I went exploring in the Old Testament, which sounds like the beginning of a childrens book or animated Bible programme from the 80’s…I was looking for something that I thought was there, which turns out actually wasn’t, it was my imagination, but I found some stuff that’s even better! Cue smoke machine and misty wiggly fade through thing…
Do you know this passage in Exodus?
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. Exodus 24:9-11 (NIV)
Seriously, it’s in there. Page 91 (haha, sorry pew joke…)
What about this one.
The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” … 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 19:9, 20:18-19 (NIV)
This is before the ten commandments, and before the golden calf and before that other one where 74 guys actually saw God and ate in His Presence. God wanted the whole of the people of Israel to hear His Voice for themselves. Each individual person to actually have the experience of hearing the Voice of God.
How about these next two pieces?
Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Exodus 24:13-14 (NIV)
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. Exodus 33:11 (NIV)
The first one indicates that Joshua probably went up the mountain with Moses and was with him while he was getting all the instructions from God. The second one, it looks like Joshua stayed in the Tent of Meeting in God’s Presence even when Moses wasn’t there. (some translations say “stayed in the tent”)
These are tiny little gems that I think often get lost or glossed over because they’re in the middle of a lot of other stuff that poses opportunities for what may be more obvious life lessons.
Moses is there doing the upfront things, and it’s his life that we most closely look at for examples; but in the background, Joshua is building a prayer-closet-style relationship with God that sets him up to do and be what God needs 40 years in the future.
There’s the key to Joshuas’ succession. Forty years in the desert, being the invisible man, learning the Presence of God. Fun huh!?
Then there’s the experience of the 74 people up on the mountain in the presence of God, and the opportunity to audibly hear the voice of God that the Hebrew people turned down. I wonder what difference it might have made to the outcome of the trip Moses (and Joshua) made up the mountain after the commandments, if the people had heard the voice of God? Or if the 73 guys who had eaten in the Presence of God had been more vocal about their experience?
I know, it’s easy to say coulda/woulda/shoulda in hindsight.
This is another time when reminding each other who God is would have saved lives. They didn’t have to wait till they got to the banks of the Jordan River the first time to learn that lesson, here it is, twice, at the foot of Mt Sinai.
A lot of the lessons that we teach/speak/preach/talk about from this period in Exodus are about the disobedience bit, or the commandments, or the bits where Moses made mistakes. They’re either obvious (as in the big events) or they seem to be the same ones over and over.
We love big. We love to be big. We want big demonstrations of power or at least obvious things, consistent things, things that are recognisable to us. Things that fit into our understanding. That our brains can process, that we can tick off on our to-do list, or measure with our key performance indicators.
God does big. He does measurable. He fulfils His promises. I have seen it.
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it. Numbers 23:19-20 (NIV)
However, I wonder how much, when we focus only on the big stuff, we miss things? These lessons of the “small” things are actually huge invaluable things to learn. Important examples of perseverance and follow through.
They’re lessons that we need alongside the lessons that we have heard over and over, or have Sunday-school-grown-up with. The bits that remind us that 40 years in the desert for some people is NOT a punishment…The bits that reinforce that amazing things do happen to ordinary people – those 70 elders who weren’t even named for instance, got to eat in the Presence of Gods’ ACTUAL FEET.
It’s too easy to pike out on our own opportunities because of a misstep. Also it’s too easy to miss the significance of striking the match that sets flame to the tinder that lights the underground coal fire. [Wiki-Coal Seam Fire]
More often than not, we look for the things that we’re doing wrong. We’re super good at that. But how often do we look for the things that we’re doing right and reinforce those? Or remind each other and ourselves of the things that God has done in the past that will help to strengthen our relationship with Him and help carry us through those times when we wonder if He has walked out on us.
Sometimes the most important whisper of His voice is found in what feels like the smallest things, and not in what seems like the big important things.
God Bless You Very Much