Statutes, Judgments, and Commandments

What are the “statutes,” the “judgments,” and the “commandments” of the Lord? Why are those words so often combined? For example, in Helaman’s letter to Captain Moroni, he praises the two thousand stripling soldiers in these words:

They have received many wounds;
nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free;
and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day;
yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually;
and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.
(Alma 58:40, bold added)

The word “statutes” appears 13 times in the Book of Mormon, always combined with “judgments” or “commandments” or both. When the word appears in the King James Version of the Bible, it is usually a translation of the Hebrew word choq (חֹק) or the feminine form of the word: chuqqah (חֻקָּה). Both words refer to something “established,” “prescribed,” or “defined.” So the word conveys a sense of substantiveness: something that really exists, even if it seems intangible, something that has been established by God and should be taken seriously.

The word “judgments” appears with “statutes” nine times in the Book of Mormon. In the King James Version it is usually a translation of the Hebrew word mishpat (מִשְׁפָט), which refers to the proceedings of a courtroom. Unlike statutes, which define the law, judgments represent decisions about how the law should be applied to specific circumstances. We can learn to have good judgment and to make better decisions by observing and following the pattern of judgments made by God.

Finally, the word “commandments” appears 11 times with “statutes” in the Book of Mormon. In the King James Version it is usually a translation of the Hebrew word mitsvah (מִצְוָה). The word indicates that you have been directed to do something, so action is implied. You may choose to ignore or defy a commandment, but the expectation has been set: you know what you have been asked to do.

So these three words convey three different aspects of God’s laws:

  1. They are real and important (statutes)
  2. They represent God’s wisdom and can guide us to make better decisions (judgments)
  3. They tell us what God expects us to do (commandments)

Today, I will be grateful for the statutes, the judgments, and the commandments of God. I will strive to follow the example of Helaman’s young soldiers by keeping God’s law.

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