Today we are in the Old Testament meeting with Moses and the Israelites. The Old Testament is often perceived as boring, but the stories and lessons God gives through these “great men of old” are as important today as they were thousands of years ago.
Before we dive into the story, let’s take a moment to talk about Moses. Moses was the one who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. He faced Pharaoh and parted the Red Sea, he communed with God on a mountaintop and was the recipient of the Ten Commandments. Sounds like a pretty extraordinary guy. But did you know he was also timid and unsure, yet full of anger and rage? He begged God for Aaron to go with him when he faced Pharaoh because he was afraid his stuttering would cause him trouble, he killed a man in Egypt who was beating one of the Israelites (anyone else sense the irony there), and when he saw the golden calf the Israelites had made he went into a fit of rage and threw down the tablets that GOD HIMSELF HAD WRITTEN ON and broke them. So really, Moses isn’t so unlike us after all! We so often only remember the great things these Old Testament guys did and forget that they were sinful humans just like us!
Now, on to the story. God has brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and they are traveling in the desert. Let’s take a quick trip into the past to see all that God has done for them thus far.
- Used the ten plagues to secure their exodus from Egyptian slavery.
- Provided pillars of cloud and fire to direct them through the wilderness.
- Split the Red Sea so the Israelites escaped and the Egyptian army drowned.
- Made the bitter water taste sweet.
- Sent manna from heaven so they wouldn’t starve.
- Gave drinking water from a rock.
- Defeated Amalek.
As you can see, there is no doubt that God has been providing for them (even though they whined and complained). We are entering the story about three months after the Israelites exodus from Egypt, when they arrive at Mount Sinai. Let’s start in chapter 19, verse 3.
[then] Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine.
When the Israelites heard God’s command they said “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (v.8) Moses passes their answer on to God who replies with “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” (v.9)
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mt. Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, AND GOD ANSWERED HIM IN THUNDER. The Lord came down on Mt. Sinai, to the top of the mountain and Moses went up. Exodus 19:16-20
Wow! Just let that sink in for a minute. The people of Israel were witnesses to God’s great glory in a way that most of us will never experience!
At this point, God calls Moses and Aaron up to the mountaintop where they receive the Ten Commandments. The Israelites are still there observing and “[they] were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off” (v.18) yet Moses says “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (v.20). So Moses and Aaron stay on the mountain and get a bunch of rules from God.
Now we jump over to Exodus 24:3. Moses descends from the mountaintop “…and [tells] the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” and then again in verse 7 “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Then God calls Moses up again, this time with Joshua. Moses leaves them with this command. “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you.” (v. 14) And with that, Moses heads up the mountain for a third time.
“Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (24:17-18)
Now let’s do a quick recap. The Israelites have escaped Egypt, they experienced God is a million ways, they have promised to obey his commands, they have seen his presence on the mountain and then this happens…
Exodus 32 – “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him. ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold…and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their rings of gold…and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”
Next to The Fall, this has to be one of the saddest set of verses in the Bible. The Israelites had full on encountered God in tangible ways and yet when they got tired of waiting for their leader to return from communing with The Leader and they threw up their hands in frustration and turned their backs on the Almighty Creator of the Universe.
How many times have we done that in our own lives? We have seen God move and work and provide. We have experienced him in our times of worship. We have rested in his Word, trusting that everything we read is true. But then the battle rages on and we begin to grow tired of the fight. Or maybe there isn’t a battle, maybe we are in a period of waiting for the next move and we grow tired of listening for his answer. Whatever it is, we in essence throw up our hands and say, sorry God, I’ve know you’ve always provided in the past but this time I’m done with you. Can’t you just hear God’s heart breaking?
So how do we keep from reaching that point? It all has to do with diligence. Let us do as Deuteronomy says in chapter 6 and 11 and keep his word in our hearts. Let us talk about all he has done. Let us teach our children of his goodness. Let us write his promises on the doorposts of our houses and gates. For in the fighting and in the waiting we are sure to grow weary, but we must not turn away. We must not forget what God has done. We must not give up hope that he is still providing and making a way. Because sometimes God is working in ways we don’t see. Sometimes the work is buried so far in the depths of who we are that we can’t realize there is still something going on, but there is.
So hold on. Keep communing. Keep praying. Keep remembering. And when the time comes and the battle ends or the answer shows up out of the blue, give all the praise and glory to God, for he was working all along, showing us great and mighty things that only he could do.
The waiting will grow tiresome, but the victory of holding on will be worth every pain we experience along the way. Don’t give up…he’s not finished with you yet!