Philip Yancey in his chapter on Deuteronomy in The Bible Jesus Read makes this point.
When God makes a list of commandments, Love takes first place, the basis of his whole relationship with humanity. God meets in a tent and discusses policy, as a man speaks to a friend. He listens, and he argues back. God also feels pain. When jilted, God suffers like any wounded lover. He makes threats, then backs down from them. He negotiates and signs contracts.
This last fact, above all, separated the Hebrews from their neighbors. Even the haughty Egyptians lived in fear of their capricious gods. The Canaanites sacrificed children to appease their unpredictable gods. But the God of the Hebrews proved willing to sign a contract detailing exactly what he expected from his people, and what he promised in return. p. 92
I think Yancey makes a good point in his second paragraph. To have the creator God come down and enter into a contract with us? Well that really enlivens us in good ways and bad. To have a quid-pro-quo with him. To be able to predict how he will respond to us. That really excites our instrumental, and our aspirations at god-hood, but he does so.
Under the other gods we have been children of alcholics. They are capricious, unpredictable, unreasonable. Like the children or slaves we are vulnerable to the capricious whims of the gods. We desperately seek to curry favor with them, to manipulate them, to woo them so that we can somehow gain control of the ultimate forces of the universe. This makes seeking power through technology look like small potatoes.
Here this God of the Hebrews comes, and he’s willing to put stuff in writing. He’s accessible through his tent of meeting/tabernacle/temple/prophets arrangement. You can do business with him. This revs our engine. All the really good and greedy reaches of our deepest urges are aroused.
The consequential parts are not hidden in fine print. They are bold and terrible. Hungry parents fighting over the flesh of their children as enemy armies besiege the city. Exile, famine, despair. All there in black and white.
Perhaps we assumed we could refinance before the really nasty bits would take effect.
Eventually the horror sinks in. We can’t make the payments. We can’t keep our end. Now there it all is in black and white. Can he be put off? Is there another way?
NT Wright’s book Justification defines God’s righteousness as his faithfulness in keeping his covenant. When it comes to the Mosaic law he is feared. He is righteous and we are unrighteous. Someone has to interceed, a kinsman-Redeemer who can purchase us out of the covenant curses because we can’t do it ourselves.