A couple of weeks ago at youth group, I taught a lesson the exilic period of Israel. We talked about the prophets’ announcement of God’s judgment on the nation for failing to uphold the covenant. They would experience the covenant curses we find in Deuteronomy 29: they would be removed from their land, they would experience disease, drought, famine, oppression.
And yet God would never abandon them. That’s what we see in exile stories like Daniel and Esther (Esther comes a little later, in the Diaspora period). God will always be with his people, even in times of discipline—and this discipline always has the purpose of restoring them to a right relationship with himself.
This is one of the things that makes me positive I could never be a part of any other religion. In Christianity (and Judaism before it), God desires intimacy with his people. He invites them to come up on the mountain, to experience his glory, to eat and drink with him. And he gives them commandments—commandments that aren’t meant to be a burden, but are meant to shepherd the people into living a good and righteous life. These commandments are for our good, because God, at a fundamental level, is for our good.
We see this in the face-to-face experience Moses, Aaron, and a few others have with God in Exodus 24:
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you…”
...Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
They beheld God. They looked him right in the face. And they set up camp, and ate and drank in his presence. I want that kind of intimacy with God, and I hope you do too.
I think that that’s certainly what the psalmist wants in Psalms 62 and 63, which are assigned along with Exodus 24 in the Anglican lectionary. Psalm 62 begins, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” And to paraphrase Psalm 63: “God, earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you. I feel like I’m in a desert without any water. I am dying to be with you.”
I think the good news for us today is that God feels the same way. He wants to be with us, too. He wants that intimate relationship with us. He invites us to sit at his table and share a meal. He wants to have a conversation with us in the Scriptures and in our prayers. He wants to be “Immanuel.”
And another piece of good news is that God never wavers in this desire, and he never wavers in his pursuit of us. We forget all the time, and we get distracted. Even in Exodus, while Moses is up on the mountain, the people are down on the ground making the golden calf. They had just confirmed their covenant with God, but they already started seeking something, or someone, else. Perhaps they started to believe in Moses more than they believed in God, and when Moses took longer than they expected, they got a little nervous. They forgot all about those eternal vows they had just exchanged with the living God.
I think there’s a good connection with Lent here. This is that time of the year when we, more deliberately than ever, free ourselves of distractions, those things that make us trust in something other than God. And it is now that we remind ourselves that we are deeply, deeply hungry for God. The technology, the wine, the romance novels—all that stuff is symptom control. And it can’t do the job. Only God can satisfy us.
So I would encourage us to pray Psalms 62 and 63 as often as we can, for the rest of Lent and even beyond. We know the good news—that God is for us, that God has come to us, that God wants an intimate relationship with us. But do we want the same? Will our souls be satisfied, “as with fat and rich food”? Will our mouths praise him with joyful lips? Will we remember him when we’re lying in bed? Will we meditate on him in the watches of the night? Will we remember that it is for God alone that our souls wait, and that it’s only from him that we receive salvation?