I never knew how to act after receiving a punishment from my parents. Were my parents still mad at me? Should I be mad at them? Should I avoid eye contact? Should I try to act really good for a while so that they won’t get suspicious? When can we chat normally again? Are they thinking about the bad thing that I did right now? Of course, my parents never stopped loving me, no matter how badly I behaved, so all my anxiety was for naught. But that didn’t stop it from starting up again the next time I did something wrong!
My post-punishment anxiety was one thing, but imagine how the Israelites were feeling right about now. A huge blow had struck their community. There had been a mass departure from God. Thousands had died as punishment. Everyone was shaken, perhaps frightened. They continued their march towards Canaan, but a cloud covered them. God was keeping His distance from them. The festering, poisonous wickedness that had lately spread through their camp was too much. God in His perfection could not come near them without destroying them (verses 3, 5).
God was distant, but He did not forsake His children. He met with Moses in the tent of meeting and Moses brought His words back to the people. God was distant, but He had not abandoned His plans for creating a dwelling place for Himself among the children of Israel. The quiet, shaken camp of the Israelites was soon to be alive with the building of the tabernacle.
The Treasures Within:
Picking Up The Pieces
I don’t think that the Israelites have ever been more miserable than they are right now. They have watched the swords of their peers take the lives of their friends and family. God has distanced Himself from them, and His absence feels like a cold wind blowing through their hearts. The people are mourning. They are joyless. They are suffering. And all because they decided that, for just a little while, they could disobey God’s commands. Their few moments of thrill have resulted in so much pain.
So now what? The Israelites could have answered that question so many ways – they could have decided that it wasn’t worth it and left God for good. They could have gotten angry at God and stubbornly given Him the cold shoulder. But instead, the Israelites repented. They came running back to God, even refusing to take the time to put on jewelry or makeup or fine clothes. God, by commanding the Israelites not to put on any ornaments (verse 5) and reminding them that He would destroy them if He came near them, was making it plain to the Israelites – well, who they were. They were sinners. They were evil. They literally needed to think about what they had done. And the Israelites did. With heads bowed and hearts humbled, they waited on God, finally trusting Him to take the lead (verse 5).
A New Creation
Repentance. It’s such a deep, important concept. It’s vital to the life of a Christian. When we, like the Israelites, see just how evil we are and just how much we need God, we feel the need for repentance. So we repent…again and again and again. This is all well and good, but when repentance is our constant habit, then maybe, just maybe, it isn’t sticking. It’s relatively easy to bow our heads in prayer, beating ourselves up for our sin, begging God for forgiveness. What’s more difficult is getting up off of our knees and deciding to change. It’s hard to decide that that show, book, or person that led us away from God is not going to be in our life anymore. It’s challenging to deny ourselves the things that cause us pleasure; the habits we enjoy. Yet when these things lead us into sin, that is exactly what we must do. Else we will go nowhere, standing in one spot, head bowed, professing to humble ourselves when really nothing has changed.
If we choose to change, we will grow and our relationship with Jesus will grow – just like Moses’s did. Moses in this chapter was sitting at Jesus’s feet, chatting with the same God who couldn’t go near the Israelites for their wickedness. Moses’s heart was so in tune with God that not only could he be near God, he was granted the immense privilege of seeing him. Seeing God? Laying eyes on the one Creator God? That is a mind-blowing event – but the funny thing is, Moses wasn’t extra-special. He was simply a man who had surrendered to God, who had obeyed. Because he obeyed, Moses became an example for all of us, of what God can do with the life of a man who chooses to change.
God’s Message To Us:
“Come back to me.” The dark guilt, the relentless shame, and the stinging hopelessness you feel when you find yourself, again, disobeying God, is not just you. We have all been there. Every single breathing being mentioned in the Bible, including Moses, has been there. But God wrote the Bible to turn this narrative and the lies Satan tells us on their heads. He has taken our guilt, shouldered our shame, and provided us with hope. We don’t have to hide from God. There is always a way back home. There is always the opportunity to step back into God’s family and then even closer than before. Don’t listen to the devil when he tells you that you can’t change. The Bible says we can. It’s up to us to say, “I will.”
What do you think? What do you think about the Israelites’ behavior in this chapter? What did God want you to understand from reading this chapter of the Bible?