“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you? Only this: . . .” Deuteronomy 10:12
Demand – We don’t like the sound of this, do we? What God demands doesn’t sound much like the gentle, compassionate God we hear about in church. We would rather have this Hebrew word translated asks. In fact, that’s what the word usually means. It is sha’al and it is used almost two hundred times in Scripture for asking. You will find it in God’s instructions about the questions children ask of parents, about asking for help, about asking the proper form of worship or legal proceedings and dozens of other uses. But here the translation of the Jewish Publication Society has decided sha’al should be translated “demands.” Why did they choose something so harsh?
The answer begins with the context. Moses has just recounted the history of the people of Israel in the desert experience. It is a rather sad history of disobedience, revolt and hard-heartedness. In spite of all that, God graciously provides a land for the people. He promised it to Abraham and He does not break His promises. But circumstances for the people have changed. They are no longer under the authority of Pharaoh. Now they belong to God. He is their sovereign ruler, and like any ruler of any kingdom, He has expectations of His citizens. In fact, these expectations are more than just kingly desires. They are conditions of occupancy. If you want to live in the land of the King of kings, you must submit to His demands. It might sound harsh to a people who is used to voting on the rules they live by, but in the 10th Century BC, it would have been so common no one would have lifted an eyebrow. We don’t live in the time of Moses, but maybe we should. All our protests about God’s demands might fade into the desert sand if we just understood that the Kingdom is a monarchy and its citizens are under the direct rule of the King.
Of course, sha’al isn’t usually about stern demands. It’s usually about reasonable questions and requests. I think God’s demands are always questions and requests. That doesn’t mean God isn’t demanding. He is. The Ten Commandments are demands for certain kinds of behavior and attitudes. But beneath those demands is the goodness of God. His demands do not rest of dictatorial authority. They rest of loving creativity. God loves His children. Therefore, God can expect – and demand – behavior of His children. This is the meaning of divine jealousy. So put away the backdrop of the divine moral policeman or the heavenly judge. Yes, in some sense God really is the Judge of all mankind and we must be constantly aware of His right to judge. But God is kind. He says of Himself that He is compassionate, merciful and long-suffering. That does not give us opportunity to trample on His authority, but it does give us a chance. He doesn’t ask or demand more than we can do. He shows forbearance (what a wonderful word). But most of all, He loves. Celebrate His goodness buried inside His demands. The King has spoken and His words are joyfully received.
Topical Index: demands, sha’al, ask, love, Deuteronomy 10:12