Saturday, August 09, 2014

Feeling We Can’t Approach God Ourselves -- Exodus 20:19


Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”
 
God puts on a spectacular ‘light and sound’ show, renders The Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, and they are awestruck, being left trembling.  And the first thing that comes out of their mouth is to tell Moses, “You talk to us; don’t let God do it because if He does, we’ll die.”  Amazing.  How do we get to this point based on what God did?
I remember Adam and Eve not clearing their actions with God but being satisfied with the Serpent’s statements on what God ‘had meant’ by His words.  I remember Pharaoh not wanting to talk to God directly and insisting on using Moses at the time that Egypt was going through the plagues.  And now an entire nation wants to do the same thing.  What drives people to want to avoid dealing with God directly?
I also watch my grandchildren growing up and often hear one of them saying to their mother, “No, you ask dad for me” or vice-versa.  Like the famous Cyrano de Bergerac, adults and youth too (just ask some teenagers who are in love with someone) all seem to want to rely on someone else to do their bidding for them when it comes to things of importance.  Television sitcoms rely heavily on this plot formula.  It is only when a person feels really comfortable with his/her ability to manage his or her own affairs (think of a CEO), that one says, “this is important enough, I’ll participate myself rather than send one of my people”.  [Of course, there are limits to this approach.  You cannot defend yourself before the Supreme Court unless you are qualified a) because they would not let you and b) because only ‘fools represent themselves in court’ as the saying goes.  Nor are you likely to make your own medical diagnosis and plan out your surgery unless you are qualified.  And hopefully you are astute enough to realize that unless it is an outer part of one of your limbs we’re talking about, it would be quite impossible for you to conduct your own operation with optimal precision and results.]
Still, for one reason or another, we tend to avoid God.  And we get to that point by often making some erroneous assumptions as the children of Israel did that day at the foot of Mount Sinai.  Here are just a few of those assumptions I came up with:
  1. They actually believed they would readily listen to Moses when their track records proved otherwise.
  2. They actually thought that Moses had the power to prevent God from speaking directly to the people.  [And by the way, this phrase in the verse, “do not let God speak to us” implies that God was speaking to them and they wanted it stopped based on their fear of what might be the outcome.  This in turn supports the position that God actually first gave The Ten Commandments to all the Israelites verbally and later to Moses on tablets.]
  3. The presupposed that death would be the outcome.
All of these assumptions were, at face value, false.  They would not listen to Moses, Moses could not cause God not to speak if He wanted to speak, and there was no reason to believe that they would die just for listening to God.  Yet these beliefs were so strongly imbedded in their minds that they acted on them.
And one wonders why this fear of death.  We do know from an earlier passage (Exodus 3) that Moses was afraid to look at God and later in the book of Exodus God says in chapter 33 that “no man can see His face and live”.  But we have nothing else that may even hint for us as to why the children of Israel felt that they would die if God simply spoke directly to them.  They felt this was something reserved for those in the priesthood.  And the belief has carried on through the millenniums for many.
God tried to speak with them directly but the people felt that His mighty power, demonstrated physically as it had been with thunder and lightening, could kill them.  And thus the request we have here of Moses to have God refrain from speaking to them but have Him speak only to and through Moses.  As Matthew Henry points out in his commentary, here God was reaching out to man and man’s fear rejects the closer relationship and access man could have to God.
There is no doubt we need a priest to approach God, but he/she is not the human kind of priest.  The Bible says our High Priest is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And He and the Father are One.  Thus we need have no fear in approaching God and certainly no fear is justified in hearing God’s voice and adhering to it.
My wife and I have both come across relatives and friends that fear they are too great a sinner for God not to punish them as they approach Him, and they are quite happy asking us to pray for them on their behalf.  My strong belief is that people like that need to be helped to understand that they can pray for themselves; they do not need us.  My pastor makes it a point of not praying for people along a particular line of request if they are not prepared to pray for those things themselves (unless of course they are incapacitated and cannot physically do so).  You need not fear the God whose whole purpose is to have a relationship with the sinners that His Son died for.  If we can get that through our head, we can approach God and live.  May it be so with you.
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