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The Thunderous, Gentle Voice of God

When's the last time you listened to an audio Bible?

If you are a regular listener of audiobooks at all, you know the stereotypical audiobook reader voice. I picture a British Santa Clause sitting by a fireplace reading the book to me and, regardless of where you stand on Santa, you can't deny the connection between that grand, regal voice reading those books and my mental picture of his appearance.

Audiobooks in general are one thing, but I feel like audio Bibles sometimes take it to the extreme. Not only does British Santa read the Bible to you, but he is oftentimes backed by soft, inspirational music, and he seems to read with an extra encouraging, fatherly voice.

It can make things a bit confusing when that voice reads something like Exodus 19-20.

Israel has come to Sinai and Moses, apart from the rest of the people, is led by God to climb Mount Sinai in order to receive a word from God. It's so intense of a situation that anybody else who tries to come up with Moses to see the Lord will die (Exodus 19:21). They're left at the foot of the mountain where they just saw God descend on the mountain from the sky, visible to them by "...thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered." (v. 16, CSB throughout) "Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire." (v. 18) This presented a real, felt danger to the people; it got their adrenaline pumping.

Enter some harps and British Santa to read (what we know as) the Ten Commandments in 20:1-17.

If you'd listen to Exodus 20:1-17 in a vacuum, then God would indeed seem to be a boring God who's full of himself and out of touch with his people. More than that, it'd seem like he has an unfeeling contractual relationship with the people, and it'd feel like he doesn't really have a lot of strength or conviction behind what he's saying. It'd feel very formal and buttoned up.

The people's reaction in verses 18-19 does not match the tone of British Santa.

"All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain surrounded by smoke. When the people saw it they trembled and stood at a distance. 'You speak to us, and we will listen,' they said to Moses, 'but don't let God speak to us, or we will die."

To them, God sounds more like a ball of fire, an overwhelming force of energy and strength that'd blow them to bits.

However, it is Moses' reply that's truly telling of God's actual character: 'Don't be afraid, for God has come to test you, so that you will fear him and will not sin.' (20:20) Moses does not tell them to do anything to shield themselves from God - he tells them to not be afraid. In that moment, they are safe with God.

God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and he will eternally punish those who sin against him (Romans 6:23). With that logic, the people of Israel were completely right to be concerned. We are all sinners, and God's judgment is real and scary.

However, in God's perfect mercy, he poured out all of his wrath on Jesus on the cross (Ezekiel 7:8) so that anyone who trusts in Jesus for salvation from God's wrath and punishment will be saved from it and to life with Christ (Acts 16:31). God then views us as pure because, in salvation, we gain the righteousness of Jesus himself (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This gospel only means something if God is just. If God only has the wrath of British Santa, the gospel means nothing because there would be no penalty for sin and God would not ultimately be fair. However, because God is a jealous and wrathful and gentle and meek God, we have ultimate hope in the death and resurrection of Christ. When we embrace God for who he is, everything changes.

So today, ponder God's wrath and justice in light of the gospel. Fear him, know him, and love him, because he is worthy of it all.

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