Initially, they'd been afraid, trembling at the thunder and lightning and the sound of the trumpet, which announced God had come near. To soothe their fear, Moses had explained that God wanted His people to experience the magnificent and terrible display so they would have reverent fear of Him. Such awe would prevent them from sinning. Moses had then communicated that as people chosen by the Most High, they should never create idols for worship. Not even their altar used in service to God should be crafted in a manner that could be mistaken as an object of worship. God had given the people guidelines and promised them victories. They had thought this news was wonderful. Subsequently, they had readily agreed to follow the One True God wholeheartedly.
Entering into a blood covenant with the Almighty was thrilling! The people rejoiced. They shouted with exuberance. At the foot of the mountain they applauded their great God whose hovering presence attested to His glory and might.
Honored, they watched as their leaders drew even closer to the glory cloud, and upon their return, they listened to the reports of the men's supernatural encounters. They heard how God had allowed these chosen for His service to eat in His presence, permitting them to fellowship with the divine. They heard the testimony of how God had manifested Himself--with feet standing on a floating sapphire pedestal. The people beheld these men who had come close to God and lived, men who were second only to Moses in authority and in spiritual revelation. These were men God had equipped. And they'd been left in charge while Moses climbed higher, ascending into the cloud to receive God's instructions for His people.
For six days, the people saw the cloud.Thirty-four days later, the cloud and all it represented were forgotten.
While Moses was receiving instructions on a tabernacle where the people could have a tangible reminder of God's presence, the Israelites were thinking about tangible gods of their own making.
Gone were the songs of God's mighty deliverance. Regard for their noble leader was flung to the wind. "Who is Moses to us anyway?" they grumbled. "We have you." They pointed to the leaders minding the camp, leaders whose authority hadn't been tested with the kind of pressure Moses had endured, leaders who may have allowed misguided thoughts about their holy encounter to become avenues of pride. This leadership and the return of the people's mindsets to unholy desires were a deadly combination.
Memories of miraculous escapes, divine protection, and future promises evaporated on the dessert soil--at the foot of the mountain where timbrels had jangled in celebration to God. Trampling on manna, the Israelites became indifferent to the blessing of God's provision. After all, thoughts of quail and of water flowing from a rock had no space in brains occupied by disgruntle and disrespect. Personal frenzy silenced the words God had whispered in their ears.
Consumed with thoughts that mimicked the heathen nations around them, the people God had chosen abandoned their recent covenant. Though the altar sat among them with bloodstains of their covenant still on it, the people forgot God, setting aside what had set them apart in favor of a feeble substitute.
It's easy to wag our heads at these people--until we realize how easily we do the same. Mere hours away from a supernatural encounter, our enthusiasm dwindles and our focus becomes diverted. The treasure of having felt God's nearness, of having heard from His Word, of having experienced the miraculous is exchanged for the common. Instead of trembling in awe and wonder of God's presence, we fall into old patterns of behavior, lifestyles that forsake our convictions, ideas that sabotage our passion and peace, indifference that disregards our covenant, complaints that ignore God's provision. Distractions cause us to build foolish idols that look a lot like the gods of this world.
But we can make a different choice. It begins with patience. When God doesn't seem near, when we are met by both His silence and the silence of His people, we can wait with enduring hope. In the stillness, we can recall God's goodness. We can bring to mind His mighty acts of power, His faithfulness of character, His willingness to love us. We can let the moment we feel forsaken and alone work for--rather than against--us. We can remember what God has already done and look for His present blessings, and we can be grateful.
It is in the mundane, when we are not experiencing a stirring sense of euphoria, it is in the trial, when pressures call for our attention, and it is amid the allure of temptation, when our carnal nature demands to be heard, that we must insist on the truth. We must remind ourselves that we always have reason to rejoice, even if our feelings say differently. It is in these moments that we reject our old tendencies, reminding ourselves that we do not have to seek out the familiar, the things in keeping with our natural man, as escapes when the spiritual climate of our lives isn't as we think it should be. This is when we pull out our values and assert that we do not have to set aside our covenant in favor of choices that go against the holy nature of God. Doggedly, we persist in well-doing instead of substituting the genuine with a temporary, fleshly-centered thrill.
When the shout is over and we're still in the valley, when the those around us are claiming that their lives have more thrill, when being set apart feels more lonely than awe-inspiring, it''s not time to DO; we will likely build the wrong thing. Instead, it is the time to wait. It's time to keep our part of covenant. It's time to be patient and trusting, waiting expectantly for the blessing only the Holy One can give, the tangible manifestation of His presence tabernacled in our earthly lives, the glory of God that transcends human understanding.
Tip/tidbit: Do you feel like you've been left at the foot of the mountain? Do you feel like the joy you once experienced and your spiritual pizzazz has fizzled? Recall to mind the good things of God and be patient as you praise.