Don’t stand so close to me

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

Right after God gives Moses the ten commandments, the people beg him to be their spokesman before the Lord. They are terrified and want to keep their distance. Moses tells them not to be afraid, but to understand that the fear of Him is to deter them from disobedience. So, don’t be afraid, but be afraid. Right?

Once again we see how the limitations of language can sound contradictory. In the original Hebrew, two different words are translated as fear. The difference seems inconsequential, but it must not be if Moses used different words. What it boils down to is this: don’t fear God, unless you are going to ignore or oppose Him. It doesn’t take a great scholar to figure that out.

What we should take away from this passage is that Moses drew near to God while the people stood off at a distance. What they feared was intimacy with God. They did not want to know God, or be known by God. Many church people are like this: “You pray and read the Bible, pastor. Then tell us what it means.” We want the pastor to draw near while we stand far off. We don’t want God to speak directly to us, because He may call us to something less comfortable. And He certainly would.

A kingdom of priests

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” Exodus 19:1-6

God did not just fit conveniently into Israel’s purposes. They are fulfilling His. And now they shall obey Him and keep His covenant.

This has not changed. Jesus came to complete this deliverance, taking the punishment for the sin of the world. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, but Abraham was promised to be the father of many nations.

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29

It was God’s purpose that all who believed in Jesus would become part of that covenant. This was not done just for our benefit, but that we would all be faithful to Him and obey Him.

Equipping others to do the ministry

The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” Exodus 18:13-23

When Jethro brings Moses’ family to him, he comes as a pagan Midianite. Then he hears all that the Lord has done through Moses, and he confesses that the Lord is God and makes a burnt offering. So, essentially, he is a new convert. He just needs to take his place on the bench and start listening to all Moses’ sermons, right? Instead, he notices that he is carrying the entire burden of ministry and gives him advice. Moses needs to qualify and appoint others to lead and share the responsibility.

This is where Moses distinguishes himself as a humble leader who recognizes the wisdom of others. He takes Jethro’s advice and does as he suggested. He sees how dangerous it is for them to be entirely reliant on him alone. God is able to use others as well as him.

So many people in ministry today bear the entire burden of their calling. God has called them not just to do the work of the ministry, but to equip others to do it. We have all been created to do good works, prepared for us from the beginning of time. But most of us never do them. We are letting the leaders do them, and they are limited, and are already doing what we can do. As a result, most churches do ministry far below capacity because we are a body of spectators, watching the professionals wear themselves out.

On making war

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” Exodus 17:8-16

One of the objections to God I’ve heard from atheists and other Bible beligerants is how the Israelites treated the Amalekites. The Amalekite Genocide is something I never knew existed until an atheist pointed it out.

In light of how God had just dealt with Egypt, I don’t see the inconsistency. The inconsistency I do see is how that is singled out and other acts of God’s judgment are ignored. The Egyptians oppressed God’s people, so God punished them. Amalek attacked the Israelites while they were traveling peacefully, and God helped them fight back.

What I never hear is that this should have been a turn the other cheek situation. Let Amalek kill your people until he tires of it. God does not find self defense reprehensible. There is a big difference between bearing up under insult and permitting murder.

The Lord will provide

WeThey set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” Exodus 16:1-8

There is no record of Moses asking God how he was going to feed this multitude on the way to the promised land. I know this would have been on my short list of things I would want to know before we got started. But I can see how this detail could have been missed in all the plagues and miracles that God had unleashed on Israel’s behalf.

When we depend on God for our most basic need, food, He comes through. But it comes with a test: will you obey me? If we are going to ignore and resist His commands, we are on our own. If we will submit to His plan, He will care for us, even though it goes from day to day.