What is the worst thing you can imagine? Try this one: you have been gone from your city for quite some time. When you return you hear the sound of a battle taking place. Smoke lingers in the air and buildings lie in ruins. This is where your family and friends live and apparently they are under attack by some random army. Each gunshot ringing in the air pierces your heart with fear. Was that someone you know? Are your family still living and are they embroiled in the battle or are they hiding out somewhere? Or try this one: you have been gone from your city for quite some time. When you return you hear the sound of a party. People are shouting and singing their heads off. As you draw nearer, you realize that this is an immoral, turn their backs on God, party. Do you wonder if your friends and family are caught up in the wave of revelry? Do you worry that they might be singing and shouting out their rebellion along with everyone else? Which scenario terrifies you more?
Exodus 32:15-18 deals with Moses’ descent from the mountain; the mountain where he had encountered Yahweh. In his hands he was carrying two stone tablets. It is emphasized that the stone tablets were written on both sides. It seems likely that this is meant to show that the commandments of God are complete or full. It may also demonstrate that the commandments are not sealed. They are for everyone; they cannot be covered or turned over so certain people would not be able to see them. The main thing that is emphasized here is that these testaments are from God; they are his work; his writing. God, using the language of his people, caused the Ten Words to be engraved on stone tablets. Picture Moses holding the sacred communication from Yahweh in his hands as he descends toward the people; the people he had just pleaded with God not to completely wipe out. There is intentional tension here.
Along the way he meets up with Joshua. We know from 24:13 that Joshua went up with Moses part of the way. Did he stop at the cloud, which represents the Presence of Yahweh? Where he stopped is probably not very important. That he waited for Moses for forty days – now, that is significant. Is it any wonder that Joshua is the one chosen to replace Moses when the time comes? Forty days away from his people, by himself, waiting for Moses who had entered into the scary cloud. He could have given up on Moses like the people below did. But he waited.
And now, as he and Moses make their way down the mountain, before they can lay eyes on the camp of Israel, they hear shouting. Joshua probably assumes that this shouting is all about the worst thing he can imagine – war. His people are under attack. His family and friends are at risk. So, when we read Joshua’s words, “There is a sound of war in the camp” we should probably try to hear the panic in his voice. This is no mere observation.
Moses already knows what the people are up to, so he is better able to interpret this shouting. Moses’ words are written in poetic form. He uses the same word three times. He said, “This is not the sound of singing out in strength, nor is it the sound of singing out in weakness; but the sound of singing out I hear.” Because God told Moses about the revelry happening in the camp, Moses interpreted the singing out for what it was. It was not the singing out of battle; the singing of strength or weakness; of victory or defeat. It was the singing out of rebellious revelry; an exultant mayhem. The scenario is worse than battle. The scenario is rebellion against Yahweh. Just as we should be able to feel the panic in Joshua’s words, we should be able to feel the fear, disappointment and maybe disgust in Moses’ words. The scenario is worse than you imagine Joshua.
When it comes to your family and friends, what is your worst case scenario? Most people do not want to see family hurting. We hope and pray that our loved ones can avoid violence on any level. We are still struggling to grasp the long term effects that violence has on us. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very real and we don’t wish it on anyone. But there is a worse scenario. It would tear me up to see anyone in my family singing out rebellious revelry; allowing sin to thrive within them. There is this scene in the movie “The Return of the King” where Frodo gives into the evil of the ring he is tasked with bearing. He has the opportunity to destroy the evil ring and instead he turns away fully intent on embracing the evil. That, my friends, is the worst case scenario. Please do not revel in evil. It is the Presence of Yahweh that cleanses.