To paraphrase the late J. B. Phillips, “our God is too small.”
This truth is revealed daily through our attitude, actions, and meditations. We confess God is powerful, but then we fret over the concerns of life. We acknowledge His sovereignty, but then we complain about our circumstances. We proclaim His holiness, but then we act like we can impress Him with our righteousness. Our theology practiced reveals a theology lacking.
But we’re not alone.
As our ancient fellow-pilgrims gathered around Mount Sinai, they too suffered from “small-god-itous.” They stood together and proclaimed to Moses “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8) They believed they could faithful keep the Law of God.
As we saw on Tuesday, this foolish declaration first flowed out of an overestimation of their own nature. A statement like theirs reveals that they didn’t understand the enemy within; they didn’t understand their heart, its wickedness, and the inability to please God that flows from it.
But there was another nature they misunderstood. Not only did this declaration show they overestimated their own ability, but it also revealed an underestimation of God’s nature.
Look at it this way. These people who made this declaration thought they could follow through. They thought the standard was within their grasp. Two more times, just a few chapters later, they proclaim similar statements to what we find in chapter 19:
“All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 24:3)
“All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” (Exodus 24:7)
They thought they could pull it off. They were clueless! The Apostle James points out how monumental this task is, how overwhelming it is:
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (2:10)
However those gathered around Mount Sinai thought they could do it. Why? Why did they so foolishly underestimate this standard they were agreeing to keep? Here’s the point: Because they underestimated God.
Specifically, they underestimated the holiness of God. The standard (the Law) flows out of the character of God. So, an underestimation of the standard reflects an underestimation of the standard Giver. These people needed a lesson on God’s holiness, so God gave them one.
Do you remember the scene that follows this statement in 19:8? God has the people consecrate themselves and then He, Himself, speaks to them from the mountain. He speaks directly and powerfully to the people. The scene, recorded in 19:16-20 with vivid detail, is awesome.
Do you remember the people’s reply?
All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)
What was God’s purpose in doing this? Was it just to scare these poor folks? No. It was to teach them, to give them a clearer understanding of the amazing and fearful holiness of God. But the lessons didn’t stop in chapters 19 and 20. The Israelites still had a lot to learn.
Many people who made a New Year’s resolution to read through the Bible in a year gave up when they hit the overwhelming, almost mind-numbing detail of Leviticus. It happens every year. They hit that section and the tedious nature of it is like hitting a mental wall.
Have you ever asked “Why did God give us Leviticus? Was it just to test our endurance in Bible reading? Why would God record such specific, detailed information for His people? What’s the point?”
The point is “God is Holy!” All the details cry out to us, this God is a holy God and He must be worshiped and approached as He has prescribed.
Just think about the Tabernacle, it is a powerful object lesson that teaches this truth. The closer you get to it, and especially to the Holy of Holies, the more strict the access.
Because that is where God is present among his people and HE IS HOLY!
And day in and day out, as the sacrifices were offered- as you put your hand on the head of a lamb and it was slaughter for you right in front of your eyes- it was a graphic and visual reminder that you had offended this Holy God.
God, through all of these powerful details, is correcting (and raising) the theology of His people. And this theological correction doesn’t stop with Leviticus. It runs through the entire scriptures, this message being repeated over and over again: God is Holy and we do not measure up!
But when we put our confidence in ourselves, what are we saying?
We are saying that we do. We are saying the standard is one I can meet, that God’s holiness is not far from my own. When we stand with those people at Sinai and say, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” we are saying that God’s standard and our abilities are pretty close. And if I just try and push and work, that I’ll make it.
Ultimately what we are saying is that God’s nature and ours are not too far apart.
Such a thought reveals a lot about how small our view of God is.
Spiritual self-confidence isn’t just making much of me; it is making little of God. It is making little of His nature, making little of His holiness, His righteousness, His deity.
When we see things this way, we can understand that this statement at Sinai wasn’t just foolishness, it was blasphemy.
So, is there hope for blasphemers like us? Is there hope for those of us who have embraced our own righteousness and are trying to impress the world (and God) with how spiritual we are?
There is if we repent, understanding rightly our own inability and the monumental standard that God’s holiness sets before us. For when I see clearly the chasm between my nature and God’s, then I will understand that my only hope for righteousness will not be found in me, but is found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.