by Paul Masters
Over the course of several conversations I’ve been told, “God isn’t bound to obey the Law.”
For example, while we are told “Thou shalt not murder”, it seems God is free to take lives as he chooses. Job lost his children due to a simple trial of his faith, and his response was a resignated, “Yahweh gave and Yahweh has taken away.” (Job 1:21) Likewise Abraham, when God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac, made no protest, but simply obeyed with every intention of following through until God stopped him (Genesis 22). These apparently pointless deaths (or commands for death) seem contrary to his Law, which clearly states that lives are not to be taken except in war or as capital punishment for specific crimes.
To explain this, the response has been to state that God is not bound by his own Law.
I think this merits some examination.
If God is not bound to his Law, then his Law is specifically meant for men, and no one else, to follow. Man is given one standard, and the Almighty has a different standard — or none at all. IE, the Law is arbitrary.
On the other hand, if God is bound to his Law, then somehow there is a power above him, and he is constrained to observe certain limits, and therefore he is not all-powerful and sovereign.
Or… is there a third option?
Firstly, we must consider what the Law is.
David says of the Law,
The law of Yahweh is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of Yahweh is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of Yahweh are true and righteous altogether. — Psalm 19:7-9
Paul later confirms David’s words in Romans 7:12 —
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
The Law, according to David and Paul, are described with these adjectives:
I’m sure no Christian would argue that these words also describe God himself. To confirm this, let’s look at some passages.
- Perfect (Heb. tamiym — complete, unblemished, without spot) —
He is the Rock, his work is perfect (tamiym): for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. — Deuteronomy 32:4
- Sure (Heb. aman — trustworthy, reliable, believable) —
Know therefore that Yahweh thy God, he is God, the faithful (aman) God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations… — Deuteronomy 7:9
- Right (Heb. yashar — correct, upright, righteous) —
He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right (yashar) is he. — Deuteronomy 32:4
- True (Heb. ‘emeth — faithful, firm, sure)
But Yahweh is the true (‘emeth) God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation. — Jeremiah 10:10
- Righteous (Heb. tsadaq — just, right, straight)
Shall mortal man be more just (tsadaq) than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? — Job 4:17
- Holy (Gr. hagios — to be venerated, sacred)
But as he which hath called you is holy (hagios), so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. — I Peter 1:15-16
- Just (Gr dikaios — right, upright, equitable)
O righteous (dikaios) Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. — John 17:25
- Good (Gr. agathos — excellent, upright, honorable)
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good (agathos) but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. — Matthew 19:17
Here we find that God matches these adjectives. What the Law is, God is — and vice versa.We find the Law so inextricably tied to who God is that we are led to ask a very important question:
If the Law is perfect, sure, right, true, righteous, holy, just, and good, and God himself is perfect, sure, right, true, righteous, holy, just, and good, then CAN God deviate from such?
This is not to ask whether he is ALLOWED, but rather whether it is WITHIN HIS NATURE to do so.
”A God of truth, and without iniquity,” Deuteronomy 32:4 says of the Almighty.
What is iniquity (sin)?
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. — I John 3:4
It is by the Law that we identify sin (Romans 3:20), because the Law is righteous, as God is righteous. Anything contrary to the Law of God is sin. Does God sin? Of course not!
Hebrews 4:15, speaking of Christ, says,
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are [being man], yet without sin [being God].
Sin being transgression of the Law, if God were to do anything contrary to it, he would be a sinner. Of course, we know this idea is ludicrous. Alternatively, the Law would be no law at all and God would be arbitrary.
We know God does not sin, as evidenced above. We know the Law is indeed law, because God repeatedly declares it to be so throughout Scripture. And we know God is not arbitrary, because he is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33), which arbitrariness is.
The Law, as demonstrated by the exploration of adjectives above, is quite evidently the codified nature of God. “Be holy, as I am holy,” he admonishes us — and how do we become holy? By obeying his holy law. He is holy because the holy law is his character, the essence of who he is. God will not do anything contrary to his nature. “I change not,” he says in Malachi 3:6 — “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever,” says the writer of Hebrews 13:8. What was an abomination to God at the beginning of creation will be an abomination to him a thousand years from now.
Now, regarding the apparent deviations from his law, namely, those mentioned at the beginning of this article, one must keep in mind that, while the Law is the same for both God and man as the standard for right and wrong, God’s status in the universe is different than ours. I cannot kill off a man’s children to test him, because I have been forbidden to do so. I do not have the authority. I am a man, a fellow creation alongside all other men, and therefore the laws regarding the taking of human life keep me from unjustly destroying what God has made.
God, however, is the creator and owner of those same lives.“The earth is Yahweh’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein,” David says in Psalm 24:1. Paul addresses this very question in Romans 9:20-24 —
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Judahites only, but also of the nations?
God has the right to do with us as he pleases because he created us. We are his property. We are his own handiwork, for his own glory and pleasure. When he lifts up or destroys, it is not because he is ignoring the Law, but because the status of master and slave according the Law are utterly different. We are servants and creations who must obey the Master’s commands regarding his other servants and creations — but ultimately he is in a position of both power and authority to do as he pleases with us. Hence, no matter what he does with us, it is his inherent right.
That being said, what he does will always be in accordance with, and not contradictory to, his Law, because the Law is his very nature. The Law is how we know what pleases and displeases him, and he will only ever do what pleases him and brings him glory. Therefore, whatever is perfect, sure, right, true, righteous, holy, just, and good, he will do. Of this we can always be assured.
God will not work iniquity. He will not work injustice. He will not act outside the order he has established. It is contrary to his very nature. Our God is a God of order. We know what is in his nature to do, and by what standard he does it. He gave us his law so we could know him, and order our lives to be more like him.
This is the grace of Almighty God.
He is not bound or obligated to his Law any more than you or I are bound to have our individual personalities — but our individual personalities define us. The unchanging God has revealed his personality through his Law. Could he choose to act differently? I have no doubt he could if he so chose. But he has declared that he does not change, and we know from Titus 1:2 that he cannot lie — so we know from this that he will never, at any time, act contrary to the nature which he has revealed to us through his Word. We serve a God of order and law, not a fickle, schizophrenic god who is unknowable and unpredictable.
Bound and obligated? No. Arbitrary? No again. But he is constant, immutable, loving, and eternal.
In no way does this undermine God as sovereign. He IS sovereign. The Law is his personality and PROOF of his sovereignty. It is his character. If we obey his Law we become more like him. He does not deviate from the Law because he does not change.
Therefore, every time we encounter an event in Scripture which seems to imply that God has deviated from his Law, we can know that we merely have more to learn, either about the event, or about the Law. It is an opportunity to ask questions and dig more deeply into his commandments, statutes, and judgments.
…this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith Yahweh, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know Yahweh: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Yahweh: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. — Jeremiah 31:33-34
With God’s Law written on our hearts, it is possible to know him. The Law is the key to developing a relationship with him once we’ve been washed in the blood of Christ through immersion. If God did not conduct himself entirely by the Law he has given us, he would be wholly unknowable.
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. — I John 3:6
The unregenerate sinner does not know God because he does not obey the Law. Therefore, it is by following the Law that we come to know him.
Thank God that he has given us his Law-Word, by which we can understand him and come closer to being like him! Without it, we would be utterly lost, never knowing whom we are to serve or how to order our conduct after his.