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Could not or would not?
By: Robert Berendt (published September 11, 2014)

Fifty or so years ago when the great movie "The Ten Commandments" first came out, people flocked to the theatres. The powerful scenes and great acting by people like Charlton Heston as Moses and others, held people spellbound. Nobody I knew thought the Ten Commandments would ever be questioned let alone cancelled. Modern Christianity has a variety of groups with beliefs that range from strict obedience to every word, all the way to the cancelation of the laws of God. One group states that the Commandments were nailed to the cross. Another large group says they should be kept - but they have been given the right and permission from God to adjust and change them. The most recent "revelation" among evangelicals is that the law has been done away with and there is nothing that is sin any longer. There has never been another instance in all the history of the human race that the Creator God actually came to men and spoke with them to inform them of His wishes. The only single exception is the visible presence of God before the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai and the only real evidence was the two tablets of stone on which God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger (Exod. 19:17-19, Ex. 31:18) and the witness of millions (Deut. 4:33-35). It ought to be unthinkable that anyone could not be in a constant state of awe at this great one time event. However, humans have managed to lose their awe and fear rather readily. The thought that God does not have to be obeyed or carefully followed is what Satan planted in the minds of Adam and Eve so long ago (Gen. 3:4-6).

Humans have shown God that they really do not want to be told what to do. No doubt Satan is right there working on our thought patterns, but even the simplest commands from God such as: "Do not touch the tree or eat of its fruit" were not kept (Gen. 3:3). Another simple command was given to the family of Lot. "Do not look back" when they were being led away from the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19:17). Lot's wife did look back and it cost her life. God told Moses to speak to the rock in His name but Moses let his temper control him and struck the rock instead, saying "must we bring water.." not hallowing God for the water (Num. 20:8-12). These are small examples that describe our attitude toward any command of God - even the simplest, and so it is no surprise that mankind rejects the great 10 Commandments as well. Can we say that these were impossible to keep and planned as impossible by God?

It has been said that God knew that people could not keep His commandments before He presented them to the world. It was a matter of "could not" rather than "would not." If that were the truth - that God knowingly gave commandments to mankind that they could not keep at all, it would make Him anything but the loving Father He is. We are told to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). God is merciful and generous to anyone who He sees struggling to obey Him. What parent would torment his child by ordering him to do something he was incapable of doing - and then punishing him for it? Would we punish our children for disobedience when we purposely gave them something they could never do? That is a "no brainer" - of course we would not. That would be cruel, mean and hateful and insane. There is only one being who wants to paint a picture of God being unfair and unjust - that is Satan who at one time was the great angel Lucifer, but fell from that position along with one third of all the angels. Lucifer was the author of rebellion against God and he promotes rebellion continually among humans. People seem to be the willing tools in his hands.

Some shut their eyes to their sin by simply stating that they do not read the "Old Testament." Those sorts of arguments deny the goodness and majesty of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is God's offer to remove our sins if we believe and follow Him. We are to repent of our sins, be baptized and then go and sin no more (Acts 2:38, Rom. 6:1-4,12). Rebellion is as witchcraft the Bible states (I Sam. 15:23). There is only one passage that indicates there were laws that people "could" not keep. That is a reference to the extreme demands of Judaism which Peter said neither their fathers or themselves were able to bear (Acts 15:10). Jesus castigated the scribes and Pharisees for their part in binding heavy burdens that were hard to bear upon the people (Matt. 23:4).

Throughout the Bible, the wording is clear. People "would not" obey God - they refused to keep His commandments and instructions. Moses wrote that Israel would not listen, but they rebelled (Deut. 1:43). Israel was to perish because they would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord (Deut. 8:20). Many times God stood ready to bless and protect and only demanded obedience (Psalm 81:8-16). There is the constant statement that they "would not" and not that they "could not." God acted powerfully on behalf of Israel and wanted to do more. The commandments of God are holy and good (Rom. 7:12,16,22). Israel acting much like all other nations would act - did not want God telling them what to do. God has given freedom to choose to humans - but encourages us to choose His law because He designed it to be good for us and because it honours Him in the battle against evil. After the capture of the temple and city of Jerusalem - the last bastion of God's people in the Promised Land - Ezekiel was told to write about how Israel angered their Lord and Creator. He wrote words of regret and sadness and of the intervention and anger of God as well as the fact that God is indeed God and worthy of worship. Ezekiel wrote that they "rebelled against Me and would not obey Me" (Ezek. 20:8). Throughout this chapter the wording is always the same - they would not. Never do we see commands that God gave that could not be followed.

God is love and it brought Him pain to have to correct and punish Israel and the rest of mankind. The fact that He is Almighty also means that He must follow through with His correction and punishment of all who promote and choose evil. God likens Himself as a caring mother hen that wanted to gather and protect her chicks - but the chicks refused and would not (Matt. 23:37-39). When Stephen was inspired to make his bold statements against the ruling powers in Israel, he said that from Mount Sinai where the 10 Commandments were given through Moses, the Israelites "would not obey" (Act. 7:39). He noted that in their hearts, Israel turned back to Egypt. God gives loving and caring commands and people reject the commands and the Giver of those commands. Unwittingly, though, mankind has turned back to obeying and serving the commands of another being - another god in their eyes. We may not realize that we only have two choices. We either serve and obey the true God and His Son or we serve and obey the enemy of God and mankind. Paul put it very clearly in his letter to the Romans in the New Testament. We are slaves of sin which leads to death or we are slaves of obedience leading to righteousness (Rom. 6:16). Paul goes on to be thankful that although we have been slaves to sin, we have been set free and have become slaves to righteousness (verse 17-23). If we move away from sin and lawlessness, we automatically move toward righteousness and obedience. None could have written it more clearly than John. He wrote: "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him" (I John 1:4). It is a matter of won't, not can't and humans can!



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