Pride can be a good thing. With it you perform your best, not wanting inferior work to make you look bad on a job, in sports, in the arts. However it can be easily prostituted. We think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, as Paul puts it in Romans 12:3. And we refrain from giving God the proper respect. Sin crouches at the door ready to disrupt and destroy. When we think more highly of ourselves and not highly enough of God’s glory we lose perspective of our position as creature before the throne of God the Creator.
The one story from the Old Testament that to me states this most articulately comes toward the end of the book of Exodus in chapter 32, when Moses meets with the LORD on top of mount Sinai, after Moses is give the two tablets of commandants, “written by the finger of God.” Even before the display of God’s awesome works man can still turn away.
The Background: The throng Moses led out of Egypt had seen an extraordinary amount of God’s awesome acts, from the plagues with which God goaded Pharoh to let His people go, to the parting of the sea allowing Israel to pass through on dry land, while watching Pharoh’s army washed away as the water returned, to daily guidance in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, to the gift of Manna (“what is it?”) each morning (except Saturdays). Many, many other glorious things they observed of God’s acting for their benefit on that desert journey.
And then they came to Mount Sinai. The picture Genesis paints of violent thunder, fire, smoke, and earth shaking, sounds more like Hollywood’s most elaborate Summer blockbuster than what could possible have really occurred (chapter 19). But this was the ultimate Reality Show! The people were so awestruck and fearful of the formidable display, even in hearing the voice of God, that they implored Moses to depart and talk with God because they had no heart to bear the manifestation of such power. ” . . . there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud appeared on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast was heard. All the people in the camp trembled with fear. Moses led them out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD had come down on it in fire. The smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and all the people trembled violently. The sound of the trumpet became louder and louder. Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.” (Ex 19, 16-20) And in chapter 20:18 and 19, “When the people heard the thunder and the trumpet blast and saw the lightning and the smoking mountain, they trembled with fear and stood a long way off. They said to Moses, ‘If you speak to us, we will listen; but we are afraid that if God speaks to us, we will die.'”
Indeed, any time in the Bible when mere man is visited by God a similar reaction occurs, namely fear and trembling and a recognition of man’s smallness. The amazing part of the story to me is that the people were so quick to forget everything they had just seen and heard and fall into apostasy. What happened after Moses is away from his people for 40 days on the mountain top talking with God? The people left down below wonder what became of their leader. Would he ever return? What would they do without someone to guide them through the desert? They can’t just wait there forever, they had to do something?
So after 40 days and nights alone with the LORD (actually Joshua went with him part of the way) God tells Moses that his people have fallen into idolatry, and that He is about to destroy them. “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Hurry and go back down, because your people, whom you led out of Egypt, have sinned and rejected me. They have already left the way that I commanded them to follow; they have made a bull-calf out of melted gold and have worshiped it and offered sacrifices to it. They are saying that this is their god, who led them out of Egypt. I know how stubborn these people are. Now, don’t try to stop me. I am angry with them, and I am going to destroy them. Then I will make you and your descendants into a great nation.'” Ex. 32:7-10
They key thing here is Moses reaction. He seems to not yet fully comprehend how immense a problem it is to sin against the living God. He doesn’t yet have the proper perspective of sin. He actually negotiates with God to spare His people, as if he could go down and talk some sense into them. You an almost see God smirk and reply “OK, you go down and see what you think about it.” And Moses goes down the mountain with the two tablets in hand. On the way down he and Joshua hear a sound from the camp. Joshua thinks it is a war cry, Moses interprets more correctly it is the sound of celebration.
But what happens when Moses himself reaches camp and is confronted with the inglorious blasphemy of the two golden calves and the merrymaking with music and dancing and jubilation around the idols? In a violent rage he throws the stone tablets to the ground shattering them, screams at the people and confronts his brother, how could Aaron have possible let this happen? “What did these people do to you, that you have made them commit such a terrible sin?” in a rage Moses grinds up the two idolatrous calves to powder, throws it in the water and make the people drink it.
Only when confronted to his face does the full horror of the people’s out of control sin have its effect on Moses. The lesson seen here is that sin in any form, being a rejection of the God who daily delivers us with His great power and outstretched arm, is horrible thing. It shouldn’t take such an immense conflagration for us to see how sin is so monstrous as a rejection of God’s glorious support of our very existence. We need to have the proper view of our own humble position before a magnificent God. The proper perspective of sin is vital to our ability to revere the Living God. With it we obtain a proper perspective of His majesty.
[all quotes from the Good News Translation (GNB), American Bible Society]