When my family and I moved down to Corpus Christi from Nebraska a little over two years ago, I had only been in Texas twice my whole life before then. I figured South Texas and Nebraska were basically the same (I mean, both states are really into beef, how different can we be?). The day we drove down and started unpacking in the heat of the summer, we stopped for a break and someone came up to me and said, “y’all fixin’ to go to Stripes?” I had no idea what they were talking about and I knew right then and there, I wasn’t in Nebraska any more and had a lot to learn. When God brought His people out of slavery, they knew very little of this God that had rescued them, so God had to teach them about Himself and how to serve Him.
The book of Genesis ends on a high point. It appears that God has provided for His people in a new land, in Egypt. But Joseph knew that this was not home. Before he died, he specifically told his family that he was to buried in Canaan, not in Egypt. The book of Exodus begins at a low point. What appeared to be a great place for God’s people, living in Egypt, has now become a nightmare. Imagine being a part of a people that were slaves for 400 years. 400 years ago was 1619, when Jamestown was being established as a British colony in Virginia. Think of all the things that have happened in American history since then and then imagine if your people were slaves for that long. It would be all you know, but after the perfect amount of time, God sends someone to rescue His people.
We love to hear about the plagues: blood, frogs, an angel of death and the wall of water that crushes Pharoah’s army, but we must not miss this. Here it is, as Paul David Tripp puts it, “God is willing to unleash his mighty power for the rescue of His people. Harness the forces of nature, control the events of human history, rise and fall of kings and princes, so at just the right moment a redeemer will come to rescue us from slavery. Not national slavery or political, but slavery from sin. God does unthinkable, magnificent things just because he loves his people.” The story of Israel is our story. We all are in Egypt, slaves to sin, lorded over by the evil Pharaoh, who is Satan and our own sinful flesh. We have no hope or future but God in his marvelous grace sends a deliverer to set us free.
The people of Israel were free now but they had no idea what it meant to be free. They were in a new land, being led by a God they did not know, nor how to worship or serve Him. They had been Egyptian slaves so long that’s all they knew. So God led them to a mountain in the wilderness of Sinai and there He would speak to them. Who was this God that destroyed all the Egyptian gods and brought the greatest kingdom at that time to its knees? In Exodus 19, God introduces Himself:
it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.
How do you think the people reacted? We find out in Exodus 20.
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.”
We like the picture of God being like the father of the prodigal son, watching and waiting for us and running to hug us but we forget that the first thing we must know about our God is that He is to be feared. Psalm 115:3 says “our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases”. He is the creator and we are His creatures. The people of Israel had a full-body experience with God, they saw the smoking mountain, they felt the earthquake, and they heard the voice of God, and they thought they were going to die because they got just a taste of the power of their creator.
If you are like me, I oftentimes think God is something He is not. Someone more like me. CS Lewis captures this wrong way of thinking about God in the book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe . This is when the children all first come to Narnia and meet Mr. Beaver. This is a conversation between Mr. Beaver and Susan. Mr. Beaver says “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
We want to make God safe. More like us. If God is safe, then we get to pick and choose what we will obey and when. If God is safe then we get to decide how we live our lives and when and where we can fit God into it. If God is safe, then doing what is wrong and sinning is not really all that bad.
You see God is not safe. God’s word cuts like a two-edged sword. He will tell you to sacrifice the things you want to do and instead to do things for His glory. He will call you to suffer for His name. To do hard things when others are choosing the easy way. He will command you to repent and turn from your sin or face His consequences. When I put God where He belongs as king in my life, what will happen is when God commands it, I will say “yes sir” and do it.
We don’t think enough of God. We certainly don’t think highly enough of God. We must come to Mt. Sinai and be reintroduced to a God who shakes the earth and at His word all creation trembles.
When confronted with the holiness of God, the only proper and fitting response is to fall on your face and worship. It is no coincidence that following this encounter with God, the people of Israel are immediately given the ten commandments. And the first part of the ten commandments is what? How to properly worship this holy God. And not die. More on that next week.