“Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God” – Exodus 19:17
The Israelites were ready, or at least, as ready as they were going to be. It was the morning of the third day camped in the desert beneath the towering rock of Mt. Sinai. The early Summer air was warm and thick as the people quietly waited under a dark and foreboding sky sizzling with the crackle of static electricity and flashes of lightning.
The loud blast of a trumpet rippled through the throng like a shockwave and reverberated off the desert floor and the people trembled as they slowly approached the mountain. The smell of smoke filled their nostrils and embers filled the smoky air as the trumpet call grew louder and louder. They stopped at the edge of the mountain and Moses alone went ahead climbing the steep terrain toward the fire.
As if that were not a terrifying enough experience, Moses comes back down the mountain to tell the people one thing – don’t get too close or God will burst out and destroy you – then turns around disappearing back into the smoke amidst the rumbling and shaking of the earth.
In a word, I guess you could say this experience was “intense.” Israel was 53 days out of Egypt. Already, they had hiked quite a distance going about 17 miles a day with small children, the elderly, and carrying a lot of stuff. They crossed the Red Sea. They saw the army of pharaoh wiped out. They grumbled and got manna from heaven. They grumbled and got water from a rock. Now, God was going to set the record straight for His chosen people.
God speaks to Moses, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
You would think that putting any other gods before God would be the last thought from any Israelites mind. “How can I offend God?” is not a question that any rational man, woman, or child would be thinking at this moment as the trumpet blew, the ground shook, and God’s voice thundered all around.
However, I think this is really where we sell ourselves short as humans. We have a supernatural capacity for wickedness, and sure enough, before long the people of Israel were passing the hat around to get an idol going. The sad thing is, the same curse of sin that rested upon this stubborn and rebellious people is the same affliction that we suffer from still to this day. It should be no surprise to us that the world seems to constantly take the good things of God and create idols to attribute the good to.
Even as Christians with the Holy Spirit, we’re constantly at battle with our sin nature to properly attribute to God what is God’s. It’s so easy for us to lift-up money on a pedestal. After all, isn’t it money that purchases us food, buys us healthcare, clothes us, and shelters us? Well – no it isn’t. Rewind that story of the Israelites 53 days. They were slaves in Egypt but then God made it so that the Egyptians would beg them to leave and give them all their jewelry as they left. It was God who gave them the gold that they turned around and idolized!
The most dangerous of the idols we craft and gods we bow down to in our modern life are the ones that are so easily conflated with things that seem wholesome or decent. Sometimes, we aren’t even able to see the things that threaten to choke out the seed of the Gospel in our lives. It can sometimes be a boyfriend or girlfriend, a job, a group of friends, or even your own children that take the place of God in your life. Sometimes, the god you worship is the one you see in the mirror. Church and God are accessories to the lifestyle you want to live, but if push came to shove, you’d drop God in favor of yourself.
How do you know if you worship other gods if they are invisible or off your radar? Let’s walk through a couple of helpful questions:
- Are you looking to anything or anyone to provide something that God does not? If you are ashamed to ask God for it, chances are you are asking for something your conscience knows is counter to God’s will.
- Is there anything we treasure more than our relationship with God? Is prayer, church, Bible study, or worship a box you check or is it a priority over other things? To what degree are you committed to making God first in your day to day life?
- Can your love for God endure loss? The things you value: family, friends, possessions, etc. – if you lost them today, would you still be able to love God and say that He is good?
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
This verse from Hebrews really helps us to put this all into perspective. If the Israelites were to put no other gods before the Lord, how much more so should we strive to live and present ourselves as a royal priesthood and holy nation. For, we have not drawn near to the smoking thundering mountain – we have been brought near to the very throne of God. Moreover – the Israelites fell short of God’s command and suffered many consequences as a result. Despite being the same sinners that the Israelites were, we are better off in several ways.
- We have the testimony of Israel to warn us and guide us. The Old Testament is a beautiful story of God using broken and sinful people for His purposes to make them flourish and prosper if only they’d hold fast to his commands.
- For us who are born again, we have the helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and help to keep us on the right track. The Holy Spirit empowers us to encourages us to obey God and to put Him first.
- We have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The Israelites were constantly looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. We get to look back in history at Jesus’ coming, death, and resurrection and see the fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem creation to Himself. We have the words of the Son of God who came to make a way for us and that should make all the difference.
I hope you will take some time to pray and fast over what it is that might be taking the place of God in your life. This process can be painful which is why it is referred to as “dying to self.” However, it is a pursuit worth taking. Having the hope and assurance of God being the sole provisioner of your life and soul is a peace that surpasses understanding. Your world and its foundations will be shaken but having your hope in the Lord allows Christ followers to withstand every storm. Let me encourage you, therefore, to draw near to the Lord. Be in prayer over all things, consult God’s Word always, and be on constant guard for those idols lest they find a place on your shelf.