Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Exodus 20:18-21 ESV
Could you imagine what it must have been like to experience the power and the presence of God in such a mighty way? God came before the Israelites with trumpet sound, with thunder, with lightning, and with smoke. And He spoke to them. God spoke audibly to the children of Israel! What an incredible miracle to behold!
And frightening I’m sure.
Imagine physically hearing the voice of God. Imagine seeing a mountain in smoke. Imagine the deafening thunder and the blinding lightning.
But thankfully for the Israelites, in the midst of His mighty display, God shared His motivation for such a demonstrative presentation of His power: that the Israelites would fear (revere) Him. God knew if the Israelites had a healthy fear of Him, then they’d refrain from sin. They would steer away from sin because they respected the holy God. And wouldn’t that be true for anyone? When we have a deep respect for someone, we do our best to please that person. We would never willfully hurt someone we revere.
Yet the Israelites did not react according to God’s desire. Sure, they feared. Yet they feared for themselves. They fell away in fear instead of falling near in fear. They ran away from God’s presence instead of into it. They feared for their physical lives more than their spiritual. They were so afraid of messing up, of touching the mountain, that they ran away from the very One whose Presence was on the mountain. They could not handle–or maybe did not want to handle–the immense responsibility that accompanies God’s presence.
So the Israelites chose to back up instead of bow down.
The Israelites didn’t look at God and bow in reverent fear; they looked at God, looked at themselves, and then ran away. They assumed their lives were better off far away than near. The apparent pressure of God’s presence was too much for them. It seemed safer to them to back away instead of bow down. Of course, they did not realize pulling away was the exact opposite of what would keep them safe. Drawing near to God, no matter how frightening it may seem at first, is always the best choice. The temporary pain of a humble heart is worth the eternal glory of a life lifted up by the Lord.
Now I will say as an outsider looking in–as one whose hindsight is 20/20–I am in awe at what the Israelites were able to witness. And I confess as I read the above passage I thought to myself (with a little indignant pride present), “If I were there, I would have bowed down immediately and worshiped. I wouldn’t have run away. I would have relished the opportunity to be in God’s presence and audibly hear His voice.” But of course, I wasn’t there, and there is no way to really know what I would have done.
Yet regardless of the choice I think I might have made, there is a lesson I can glean from this passage; there is an important truth within these lines: although the circumstances of our lives may differ, the choice to bow or to bail remains. When we come face to face with God’s truth, God’s power, and God’s presence we will indeed fear. I think fear is expected. Yet there are different types of fear. We will either fear in an unhealthy manner or in a healthy manner. Unhealthy fear will pull us AWAY from God; healthy fear will draw us TO God. Unhealthy fear focuses on ourselves; healthy fear focuses on God. Unhealthy fear proclaims, “Woe is me. I can’t handle this,” and then flees. Healthy fear proclaims, “Woe is me. I can’t handle this. I am unworthy. Yet I know God’s grace will cover me. I trust God’s Spirit will equip me. I bow before God knowing I can only because He allows me to.”
Do you see the difference? When we look solely on our circumstances, our situation, and ourselves, we will fear. And in this fear we will, like Adam and Eve, find ourselves hiding from God. Yet when we look at our circumstances, our situation, and ourselves honestly through God’s eyes, we will find ourselves reverently bowing before Him. In both situations we are unworthy. Yet when we run to God, our shame is covered with grace.
So here’s an important principle to take with you today: going into the darkness may at first seem scary, but when God’s presence is in the darkness, you will find your sight there. You will find your life there.
Thus I implore you not to run from God’s presence today. Yes, His truth may be difficult to hear. Yes, His words may pierce your soul. Yes, His presence may cause you to tremble. Yet the temporary pain that accompanies the clash of an unholy person with a holy God is worth the long-term relationship that will soon ensue. For when we run to God–when we bow before Him–He welcomes us. He invites us into HIs presence and into a relationship with Him. A broken and contrite heart God will not despise (Psalm 51:17).
True faith draws near in fear. True faith doesn’t run away from God; it runs to Him. So run to God today. Bow before Him. Submit yourself and your life to Him. Allow Him to lead. Allow yourself to follow. And if you’re afraid, draw near. Draw near in fear. For you will soon discover that as you draw near in fear, the God of all will draw near to you. And He’ll hold you. He’ll love you. And He’ll never let you go.