Do we want to hear from God ourselves, or would we rather someone else tells us what God wants us to know? If we figure hearing from God directly is too intimidating, we tend to go with listening to or reading what others have to say He said. Before long, we’re into “he said He said” and the end result is much like a bad connection’s scrambled message in the old game of “Telephone.”
One person quietly tells another, who quietly tells another, who…you get the picture. By the time the last person in the lineup speaks out the “telephone” message, the party line has pretty much jumbled up the original communication. After shouts by the originator of “that’s not even close to what I said!” the game ends in gales of laughter and heads shaking at how what was delivered was so far off from the original message.
Welcome to desert communication. Like a forty-year soap opera, we believers have in scripture for our benefit hindsight our friends, the Israelites, earned the hard way. Yet sometimes even today, the obvious isn’t.
From the ancient Israelites’ desert to the one you may be presently trekking through, it seems that more people through the ages have privately enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks than have ever graced the doorways of kindergarten to the hallowed halls of higher education. Graduation occurs when we finally figure out that God means what He says. Originally.
Moses soon found out that the masses he was leading were not a bit interested in hearing God speak to them directly. Moses had the privilege of conversing with God face to face, which he seemed to do on a regular basis as recounted in scripture. But the rest of the people? Here’s how they felt about it:
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Exodus 20:18-19
Well, that promise to listen to Moses lasted about as long as you can say ‘golden calf.’ In verse 20, Moses exhorted the assembly to not be afraid; that the LORD had only come to test them so that the fear of God would keep them from sinning. Three verses later, the LORD told Moses to tell the people: “Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.”
Pretty straightforward, wouldn’t you say? After all they had witnessed of the power of God, one would think they’d have a fairly healthy, God-fearing understanding of His might and muscle. But sometimes the obvious isn’t.
In their case, they couldn’t say they had not heard Moses correctly for it was only in the previous chapter they had vowed “we will do everything the LORD has said.” Moses trotted back to the LORD with their answer. A fairly uncomplicated telephone line…God to Moses, Moses to the people, the people to Moses, and Moses back to God. Everybody in agreement, until…
Human nature has a tendency to get too quickly bored. It is hard to hold to the one thing God has said when it seems it should be time for a new ‘one thing.’ It is precisely then that He is administering His test, but do we recognize it as such? How many trips around the same mountain will we take before we get a clue that God is still quizzing us on the original message and will do so until we ace the test and He can graduate us to the next level?
Meanwhile, back at Camp Desert, boredom had set in. Moses was up on the mountain with God again. It’s amazing the amount of direction God was pouring into Moses on behalf of the entire congregation. But sometime before Moses came back down the mountain forty days later, discontent had set in:
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Exodus 32:1
They apparently must have thought Moses had hitched up his robes and wandered off into the sunset. So long, Moses; it was nice knowing you for awhile. You go commune with the Cloud. We’ve got a better idea. Something shiny, gold, visible, new…
Next thing you know, voila! With Aaron’s help, there stood a golden calf, ready for worship, festivities, and out of control revelry. A real sacred cow (See “Sacred Bovine”).
As Moses’ brother and the high priest of the Israelites, Aaron, of all people, knew better. But sometimes the obvious choice isn’t obvious for those who do not cleave to the old adage “good things come to those who wait.” Had they waited for the word of the LORD and resisted boredom’s urge to ‘make us gods,’ who knows how scripture might have been rewritten?
What we do know is that the children of Israel serve us today as model students from the School of Hard Knocks. Their regent was Moses; their sovereign was none other than God, the Obvious. Though they wanted to see a god they could follow, He remained faithful even when they did not.
God hasn’t changed. His message to us believers is obvious, even when He isn’t…
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9
Repeating His original message…remember Whose you are,