Mt. Sinai......and "Miss Nelson"
One would think that after 400 years of Egyptian bondage, a nation of people would be trusting and willing to follow someone who provided their freedom. And for this leader of freedom to be Someone whom they actually worshipped and admired while being slaves to Pharaoh and the culture of that country, it seems logical there would be no need to be apprehensive or fearful of this Deity. Surely being willing to leave behind the most unpleasant dread of daily slave tasks (brick making) would keep a person's focus in the right direction, even though it may lead through worse physical conditions initially. Trusting the leader (in this case, God) above all else would certainly be important, especially when some things appear to be questionable. Would this exile from Egypt and trusting God that he is the One leading it be any different than what Noah experienced while entrusted with building an ark half way up the mountain side? And in the days of Noah, there had never been a rainstorm before! How many people today would trust the One they worship and admire if he were to ask them to "build an ark?"
Having not been there ourselves, we are privileged to look back at history and can see what transpired at certain times, in certain places to certain people. I wonder how I would have reacted had I actually been there. It must have been awesome - the building of the ark by Noah (120 years in the making), and the Exodus from Egypt involving the descendants of Jacob (40 years on the road)!
For the descendants of Jacob (the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham), four centuries of Egyptian bondage was long enough. Initially, Joseph (the next to youngest son of Jacob) was a life-saver, even though his entry into the foreign land of Egypt was not his own choosing, but was conceived by his ten older brothers who had experienced quite enough of his dreams and quite enough of their father's displayed favoritism. No other brother had received a coat of many colors - only Joseph.
But God was with Joseph, even as he departed his homeland on a camel, headed for the land of the Pharaohs and the pyramids, and a different way of living near the river Nile. In the Bible, I never tire of reading the account of Joseph and his years of living in Egypt. His life and the way he became the man next to Pharaoh himself placed Joseph in a position of great importance. Perhaps at one time he could be compared to being the Secretary of Agriculture in this country. Joseph's legacy and actions are unsurpassed, and his treatment of his ten older brothers when they came to buy food due to the famine in their homeland is astounding and marvelous. It impresses me every time I read it.
Nonetheless, events happen, and what happened later to the descendants of Jacob took a turn for the worse. During the early years, Pharaoh, Joseph, and Jacob's offspring prospered immensely, but with the deaths of Pharaoh and Joseph the atmosphere changed dramatically. The Israelites were quickly growing in numbers, and the new king of Egypt installed slave masters to control the increasing population. Brick, straw and mortar became the daily routine for Jacob's clan.
Regardless, God had not deserted his people, and although they were far from being attentive listeners, he continued to be in contact with them. Over a period of four centuries, the twelve sons of Jacob multiplied into several thousand, even as much as a million strong by the time of the Exodus. And for God's chosen leader Moses, to lead them out of Egyptian bondage was no easy task. There was probably discord within the ranks as the pyramids grew smaller and fainter in the west. Perhaps for us too, leaving familiar and unwanted real estate would be a challenge. Even with evidence from God that he was participating in the event, it would still require some time to convince the Israelites that a better day, a better homeland, awaited them beyond the Red Sea. The journey would not be easy!
From God's perspective, how could he be known by his people as a friendly God who desired their companionship and their trust? What could be done that would convince them that he would do what he said he would do? Everyone witnessed the plagues of Egypt that led Pharaoh to relinquish his grasp on the Israelites. Death of the firstborn was the final deciding moment. There was not a household in all of Egypt without death. After four hundred years, the trek to the Promised Land was near, and finally the first steps were about to be taken.
Moses was by now a mature, elderly man of eighty years. As a young man, he had learned many things in Pharaoh's court, as well as having learned many things on the backside of a mountain tending sheep. Which do you think affected Moses' character in a more positive way - the Egyptian courts of Pharaoh, or the sheep-grazing pastures of the mountains near Sinai?
Moses was God's representative to his chosen people as well as the people's representative to God. Was this actually God's plan, what he really wanted, or was it what the people desired? Why were they afraid and disinterested in knowing God as Moses knew God? Did they not want to get personally involved? Were they afraid? Scared? Does being afraid mean they didn't want to deal with it? Perhaps they thought it was not that important, that it didn't matter!
What did God want? Did he desire personal individual relationships? Didn't he want a one-on-one basis with each person? Wouldn't someone in the Israelite camp have had the thought that if Moses could meet with God head on, then surely someone else could too? Perhaps it was easier just to let someone else do that task! It appears that individual thinking and logical reasoning were lacking, that it was not important enough to deal with then. Perhaps God would not allow something like that! Perhaps God was satisfied with only one person to talk to, and then he would have more time to himself and other projects that needed his attention! He's busy too, you know!
As years of journeying to Canaan continued, grumbling and discord within the Israelite camp increased. Many of the exiles wanted to return to the flesh pots of Egypt instead of wandering around in the desert. The manna from Heaven was becoming tasteless and boring, and to top it off, ample drinking water was scarce on occasion too! A rather circuitous route had taken Moses and the people from the waters of the Red Sea to their camp in the valley at the foot of Sinai where they spread their tents. It was a relatively short distance and only a few years before that Moses had experienced the burning bush episode where Creator met with the person who would lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
It was at this juncture that God chose to do something that, for him, would seem irrational and certainly out-of-character. In order to get his people to listen to him, he would do the dramatic to get their attention, and hopefully hold their attention long enough so they would to listen to him. Shaking the ground under their feet would most likely have a profound effect, but it did little more than scare them for a brief while, so God stood on Mt. Sinai amid the fire, thunder, and smoke thinking that would surely impress them. Alas, it was to no avail as the people continued to ignore God, and voted to have their representative Moses do all of the intervening verbal expressions. The people's willingness to listen to God and their willingness to participate in any straight-forward conversation turned out to be non-existent. It seems they had more important matters that needed their attention. Personal involvement, it seems, was too much to ask of the people.
Due to generations of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites knew little about freedom. Many, as servants to the powers of that foreign land, had little or no reason to even consider having someone show them a better way of living. Those people were convinced the brick yard of the Nile River area was their only destiny. It was not until near the end of four hundred years that their cries for deliverance from bondage were finally answered.
Forty years of wandering; insufficient physical conditions; basic needs lacking; blindly following Moses, their leader - the children of Israel did not have an easy road to travel. It seems there were many bumps in the road, and often times there had been detours that seemed to pose the question: "Is all of this worth it?" It was getting tiresome; it was laborious; it was frustrating; and there was no guarantee there was a bed of roses awaiting them in the land of milk and honey where they were headed. God did promise them a land of their own, but even then it was very easy to have doubts about it all. Besides, hardly any of the original older people who left Egypt were still alive - almost all had died! Trust in the God who was supposedly leading them took courage! It took a lot of stamina to continue the journey when thoughts of what they left in Egypt seemed a whole lot better than what they were experiencing at the moment. Perhaps it's easier to be apprehensive about the unknown and where a person is headed than it is to realize where a person has been, even though that place was not where that person wanted to be.
Moses pressed on though! At times he didn't look good in the eyes of the people, and at times he didn't look good in the eyes of God, but he did persevere with his God-given role of leadership. Did Moses fail at times? Yes! Were there occasions when he didn't represent God as he should have? Yes! Regardless, God still counted him as his loyal and trustworthy friend.
It's not like God to vent his anger and reveal himself as being impatient and frustrated. Did he really do that as he displayed his power with fire, smoke, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes? Is that what God is all about - power? Will God use scare tactics to get people to listen to him? Will he threaten people with punishment or death unless they do what he tells them to do? Does he demand obedience?
How are God's personality and attributes perceived when displays of awesome power are demonstrated? Is it possible that incorrect impressions can be concluded from these acts of power? How does urgency in certain situations have an effect on perceived attributes?
Systematically, and with tender caring regard to the education of her pupils, Miss Nelson had taught her elementary and grammar school children for thirty years. Nearing retirement and ready to 'pass the torch' to another generation of instructors, Miss Nelson had the unheard-of distinction that not once, not ever in thirty years of classroom ethics, had she ever raised her voice to get her student's attention. Her record was impeccable, and was the envy of every other teacher who taught at that elementary school. And it was her desire that her record of having never raised her voice stay that way as long as she taught school.
One day, though, there's an urgent, loud knock on the door. She opened the door and there stood the Principal of the school. In a quiet, calm voice the Principal is quick to announce to her: "The building is on fire! Please line up those children as we have often trained them, and march them out that door to safety!" Miss Nelson replies to the Principal: "No problem! We've practiced fire drills many times!" But it's the class period after recess and it's also the last day before Christmas vacation, and there's extra tumult, noise, and excitement in the room! The children have hardly noticed that she is in the room! What does Miss Nelson do? What should Miss Nelson do?
If you were Miss Nelson, what would you do? Remember, your unsoiled reputation is at stake here! Would you be concerned with your perfect record of never having lost your calm with your pupils? Would you be willing to raise your voice, and they still don't hear you? What then? Should you keep your record pure, and go home and say: "Well, at least I never raised my voice to any of my pupils?"
As Miss Nelson, would you be willing to climb upon your desk and throw an eraser or two? That would be extremely uncommon for you to use such tactics, to be in such a position your students had never seen you before! But now, while you are standing on top of your desk, the children are terrified as they have never seen you like that at any time. They quickly slip back into their seats, and you likewise sit down into your chair in front of the class. All is quiet and orderly in the room now, so you say to the class: "Children, please don't go home and tell your mother and father that I was angry with you, because I'm not! The building is on fire, and I don't want one of you to get hurt. Now, children, please line up quickly the way we have always practiced, and let's get out that door!"
What shows greater love: Protecting your reputation of dignity and calm, and just go home
(at least you've warned your students),
Sinai is the story of a God who is willing to take great risk of being misunderstood by his own people, and how he is trying to win people back to trust him and become his friend.
Sinai indicates that God is willing to run the risk of his own people doubting his reputation as a friendly God, rather than lose any of his children.
Throughout the Bible, God is willing to go to rather extreme measures to demonstrate his power, his love, his concern, and whatever is necessary to gain the attention of his people, and be able to hold their attention long enough to tell them the truth about himself. God's reputation as a friendly God is at stake. It determines whether we want to be part of his kingdom and whether we want to live in that kingdom for all eternity.
As with Moses and the children of Israel at Sinai; as with Noah building the Ark; as with Joseph and the descendants of Jacob in the land of the Pharaohs; as with "Miss Nelson" and with us as well:
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