, all these passages are in the Old Testament and talk about the commandments that God gave to Israel. Besides, someone else says, Christianity is more than just keeping commandments. And it is certainly true that being a Christian involves more than just keeping certain commandments. But Jesus Christ does have commandments for His people today and says, "If you love me, keep My commandments" (Jn. 14.15). As we noted previously, we simply cannot fear the Lord or love the Lord without keeping His commandments and His statutes.
In short, Moses is trying to encourage the people of Israel to obey God. No, we do not necessarily obey the specific statutes of the old covenant, but God still wants us to obey Him and, in fact, commands us to do so, plainly telling us that the wonderful spiritual blessings which He has for us, both in this life and in the next, are conditioned upon our obedience to His Son. "Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:8-9). Have you obeyed His word? Are you continuing to obey His will? Remember the Bible tells us that everything which God wants us to obey is " for your good."
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 15.9; September 2008