In Hebrew, a negative command is not given by negating an imperative, but rather it is done by use of two constructions:
al + jussive
lo + the imperfect
The lo + imperfect construction expresses a general prohibition, whereas the al + jussive construction expresses a more emphatic and immediate negative command.
Now with this knowledge of Hebrew syntax in mind, when we look at the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20 and later in Deuteronomy 5, we see that they are given with the lo+ imperfect construction instead of the expected al+ jussive construction which carries more force. Why is this? Is God merely suggesting that we don’t do these things? “I’d really like you not to kill or steal, so if you would please not do it that would be great. Thanks.” I don’t think so. I think there is something much greater going on here which reveals the true glory and love of God. God does not bark out the command like an angry drill sergeant, forcing us by all means to obey Him. Instead, God has given us free will. He tells us that we shall not steal, kill, commit adultery, etc. as a general prohibition, but He does not force us to obey. That would deny us our freedom and it would negate love. Love is a free act of the will. We are given the free choice to reject God or to obey and thus love Him. Now, I am not by any means suggesting that there are not any repercussions for not obeying the 10 Commandments. Free will comes with responsibilities and consequences for actions. If we fail to obey the Commandments there are surely punishments for not doing so. It is the same for any child that does not do the will of his father. But God will not force us to obey. That is the key. As the Baltimore Catechism teaches, God made us so that we would “know Him,…love Him, and…serve Him in this world, and…be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” We cannot love God if we are forced to do so. That is the very antithesis of love. It is coercion. And that is why God gave us free will; so we could freely love and serve Him in this world in order to be happy with Him in the next.