I cannot really say it is my favourite story, because I have many favourites – equal favourites… non-gradable. I have some of the stories of the Bible so burnt into my mind, that it is part of my basic outlook on life for as long as I can remember. So, let’s us have look at one of the favourites – again. We have talked about this in a previous Pebble. Read with me in Exodus 32, but also note that the beauty and splendour of God’s Word flow into chapters 33 and 34. Just keep on reading.
This nation that God led out of slavery, through the miracle of the Red Sea and countless more miracles over forty years through the wilderness, is camping at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses has gone up the mountain to meet with God. The people are restless. They have no idea what is happening on the mountain. God is speaking to the leader. The people have to wait and trust, but impatience sets in.
Waiting for God’s timing is a key issue in the normal Christian life.
The smoke on the mountain is symbolic of the mystery that time and again surrounds God’s actions. It is often not clear what God is doing and indeed if He is working at all. We seldom get the detailed plan ahead. Would we submit to the work of God if we knew what He was going to do, or would we arrogantly pray for him to change his mind?
Jesus answers our doubts.
But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17)
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:6)
Our God works, our God sees. Never doubt whether prayer has been heard or that prayer will be answered.
There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. [Andrew Murray: With Christ in the School of Prayer]
There on the mountain God is laying the foundation of God-ordained living. He is giving Moses the law – the epitome of living according to God’s principles.
Furthermore, there were thunder and lightning and darkness – all scary things. When God works, things are a bit scary.
“Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. (Deuteronomy 4:11)
It is not so clear where this would end. It is not clear how the work of God is going to change my life. In our human mind the future is dark, symbolizing the unknown.
So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:21)
In the mystery, the people shied away from the leadership of Moses, which they could not understand, which was not clear, which was clouded in darkness and mystery and decided to do their own thing.
There is a bit of comedy to consider here in the fleshly, impatience of the Israelites. They beg Aaron to make an idol. Let us make gods to go before us,they say. They fall into the old habits of the idols of Egypt from which they came, who worshipped cattle gods. They want to make something familiar, something comfortable, something to their own taste. They reduce a mysterious, unknowable God working on their behalf in the unseen, to something in the seen, which is controllable.
God’s action in my life is too inconvenient, too out of the ordinary – is that you are thinking? It is too hard to persevere and seek his presence, too difficult to understand and as we all know – uncertainty puts us out of our comfort zone.
That is exactly where you should be right now. God’s work in this worldwide crisis is not perceivable. It is a mystery. We need patience and perseverance to taste the goodness of God. (Psalms 34)
Do all things without complaining and disputing, (Philippians 2:14)
When I complain I am saying: God I don’t like what you are doing and if I were you, I would have done it differently. I was taught that in the teaching of John Bevere.
These words sound like rebellion and rebellion is witchcraft.
Complaining will get you in front of the golden calf who gobbles up your valuables. Aaron used a crafting tool and crafted a calf from their golden rings and jewelry. They sacrificed to the calf saying this is our god who brought us out of Egypt. How could it be possible that they ascribe the many miracles of Yahweh to an idol – WOW!
Do we describe miracles with references to coincidence or human action? What is our golden calf?
When Moses is sent down the mountain by God, he explodes. The feast around the calf was noise in God’s ears. God is not against feasting. God ordained parties – seven feasts a year with jubilation – that is music in his ears.
Now Aaron says: I cast the gold in the fire and out comes this calf. Comical how he tries to justify himself in the face of Moses’ anger. Very innocently he obeyed the people and did the popular thing.
Moses is furious, breaks the tablets of the law and make the people sick by letting them drink the gold of the calf. God is ready to abandon his project with the nation and says:
Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:3)
It is as if He says today: I will ease this plague. I will give you what you want. I will give you the provision of My promise. I will hold nothing back. I will answer all your desires, bring you out of slavery, provide for in every way in a land flowing with milk and honey, but I won’t go with you.
[I can say this because the Word says God never goes back on his promise. Romans 11:29]
Think for a moment what your answer will be. In the desert with God or in the promised land without him.
Moses is in the middle – a true prophet. He pitches his tent outside the camp, away from the people, out of the reach of their complaints, gossip, illness and rebellion. He meets with God.
God listens to Moses pleading for the nation. This conversation with God is an amazing example of intercessory prayer. He stands in the gap. He brings the people to God and the word of God to the people. He is a true prophet. God speaks to him like a friend. (Exodus 33:11)
He goes so far as to remind God that this nation is his (God’s) people.
But these important words from Moses is the core of our existence. This is what makes the church truly church of God:
“If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33)
This is what makes us the body of Christ. This is what makes us different. The presence of God. We would rather be in the wilderness with God, than in the land of milk and honey without God.
God says: My presence will go with you and I will give you peace.
Peace in the Presence – that is the goal – Shalom (Hebrew) and Eirene (Greek). It is wholeness, lacking nothing, no limitations. It is guaranteed success of reaching the goal of God’s plan.
“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being, I announce them to you.” (Isaiah 42:8,9)
Seek his presence, even in the thick darkness, for the announcement of new things. Do not be afraid to persevere in dark times. God is in the darkness. Thick darkness is completely blinding. It is when you cannot even see your hand in front of your face. In the mystery, with all the scary sounds, when we have to rely fully on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the best place to be. God is light but found in the thick darkness. Do not fear troubled times.
God works individually – it is now the time to seek him personally and secretly (in the mystery of your own soul) and very earnestly.
Remember joy. Let nothing steal your joy, even when things feel very oppressive and dark. God is the source of joy.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughing, and your lips with rejoicing. (Job 8:21)