We Can Never Be Together (Exodus 20)


Who’s your celebrity crush? When I was younger, I had a lot of them. Corbin Bleu, James McAvoy, Trevor Noah – the list of celebrities who put hearts in my eyes at one point or another goes on and on. I would google my celebrity crush, watch their interviews, and ogle at their pictures. Dedicated as I was, I really hated those kinds of crushes. Inevitably, my Google searches would come across the celebrity’s girlfriend or wife – someone famous or skinny or white – and I would realize how insane were my fantasies of meeting and falling in love with my celebrity. We were too different, too far away from each other. We would never be together.

Do you think the Israelites ever felt that way? They stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, mere miles away from the Ruler of the Universe. They were terrified. As God, for the first time ever, dictated the Ten Commandments, the Israelites cowered. As God commanded the Israelites to worship Him, honor His name, remember His Sabbaths, honor their parents, and refrain from lying, killing, and stealing, the Israelites begged Moses to finish the conversation with God without them. They promised to listen to whatever message he would deliver from God, but they just couldn’t take hearing Him speak anymore (verses 18-19). Moses tried comforting the Israelites, but eventually gave in and approached God. The Israelites held back, too frightened to even listen to their Savior, their Lover. Would they ever be together?

The Treasures Within:

God’s Standards vs. Ours

Maybe you would start to feel a little scared too were you in the Israelites’ position. It’s kind of like that gnawing pit in your stomach that opens and then grows as you read through the list of instructions for a really hard assignment – only around one million times worse. It was as if the Israelites were being given an assignment, and an impossible one. Even Moses said that God had come to “test” the Israelites (verse 20)! Tests are terrifying! Tests accompanied by smoke, trumpets, thunder and lightning are even more so (verse 18)!

Still, the Ten Commandments are so basic and ordinary to us that it seems as if the Israelites were being dramatic. But we think about the Ten Commandments a little differently than the Israelites did. These days, we think of them as guidelines. Ideals. Descriptions of a utopia. After all, taking God’s name in vain is something I did a couple of hours ago. You coveted your neighbor’s belongings the last time you scrolled through Instagram. We all have other gods before The God – one word: Netflix. Yet none of those things even give us pause because we don’t see them as all that bad. But what if God came down to us personally, with clouds and trumpets and smoke, and commanded us to stop all of that? Maybe all of a sudden we’d be searching for our own mediator and remaining at a distance from God.

Take Out The Trash

I can imagine how the Israelites were feeling about now – like garbage. Last chapter they were given a list of ways in which they needed to clean themselves in order to even be physically near God. They were threatened with death if they came too close to God. Now they were being told, point-blank, just how short they fell of God. We can all imagine how the Israelites were feeling because all of those things still apply to us – we too are dirty and fall short of God. We too will die if we approach God like this. When we think about it, how can this not be terrifying? Our situation is hopeless! We deserve to die – we will die – because we will never be enough. Us and God – we can’t be together. It’s time to take out the trash.

But there’s one sentence in this chapter that gives us and the Israelites hope. In verse 20 Moses says to the Israelites, you, and me:

“Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

There are two types of fear we can have of God. There is the fear that the Israelites were feeling – the fear of death, of inadequacy, and of being hated and destroyed by God. Then there’s the fear that Moses mentions – the fear of God. One type of fear will keep us at a distance from God. The other will “keep us from sinning” and allow us to come closer to Him. What’s the difference? I think the difference is trust. If you and I trust that God is who He says He is, that He loves us, and that He will do what’s best for us, then we aren’t afraid of Him. Instead, we want Him. We approach Him. The sins that seemed not so bad before begin to seem grosser. And the God that we’ve become close to begins to purify our hearts.

God’s Message To Us:

“We can be together.” Just like Moses was the go-between for God and the Israelites, Jesus is the go-between for God and all humanity. Jesus has been at the top of the mountain with God, in His presence, feeling His breath. Jesus has also been at the base of the mountain with us, teaching us what God has said, assuring us that we don’t have to be afraid of God. This can be where the similarities between us and the Israelites end. Our story can be different. Even though we deserved to die, even though we are garbage, God has given us grace. He has made it so that we don’t have to crush on Him anymore – we can be in a serious relationship with Him. To disbelieve God, to be frightened of Him, to cower at a distance is not only dangerous, it is lonely. To believe Him, to fear God, to approach Him is salvation and the start of something beautiful.

What do you think? Do you fear God or are you afraid of Him? What do you think God is trying to tell you in this chapter of the Bible?

There Are Always Questions:

  1. In verse 17, God commands us not to covet what other people have – in other words don’t be jealous of them. But in verse 5, He says that He is a “jealous God”! So, is God the only One who can be jealous now? What is that about? I think this is God using language we can understand (the word “jealousy”) to express how earnestly He wants our love. What do you think?
  2. Verse 5 is a tough verse because it goes on to say that God will punish children for their father’s sins for generations to come. How is that fair? I think the word “punish” could refer to the natural consequences of a sin – say for instance, if your father abuses your mother. You, the child, will be hurt also. You will be “punished” for your father’s sins. I think that’s one way of understanding this. What do you think?
  3. At the very end of the chapter, in verses 24 through 26, God gives two specific instructions about altar building that will keep the offerings they make to Him pure: no tools and no steps. No tools because they will defile the altar. No steps because you might have a wardrobe malfunction?? This feels so random! Why were these rules specifically given – especially the upskirt one?

One thought on “We Can Never Be Together (Exodus 20)

  1. I don’t think covetousness is jealousy. I believe they are two different things. And the rule about no steps going up to God’s altar is 1) about not making altars like those made by the heathen. And 2) remember that nakedness is symbolic of sin. We need to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. The state of being naked is symbolic of our sinful nature. It is unacceptable.


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