Exodus 19 records the time when God came down on Mt. Sinai in a cloud of fiery smoke to have a word with Moses.
The prolonged sound of a heavenly trumpet announcing God’s grand arrival grew louder and louder until it was almost unbearable to those who Moses had summoned to the base of the mountain. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked. Children hid behind their terrified parents. The shroud of smoke that wrapped the shuddering mountain grew denser and darker, and from the midst of all this God called out to Moses to leave the people and come up. And Moses went.
The whole mountain continued to shake as Moses began his climb and was swallowed up in the cloud. Can you just imagine? And fear seized the people. What would become of them now? This journey was too great from them. Forty days and nights was all the time they needed to design, build, and worship an idol that couldn’t speak.
The number forty has long been associated with spiritual testing and one reason the season of Lent spans forty days and nights.
1 Kings 19 records when the prophet Elijah was deathly afraid. After asking God to end his life in a less shameful manner than Queen Jezebel would, were she ever to find him, Elijah lay down under a little broom tree in utter despair and defeat.
Twice God sent an angel to touch Elijah awake; to speak words of encouragement to him; to nourish him with freshly baked bread and water from God’s hand. “Arise and eat” the angel said, “For the journey is too great for you.” And Elijah went.
He got up from under the tree and walked forty days to God’s holy mountain – yep, the same one as Moses – and when he arrived there he crawled into a cave to wait on God’s word to come. And God’s word did come. “Why are you here in a cave? Get up and stand on the mountain before me and I will speak to you.” And Elijah went.
And on the mountain, there came a wind so violent it split rocks in two. An earthquake followed the wind, and fire followed the earthquake. Imagine! But God was not in the howling wind, or the earthquake, or the fire as he had been with Moses all those years ago. Where was He then? Had Elijah come all this way for God to not give him his word?
“And after the fire, Elijah heard the sound of a low whisper…” and he knew that it was God.
And God spoke to Elijah and told him to go and anoint a new king of Syria and a new king of Israel as he had big plans in the works to save and bless his people. For God’s will was then, is now, and forever will be, to keep his word to his family.
“Get up,” God said to Elijah, “For there are 7,000 who bear my name in Israel. There are 7,000 of my own who had been tested but who’ve not bowed down to the god of Baal.” And Elijah went.
And Jesus – God’s own word made flesh – also went up a mountain in the wilderness for forty days. Like Moses and Elijah before him, he understood that no man lives by bread alone – but by every good word of God.
And so the forty days of Lent can be a time of spiritual testing. And the testing is not whether I am able to keep my word and show my willpower, but on whether I really believe God’s word and trust his power.
Perhaps a question to ask yourself this week might be one of these: What word would move me? For what word do I wait? What word would make everything well?
A word from the doctor?
The tumor is gone.
The heartbeat is strong.
The surgery was successful and everything is well.
A word from a friend or family member?
I was wrong and I’m so sorry.
Please forgive me.
What can I do to make amends so that everything might once again be well?
A word from a loved one?
I trust you.
I respect you.
I believe in you.
I’m so proud of you.
I love you and would do anything to make everything well.
Now here’s the difficult follow-up question of Lent that we must try and answer as honestly as we can: What if I never hear the word I most long for?
What will become of me? Will I take matters into my own hands? Will I trust my own word and willpower? Will I lay down in fear and despair and wonder why God bothers to keep me alive?
Friends, the journey is too much for you, but it’s not too much for God. Arise and eat.
You may not ever hear the word you long to hear from your doctor in this life, but you will hear it in the next when your body and mind are made perfectly whole by the word of God.
Arise and eat. I will keep my word. All will be well.
You may not ever hear the word you long to hear from your friends or family members in this life, but can you offer a spirit of shalom – forgiveness and peace – to others who don’t want it or return it? For if you believe God’s word, he has promised to give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. “And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh….” (Ezekiel 36:26)
Arise and eat. Here is nourishment for the journey from my own hand. All will be will.
You may not ever hear the word you most long for from a loved one. But can you speak to your people the words they might long to hear? Who needs to know you are proud of them? That you see them and believe in them? That you respect and admire them? That you are praying for them as they walk and wait in humble faith? That you love them deeply just as they are?
Arise and eat. For my word and my power will not fail you. All will be well.
Shalom to you today.
*drawing by noellaroos.com*