The "Law-Word" of God

In God I will praise His Word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
In God will I praise His Word: in the LORD will I praise His Word.

Psalm 56:4,10

I will worship toward Thy holy temple, and praise Thy Name for Thy lovingkindness and for Thy Truth:
for Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy Name.

Psalm 138:2

When the Psalmist said that the LORD has exalted His Word above His Name, was the Psalmist engaging in "Bibliolatry"? Is God's Word really that important? Is it in some way more important than "God Himself"?

We tend to think the following:

These destructive tendencies lead us to question the Psalmist and say "surely the Bible is not so important." We think we want to have a more "personal" relationship with God. But in fact, without Law, we have no relationship with God at all. If you want to know about a person's "relationship" with God, find out about his relationship to God's Law. As we read in a previous essay, John Frame's conclusion assures us that we are on safe ground if, with the Psalmist, we worship the Law:

"Indeed, in an important sense, the Word of God (and hence the Law, a form of the Word) is divine. God's speech
  • has divine attributes (Genesis 18:14;[1] Psalm 19:7-9;[2] Psalm 119:7;[3] Psalm 119:86;[4] Psalm 119:89;[5] Psalm 119:129;[6] Psalm 119:137;[7] Psalm 119:140;[8] Psalm 119:142;[9] Psalm 119:160;[10] Isaiah 55:11;[11] Luke 1:37;[12] John 17:17;[13]),
  • functions as an object of worship (Psalm 9:2;[14] Psalm 34:3;[15] Psalm 56:4;[16] Psalm 56:10;[17] Psalm 68:4;[18] Psalm 119:120;[19] Psalm 119:161-162;[20] Psalm 138:2;[21] Isaiah 66:5[22]), and
  • is called divine (John 1:1;[23] Romans 10:6-8;[24] Deuteronomy 30:11-14;[25]

Thus we cannot know God without knowing His Word, and we cannot know the Word without knowing God."

If we think about the matter for just a minute we will see that this is not really an outrageous idea, but is true almost by definition.

"Law," as we have seen, is nothing more than a relationship between a superior being and an inferior being. It is the nature of the word spoken by a lord to his servants. And if we understand the function of language we will understand why every Word of the Covenant Lord of Scripture is "Law."[26] Once we understand that, we will be yet another step closer to seeing why we should have such a reverent devotion to God's Law that we can agree that God alone is worthy of praise and yet at the same time say with the Psalmist, "I will praise His Word." As Frame puts it:

To know God is to know His Law. God Himself necessarily acts as Law to all being other than Himself. To be Lord is to be the Giver and Ultimate Enforcer of Ultimate Law. Thus Scripture speaks of God's nature as Word, as Name, as Light. To obey the Law is to obey God Himself. God's Law, therefore, is divine -- divine in authority, power, eternality, and ultimacy. We cannot know God without knowing Him as Law. God's Law, then, is God Himself.

The Imperative Character of Divine Language

How do we praise God's Word? Simple: we obey it. Let us repeat the statement made above; it is central to this essay: Every word of a sovereign is law. This is why we use the terms "God's Word" and "God's Law" interchangeably; they are synonymous. We cannot limit "law" to those statements which begin with "Thou shalt" or "thou shalt not." Every utterance by a lord must be received as "law" by every vassal under the jurisdiction of that sovereign.

In our grammar classes we tend to group all sentences into a few basic categories: "Declarative," "Interrogative," "Imperative," and "Exclamation."

Exclamations have exclamation points. Interrogatives end with a question mark. At least this is the kind of simplistic divisions we sometimes engage in.

This division is inadequate. Consider the statement by a parent to his child: "I don't want this picture touched." The form is declarative. Strictly construed, this tells us something about the existential state of the parent. But we must recognize that the statement of a parent to a child is the statement of a sovereign to a vassal. The function of the parent's statement for a Godly child is imperative: When a child hears a parent say "I don't want this picture touched," the child understands, "Don't touch this picture," and the child keeps a safe distance from the picture in order to respect the wishes of a superior.

When we approach Scripture we must recognize that every Word is God-breathed; every Scripture is the Word of an Absolute God, our Ultimate Sovereign. If we do this we will see that every Word of God is a Law-Word. Every Word has an imperative function for the Godly man. If we wish to follow the Psalmist, and be a "man after God's own heart," we must learn how to worship God's Law. Every verse in the Bible demands some kind of response from us.

Chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith is about “Saving Faith”:

By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come.

In theology there exists the same tendency as we experienced in our grammar classes: we group the Scriptures into a few basic categories: "Law," "History," "Song," "Proverb," "Prophecy," etc. We must not let these categories obscure the imperative function of the Word of our Sovereign God. We must remember all Scripture is Law, and must be used as such.[27]

All Scripture is given by inSpiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be throughly furnished unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:16-17).

All Scripture; all good works.

Notice how the Bible authors refer to all of the Bible as "Law": In John 15:25 a Psalm fulfills a prophetic function but is still labeled "Law." In I Corinthians 14:21 the prophecy of Isaiah is called "Law," and in I Corinthians 14:34 an obscure reference to perhaps Genesis 3:16 (or some other historical narrative) is called "Law." All Scripture is Law. Every Word of God is Law.

Godly Reaction to Sovereign Utterances

Let us examine some examples of how sovereign speech has an imperative function.

Let us suppose that you are a court jester, serving in the court of a great king. The king, in all his majesty, heaves a sigh in your presence and declares,

"I wish someone could make me laugh."

You, as a jester, sit there and analyze the king's utterance. You dissect the statement and consider the role of the various parts of speech: the pronoun, the verb; the subject, the object. You soberly reflect on the precise definition of the words as employed in their grammatico-historical context. You formulate a linguistic hypothesis and test it against the literature of the day, in conjunction with current advances made by the leading semanticists of the kingdom. You reach a conclusion, which you announce to the king:

"You, sir, have made a "declarative" statement, and I believe with all my heart, all my mind, and all my soul, that you do indeed wish that someone could make you laugh."

Pleased with yourself, and recognizing that scholastically you place in the ninety-ninth percentile of all court jesters, you are surprised to find some moments later your head embarrassingly detached from the rest of your body by the king's guillotine.

You see, you failed to consider the imperative nature of all sovereign language. The king was not informing you (although, to be sure, you were informed of a truth); you should have reacted to the king's utterance as you would a command.[28]

The declaratives of the sovereign function as imperatives; as law.

Your reaction to the words of a sovereign reflect your attitude toward the sovereign himself. Do you love and reverence the king? Then you will obey his word, even when he doesn't say "Thou shalt...."

Another example: The king, obviously bored, says in the presence of the kingly court,

"When are we ever going to have a party?"

Two responses can be made by the court attendants. They may diligently search and inquire, and, failing to discern the answer, reply to the king, "We do not know, your glory," at which point they may suffer the same embarrassing fate as our court jester above.

Or they may recognize that the king's interrogatory was not just the asking of a question. To be sure, the king asked a question, and it demands an answer. But we must also remember that it was the king who asked it, and the words of the sovereign function as law. The correct "answer" to the king's "question" is "Immediately, your highness!!" accompanied by swift movements in the direction of the royal caterer.

One wit has put it this way: "When the king asks me to jump, I ask, 'How high?'" This is how we honor the words of a sovereign.[37]

Worship: Submission to the Sovereign

Seeing all of God's Word as His Law is really nothing more than an elementary implication of the concept of worship. By "worship" we don't mean "a set of rituals or an ecclesiastical liturgy." The ceremonies offered in Old Testament Jerusalem are no longer an appropriate way to offer Spiritual worship to God (John 4:21,23)[38]. "Worship" cannot be limited to Sunday mornings. In the more generic sense, "worship"

is the devotion we owe to God in the whole of life. God is sovereign, He is Lord, having sovereignty over us and propriety in us, and therefore in all that we do we owe subjection to him, devotion to His revealed will, obedience to His commandments. There is no area of life where the injunction does not apply (I Cor. 10:31). In view of the lordship of Christ as Mediator, all of life comes under His dominion (Col. 3:23,24).
(John Murray, New Bible Dictionary)

Thus, to "worship" God's Word is simply the act of recognizing that it is the Word of our LORD, and our relationship to God is one of "worship." The essential concept of "worship" is "service." Or put more graphically, "slavery." Complete dedication and devotion. Thus, whether the theologians classify a given portion of God's Word as "Law," "prophets," or "history," it still is the Word of our Sovereign, and thus demands our worship, our praise, our self-surrender. And since God only commands things which are for our good, His revelation of His Law to us should move us to love Him with all our heart.

Obviously wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit is needed in evaluating the words of a sovereign as we seek to obey the Fifth Commandment[29] in all its implications.

The same is clearly true as we evaluate the Scriptures, the Word of our Sovereign God. There are some additional reasons why in our day we must be especially careful.

Cultural Immaturity In our day our culture is generally out of practice is obeying God's Word. As we shall see, past generations took the imperative nature of sovereign utterances quite seriously. This was reflected in culture, where young people rose when elders entered the room (Leviticus 19:32), addressed them as "sir" or "madam," or before that, in the days of the Puritans, as "father" or "mother."[30] This attitude of deference and respect is a cultural trait which produces "A-Ha!" insights into the application of Scripture; "don't trust anyone over 30" does not. This essay generally follows the Puritans and their Reformational forebears in trembling before the Word of God as the Word of a Powerful and Mighty Sovereign,[31] and loving God's Law as the undeserved Words of healing and life to us and to the creation.[32]

Misguided Lawlessness Tragically, there are some in our day who defiantly resist the idea that God is our Sovereign. They want Jesus to be a "savior," or maybe only a "friend," but they refuse to address Him as "Lord Jesus" or take that phrase seriously. They abuse a Biblical truth by turning it into a slogan: "We are not under law!"

Of course, we are not under the rituals and liturgies of the Old Covenant, and right standing before God is not earned as the Judaizing pharisees asserted it was. The diligent guarding of this truth has kept most evangelical churches free from rituals and liturgy, leaving these Old Covenant remnants to those "mainline" churches which have retained the liturgical forms and tossed out the Authority of the inerrant Scriptures (cf. 2 Tim. 3:5).

But when the Scripture is turned into a slogan which is thoughtlessly bandied about, it can become a distortion and can mislead many. The idea that we are not "under law" in the sense that we do not need to consider God as our Sovereign Lord, Who gives us life, preserves us, and to Whom we owe all, and Whose Word is powerful and must be our guide in every area of life, is an impossible idea. Jesus is LORD! He bought us with a precious price[33] from the Satanic slave-traders, and we are eternally blessed to be His slaves, and no longer servants of the darkness. God is our Master, and we are joyful to call Him Father, and attend with care and diligence to His every Word. We treat every Word of God as loving Law, to conform our lives to it (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The "Danger" of Sanctification As we grow in grace, we perceive new areas in our lives where we have not become accustomed to obeying the Imperative Word of our Lord. This is true in our individual lives, and it will become more so culturally as we advance in the Faith beyond what our forefathers knew. King Jesus comforts us in this trek into the unknown by giving us two promises:

First, He says that if we obey those things that are obviously clear, we will be given insight into those things that constitute the ongoing growth of the Church (John 7:17). If our desire is to submit to the Imperative Word of God, we shall be given wisdom, starting with the small things we see clearly, then moving on to those things that were once beyond us.

Second, when Jesus expands on the Greatest Commandment, and tells us that to truly love the Lord is to obey His Commandments, He puts this in the context of the promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Read John 14:15-31. The passage begins with obedience: "If ye love Me, keep My Commandments." The message is repeated in verses 21-24: "If a man love Me, he will keep My Words." The passage ends in obedience -- the total obedience by the Son of His Father. Yet the passage is also talking about the coming of the Comforter -- the Holy Spirit. This is because only if the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts and our souls -- our whole being -- can we obey the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might. In conversion, the Christian undergoes radical surgery of his whole personality. After surgery he seeks the will of God, gaining strength in on-going recuperation and recovery. The whole passage is ably summarized by John in his epistle: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His Commandments: and His Commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:3). To the non-Christian, the Bible is oppressive, harsh, unreasonable. He then sets up his own law, which turns out to be truly tyrannical and arbitrary. To the Christian, God's Law is a constant delight (Psalm 119:1-176), and man's law is simply not deserving of the title "law" at all.

Exercises in the Worship of God's Sovereign Word

If the idea of worshiping God's Word by submitting to all of God's Word as Law strikes you as a novel and unScriptural notion, please consider how the great majority of Christians throughout history have treated God's Word. The modern idea that we can treat God's Word casually, or approach God as our equal is an idea without precedent in the history of the Church, and without foundation in Scripture. Let us consider how the Protestant Reformers treated the Bible, as we examine the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), written around 1645. The men who wrote these standards were great men of God, who fought with diligence and even gave their lives to preserve the Faith unshackled by works of liturgy and superstition, and spent time in jail rather than obey the commands of the church-state to be silent. These men contributed greatly to the freedoms we enjoy today, and all Godly people of our day will acknowledge their spiritual debt to them.

Let's look first at some forms of language that may not strike us at first as "commandments," but which the Reformers rightly saw must be accepted as Law from our Sovereign.


When the Omniscient Lord and Creator of the Universe asks a question, is He seeking information from us? Not likely. More often He is setting forth our duties, or prohibiting certain sins.

Micah was not seeking information when he asked, "What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God?" (Micah 6:8). A verbal statement of fact is an inadequate response; it is a Command from God, and demands an obedient response (WLC Q. 91).

When Moses asks, "What nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this Law, which I set before you this day?" (Deuteronomy 4:8), he is not asking for a geography lesson. He is bringing to our attention our privileged place in the Family of God, and thereby exhorting obedience (WLC Q. 99.5).

Because the Holy Spirit recorded Moses asking Joshua, "Enviest thou for my sake?" (Numbers 11:28-29), we rightly conclude that the Spirit is not pleased when one envies at the person or place of a superior; one who is led by the Spirit will avoid this sin (WLC Q. 128).

When a man of God asks Eli, "Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice, and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honorest thy sons above me?" (I Samuel 2:29), we know that no reason is possible; no "factual answer" is appropriate (Habakkuk 2:20). The Reformers would say that this question tells us that it is a sin to inordinantly set our affections on other things than God (WLC Q. 105).

When we read these questions in Scripture we must remember that it is the Lord Himself Who addresses us, and we must react to them as to a Law from our Sovereign.

Declarative Statements

The simple recitation of facts or the setting forth of a piece of information may not at first glance strike us as a Commandment of God. But we forget Who it is that addresses us in Scripture; it is the LORD. A "thou shalt" or a "thou shalt not" need not precede a statement for us to be obligated to treat it as Law.

Consider Deuteronomy 29:29. "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law." This is no idle fact. We should treat it as a command. We should ask what we might do in obedient response to this Word that we might please our Redeemer. The Reformers responded by saying that "bold and curious searching into His secrets" is a sin (WLC Q. 105). So should we. (Might it not also say something to us about the education of our children?)

Psalm 1:1 is a complex example of how a declarative statement functions as an imperative. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the unGodly nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." If our hearts are seeking the Lord's will, we will respond to the Spirit's Word by obediently refusing to mix with those who scorn God's grace. Proverbs 13:20 says, "Walk with the wise and be wise; mix with the stupid and be stupid." But if God commands us to stay away from scorners, it must be because God abhors scorners. We should therefore conclude that it is a sin to scorn God's ways (WLC Q. 113).

"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalm 14:1). Well, that's interesting. No, it's more than interesting. It is a declaration from the Lord of the Universe; it says that denying God is a sin (WLC Q. 105), even though the Bible nowhere says (in so many words) "Thou shalt not be a fool." God's Word is God's Law; sins to be avoided (I John 3:4) are not found only in parts of the Bible, but in every Word. See also Psalm 81:11 and WLC Q. 105.

Renaissance Humanists were offended at the Reformers' insistence that not only external actions, but even inward feelings and emotions were governed by God's Word. When David says, "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy Law" (Psalm. 119:136), the Reformers reasoned that the Spirit was commanding them to be sorrowful when in anything God is offended (WLC Q. 104). They came to the same conclusion when they read the declarative statements in Jeremiah 31:18.

The Bible never says "Thou shalt not commit forgery." Is forgery a sin? It is if only because in Psalm 119:69 the Spirit quotes David as saying, "The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart." This one verse is sufficient for the Reformers to conclude that forgery is a sin (WLC Q. 145).

When God declares what's on His Mind, the Godly response is one of obedience. All of God's Word is God's Law.


We have seen that when the King utters an exclamation, it is more often than not a command; it demands a response from the subjects, whose every movement in life must be geared to serving and honoring the King (Col. 3:17). Thus, when God records an exclamation in His Word, it is directed to us, and demands a response -- obedience.

When God tells us that David exclaimed, "O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy Name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1), He is actually commanding us with respect to our meditations (WLC Q. 112).

Is it a "sin" to apostatize? Can you find it specifically forbidden by an imperative ("Thou shalt not apostatize.")? Our forefathers in the Reformation understood that such an imperative was not strictly needed. We worship God's Word when we recognize Him commanding us through the exclamation of Isaiah (WLC Q. 105): "Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD..." (Isaiah 1:4). When God's covenant messenger makes such an exclamation, we should praise His Word by respecting it as Law.

Having looked at some basic forms of sentences, let us also examine the basic categories of the Bible, which usually include "Law," "History," "Proverbs," "Song," "Prophecy," etc.

Jewish "teachers of the law" distorted God's Law by failing to worship it (in the generic sense) and instead "worshiping" it only it its ceremonies and the ritual traditions which they added to it (Matthew 23:23; Mark 7:1-13). Since the ceremonies which they emphasized were contained primarily in the first five books of the Old Testament, they tended to call these books "the law." But Words which could be characterized as "Law" are found throughout the Bible, commanding duties and forbidding sins. Even the most "neutral" passages of the Bible must be reverently heeded. Let us begin with a most interesting category of Scripture.


The titles of some Psalms are inSpired; they are part of the original text of the Word. These titles, coming from our Lord, command us; they are the Word of our Sovereign.

The Reformers recognized this.

Psalm 92 is titled, "A Psalm or Song for the Sabbath Day." What should be your reaction when the Lord of the universe hands you a Psalm and says this is "A Song for the Sabbath Day." Is this just an interesting bit of theological trivia? The Reformers said we should consider ourselves hereby notified that singing is a part of the private worship of God on the Sabbath Day (WLC Q. 117).


Prophecy is not given to entertain us, or to provide writing material for Alvin Toffler and the futurists. Prophecy, coming as it does from the Mouth of the LORD, commands us. The basic function of prophecy is not merely prediction of future events, but even when a future event is predicted it is also a command for the present. Thus, many popular expositors tell us that the truly faithful Christian will believe all the things they say the book of Revelation means. But the book of Revelation tells us that the truly faithful will not just believe, but will obey, because prophecy commands (Rev. 1:3; 22:7,9). One of the important characteristics of God's Law-Word is that it is not to be added to or subtracted from. God alone is to command us, so man may not legislate, and God is to command us fully, so man must not subtract from the Law. Because prophecy is a Command Word from God, this same rule applies; compare Deuteronomy 4:12 with Revelation 22:18-19 to see this.

Perhaps we should say something about the Prophets. They are God's Covenant Messengers. They brought a "covenant lawsuit" (as Meredith Kline has called it) against those who had broken the terms of the covenant-treaty between man and God. As inSpired Agents from God, they carry the full authority of God Himself; their words are the Word of God. Thus, when a Prophet says that a nation has sinned against God by engaging in a certain activity, we must conclude that that activity is a sin, and against God's Law, even if the Ten Commandments or the "Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 21-23; cf. 24:7) do not explicitly mention that sin. (We have already seen that the Bible calls the Prophets' words "Law" on occasion.) John Calvin pointed out the Prophets' relationship to the "Law," that is, the books of Moses:

It is customary to make a great number of statements and dissertations about the office of the Prophets. But, in my opinion, the shortest way of treating this subject is to trace the Prophets to the Law, from which they derived their doctrine like streams from a fountain; for they placed it before them as their rule, so that they may be justly held and declared to be its interpreters, who utter nothing but what is connected with the Law. (Commentary on Isaiah, preface)

There is one Lord, therefore one Word. The Prophets are organically connected to the Law (Matthew 22:40); both are a Word from our Sovereign. The Prophets simply began with the books of Moses, applied them to the contemporary situation, and thus added to the corpus of God's Law.

The future of the Kingdom of Christ is one of prosperity combined with persecution (Mark 10:30). Since the prophets spell out a period of future evangelical prosperity, when men of all nations will pray to the Triune God of Scripture (Psalm 65:2), it is even now a duty for men to fulfill that prophecy by obeying it (WCF 21:3). When God sets the "Vine & Fig Tree" vision before us, we will begin to work to fulfill it, if we really love and honor the God Who spoke it.

On the other hand, were the prophets to predict that "in the last days rebellion and Mormons will abound more and more," we would get the feeling that Mormonism is forbidden -- in our day as well.

Thus we should be working to implement the Gospel promises of the Prophets. If the Bible promises a restoration of the original blessings and mandate of man as given in the Garden of Eden, we should be working to make that a present reality (Revelation 1:3; 21:1-22:21; Hebrews 12:22[34]).

In Psalm 22:4, the Psalmist made a prophecy concerning an event in the humiliation of our Lord, the Second Person of the Trinity: "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." This is not merely a prediction of future events in the life of Christ, although that is clearly most important. Far less is it merely a declarative utterance concerning David. This passage tells us that casting lots in violation of the Eighth Commandment is a violation of the Third Commandment as well (WLC Q. 113).

There are other uses of the Prophets' words: In Ezekiel 23:14ff., the Prophet describes pictures "of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion." Some people may assert that they can attend X-rated movies without actually sinning in heart or in actions. They may say that lascivious pictures or stage plays are not explicitly forbidden. The Reformation exegete, with Ezekiel 23:14ff. in his hand, will say that these things are indeed sins forbidden by the Law of God (WLC Q. 139. See also Q. 99, sec. 7).

Is it a sin to be a "capitalist pig?" Well, an inordinate seeking of profit is a sin, according to the declarative statement of Isaiah (56:10-11):

"His watchmen are blind...they are greedy dogs, which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter" (WLC Q. 130).

Curses and Blessings

When an inSpired Prophet of God places a curse or a woe upon some man or nation for its action, he has declared that action to be sin. The "curse" functions as Law. Likewise, when the Prophet declares a blessing upon some action, the action is thereby declared to be a Commandment of God.

The LORD told Samuel concerning Eli, "For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he frowned not upon them" (I Samuel 3:13). When the LORD says he will judge a man because he never displeased his children (I Kings 1:6) by authoritatively frowning on their rebellious behavior, we may be sure that it is a sin for a superior to favor an inferior in that which is evil (WLC Q. 130), and this applies to parents, employers, and government of all kinds (WLC Q. 124).

We are not told, in so many words, that unjust real estate inclosures and land depopulations are against God's Law. There is certainly nothing in a strictly imperative form that explicitly addresses these destructive economic phenomena. But because Isaiah pronounces a "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!" (Isaiah 5:8), and since Micah pronounces a Woe against them that "covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage" (Micah 2:1-2), we can conclude nothing other than that these practices are sins, generally forbidden by the Eighth Word, and against God's Law (WLC Q. 142).

If it were found nowhere else, we could still conclude that unGodly oaths are a sin, because Jeremiah declares that "because of swearing the land mourneth" (Jeremiah 23:10; WLC Q. 113).

It doesn't take an imperative to know that we must not command false worship or follow Humanistic law; Hosea has said it brings a curse: "Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to follow man's command" (Hosea 5:11; WLC Q. 109).

The curse of famine is promised by Amos to those who engage in business practices which are against God's Law. The LORD pronounces a curse on contractual injustice and unfaithfulness in interpersonal economic activity (Amos 8:5ff.). We must not hesitate to call such activities "sin" (WLC Q. 142) even though the relevant verses do not begin, "Thou shalt not. . . ."


We will not consider the Proverbs in this paper. Technically speaking, there are but a few imperative statements in the book of Proverbs. There are many declarations and questions, and statements that seem on the surface to be mere advice. But God does not give "advice," because God is not one expert among many; our relation to Him is that of vassal to Sovereign. His Word commands us if we praise Him and worship His Word as we should.

When the King says "It might be a good idea to do this" we should respect His Word and reverence it, and immediately change our ways to honor and obey the King.

Many, many Christians do not seriously heed the Law of God in the Proverbs because they have the mistaken notion that only imperatives are Law, and that Proverbs are only "advice."

Historical Narrative

The books of history in the Old Testament (Joshua through Nehemiah) are probably the dustiest parts of most people's Bibles. Of all parts of God's Word, these books are surely the earthiest and most "non-spiritual." The descriptions of day-to-day life in these books hardly fits in with the syrupy me-centered "today" evangelicalism of most Christians. What's even worse, these books contain few, if any, clear-cut imperatives. How are we to interpret these books? How are we to apply these books? Modern methods of interpretation and application have no answer to these questions, so the books of "history" have, for the most part, been ignored.

But the Reformers and Puritans knew well how to handle the "historical" sections of God's Word, and they applied them in concrete ways to their lives and their culture. These mighty men of God have crystallized two important principles for us to remember in reverencing God's historical narratives.

First, Society and Culture must be changed according to God's Word. The culture and fashion of the trendsetters and pundits is not our Standard: the Bible is. One way God has of governing cultural change is by recording both good and bad societies in the historical books of the Bible. The reigns of various kings are set before us in the Chronicles and the books of the kings. Sometimes these reigns are good, and we see that their culture was blessed with peace and prosperity. Other kings engage in policies that are evil, and they are cursed. Often God directly gives us a summary judgment of an entire reign (II Kings 18:1-7; II Chronicles 8:18). At other times, serious study is required to sift the good from the bad, after which study we must implement the good (I Thessalonians 5:21). But it is necessary to understand that our culture, manners, and traditions, are to be shaped according to the Word of God. No area or action in life is immune from Biblical scrutiny. One must be able to distinguish abiding principles of culture found in the Old Testament history from those things subject to technological advancement under the Dominion Mandate (Genesis 1:26-28; WLC Q. 92). That this is not an impossible task is amply demonstrated by the flourishing of Puritan culture.

Second, all of God's Word has an imperative character. We must remember the principle that we have already discussed -- that when a sovereign speaks, we must listen -- and obey! Even the books of history have an imperative character.

Suppose you are in the court of the king, eating dinner. You do not like spinach, so you scoot it over to the side of the plate. The king, seeing your action, gives you a short "history" lesson: "Young man," says the king, "I once knew a citizen of a far-away kingdom who ate his spinach every day. He became the richest and wisest man in the kingdom." Now remember, this is the king speaking to you, and he speaks with authority because he speaks with wisdom, experience and, presumably, love. What is going to be your reaction to his-story? If you don't immediately eat your spinach, you will be foolishly disobeying the king, even though he never used the words "Thou shalt..." or "I command you."

The application of this little parable goes even further when we discuss the Word of God. We have no right to play fast and loose with the historical books, as so many evangelical preachers do, by completely relativising the cultural and political direction of Scripture and then attaching some vague, pious-sounding platitudes to the end of a "sermon" from the historical books. These portions of God's Word are Law, prescribing duties and prohibiting sins, and applicable to our culture today.

Duties Prescribed

Because we do not worship God's Word as we should, we are not able to apply it in our lives as we should. The Fifth Commandment says "Honor thy father and thy mother." Many expositors of Biblical Law have rightly asserted that one of the implications of this command is that children must financially care for their parents in their old age. Yet many of us -- products of the 20th century -- may not be fully assured of this from Scripture. It is only because we do not know how to worship God's Word.

The Westminster Larger Catechism, written some 350 years ago and reflecting the wisdom of the Reformation, declared that financial maintenance of parents is commanded by God in His record of Joseph in the "historical" sections of Genesis 45-50, specifically, Genesis 45:11 and Genesis 47:12. In this passage, Joseph is recorded as helping to support his father in famine. God, in putting this example before us, is commanding us to do the same. On the basis of this passage we may conclude that a man who is financially neglecting his parents is in sin (WLC Q. 127).

The story that culminates in II Samuel 2:22 gives us ground for concluding that we are commanded to avoid even an occasion which tends toward the unjust taking away the life of any (WLC Q. 135).

The book of Esther is a lovely and at times dramatic story. But as it is a story told to us by God Himself, it is also to be worshiped by respecting it as Law. Thus, although a man under the authority of another must not believe that he is entitled to reward for simple obedience to his duties, and those in authority should not give their servants such an attitude (Luke 17:7-10), still, those in authority should reward such as do well (WLC Q. 129). God commands this by recording the kings' rewarding of Mordecai in Esther 6:3.[35]

The Westminster standards also recognized that the history of the acts of the Apostles is to be seen as God's Law-Word (WLC Q. 119).

Sins Forbidden

The Confessions and Standards of Faith in the Reformation tradition have always looked to the books of history to find duties imposed and sins forbidden by God's imperative Word. This shows that they properly reverenced God's Word.

Contempt for the ordinances of God is forbidden in the narrative of Exodus 4:24-26, according to Q. 109 of the Larger Catechism.[36]

A man in a position of authority sins if he commands that which is not in the power of the vassal to perform, because God recorded for us the account of the Egyptian taskmasters (Exodus 5:10-18; WLC Q. 130). To discourage them in what is good is also forbidden by the same book (Exodus 5:17; WLC Q. 130). The Godly man reads these historical accounts with reverence, which transforms them from mere "history" to authoritative Law.

In a passage we have already examined for the authoritative question posed therein, we saw a man of God confront Eli for his disobedience to God with respect to his handling of his children in a way which did not render a righteous judgment (John 7:24) which would teach his children to avoid sin. This account is recorded for us by a Sovereign Who wants us to avoid the same sin (WLC Q. 105).

The Reformers taught that imprecations and curses may be directed toward the enemies of God, but never toward the Godly. They listened to the historical accounts in I Samuel 17:43 and II Samuel 16:5 and heard therein the commanding Voice of the LORD (WLC Q. 113).

A final example from the standards of Reformed Christianity will serve to show that God's Word is Law and that His Law cannot be boxed into a few books of the Bible, or limited to those verses which begin with "Thou shalt not...." God tells us of Absolom's encouraging his servants to kill Amnon (II Samuel 13:28). The Reformers concluded that a superior is forbidden from encouraging and inferior in an evil act (WLC Q. 130). This view, of course, has very important political/legal consequences, even though it is supported by a passage from one of the dustier parts of our Bible.


When a person in a position of authority over us asks a question, makes an observation, or shouts an exclamation, we must receive his word with appropriate deference. When that Person is God, the appropriate degree of respect is nothing short of worship -- with our whole being; God Himself tells us so.

God's Word is thus God's Law. All of God's Word -- from cover to cover -- commands us in some way. We must listen to Him and be willing to obey.

God's Word legislates to some degree in every single verse, whether the subject is the Family, education, debt and economics, politics, even fashion and "culture."


(1) Genesis 18:14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.  [Back to text]

(2) Psalm 19:7-9 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. {8} The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. {9} The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.  [Back to text]

(3) Psalm 119:7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.  [Back to text]

(4) Psalm 119:86 All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully; help thou me.  [Back to text]

(5) Psalm 119:89 LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.  [Back to text]

(6) Psalm 119:129 PE. Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them.  [Back to text]

(7) Psalm 119:137 TZADDI. Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments.  [Back to text]

(8) Psalm 119:140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.  [Back to text]

(9) Psalm 119:142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.  [Back to text]

(10) Psalm 119:160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.  [Back to text]

(11) Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.  [Back to text]

(12) Luke 1:37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.  [Back to text]

(13) John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.  [Back to text]

(14) Psalm 9:2 I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.  [Back to text]

(15) Psalm 34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.  [Back to text]

(16) Psalm 56:4 In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.  [Back to text]

(17) Psalm 56:10 In God will I praise his word: in the LORD will I praise his word.  [Back to text]

(18) Psalm 68:4 Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.  [Back to text]

(19) Psalm 119:120 My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.  [Back to text]

(20) Psalm 119:161-162 SCHIN. Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word. {162} I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.  [Back to text]

(21) Psalm 138:2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.  [Back to text]

(22) Isaiah 66:5 Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.  [Back to text]

(23) John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  [Back to text]

(24) Romans 10:6-8 But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) {7} Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) {8} But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;  [Back to text]

(25) Deuteronomy 30:11-14 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. {12} It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? {13} Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? {14} But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.  [Back to text]

(26) We have seen in another paper how God's Law is love. God need not communicate with His creatures. There is no metaphysical reason why God could not leave us without a revelation. Thus, God's communication to us is an undeserved act of God's Grace. God is a personal God; God is love. Thus, in the same way every Word of God is Law to us, His servants, every Word of a loving God is a Word of Love to the beneficiaries of His electing grace, and therefore God's Law is Love.  [Back to text]

(27) Not to deny that prophecy also prepares us for the future, and songs can generate the romance we share with our spouse, but they also function as law in another respect.  [Back to text]

(28) Assuming you are an obedient jester. If you are in rebellion against the king and are initiating a revolution, then your words are an excellent example of unbridled defiance. Failure to treat the king's words as commands is either stupidity or insubordination.  [Back to text]

(29) "Honor thy Father and Mother" has long been interpreted by the teachers of the Church to include employers, and all others in authority over us.  [Back to text]

(30) I Tim. 5:1-2; Judges 17:10; I Sam. 24:11,21; Acts 7:2; 2 Kings 2:12; 5:13; 13:14; Gal. 4:19; Gen. 45:8; Judges 5:7; etc.  [Back to text]

(31) Isa. 66:2  [Back to text]

(32) John 6:63; Ezekiel 33:15; Psalm 67:2; Proverbs 4:22; 6:23; Acts 2:28; 1 John 5:3.  [Back to text]

(33) His own blood  [Back to text]

(34) See The Meaning of Vine & Fig Tree, Essay Six.  [Back to text]

(35) This point may be disputed in light of the moral state of the person involved, or of other passages. Our point is simply that attempting to find Law in passages like this is a standard way of approaching God's Word among those who have learned from the great Protestant Reformers and others throughout church history.  [Back to text]

[36] This point may be disputed in light of the moral state of the person involved, or of other passages. Our point is simply that attempting to find Law in passages like this is a standard way of approaching God's Word among those who have learned from the great Protestant Reformers and others throughout church history.  [Back to text]

[37] Of course, even asking "How high?" could be an act of disobedience. It's better than asking "Why?" but it's still wrong. Just jump! Jump as high as you possibly can and still be assured of a safe landing! God says children are a blessing, and we modernists ask, "How many?"  [Back to text]

[38] John 4:21,23 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. (23} But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  [Back to text]

Christmas Conspiracy


Vine & Fig Tree

Paradigm Shift


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