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September 23, 2016, 12:00 PM

-by Haley MaKenna Hardman


           Within the crisp, onion-skinned pages of the Bible, there lies several Books- 66 to be exact. One particular Book, however, is called, “Exodus.” Exodus tells the story of freedom granted to slaves, dreams quite literally coming to life, and four hundred year old promises being kept despite dishonesty and unfaithfulness. Exodus also tells the story of a God chasing after a people, the ups and downs of a commoner turned leader who steps up to the plate when it seems all hope is lost, and that same (very real) God that pursues coming down to meet His people right where they are. Exodus is an incredible Book that marks a turning point in our history that I believe is extremely important. I see it as a time where God reaches down to a people that definitely do not deserve Him and gives them glimpses of Eden; glimpses of a perfect union with Him- the very thing that all of us long for whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. One particular moment that I find absolutely astonishing is in Exodus 19..


Exodus 19:1-9, 12-13 (NLT)

Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai. Then Moses climbed up the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you… Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. No hand may touch the person or animal that crosses the boundary; instead, stone them or shoot them with arrows. They must be put to death.’ However, when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, then the people may go up on the mountain.” (emphasis added)


            From the fall of Adam and Eve up until this very moment in scripture, God had only spoke to the Israelites through certain people...and even that didn’t happen very often. Think about it: the people of Israel hadn’t directly heard from God in more than four hundred years before Moses came along! But God says something  to Moses about the people that completely flips the game board over and tears it into pieces. He says, “…you will be my own special treasure…my kingdom of priests, my holy nation…I will come to you…so the people themselves can hear me…” God uses a possessive word: “Mine.” He wants all of the people of Israel to hear directly from Him, because He wants them to be His. He wants them to know Him instead of hearing about Him from a middle man. Exodus 19 goes on and tells us that God does in fact come down in a thick cloud to talk with His people, and Exodus 20 tells us about God laying down the Ten Commandments and how when God is done explaining the Law, He takes a step closer to His people…


Exodus 20:18-20 (NLT)

When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”

“Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”


            We know from earlier in scripture that the sound of the ram’s horn was an invitation for the people of Israel to climb higher into God’s presence, yet they stood there trembling in fear. God was basically inviting them into heaven on earth, but they were too afraid to die so they, not so politely, declined His offer. You would think that Moses’ words of encouragement would have sent them forth in full force, but they didn’t. Actually, in verse 21 we’re told that as the people stood in the distance, one man approached the dark cloud where God was. That man was Moses. In verse 22, God says to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel…” Because the people wouldn’t climb higher into His presence, God couldn’t speak directly to them anymore and He, instead, had to go back to the middle man.

            Here is what I do not understand: the people of Israel knew that God didn’t want them dead. I mean, He had brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, fed them cookie foods from heaven, sent them quail to eat, took them across lands by leading them with a cloud and a pillar of fire, granted them victory over the Amalekites, gave them water out of a rock when they were thirsty, and told them that He wanted them to be His very own people! Why in the world would they be afraid of Him inviting them to come closer?! After every situation they had been through where God didn’t let them die, why would they be afraid of death now? In my opinion, the answer to that question is found in the Ten Commandments. You see, right before God blew the ram’s horn, He went over a few “rules” as some might think. Some might call them structure and some might call them common sense. Whatever you want to call the Ten Commandments, I don’t think God meant for them to be a list of do’s and don’ts. You see, God had just set them free from slavery and I do not believe that He set them free just to demand that they be in bondage to Him. No, I think that the Ten Commandments were meant to test the people like Moses said. God wanted to know if they would still want Him if He asked them to surrender their fleshly desires. I don’t necessarily think that the people of Israel were afraid to physically die in God’s presence, but to fleshly die (in other words, deny themselves).


Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.


            And that’s exactly what they did not want to do. They failed to understand that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All the Israelites could hear was, “You can’t do this and you can’t do that…” In fact, in Exodus 32, we read about the Israelites turning around and spitefully breaking the first three commandments that God had given. While they were being petty, Moses sat in God’s tangible presence and talked with Him just as God had wanted with all of the people. Moses sat in complete freedom receiving the Law while the Israelites tried to mock the one true God by “filling the void in their souls” with a golden calf they made themselves. You see, God had explained to them that He was jealous for them and when they pledged themselves to an idol, He ached and longed for their affection like no other. They knew that by worshipping that calf, they were causing God grief, but it seems that they didn’t care. God wanted to call them, “Mine,” but in that moment, they refused to accept Him.

            I can’t help but be reminded of us (“us” being anyone that has breath today) as I read this. I cannot speak for you, but God has led me through some tough times, yet I’m still alive. He has led me beside still waters and He’s also led me through the valley of death. In both places, I should fear no evil, but if I’m one hundred percent honest, I’ve feared evil and I’ve also embraced it. I’ve been the one to spitefully reject God’s commands and I’ve been the one run into His arms with no one following behind. The fact is, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins (Romans 3:24).

            I don’t know where you are in life. I don’t know if you are a slave or if you’ve been set free. I don’t know if you’re in a valley, on a mountain, in a wilderness, or just plain lost. I don’t know if you are hurting or if life could not be better for you. But, I do know one thing: God is calling out to you personally to climb higher into His presence. He wouldn’t have had me write this if He wasn’t. He wants to call you, “Mine.” Just like a proud dad would say, “She’s mine,” or “He’s mine,” God wants to brag on you like that. He wants to whisper lovely things in your ear like only a significant other could do. He wants to pull you close in His arms and just hold you there. He wants to fight for you. I imagine him like the birds in Finding Nemo, “Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.” Don’t be afraid to climb up the mountain. You’re still alive after everything you’ve been through already, right? What have you got to lose?