The fear of the Lord teaches wisdom, and humility precedes glory. Proverbs 15:33
One could take this short proverb and create from it an entire year’s worth of foundational discipleship material. We see in it four great subjects of Scripture:
- The Fear of the Lord
I will not begin to attempt to set up such a study (though perhaps we will get the opportunity to visit this more thoroughly down the road), but I would like to point out a story that illustrates at least three, if not all four of these great Scriptural themes. It is the story of Exodus 32-34.
To paraphrase, God had given the Ten Commandments in chapter 20. At the end of that chapter Moses explains to the people that God is trying to test them so that they would learn the fear of the Lord, which would keep them from sinning (see Exodus 20:20). Then the Lord tells Moses to specifically instruct the Israelites not to make for themselves gods of silver or gold (Ex. 20:23).
From that point forward Moses begins a series of journies up and down the mountain. Joshua, the son of Nun, always accompanied Moses part of the way up the mountain (and occassionally Aaron and others did as well), but only Moses was allowed to approach the Lord (e.g. Ex. 24:1-2). During these visits God was revealing to Moses all of the details concerning the instructions, rules, and regulations for the Israelites as they journied in this new covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
When we arrive at Exodus 32 Moses had been on the mountain for a long time and the people had grown restless. So, they asked Aaron to make gods for them that would go before them (presumably they thought that Moses had died and they wanted to move forward in their journey to the promised land). Aaron responded by instructing them to bring their golden earrings, and from the collection he forged a golden calf.
God sent Moses back down to confront the people in their sin. When Moses saw the revelry he angrily smashed the tablets. Then he burned the golden calf, ground it into powder, spread the powder over the water, and made the Israelites drink it. The people were still running wild, so Moses called for whoever was for the Lord to come to him. The Levites came and he told them to strap on their swords and go throughout the camp delivering justice. By the end of the day about three thousand people had been killed. Then Moses interceded on behalf of the people before God, and God responded by only sending a plague among the Israelites.
After all of that God threatened to send the people on their way without Him. He would grant them success by sending an angel to clear out the occupants of Canaan, but God would no longer be with them. It was an interesting proposal in some respect, and if the people’s hearts were more inclined towards the blessings of God instead of God Himself they just might have accepted His offer. But in one of their rare moments of spiritual clarity the Israelites grieved over the fact that God could not go with them without destroying them (though we could argue about their motivations, whether they were moved more by the prospect of God’s absence or being destroyed by Him), and so they stripped off their ornaments.
Interesting. They stripped off their ornaments. Despite what certain holiness traditions might try to tell you there is nothing inherently wrong with ornaments. In fact, there are specific instructions in the Old Testament for how the Israelites were to use certain ornaments in various liturgical ways. However, in this case the ornaments were a stark reminder of the sin issue at hand, for the idol had been made from the ornaments of golden earrings. So, they waited there while Moses interceded some more for them. In the end it all worked out well for them. God restored the covenant, even produced two more tablets since Moses destroyed the originals.
However, I cannot help but wonder what our ornaments might be. An ornament is a sign of what we have placed value upon. I wonder what types of things we have decked out with ornaments, but a closer inspection would only reveal the ways in which we failed the test that would have kept the fear of the Lord with us, which would have kept us from sinning? What types of bling might reveal to us our idols?
I don’t ask those questions lightly. And neither do I want to rush to answer them. Rather, I want to strip myself of my ornaments and wait for the glory of God to be revealed. The Israelite in me will have to sit and wait, but the Moses in me will sit in the tent of meeting and submit my request to God, “Show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18). My hope is that with my ornaments lying on the ground at the foot of the mountain God might cause His goodness to pass in front of me (Ex. 33:19). I will bow to the ground and worship (Ex. 34:8), and God will renew His covenant with me (Ex. 34:9).
This is not a routine reserved only for repentance from sin, but part of our continual journey with God. Up the mountain, down the mountain. Adorn ourselves and worship, cast off our crowns and proclaim His glory. God has invited me this morning to strip off my ornaments, bow to the ground, and worship Him. I suspect He is inviting some of you to do the same. Do not be afraid to respond. The fear of the Lord will teach you wisdom, and after your humility will come glory.