They are standing at the base of a mountain that seems to be exploding before their very eyes. A cloud hangs over the mountain creating a thick darkness. The ground trembles under their feet, as the thunder reverberates over their head. The light show atop the mountain is unlike anything they’ve ever see–hard to tell whether the peals of lightning are descending upon it or ascending from it. As they look up all they can see is smoke atop the mountain. It envelopes everything while it ascends as if from a kiln. The whole upper portion of the mount seems to be on fire. And then, there’s that sound out of nowhere. A trumpet sound that grows louder and louder and louder. So what is it? It is the presence of God.
God had told Moses to gather the people, consecrate them, and have them stand at the base of the mountain on the day “the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all people” (Ex. 20:11). And so he did. And they did. And God did. And the experience was beyond awe inspiring. It was downright drive you to your face terrifying.
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.”
(Exodus 20:18-19 ESV)
Understandable response, I’m thinking. Kind of sensory overload, I’m thinking. A sense of the Almighty’s holiness and my lack thereof, I’m thinking. A mediator makes sense, I’m thinking. Moses, you go and we’ll stand way over there, I’m thinking.
And how does Moses respond? Do not fear the fear.
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.”
(Exodus 20:20 ESV)
Do not fear. Really?!? Is that the best Moses has for them? Forget that the mountain is exploding under your feet. Ignore the fact that heaven is descending before your very eyes. Relax!
And yet, Moses says, God has orchestrated this so that you’ll learn to fear. Ok, that’s not making a lot of sense. Or is it?
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10) and it is a fountain of life (Prov. 14:27)–real life, abundant life, eternal life. So whatever God does that helps “instill a deep and reverent awe within you” (MSG) is of great benefit. The fear of the LORD turns one away from evil (Prov. 16:6), it quenches the innate propensity to sin. And while we could never atone for our sin–our sin ultimately having been dealt with once and for all through the cross of Christ–where sin’s temptation is refused, access into the presence of God is maintained.
And so, says Moses, fear not that which God uses to test you so that the fear of Him might be before you.
God is love. He is perfect love. And perfect love casts out fear (1John 4:18). And so, through this passage this morning, I’m encouraged to not be afraid of any trial or testing that God uses to further reveal Himself. I am to refuse to run and hide from whatever struggle is permitted that I might be reminded afresh that He is all-powerful and I am not, that He is all-knowing and I am not, that His steadfast love and faithfulness are sufficient even when my own resources are not. I’m not to fear that which reminds me He alone is awesome.
He wants us at the base of the mount. He wants us to behold His glory as we abide in His presence. Sometimes it may involve some shaky ground and a lot of scary stuff. But we are not to fear the fear.
The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.
(Proverbs 19:23 ESV)
By His grace. For His glory.