Lord, let us not just hear your words, but recognize your presence.
Exodus 20:1-21 (NRSV)
Then God spoke all these words:
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 shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
It’s easy to miss, perhaps because our text contains the Ten Commandments and we tend to focus on them, but what strikes me are the people. God gathered the people, wanting to speak to them directly, but the sights and sounds were too intense. The people were afraid, so they pleaded with Moses to intercede for them.
We, too, might prefer to stand at a distance and let others communicate with God. The Lord’s expectations and demands can be intimidating, so we would rather not think about it. Contrary to the mindset of most people, this passage makes it clear God has some absolute standards of right and wrong. Maybe that’s why we prefer not to listen too closely. We want to know what the scripture teaches, but we don’t want to be held to it. We like to have God in reserve rather than out front leading us. We don’t have to be afraid of God, though. We just have to take God’s word on what sin is and live accordingly.
Holy God, where we have lost our reverence for you, or in our minds reduced you to a spectator, or have chosen to stand at a distance, forgive us. Show us that we have no reason to fear you but that we should be rightly afraid of sin. Grant us the grace to live in right relationship with you and others. Amen.
May you hear with your own ears the voice of God so that holy reverence takes root in your heart and keeps you close to the awesome Almighty.