The Ten Commandments. The building blocks of Judaism and, thus, Christianity. Many of us were raised with them, and were taught them from a young age. They are posted in Sunday school class rooms and displayed in prominent places. You could probably rattle them off from memory. However, we must be careful that familiarity doesn’t breed nonchalance. The Ten Commandments are not something we should take lightly. They are the standards our holy God set for us to be a people worthy of His name.
Remember the point in Israel’s history we’ve been studying? After leaving Egypt the Israelites finally arrived to the first and only planned stop on the itinerary as ex-slaves: Mount Sinai. Here, God began reestablishing His covenant with Israel, and the Ten Commandments were the beginning of the moral code He gave them to live as His chosen people.
Even though I’ve memorized this passage before, I always pictured the Ten Commandments being given directly to Moses. Childhood storybook Bibles seem to depict the scene that way—God and Moses on Mount Sinai and God chiseling out the commandments on stone. However, the reality is that these commands were personally spoken by God to the assembled children of Israel. That’s a completely different backdrop for this event!
Remember the scene we delved into last week? The power and majesty of God visually set before the Israelites in a cloud of fire and smoke on Mount Sinai? Well, from that thunder, smoke, and fire, God spoke—and for the first time, Israel heard the audible voice of the LORD. And what did the LORD say?
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Imagine what that must have been like! Out of the thunder comes a booming, audible voice that declares the expectations of the living God. It would have made a lasting impression! The Ten Commandments were not just a list of rules Moses carried down from Mount Sinai. They were commands God personally gave to His chosen people. He spoke and all Israel heard. No one could claim ignorance. And in the midst of the trembling and fear, I’m sure every single person present fully intended to obey.
But rather than being amazed and awed by God’s voice speaking to them personally, the Israelites became more afraid. So afraid that they preferred not to hear directly from God. They decided that they didn’t want anything to do with the thunder, lightning, and voice of God but wanted Moses to be their representative. How sad! Yes, God’s voice was terrifying, but it was an amazing opportunity to hear directly from God. Yet the Israelites were too afraid to enjoy it. So one of the saddest things happened, the people withdrew from the presence of God. But notice what Moses did.
“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Why wasn’t Moses afraid? Why was he able to fearlessly walk directly into the darkness where God was? The children of Israel were terrified, but why wasn’t Moses?
The difference is that Moses had a personal relationship with God. He knew God’s character and nature. He knew that while God is holy and powerful, he didn’t need to tremble in terror because God loved him and chose him. Therefore, he was able to fearlessly walk up the mountain to where God was.
The Israelites pulled back. They put distance between themselves and God. Moses did the opposite. Those who do not know God personally will pull back when they encounter the awesomeness of God. They will not be filled with wonder and awe; they will be filled with terror. They will want nothing to do with Him. But those who have a personal relationship with God will want to draw closer—closer to the living Creator—and deeper into His presence.
When God speaks into your life, how will you respond? Will you fall away in fear as the Israelites did, and want nothing to do with a personal encounter with God? Or will you draw closer like Moses?
God wants us to know Him. He doesn’t want us to pull back in fear when we hear His voice. He wants us to come closer. To enter the mountain where He is and learn more about who He is. But in order for us to do that, we must desire a relationship with Him. The God of the universe is offering an invitation to know Him and be known by Him. Will we accept the invitation?
I hope so! For in the presence of God, there is fullness of joy. On the mountain with God, great things happen. So don’t be afraid of the thunder or lightning, but listen for the voice of God and climb the mountain to be with Him. When God speaks, let’s draw closer like Moses did and not be like the Israelites who pulled away.
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