gift of the law

Feb 24, 2018

Most of us are not too keen on rules. Something in us fears that laws will limit our liberty and therefore we will be less happy.

The underlying thought is that we will be more likely to be happy when we can do whatever we want whenever we want.

So when today’s scriptures focus on the importance of the law of the Lord, it can be difficult for us to see this as an inspiration.

Imagine Moses coming down the mountain carrying the Ten Commandments and giving them to the people saying:

“This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.”

What do you think the reaction of the people was to Moses’ announcement? Perhaps “No Moses, we don’t want rules, we want to be free!”

I don’t think so. I imagine these Old Testament people being delighted to receive these commandments from God. Here’s my reasoning.

Before this moment the people had been led by Moses from captivity in Egypt into the desert en route to the promised land. For the first part of the journey they were wanderers, tossed about by every opinion about direction with changing moods, fickle motivations and shifting goals.

When Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, I imagine the people rejoicing because now God had given them a practical key to human life with specific goals for life in community and relationships. Now they knew how to live. It doesn’t mean that they suddenly found life easy, but at least now they direction and destiny.  As Frederich Nietzsche said: “They who have a why to live can bear almost any how”.

It is significant that children asked to imagine that they are stranded on a desert island will pretty quickly come up with laws for their island life that are very similar to the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps a helpful analogy is the rules of the road. While at times we might find speed limits and red lights a bit of a hassle, we know that if it weren’t for clear and enforced road rules it would not be safe to leave our homes.

In the same way, the Law of the Lord is a gift, something like a drivers manual for humans written by God who is our designer and our manufacturer.

The more we strive together to live the letter and the spirit of this divine law, the more we will be living in harmony with our design and destiny and the happier we will be.

If you don’t believe me, try it. Set one week to live fully both the letter and the spirit of every one of the Ten Commandments, and at the week progresses keep asking yourself: am I happier?

You might be surprised at the result.


  1. The gift of law – one of the reasons the Maori wanted to sign The Treaty of Waitangi

  2. The divine law made human God made it simple for us. We made it so hard,

  3. Thank you Fr John for your idea of living fully each day the Ten Commandments.

  4. First I must honour God,
    Second honour His name,
    Third honour His day, keep holy, this will be my aim.

    Fourth I must be obedient,
    Fifth be kind and true,
    Sixth be pure in all i say, and see and here and do…..
    Seventh I must be honest,
    Eighth be truthful in all things I say,
    Ninth be pure in mind and heart, and all I think and desire each day….
    Tenth I must be satisfied not be jealous come what may..

    These are God’s ten Commandments,
    These I must obey.

    (This is the childhood version….which is easy to remember….because we sang it!!!)

  5. Another excellent example from “everyday life” is when young folk obtain their restricted license they are bound by the laws of the land, ie they must not carry passengers and must be home by 10 pm. So it is not parents who are laying down these guidelines but they are the law of the land and must be observed.

  6. Fr John, it is a good thought that when Moses came down from the mountain with God’s Ten Commandments the people were delighted with God’s gift of rules to make them happy. However, haven’t we been taught that there was at least one person who was anything but happy … Moses himself? Instead of being happy, Moses was beside himself with anger at for what they had got up to during his absence. The Bible does not tell us exactly how long Moses’ anger lasted, but it is human nature to be hurt when, after going to a lot of trouble for people (climbing a mountain in advanced years, even to speak to God, would not have been an easy task for Moses) and then, after being elated and inspired by having talked with God Himself, to find that the very people whom he was trying to help went ahead and ignored all he had told them not to do while he was away… no wonder Moses was enraged.

    I find it hard to accept your idea that the people would have rejoiced to be told they had gone to all that trouble to collect up the gold they had used to melt down to make their own idols. All their work and artistry carried out for nothing. Surely they would be more angry than happy? How long in actual time did it take poor Moses to talk them out of their ‘freedom of choice’ and then to buckle down and accept the new Ten Commandments? In fact are we not, even all these years later, still reluctant to accept them?

    Yes, we must accept God’s gift of Rules to Obey in order to live a good life and be happy in His presence in the next … but in our everyday life it is more often harder than difficult to obey all the Ten Commandments. This can, and does, make people less than happy with God and His laws for us. During Lent it is good to remember that we are not perfect and God has so much love for us that He understands this and has also given us a way to reconcile ourselves with Him through the Mercy of Reconciliation. It is after we have recognised our failings, confessed, become determined not to sin again and received God’s blessing that we then feel most happy.


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