The Commandments: Biblical Reasons to Obey

There are a number of reasons given to obey God's laws.

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From Mitzvot: A Sourcebook for the 613 Commandments. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. © 1996 by Jason Aronson Inc.

The Bible suggests a number of reasons to obey God’s commandments. The following is a summary of the biblical themes related to observing God’s commandments: 

Divine Compensation and Punishment

Deuteronomy 11 and 28 are devoted to describing the rewards and punishments that God will bring upon those who obey or disobey Him. The rabbis made the theme central by choosing the following text as part of the second paragraph of the Shema, to be said each morning and evening:

“If you will earnestly heed the commandments which I command you this day, to love and serve God with all your heart and soul, then will I favor your land with rain at the proper season--rain in autumn and rain in spring--so that you will have ample harvest of grain and wine and oil. And I will assure grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat to contentment.

“Be careful lest you are tempted to forsake God and turn to false gods and pray to them. For then the anger of God will be aroused toward you. God will then close up the heavens and there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce. You will soon perish from the good land which God is giving to you” (Deuteronomy 11:13-21).

This passage clearly shows the Torah holding out the reward of an abundant harvest for obeisance to God’s mitzvot. There are some people who have great difficulty with this section of the Bible, since there are many cases of people who do good and fulfill commandments and yet who suffer, and of bad people who have been known to prosper. Suffice it to say that the Torah had no doubt of the certainty of God’s response to obedience and disobedience regarding His commandments.

Human Compensation and Punishmentmoses and the ten commandments

The Bible clearly expected that many of its commandments would be enforced by the human courts. A biblical judicial process was set in place to cover a variety of aspects of life in which the guilt or innocence of a person would be determined. Here are some examples of punishment for those found guilty of violation of a commandment:

“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or a fist, and he does not die but has to take to his bed, if then he gets up and walks outdoors upon his staff, the assailant shall go unpunished, except that he must pay for his idleness and his cure” (Exodus 21:18-19).

“When a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must make restitution; he shall pay the price to the owner, but shall keep the dead animal” (Exodus 21:33-34).

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.