Law and Love – Deuteronomy 12:1-14; 26:16-19 – Chris Wu
How Do God’s Love and Law Meet? Chapters 12 through 26 in Deuteronomy is a section chock full of "statutes and rules" from Yahweh. What God is doing here with the Law has everything to do with love. God is shown to be glorious when we see how His law and His love meet.
1) The CONTEXT of Law is love. (cf.7:7-8; 10:14-15). Back to chapter 7:7-8, Israel stands on the precipice of the Promised Land, ready to witness God's power to give what He promised generations ago, and Yahweh reminds them: I saved you and made you My people, not because you were so impressive and lovable, but simply because I love you and am faithful. God doesn't give instruction or law to a people waiting for them to prove themselves, waiting to see if they are worthy of saving and redeeming, of being chosen. He gives law to a people that He already loves.
We come to Deuteronomy 12-26 prepared to see Israel as a dear people that God "set His heart in love" on, a people He already saved and redeemed. This is not at all unlike my relationship with my children. Long before they were able to even understand rules, before they understood words, even before I knew what they looked like or what their personality would be like, and with zero history of obedience or rebellion…I set my heart in love on them. And in that love, eventually, I gave them "rules and statues" for their good. Deut. 8:5, Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines His son, the LORD your God disciplines you. The CONTEXT of law is love. Without question. And if the CONTEXT of law is love, it shouldn't surprise us to find also that the CONTENT of law is love.
2) The CONTENT of Law is love. (12:1-14) As a framework for understanding the content of this passage section, there are three "relationship parameters," designed to enable a close link, a tight bond, between Yahweh and His people. Yahweh says, I'm your God, you're My people. Here's how that works… experience My covenant love through:
a. My Presence: "The place the LORD your God will choose" - signifies the place that would eventually become known as the Temple, the place of worship, sacrifice, and God's presence. The law elevates and sets aside the place of "His name and His habitation" - that is, the place where God says, "I dwell with you! Come near to Me in both reverence and joy! I am with you." God says "rejoice." In other words, the occasion of bringing your tithe, your sacrifice, is a celebration! God is with His people. Conversely, get rid of the places where the Canaanites invited their gods to live, worshipped them, and built their relationships. While some of the details behind how Temple worship worked, what requirements were set, the core concept is when God loves us, He dwells with us.
b. My Provisions (and pleasures): Yahweh's rules and statutes also graciously guided Israel away from "everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes," and instead guided them into the "rest" and "inheritance" of His promise. These rules and statutes opened the way to enjoy God's gifts, to love what He loves: justice, protecting the innocent, giving generously, and hating what He hates: idolatry, injustice, oppression.
If you're going to grow in relationship with a person, you want to know their likes and dislikes because knowing these move you toward knowing their heart - being more united to them, then you also expect those provisions and pleasures to set boundaries. God's framework for justice in Israel: having fair trials and witnesses, judges and a court system, responsibilities of a KING, provision for a dedicated PRIESTHOOD, and what to expect from a PROPHET, what to do in case of accidental deaths, maintaining respect for the boundaries of your neighbor, and have protections for the most vulnerable of society: the foreigner, the orphan, the widow as God, in His great love, He provided Israel with rules that reflect His pleasures.
c. Being My People: Both presence and provision dovetail with another key content of love in the law - the favor of being God's people. The law provided Israel with necessary guardrails to remain holy, set apart, clean and solely devoted.
We know the goodness of fidelity - of devotedness and loyalty in the closest and most intimate relationships of life. God sets Israel aside to be His treasured possession, His chosen people. Presence, provision, people. Yahweh gives relationship parameters. Ways to know Him and to be with Him.
3) The CONFLICT of Law is love. (26:16–19) All your heart, all your soul. You declared that the Lord is your God, He has declared that you are a people of His treasured possession. That's covenant loyalty built on mutual love and faithfulness. As much as God's law has everything to do with love, the law was never, has never, and never will be able to create love. (God's or ours). Instead, love is the only thing that can create the true law-keeping that God desires. Deut. 6:4-5? “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." You see, the law is meant to describe and protect covenant loyalty - what it looks like to love God with heart, soul, and might. But if someone doesn't love God to begin with, they've broken the law that rules all other laws. They will find themselves in constant conflict with all of the other laws.
The reason we ask questions like, "How can we have a relationship based on rules?" is because our hearts have difficulty loving the God of those rules. God knew about this. That's why Deut. 10:16 reads, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn." It's why even at the end of his life, Moses lamented that Israel would inevitably rebel against God as they always had. That earlier command to come to God's place and to rejoice in worshipping Him alone? Israel ultimately couldn't do it. We couldn't do it either. We don't love His presence, His provisions, or being His people. So, of course we don't keep His commands. But there was one who did.
… BUT the CONSUMMATION of Law is love in CHRIST. The CONTEXT and CONTENT of the law being love is tragic as long as the CONFLICT of the law is love. And truly, our story would be tragic if that were its end. But that's not where the biblical story goes. Instead, we find that the CONSUMMATION of the law is love…in Christ Jesus. The law provided for God's presence in the temple, for all to come and enjoy. Jesus however comes to us and dwells with us in the flesh as "God with us." More than that, He sends the Holy Spirit in power to make our very selves the dwelling place of God. The law brought God's provision of justice, holiness, relatedness… His pleasure to lead Israel. Jesus comes and perfectly fills the role of prophet, priest, and king - holding justice, grace, and mercy all together in His hands. The law declared Israel to be God's people. Jesus comes and builds a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession by calling us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).
Deuteronomy 21:22-23 declares that a man put to death and hanged on a tree is “cursed by God." Jesus comes, and "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness…" (1 Pet. 2:24) So, our story of law and love doesn't end with conflict, it ends with us looking to Jesus, the one who embodied everything the law was about, everything the law was pointing toward, and being transformed in love. It turns out that something glorious still does happen when law and love meet. Instead of being confronted with a loving law that nonetheless exposes our failure to love, we see Jesus nailing that record of trespasses and debts to the cross. We live with a new law in our hearts: The word of Christ dwells in us richly, causing us to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God. So then, whatever we do, in word or deed, we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Praise Songs: Anthem, God You’re So Good, Lord I Give You My Heart, Doxology.