23 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. 24 And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? 27 Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’
28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!
Immediately after God first spoke to Moses and the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, the people of God called Moses and begged him not to let God speak aloud to them again. They saw the fire on the mountain and understood the deadly holiness of God. It scared them so much that they pleaded with Moses to be their go-between so that they would not have to hear that terrifying voice again. This was not to say that they did not think God was good or loving, but simply to say that they understood, as Isaiah in Isaiah 6, that God is holy and they were a people who were unclean and in desperate danger of being destroyed, undone, by God.
What caught my attention in this reading was not that the people were so afraid of God, but God’s reaction to their fear. God told Moses that what the people had said was right, very right. They were right to tremble at his voice. They were right to fear him. They were right to fall on their faces at his revelation of himself. And God said that it would be good, so very good, if the nation would always keep that fear of God and respect for his word at the forefront.
Of course we know that God’s people did not keep the fear of God that they demonstrated at the mountain. Even within a few days, the people allowed the terror of the Holy One to fade in their hearts. They turned away from God’s commands toward idolatry and licentiousness. The nation never again trembled at God’s presence in the way that they did on this holy day before the mountain.
It’s easy to judge Israel, but then, what about our own hearts? IF you are a Christian, there is a time when you trembled at the presence of God too. There is a time in your life when you recognized that God is holy and you are not. There was a time when you realized that God, if God gave you justice, would immediately cast you into hell and pour out his wrath on you for all eternity. There was a time that you realized that your hope was only Jesus, the perfect Son of God, and Jesus’ perfect work to propitiate the wrath of God that was rightly aimed at you. I don’t know if you wept. I don’t know if you had an overly emotional experience. But, if you are a believer, you realized that God should judge you and that Jesus, merciful and wonderful Jesus, interceded to rescue you and make you God’s child.
Has that terror and awe and love faded? Are you like Israel, trembling one moment and then fading into an ordinary existence the next? Have you become so accustomed to Christian language and Christian music and Christian activities that you no longer tremble at the holiness of God and the glorious grace of Jesus? IF this is true, Christians, you need to look into the gospel and find again that holy reverence for your Lord. You need to again find that trembling at the awesome majesty of God. Put on a liberal dose of that holy fear, and wear it all throughout the day. Let the fear of God lead you to obey his word, follow his commands, and love him with all your heart.