Both God’s blessings and judgments upon Israel throughout her history reveal His character: He is loving, kind, faithful, and true, but He will not leave rebellion unpunished, and He will not go back on His promises, whether for blessing or for judgment. Israel is a picture of all of mankind. Her history shows that God knows our weaknesses and is willing to pardon. But it also shows that, like Israel, we are all by nature stubborn rebels, proud, selfish, self-willed, determined to take our own way, and that God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness must be tempered with His justice. From out of the fire of His presence that was blazing atop Mount Sinai, God thundered the Ten Commandments in a terrifyingly majestic voice that all Israel audibly heard – yet, incredibly, they did not obey!
As they well might, the people trembled before this awesome display of God’s presence and power. No fiction writer would have imagined, much less dared to write, the unbelievable rebellion that Scripture tells us occurred next. One of the many evidences that the Bible is the true Word of God lies in the fact that, in giving us man’s history from the Garden of Eden through the flood and onward, it spells out the evil in the heart even of those whom God graciously blesses – and nowhere more clearly than at Mount Sinai. Astonishing though it seems, in spite of this audible and visible proof of exactly who the true God was – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, who had delivered them miraculously through the Red Sea on dry ground, drowning the pursuing Egyptians behind them. He had led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, fed them daily with manna, and quenched their thirst with water miraculously flowing from a rock. Yet while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God, the people below broke the very commandments they had promised to keep, having just heard them audibly spoken out of the fire and lightning, where Moses lingered above (Exodus:32:1-14).
God was testing Moses with the offer of having his descendants replace the twelve tribes of Israel. That was a great temptation – and Moses passed the test. He reminded God of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – promises that He must fulfill to maintain His integrity. If He failed to establish their descendants as a nation in the land He had promised to them, the other nations would say, with good reason, that He was not the true God.
The same holds true today. The God of the Bible must fulfill His promises of ultimately restoring Israel as a nation in her own land once more, never to be scattered again – or He is a liar and not the true God and Creator.
We well know the tragic story. When Moses returned to the camp of Israel and saw with his own eyes the idolatry and fornication that the people had fallen into at the very base of Sinai, he angrily smashed to the ground the tables of stone on which God had written His commandments. And why not? The people had already broken the law. What an incredible and yet instructive story, revealing the human heart!