LCN Article


One Way to Know God Better

May / June 2019

Dexter B. Wakefield

Sometimes a person will ask, “Do you know the Lord?” The Bible says that in the Kingdom of God, all the House of Israel is going to know the Lord. God promised this to Israel through His prophet Jeremiah:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:33–34).

How will the house of Israel come to know God? Only a few in Judea recognized Him when He visited them in the flesh two millennia ago. He said through Jeremiah that when He comes next, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts” and forgive them.

In the future, God will reveal a lot about Himself through His law, and it is important for us to remember that He does so now for His Church as well.

How well do you know God, and do you seek to know Him in all the ways He provides? We should all want to know the Father in order to develop our relationship with Him, and to become like Him and Jesus Christ. And one way that we can know God better is the same way God tells us that the House of Israel will learn about Him in the Kingdom of God—by studying, practicing, and internalizing God’s law. Sadly, this is a valuable way that most professing Christians reject.

Studying the biblical statutes is a very helpful way to gain insight into God’s character and to know Him better. It’s not the only way—just one way to help you “know the Lord” that much more fully as you study your Bible.

Commandments, Statutes, and Judgments

When God set up the nation of Israel, He gave the Israelites everything they physically needed, including wise statutes and judgments based on the Ten Commandments. Unger’s Bible Dictionary has a helpful commentary on the source of the Ten Commandments:

The foundation and source of the moral law is God’s character. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” is the way the Ten Commandments are introduced. The Heb. name here used (Everlasting Eternal Almighty) intimates that the principles of law have their standing in the character of God. “I am… thou shall.” That is the connection. And that is what makes the moral law so awful [awesome] in its unchangeable majesty. It is law because God is. It cannot be changed without changing the character of [God] Himself. Right is what it is, because God is what He is, and therefore it is as unchangeable as God (3rd edition, 1966, pp. 256–257).

God’s commandments reflect His very character! They communicate what He defines as right and wrong, and God does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).

The biblical organization of the law is “commandments, statutes, and judgments” (Deuteronomy 7:11; 1 Kings 8:58). Some reorganize it theologically as “moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law,” but while that may be useful in some cases, it is not the revealed, biblical organization. The statutes derive from the Ten Commandments, so the principles communicated through the statutes further illuminate God’s character—the very basis of right and wrong. The judgments implemented various aspects of the statutes at the local level in Israel.

The Apostle Paul applied a principle in the statutes when he taught the gentile Church in Corinth, Greece. He wrote,

For it is written in the law of Moses [in Deuteronomy 25:4], “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? (1 Corinthians 9:9–11).

Paul was saying that while this statute required kindness to a working animal, its primary purpose was to teach a spiritual lesson to the Church. You did not have to own an ox in order to obey the principle. Note that he wrote, “Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written....” Paul was telling the gentile brethren in Corinth—and us today—that the Church can learn much from the statutes.

In his instruction to Timothy, Paul also affirmed the validity and importance of the law and the prophets. He wrote, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14–15). When Paul mentioned “the Holy Scriptures,” he was referring to the Old Testament canon, since the New Testament canon did not exist when Timothy was a child. Paul wanted Timothy to remember that while his salvation came through his faith in Christ, God’s commandments, statutes, and judgments would give him valuable understanding and guide him in his spiritual growth.

Paul continued, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (vv. 16–17). We should all remember that God’s divine law provides us with the valuable doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness that are necessary if we are to do all the good works He expects of us.

Those who reject God’s law miss out on a lot!

While we can learn from all of the Scriptures, the judgments generally applied to the ancient nation of Israel under the national covenant made at Sinai, and were implemented as civil laws. Historically, the application of the judgments in Judea ended with the destruction of the remaining Jewish state by the Romans. For example, God’s Church today is under the commandment requiring fidelity in marriage, but, of course, not the judgment requiring that adulterers be stoned to death!

Still, God did say that other nations would see the wisdom of His laws in ancient Israel and seek to emulate them (Deuteronomy 4:5–8).

The Two Great Commandments

Jesus was once asked an interesting question: “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. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:35–40). Jesus was actually quoting Himself, as recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4–5 and Leviticus 19:18.

How do “all the Law and the Prophets” hang on these two commandments?

Jesus certainly was not saying that these two commandments negate the Ten. For instance, we cannot love God with all our hearts if we worship idols and take His name in vain. And we cannot love others as ourselves if we steal from them or lie to them.

The first four of the Ten Commandments have to do with how we love God, and are summarized by “the first and great commandment”—that we should love God with all our being. The next six commandments have to do with loving our fellow man and are summarized by “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is interesting that the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12), which has to do with our relationships with our physical parents, is a bridge between loving our heavenly Father and loving mankind.

The two great commandments, love of God and love of mankind, are expressed in more detail in the Ten Commandments. Then, the statutes are derived from, or descend from, the Ten Commandments, and the judgments, generally speaking, represent local implementations in Israel of the principles in the statutes under their national covenant with God. The law is a fundamental aspect of God’s government—which is His applied love. The prophets were God’s voice to the people. God instructed them to communicate Israel’s transgression of the commandments, statutes, and judgments, as well as His calls for repentance and His reminders to Israel of the agreed-upon terms of, and consequences of breaking, their covenant with Him. They also communicated God’s promise of His coming government, which is the Kingdom of God, saying, for instance, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). God’s government, which is based upon laws that express His character, will spread throughout the world under the prophesied Kingdom. So we can see why Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” God is love, and God’s governmental law derives from love for God and love for mankind.

The Statutes Applied Today

We saw earlier that the Apostle Paul gave the gentile Church in Corinth the example of not muzzling an ox as the application of a statute. Here are two additional examples of statutes that show the character of God.

In an application of the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” Israel was instructed, “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:35–36). Notice that God stamps this law with His name, saying, “I am the Lord your God.

A hin is a liquid measure of roughly two gallons. An ephah is a dry measure of roughly one bushel. Do you have an honest hin and an honest ephah? Must you own a hin or an ephah to obey this statute?

Our God is a God of truth, and Jesus said, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). His truth sanctifies us, and the dishonesty, greed, and covetousness that lead to theft are completely alien to Him. So God forbids theft and deception in all its forms, and this statute derives from the commandments that say, “You shall not steal” and “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:15–16). Our God is a God of love, truth, and giving—not getting.

How can we apply the principle of this statute in our lives? What does an “honest hin” look like today? It means that we observe honesty in all our dealings with others—not just in weights and measures. Do we give people what they bargained for—or do we somehow find ways to short them?

A Dishonest Ephah or Hin

What does a dishonest hin or ephah look like in our day? Some examples:

  • How well do you measure out your labor? If we are on the job for eight hours, we should give our employer the full eight hours of work he or she is paying for—not just six hours’ worth. Give full value to people—God does, and in addition, it’s just good business. If we don’t give full value for what we are paid, we may be taking pay that we don’t deserve. Happily, many employers are very pleased to have members of our faith working for them, because they have learned that the same person who is careful to keep the Sabbath commandment is also careful to give an honest day’s work for his or her pay. When a prospective employer raises an objection to one’s Sabbath observance, it can be helpful to advise them of that.
  • Have you ever worked with someone who claimed to do good work, but in fact the quality of their work was deficient? How do you measure out the quality of your work? Do you provide the full quality that your employers bargained for? Our God always does quality work, and we should emulate Him in our work.

Those are just two examples, and since you know the biblical principle, you can probably think of others. Our God is a God of quality and truth.

Here is another statute from which we can learn: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:9–10).

Do you have to be a farmer to learn from this statute? Notice that just as with the statute about the weights and measures, God stamps His name on this one as well: “I am the Lord your God.” So perhaps this one also expresses His character. Let’s look at it more closely and consider.

An owner who goes to the trouble and expense of gleaning his fields and vineyards, down to every last grain or grape, spends a lot of labor in the end for minimal gain. He is at the point of diminishing returns, but he doesn’t want anyone else to have his fruit. The gleaning statute provides for the poor—those who have no resources but their own labor—and makes it possible for them to spend their labor productively to obtain necessary food. In ancient Israel, God made the gleaning laws not only to benefit the poor, but also to keep the landowner from greed. God built fairness and honesty into His statutes—not greed. Everyone benefitted!

How about the application of the gleaning statute in modern times? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God of love and outgoing concern—giving is His way of life, not getting. Greed is alien to His character. So what does a person who gleans his own fields look like today? Here’s one way. Perhaps you have seen people whose business philosophy is, “In any transaction, leave nothing on the table, not even the varnish.” They try to take as much as they can from the other parties in any commercial relationship. They think that they haven’t succeeded until the other guy suffers. But a person who is led by the mind of God knows that it should be possible for all parties who perform their part to benefit. Leave the varnish on the table and reject greed! We must beware of any inordinate desire to get, which can even lead us to oppress others. We can apply the gleaning statute in many ways in modern life.

Dive into the Statutes!A set of scales

If you would like to study the statutes further, they are found mostly in the following chapters: Exodus 20–24; Leviticus 16–27; Numbers 18–19, 27–36; and Deuteronomy 12–28.

Be mindful that these chapters also contain many of the ritual laws, sacrificial laws, and purification laws, which we do not apply physically today because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26–28; 9:11–15; 10:6–10). We are Christ’s temple because of the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Church is to be pure (2 Corinthians 6:16-17) and offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5) as part of our New Covenant relationship.

But this fact does not diminish the benefits provided by studying the statutes God inspired in His word. One great way to spiritually profit from the study of those statutes is to look for the character of God in them and discern how that character can be applied to our lives today. The statutes are profitable indeed, and some, like just weights and measures, are wisely incorporated into our modern laws. The principles contained in the statutes make us better employees, better employers, better businessmen, and more Christlike. They are there for our good!

God’s divine law expresses His holy, righteous character, and He gave His commandments and statutes for our benefit (Deuteronomy 10:13). One of the ways that God reveals Himself is through His commandments and law, which are holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12).

 So God’s begotten children shouldn’t ask, “How much of God’s law do I have to apply?” We should ask “How much of God’s law can I apply?” We need to know the many ways we can apply God’s law and emulate His character in our lives. And looking for God’s character within His statutes—as well as applying the principles behind the statutes—helps us to “know the Lord.”