When God emphasizes something five times, we should pay attention.1 In a world of dumb and impotent idols, Yahweh stressed that He has no form. Rather, His people know Him through what He does and says. It helped make the relationship between God and Israel unique.
What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? (Deut. 4:7)
Give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb [Mount Sinai],when the Lord said to me, “Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud, and thick gloom. Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. (Deut. 4:9-12)
Israel’s spiritual life began in a flurry of rich and real experiences. The people enjoyed God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt and His provision in the wilderness, and they heard His voice on Mount Sinai.2 Who could want more? Yet, at the foot of Sinai, they succumbed to the temptation to make an image of the Lord and broke the first two commandments.3
Why did God refuse to take visible form and forbid representation? Because that would devalue Him. Created things can never properly represent the creator. Until Jesus demonstrated God in human form, the voice of God had to suffice. Even now, while Jesus is absent in the flesh, we know Him through what He does and what Scripture and His Spirit speak. The voice of God and His actions remain central to our faith; we must never take them lightly.
Idol worship falls far short of faith; rather it amounts to deception. For a senseless, speechless, powerless idol to gain divine status requires great imagination. Only in deceived minds does a lifeless god begin to “do” or “say” anything—lips and fingers never budge. In fact, handmade gods only say and do what we demand. They quickly bow to their human makers and conform to their feeble images. The true God gently molds people into His glorious likeness—He remains sovereign.
God never gives in to pressure to prove Himself. God is spirit and He thinks it wisest to remain unseen. Although our fallen human nature grasps for the tangible, God appeals to our hidden dimension—the spiritual. We must learn to approach the spirit God in the spirit. Who needs a static, manufactured scale model when we can know the true and living God through His work in our world?
The Christian life begins the same way Israel’s did—learning to recognize the voice of God. It is not an advanced lesson. It does not require religious contortions or special qualifications. Our God is near and answers whenever we call upon Him. Israel simply stood and watched what God did on Sinai. Listening involves waiting with a wholehearted readiness to obey. No matter what spiritual condition we are in, the promise remains:
You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)
It’s not as easy as idol worship, but infinitely more satisfying!
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