“Do not come any closer, God said. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5, NIV
The opening chapters of the book of Exodus represent a low point in the history of God’s people. From calling upon the name of the Lord in the early chapters of Genesis, they had come, after 400 years in Egypt, to the point where many had adopted the customs and patterns of worship of the Egyptians.
Entering the country as free men during Joseph’s time, they had devolved into slaves under Egyptian taskmasters. God had endowed each of His children with a divine destiny. He had called the sons of God to be more than mere slaves whose daily existence had become little better than the animals around them.
The Bible tells us, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.” Psalm 8:4-8, NIV
The Egyptians worshiped the very creatures they were created to have dominion over. They honored animals more than the people that they enslaved. As sons of men, they had willingly exchanged their divine destiny for a humble and depraved existence. Man, created for great things, had chosen instead to dwell in the gutter. The Egyptians had chosen to look no higher than their own desires for purpose and meaning. As those desires became more and more degenerate, so did their sense of purpose. After four centuries of living with the Egyptians, the Israelites had spiraled downward as well.
They had forgotten the lessons of Lot and Sodom. Lot felt that he would be well cared for and would find prosperity if he chose to dwell with the Sodomites. When he and Abraham parted company, he perhaps congratulated himself on his shrewdness in choosing the “well-watered” cities of the plain (See Genesis 13), but it led to his capture in battle, and eventually even cost him his wife. Lot and his family had become so attached to Sodom that God’s angels actually had to grab them by the hand and pull them from the city. The fast-paced allure of city life had captured Lot and his family to the extent that even when God warned him to flee, he lingered, unwilling to leave it all behind.
Hundreds of years later, He would have to pull Israel out of Egypt with a strong hand as well. Lot bonded so deeply with Sodom in only a matter of years. How much more was Israel bonded with Egypt after centuries? What is remarkable is that apparently a remnant continued to cry out to God for deliverance, for the Bible tells us that He “heard their cry.” (See Exodus 3:7 & 9) God was about to work a mighty work of deliverance for His people, and Moses was to be the instrument in God’s hands to bring forth the Israelites from their captivity.
Strangely, God’s first words to Moses were not about deliverance, but He spoke instead of reverence. He commanded Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. This would indicate that the greatest need for His people at that point in history was to restore a reverence for the holy. Perhaps this is because man was made in God’s image and whenever man is degraded, his concept of God becomes degraded as well. If man is lowered to the point of worshiping animals, then God seems of little more significance than an animal Himself.
Mankind needed to understand God’s true holiness before he could understand his own special destiny. This is why if is so very difficult even today, for a man or woman to rise to his or her true place in creation until there is first an encounter with the person of Jesus. Once Jesus is allowed into the life and heart, all else becomes obvious and willingly the “reborn” person casts aside that which defaces God’s image and seeks to rise to their true place in God’s loving plan.
A vast multitude responded to God’s call to come out of Egypt. For various reasons, many chose to cast their lot with Moses and leave for Canaan. But whatever their reasons, too many sought freedom but not relationship with God. Their route through Sinai was marked with grumbling and outright rebellion. As a result, the bodies of almost an entire generation were left by the way, never reaching the “promised land.” Only Caleb and Joshua of that generation surrendered completely to the Lord’s leading. They alone survived to lead the next generation into Canaan.
Things today are no different. Even when Jesus walked in Galilee, He remarked about it in that day. He told his disciples, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14, NIV
With so few finding the path of life, should we wonder that it is necessary for God to first introduce His people to reverence? Lot went astray in Sodom. The Israelites went astray in Egypt. Are we somehow stronger than they? Or do we need to consider our way lest we go astray as well?
Some might feel that Jesus inoculates us against this. But the Israelites lived with the very presence of God in their camp in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet they went astray. While the power of God thundered from Sinai, they chose to make a golden idol in the image of a calf. Having thus degraded the image of God, they immediately reverted to the degraded partying and licentious behavior that the Egyptians considered worship. Any idea of reverence had gone out the window. No wonder God wanted to start all over. (See Exodus 32)
Just as God called his people from Egypt long ago, in these days He calls His people from Babylon. Both nations were steeped in idolatry and defaced the image of God. Today, that image is also defaced by the sons of men. Denying the very existence of God, they replace reverence for God with all forms of depravity. Then turning from what they believe to be a non-existent God, they look to animals for an understanding of man. The life and death of a man or woman becomes no more significant than the death of a four-footed beast. Like beasts of burden, men are reduced to being no more than tools for those who crave power and wealth.
God calls His people from this confused image of man and God. He wants to restore them to their divine destiny. Like in ancient Egypt, many are responding to that call for various reasons. Some bring the practices of Egypt and Babylon with them. Some, like Caleb and Joshua, seek that small gate on the narrow road that leads to salvation and restoration. The first step on that path is reverence. I want to see God’s divine destiny fulfilled in me. I want to have God restore His image in me. I pray that through Jesus, God will give me a reverent heart so that as my relationship to Him is restored, my understanding of what God’s plan for me is and who I am can be restored as well. Wouldn’t you like that, too?