When Israel camped at Mount Sinai, they were suddenly engulfed by thick darkness and an incredible, blazing fire. Out of the midst of these awesome elements, God spoke: “These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice” (Deuteronomy 5:22).
While all this was happening, the Israelites stood frozen with fear. They were convinced they would die before the voice of the Lord stopped speaking. Finally, the voice stilled; the lightning stopped; the quaking ended; and before long, the sun began to shine. As the people looked around, they saw everyone was still alive. They had heard the actual, audible voice of God and lived!
Evidently, as soon as this incredible manifestation ended, Israel’s elders and tribal heads called a meeting. You would expect this to be the greatest praise meeting in the history of humankind. Yet this meeting was not one of praise—not at all. Incredibly, the elders told Moses, “We can’t handle this kind of experience. We don’t want to hear God’s awesome voice anymore. If He speaks to us this way again, we’ll die. From now on, we want to hear His words through a man’s voice.”
Their response is absolutely puzzling. Why would anyone react this way to such a glorious miracle of God? I can tell you why: It was because the Israelites had hidden sin in their hearts. They were secret idol worshipers.
Unbelievably, these people still clung to the small golden idols they had brought with them from Egypt. The apostle Stephen said these idols were “figures which ye made to worship” (Acts 7:43). The Israelites had carved them in the likeness of the giant golden calves the Egyptians worshiped. They cried, “You delivered us from Egypt. You are our God.” And now, in the desert, they still had not let go of their horrible idolatry.
Stephen called this people “the church in the wilderness” (verse 38). He was amazed that even after the Lord had spoken to them audibly, their hearts were still back in idolatrous Egypt. He said of them, “Our fathers would not obey . . . and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt” (verse 39).
You can see why God’s voice made these people quake. The reason they thought they would die was because they were in the presence of a holy, powerful God—not some lifeless, carved idol. His Spirit had gripped their souls, and their consciences were convicting them.