“Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ ” Exodus 20:18-19
The children of Israel were interested in being freed from slavery. They were interested in being protected from their enemies. They were interested in the assurance that their food and water were being provided for them. They were interested in many things but they weren’t interested in being close to God and hearing his voice.
Quite frankly, God’s presence and his voice scared them to the depths of their beings.
God’s powerful. God’s righteous and holy. God’s unpredictable to the human way of thinking.
I can understand why Israel would have been afraid. If I’d been drawn into the same situation I can imagine that I might have experienced a significant amount of fear as well. And in fact that may have been exactly what God wanted.
You see one of the first things God has to overcome when we enter into a relationship with him is the way we think about him and what we think it means to have a relationship with him.
The gods of the Egyptians, with whom most of the Israelites had much more experience, were not real gods at all. They were make believe, fairy tale creations at best and demonically reinforced superstitions at worst. In either case, any experience these false gods gave to the children of Israel, when it came to entering into a covenant with God and truly participating in worship, was of no help whatsoever.
Our focus text tells us that the people “stood afar off” when they heard God’s voice and witnessed all the signs that accompanied his presence. Earlier in chapter twenty we’re told that Moses had led the people to the base of the mountain and now we find that the people have retreated.
God’s made several things clear to them and they’re things that they need to clearly understand if they’re going to truly be his people; He’s real, He’s mighty, He’s holy, and He’s here.
Moses endeavors to reassure the people without undoing any progress God may have made, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”
If we’re going to be righteous before God we need to learn to take him seriously. He’s God. Perhaps we, like Israel, are just beginning to learn what that means. We need to be like Moses and stay close to God and learn from God’s closeness and not be like the children of Israel who ran away.