We live in a world where the roar of voices around us is so loud that often we find it hard to hear the voice of God. We come to God’s Word, and the clamor of the world, and the clatter of our own thoughts, and the confusion of what everyone else thinks, drowns out God. It’s easy to take whatever is the loudest sound we hear in our hearts, whatever feels right, and bless it by saying it’s from God.
So how do we change this? How do we ready ourselves to truly hear the voice of God? How can we prepare our hearts to receive what He has to say? In Exodus 19, at Mount Sinai, the Israelites prepare to hear from God. We see four modes of preparation for hearing God speak.
1. Look back to the God who saved you. (Exodus 19:3-5)
When Moses went up the mountain, God began the conversation with hm by telling him to tell the Israelites, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4). Before God tells the people what to do, He reminds them what He has done. If you are going to prepare your heart to hear God speak, you need to be mindful of what He has done, how He has saved you, how He has worked in your past. Look back to God’s deliverance of you, when you were a slave to sin, and remember how His voice thundered from heaven to free you. Your heart will not be ready to receive God’s Word if you do not remember God’s mercy.
2. Look out to a world that still needs His Word. (Exodus 19:6)
God saved His people to showcase His glory. He wanted a showpiece for His holiness. He wanted the world to see what He is like.
“and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:6)
For Israel the term “kingdom of priests” doesn’t mean they were all priests in the official sense (like the tribe of Levi). It’s that the whole nation was to be set apart for the bigger purpose of revealing to the world the one true God. There’s an outward focus here. God chose these people for salvation with the ultimate intention of saving other nations.
You don’t listen for the voice of God just so you can find a couple of inspirational thoughts for your day. You listen to the voice of God because He wants to make you into the kind of person who stands out in the world, and through whom He will receive glory in the world.
3. Look in and purify your hearts to receive His Word. (Exodus 19:10-12)
Yes, God is close and affectionate, like an eagle caring for eaglets, but God is also dangerous. His holiness outshines everything to the point we are completely undone in His presence.
And the Lord told Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. They must wash their clothes and be prepared by the third day… Put boundaries for the people all around the mountain and say: Be careful that you don’t go up on the mountain or touch its base. Anyone who touches the mountain must be put to death.
God tells them to wash everything. There is not to be a trace of defilement. And they are not to touch the mountain lest they be killed. All of these instructions of purification may seem a little over the top to us. That’s only because we’re used to seeing God as close at hand, easy to approach, just a pal we can get along with. We don’t take sin as seriously as God does. But here we see that God is the flaming Father of holy love. He is the Great I Am, the source of existence, a frightening reality. God’s holiness is no joke.
When you see things in light of God’s majestic holiness, you realize how far you have fallen. You understand that you can’t expect God to overlook your sins and failures, your darkness, as if it’s not a big deal. Prepare to listen to God requires confession, repentance, and consecration. Look inside and purify your hearts. The prepared person is the purified person, the person who is repentant and trusting and humble and ready to do whatever God says.
4. Look up with awe and receive His Word. (Exodus 19:16-19)
On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him in the thunder.
Here we see God and His amazing display of power. Thunder. Smoke. Earthquake. Here is where God now speaks, where God answers Moses in the thunder. There is a need to look back, to look out, and to look in, but now we are called to look up with awe. We look up and receive His Word through the thunder. God reveals Himself in His majesty and the Israelites experience His closeness and His transcendence at the same time.
Through God’s revelation of Himself, we find that we are small in light of His greatness, weak in light of His power, finite in light of His infinity, sinful in light of His holiness, and dependent in light of His sovereignty. Everything you see in this passage is meant to show us what God is like. We are to receive God’s Word as we look up to Him in awe.
Do you long to hear from God? Do you want to hear His voice? If you say “yes,” but rarely open His Word, your actions say that you don’t really want to hear Him. In the Bible we encounter the Spirit-inspired words of God, a gift that promises eternal life and spiritual maturity, a Book that shows us God Himself. God is speaking through His Word today. Stand in awe, and listen.
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