Daily D – Exodus 20:18-21
Exodus 20:18-21 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ex 20:18–21.
This is usually the first thing out of my mouth when I am asked to speak at one church or another. I also hold up my hands so that people can see my empty palms. My seminary preaching professor would not approve, most likely. Why begin in this manner?
Half the time when I speak, the sound system operator forgets to turn on my microphone until after my first sentence. Since my preaching professor drilled into us the importance of arresting attention with the first words out of our mouths, those words should be audible to everyone in the room. “Howdy” provides an opportunity for the sound operator to remember to turn up the volume.
Why the open palms? A study a few years ago explained what sets audiences at ease when listening to a speaker. Eye contact, as you might guess, is important. So also is it important for the audience to feel safe. If the speaker places his or her hands in pockets, people wonder like Gollum in The Hobbit, “What’s it got in its pocketeses?” Open hands remove a barrier of anxiety.
Go thou and do likewise.
Here we have another text about a test. Pharaoh flunked all of his tests. How did that work out for him and for his nation? So far in this book, Israel has passed one test only to fail the next. Here we have a test leading to a phrase we read again and again throughout the remainder of the Old Testament.
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
The overwhelming presence of God was much too much for the people. His voice was too loud. He shouted in their ears. The thunder, lightning, and smoke made them tremble with fear.
Moses calls this a test. God in his perfect holiness is too pure, too intense, too overpowering for a sinful human to remain alive and unafraid in his presence. The nearer we draw into his presence, the clearer we see the sin spots and blemishes of our lives. The more we see God for who he is, the more we see ourselves for who we are. No wonder the Bible records people who have close encounters with God as shrinking back in fear and attempting to hide themselves from his presence.
The Fear of the LORD motivates us to live on our best behavior. Yes, this term can indicate deepest reverence and absolute awe, but do not miss the idea of sheer terror associated with God’s perfect holiness and the sin in our lives building barriers between us.
The Bible contains 366 commands to Fear Not. These commands come to those who have found favor with God. They are spoken to people who reacted naturally to the presence of our Holy God. Fear of God is a fitting motive for avoiding sinful behavior.
We never understand how problematic our sins are until we draw closer to God at his initiation and invitation. We never pray for forgiveness like we do when we realize how holy he is. We never understand God’s mercy and grace until we experience freely and humbly confessing our sins and seeking his forgiveness.
Fear is a powerful motivator. It keeps most people from jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, for example. How do we overcome the Fear of God? First John 4:18 helps us at this point:
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
The Apostle John who wrote these words also wrote Revelation 1:12-17. Notice his testimony in verse 17:
This is definitely the Fear of the LORD. But notice what happens next.
Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!
And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
John was perfectly afraid. He was also perfectly loved. That perfect love empowered him to stand, to follow Jesus’ directions to write what he had seen, what was going on then and there, and what was to come.
The Fear of the LORD leads us to repentance, confession, and forgiveness. The perfect love of God leads us to productive, effective, and purposeful living.
See God for who he is in all his glory. Confess your sinfulness like Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6:1-8). Cover your head like Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19:13). Fall on your knees like those who encountered the risen Jesus. Experience God’s mercy and grace. Live in utmost reverence.
I will live in utmost reverence and in unending awe.
Our Father, I have often been afraid I was going to sin one sin too much and you were going to eliminate me as a problematic stain upon this world. Then you showed me how your grace is greater than all my sin. I humbly bow before your perfect holiness. I joyfully receive your loving forgiveness and redirection. Thank you for pointing out my sins. Thank you for forgiveness and reconciliation. Thank you for perfect love to reshape my thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Make me an expression of your love to everyone I meet. May they anticipate your kindness when they see me. Amen.
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Psalm 139:17, 18 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!
2 Corinthians 5:1-5 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 10:13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.