Our Hebrew word of the week is the feminine noun mitzvah, meaning “divine commandment.” Mitzvot are the an expression of the will of God, and include not only an “order” to do something, but also the moral imperative or obligation to do it. In Exodus 24:12, the Ten Commandments themselves are collectively referred to as mitzvot.
In Jewish thinking, mitzvot are not burdensome things, but rather opportunities to express gratitude to God for the gift of life (see 1 John 5:3). Mitzvot are compared to “garments” or “angels” that accompany a person in their journey through life.
Some Jewish sages have attempted to count the various mitzvot listed in the Tanakh. Maimonides (Ramba”m) listed 613 commandments in his work, Misneh Torah, and divided them into two groups: 248 positive (“Thou shalt...”) commandments and 365 negative (“Thou shalt not...”) commandments. Collectively, the 613 commandments are called “Taryag Mitzvot”:
(Note: In Jewish tradition, the 613 mitzvot are said to apply only to Israel, and Gentile nations are only required to obey seven commandments know as the Noahide laws (these seven gentile laws pertain to idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, sexual relations, eating the limb of a living animal, and establishing courts of law).
Shomer mitzvah, shomer nafsho
“He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul” (Proverbs 19:16, KJV).
That is, the one keeping the commandments is keeping his own soul (the qal participle can be translated “the one who keeps” or “is keeping”). The commandments of God are not burdensome, but rather designed to help us walk through this life with the minimum amount of pain and distress. When we keep the commandments of the Lord, we are actually acting in our best interest, as well as in the best interests of all the people in our lives.
As Christians, we are not exempt from any form of restraint on our behavior (that is, we are not “anti-nomialists”). Indeed, we are under the “royal law of liberty” to love one another and to serve one another in deed and in truth (see John 13:34, 15:12; Romans 13:9; 1 John 3:23, 4:21, 5:3).
The power to obey God in Spirit and in Truth is a gift from God, whereby God graciously imparts to us a new heart and a new will to please Him. As it is written in Jeremiah the prophet:
“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, 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.”
(Jeremiah 31:31-33, KJV)
If you are reading these words now, why not ask the Lord to give you a heart that is willing to obey Him?