Scripture’s Saddest Words

I’ve read Exodus 20 many times, but one verse in that chapter always gets me, like a stab to the heart. God had just given Moses the 10 commandments. As was His habit, God had spoken directly to Moses, “personally, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11, GWT). But when Moses tells the people about it, they protest in fear: “You speak to us and we’ll listen,” they say. “But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!” (Exodus 20:20, GWT).

In the earlier days of my spiritual journey, I thought God only spoke through Scripture. I didn’t believe He would speak personally to everyday people like me. I remember reading those words with dismay and great longing. What I wouldn’t give for God to speak to me! Why, why, why did they want a go-between when they could have heard from God Himself?”

Since those days, God has helped me to experience the joy of hearing His voice personally. I’m not Moses, and I’m not a prophet, but I am one of His sheep, and Jesus has taught me to know His voice (John 10:27). I am God’s child, and His Spirit cries “Abba Father” in my heart (Galatians 4:6). When I trust in Him instead of leaning on my own understanding, He directs my paths and guides me into all truth (Proverbs 3:5-6; John 16:13). When I call out to Him, He answers me and shows me things I didn’t know before (Jeremiah 33:3). He comforts me and teaches me (John 14:26). He gives me wisdom when I ask for it (James 1:5).

So I was surprised when I read Exodus 20 again this morning and instead of my usual “What is wrong with those people?” my response was a sober “I think I get it. Sometimes I’d rather hear God through somebody else. There’s too much responsibility if He speaks directly to me.”

You may possibly know what I mean. Sometimes the Holy Spirit urges me to go someplace I am scared to go. Sometimes He speaks truth to me that is hard to hear. Sometimes He asks me to give Him something I’m not ready to give.

But see, if someone else acts as the go-between, I don’t necessarily feel like I have to take them as seriously. That’s how the Israelites were. They said they would listen to Moses as God’s representative, but the truth is, they argued with Moses. They didn’t accept his words as the very words of God. They grumbled and complained and debated with him—even though they wouldn’t have dared do that with God.

I realized that I sometimes do that, too. God may speak to me through a pastor, author, or speaker—but if I don’t like what He says, it’s easy to dismiss. I can disagree with the pastor’s interpretation, I can disregard what the author says as “her opinion,” I see the speaker’s shortcomings and throw out the message with the messenger.

But if God says it—well, that’s another matter. It’s a lot harder to argue with or ignore God!

So, today, I was more sympathetic to the Israelites than I usually am. But I was sad for them, too. They missed God—twice. First because they didn’t realize the tremendous privilege it is to hear God’s voice personally. And second, because of all the times they wrote Him off when He tried to speak to them through Moses. Because what I’ve learned is, God’s words—whether they are hard or easy, affirming or challenging—are life. And that’s true whether they come to me directly from His Spirit, through His written Word, or through His human agent. So I might as well get them direct from the Source! I get to enjoy His company and friendship that way, like Moses did.



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