August 24, 2009

“Because I Said So”
by Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn

I have been working my way through the books of the law—not American law, but Hebrew law. These are the first five books of the Bible, also called the Pentateuch. I must admit it’s been slow going. There’s a reason I didn’t become a lawyer.

But one thing that has struck me is how often this phrase follows a command: “I am the Lord your God.” Here are some examples from Leviticus 19:

“You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God…When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest…you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God…you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord…You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” And that’s only the first half of the chapter.

This reminder punctuates almost every command in this portion of the law. It is said so often, it leaps off the page as if it were written in bold. The first time I read this phrase, my maternal instinct caused me to automatically translate it into vernacular in this way: “Obey this command, because I said so.” Yes, I have actually heard those words come out of my mouth when I tell my daughters to do something, and their immediate response is not an action, but the question “Why?” So as a mom, I naturally assumed that God, the eternal, all-knowing parent has a perfect right to respond when questioned by His ignorant, recalcitrant children, “because I said so.”

We often need, I believe, this reminder of God’s right to command His creation. In our familiarity with God, perhaps we tend to forget to Whom we are talking. Or maybe we are so dismayed at the all-encompassing commitment, the sheer work required of us in these commands that we balk at the task. We need to refocus our gaze not on the requirement itself, but on the One who does the requiring, and His right to ask His creation to function as He planned it.

But there is another important pronoun in the phrase. It is not just, “because I said so,” but “because I (who am your God) said so.” We also need the important reminder that the God who is doing the commanding is “my” God. I am in relationship with Him, a loving, caring relationship, even when He commands something of me. So when God does demand obedience, it is only demanded within a relationship of love. Therefore He only commands what is best for us.

Maybe in the end a better translation of this phrase is not “because I said so,” but “because I do so.” The awesome character of God shines through in His law: His holiness, His righteousness, His justice, His mercy, His provision. Who God is, is written into every commandment. The foundation of this law is a God who has already acted towards us consistently in the manner to which He now commands us. Therefore, we are to act right, because God is righteous. We are to act generously, because God is giving in His nature. We are to act lovingly, because God is love. Nothing He commands us is inconsistent with His character or with what He has already done for us.

As I have read through the Pentateuch, I may not have thoroughly enjoyed the “law” part of these books but I have an even greater appreciation for the Law Giver. And I may even have matured to the place where I can say as His child, “I might not see the reason, I might not want to obey, but if my Father says so, I can do it.”