“And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath showed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.” (Deuteronomy 5:23-27)
When God spoke to the Children of Israel to share the basic guidelines of his covenant, the ten commandments, God demonstrated a little of his power. Rather than being drawn to God by the display, they withdrew. Exodus 20:18-20 describes their reaction. “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not."
Several years ago, My dad started to train a male donkey. As Dad quickly discovered the Jack was very aggressive, and they very dangerous, often killing other animals. After being attacked a couple of times, Dad took a bull whip and began to beat him. After repeated efforts to escape, the jack decided to cooperate, and from then on any loud pop resulted in instant submission. He had discovered that if you came obediently the whipping stopped. He became a valuable animal because he understood the consequences of disobedience, and later became a real pet, having learned that there were also rewards for obedience.
Like the donkey, Israel initially was only concerned with getting away from the potential danger, with no interest in the rewards. God only demonstrated his power to impress the importance of obedience on them. Like most people, they didn’t want to yield.
“And the LORD heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the LORD said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! “ (Deuteronomy 5:28-29)
God acknowledged the validity of their fear, knowing that they were not truly committed to serving him. His desire was that they would have such an attitude of obedience that they would not have to fear the consequences but could just enjoy the rewards of obedience.
“Go say to them, Get you into your tents again. But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 5:30-31)
Recognizing that Israel was not prepared to yield to him yet, God allowed them to go home. He directed Moses to stay and learn what God wanted so he could teach them to the people God’s commands and laws. Thei would prepare them to live the life God wanted them to have in the land. Moses was to be the pastor of the entire congregation, to use modern terminology.
“Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33)
If they were to experience the life God wanted them to have, they must learn to obey his commands completely and explicitly. Any deviation from God’s direction would interfere with God’s plan for their lives, and put them at risk. The pastors and leaders of today have the same responsibility. Matthew 28:18-20, often called the great commission, describes the job. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
The parallels in Moses’ ministry and that of the pastor or missionary are very real, and Paul referred to them in I Corinthians 10:1-13. In Matthew 28:19-20, the first 'teach,' from the Greek word for disciple means to cause to become a disciple and compares to the Passover, when they were freed from the power of Pharaoh. The crossing the Red sea visibly demonstrated by the destruction of the power of Pharaoh, just as Baptism demonstrates our having been delivered from the power of sin and death. The second teach comes from the Greek word for teach and means exactly that. Like Moses, we are to teach them to do everything God has commanded us. Like the promise to Moses, God will bless our obedience in this matter.