The trouble with rules is, they need to be enforced. The bigger trouble with rules is, they always have exceptions. Maturity is the ability to live an orderly life without rules, it is knowing where the boundaries are without a fence. At Mount Sinai, God was setting up fences for immature people. The Ten Commandments are God’s law made simple. God’s Law is eternal because it is a revelation of the eternal principles that underly creation but its greatest revelation is not on cold slabs of stone but in the living Christ. Jesus was mature and, in His maturity, knew that adultery goes beyond illicit relationships: it is the objectification of a human being (that means a man objectifying his wife is guilty of adultery).
As glorious a revelation of God’s Law as Jesus is, the Law as expressed at Sinai is glorious too. Here, we see God condescending to make His law accessible to a lawless people: building fences for those who don’t know where the boundaries are. The rules may seem harsh and the tolerance for slavery and gender inequality troubling but this is because these people lived in harsh times and were to immature to handle big issues such as the equality of all humanity. Even today, we still have slavery: look at the businessmen who expect people to work without pay for “experience” and “exposure”. God never leads faster than we can follow. A glance at the law shows that we follow very slowly.
In fact, we just cannot live up to the Law. We often talk about the nine commandments and leave out the last one, the one that tells us not to even want to do bad stuff. There are people who can tick every commandment but alas, nobody can tick the last one (remember the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18) yet it is the unbridled longing for evil that drives us to do the terrible things we do. Thus, the Law loudly hints at the height of God’s righteousness and points out the depths of hopeless human depravity: we can’t even obey the law simplified. We need intervention. We desperately need a Saviour.
As long as we live on this earth, we will have the immature, people who can’t see the boundary without a fence. These people need rules. God, however, is progressing. He is leading us to where we don’t need rules. He is a mature God longing for relationship with mature people. Rules can never make an immature person, mature just as much as fences don’t stop the unruly from jumping them. They hem us in so we can grow up and learn from Jesus where the boundaries are and why they exist. It is only trusting in Jesus and leaning on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit that matures. We need to grow up but until then, we need rules!