And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:21). The people saw the lightning and heard the thunder—and they shrank back in fear. Instead of pursuing His glory, they ran from Him. So the result of their running from holy intimacy was that they died before they entered the promised land. As my friend David Ravenhill would say, “They drank from the river but died in the wilderness.” They chose distant respect over intimate relationship.
God is Light whose magnificence no being can approach nor dwell in His sight in his sinful state. The Scripture say He is too holy to behold iniquity. He covers Himself with light as a garment but surrounds Himself with thick darkness that keeps Him away from His enemies. A sinful man is the enemy of God. You cannot breakthrough those billows of darkness no matter how many times you tried. God has to let you in to Himself if He sees you have a repentant heart. He is full of light in Christ and only His light through Christ brings us into His presence. Put simply, God yearns for man’s fellowship but it is our sins that separate us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). It’s God who invites us. He says come dine with me. He says come; let me show you the things which will make you marvel. If our hearts respond positively, the benefits are endless and it is for us and our children to enjoy. However, if our hearts respond negatively, it is an opportunity of sweet fellowship missed and a terrible judgement awaits us.
In this passage under review (Exod. 20:18-21), the people were afraid because of the lightning and thunder. God had displayed wonders and miracles before their eyes in the matter of the red sea and turning bitter water sweet at Marah (Exodus 15:22-27), so hearing the thunder and seeing the lightening was not the issue. They feared and quaked hearing God’s voice blaring through the thunder and lightning. Moses had told them sternly what God said; “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.” (v26). They shrank back because of the voice of God. The sinner runs when no man pursues him, but the bible says the righteous is as bold as a lion (Prov. 28:1). They were a bunch of insincere men who did not want to follow God. Their hearts lusted for the things of Egypt and the heathen lands, the cucumber and garlic, not knowing the Lord had reserved for them their own in the Promised Land. The truth is that they did not want to serve a holy God.
God’s holiness will either drive man away from Him or attract man’s hearts towards Him. Moses was the lion in the above proverb. He wanted to see God, so he walked towards the thick darkness. After all, he had encountered God in the burning bush, been a vessel whom God used to redeem Israel from Egypt, experienced God leading the people by a pillar of fire during the day and fire by night, and he enjoyed intimate friendship with God. God intended they live by His voice as Adam was in the Garden of Eden. Whereas God was craving to be their husband and lover, they were craving to be prostitutes with other gods. They set their hearts in direct conflict with the will of God.
The will of God was that He would lead them to the Promised Land. They paid a high price for their unbelief. They all died in the wilderness except Joshua and Caleb. Trusting God and walking with Him pays. However, the sinner that follows his own way dwells in the congregation of the dead. The hard-hearted as a group paid for their sins. God did not get the glory He deserved from the people. The people considered the holy things and the salvation of God common things equating these to what they would get lusting after other gods. They did not genuinely repent in the issue of the golden calf with Aaron. God considered them a stubborn people who did not want to experience His glory nor be intimate with Him. He quietly separated Himself from that generation hoping the younger generation would learn. That generation was led by Joshua, the son of Nun.
Joseph’s Prayer: Lord, you allowed Moses into your presence because He prepared himself according to your calling. He lived a meek life. I prepare myself after the order of Christ. I come boldly into you presence by the blood of Jesus and by the new and living way inaugurated for us through the veil, that is the flesh of Christ. I draw near to you with a sincere heart full of faith, having my heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and my body washed with pure water (Heb. 10:19-22). You sight is indeed terrible to behold without Christ.
God’s response: Do not shrink back from me Joseph. The sound of my voice will lead you and not destroy you.
Joseph’s Response: I love and worship you, my Jehovah God. I follow after your righteousness my Lord and king. Amen.