Israel Refused to Hear
After reminding Israel of the Ten Commandments, Moses says in Deut. 5:22,
22 These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.
Hearing God's voice, of course, is the primary purpose of Pentecost. What did He speak? He spoke the law. Finally, He spoke it to the “assembly,” the kahal, which is the Hebrew equivalent of the NT word ekklesia, translated “church.” The purpose of Pentecost was to write the law in the heart of the Church by hearing His voice.
23 And it came about, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. 24 And you said, “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.”
Here we are told that the elders and tribal leaders approached Moses to request that God stop speaking to them directly. In Exodus 20:18-21, we are not told specifically who made that request. We learn this here in Moses' speech. The elders were acting as representatives of the people.
In requesting that God stop speaking to them, they became a Pentecostal Church without the ability to hear God's voice. And so they did not hear the rest of the law by direct revelation. This established a pattern that many have followed to this day. Many have a genuine initial Pentecostal experience, but then they rely upon their “Moses” of the day to tell them the rest of the law; however their leaders tend to instruct them in the laws of men, for they too lack a revelation of the rest of the law.
This results in legalism, having numerous rules of holiness that actually destroy or hide the divine law. Apart from revelation, we have only the traditions of men to offer—that is, men’s best understanding of the word and mind of God.
Furthermore, the pattern established by Israel is seen by the fact that many churches are diligent in teaching the Ten Commandments to the children, which Israel also heard directly. The Ten Commandments are a summary of the law, a partial revelation. The church has little or no revelation of the law beyond the Ten Commandments. Their ability to hear that revelation is yet blocked by a generational curse, brought upon the church by Israel's refusal to hear, which stopped the ears of the Church as a whole from that day forward.
Any time we refuse to hear any portion of God's word, we become deaf and blind in that area. As Moses said later in Deut. 8:3, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”
The Result of Hearing
The concern of the elders, Moses said, was this:
25 Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, then we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?
The problem is that God is a consuming fire, and anyone who draws near to Him will be baptized by that fire (Matt. 3:11). That fire consumes the flesh, causing the old man to die. That soulish man—the first Adam—has already been sentenced to death, but if we identify with him, our survival instinct will cause us to try to keep that old man alive instead of allowing him to be crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6).
Hence, it is the old Adamic man of the flesh that rejects the law of God, because it fears death. It convinces men that the law brings death, rather than life. And, indeed, it is so. The law does indeed kill the old man in order to allow us to identify with the New Creation Man that is “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45).
Hence, the old man fears the law, while the New Creation Man embraces it, for the law reflects the mind of Christ that was in Paul (Rom. 7:25). The day will come when the Church as a whole will realize that their blindness to the law was their inheritance from the elders of Israel who refused to hear the word of God. When they understand this, they will repent on behalf of those elders and renounce their fear-based decision, and ask God to reveal the law to them.
Then will come the revival of Nehemiah 8:8-18, ushering in the Age of Tabernacles. When Nehemiah read the law to the people after their Babylonian captivity, and gave explanation so that they understood it, they repented and had a great revival. This reading of the law was done at the feast of Tabernacles, the first such feast that they had kept since the days of Joshua (Neh. 8:17).
Today, we too are coming out of a long Babylonian captivity. We too look forward to the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles. Hence, this story in Nehemiah is the pattern by which the great end-time revival will take place. It will come when the people overcome their fear of the fiery law of God and are willing to step into that baptism of fire and repent of their adversity to the law.
The Result of Hearing Men Only
In Moses' day, the elders told Moses in verse 27,
27 Go near and hear all that the Lord our God says; then speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.
The elders did not realize that if they wanted the law of God to be written on their hearts, they had to hear God's voice directly. They had to allow the fire of God to kill the flesh man, because the flesh would not receive the law. The flesh serves the law of sin—not the law of God (Rom. 7:25). Paul says the flesh wages war against the New Creation Man (Rom. 7:23). Hence, one cannot write the law of God upon the old man. The old man must be consumed by the baptism of fire in order for the law to be written on the heart of the New Creation Man.
When the elders wanted to hear and obey a man, they set up the Church to hear the teachings of men. They set up a mediator between God and men to reveal the heart of God to them. Moses, as a man, could only persuade their carnal minds to be obedient—with limited results. Man's organizations and denominations, then, are only as successful as man's ability to reveal the heart of God to the people, along with the people's ability to hear God's voice through the man that is teaching them.
Jesus Himself, the original Law-giver, later came as one like Moses to be the true Mediator between God and man. He revealed the heart of the Father to those with ears to hear. He then sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to allow those disciples the opportunity to do what their forefathers under Moses had refused to do at the Mount. The results are recorded in the book of Acts.
In the end, no one can bypass hearing God's voice, whether one hears directly or through some agent on earth. The Cardinal Rule is Be led by the Spirit. And know too that the Spirit does not lead anyone to commit sin, which is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Lawlessness is a lack of faith, because faith comes by hearing and obeying. Moses continues in Deut. 5:28,
28 And the Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken.”
Really? Was God pleased with their refusal to hear His voice? Not at all. But God had already planned their inability to hear His voice, because it was God's intent that Pentecost should not be fulfilled until after Jesus had died on the cross. Even so, God then expressed His heart, as Moses tells us in the next verse:
29 “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!”
God's desire is to have direct contact and fellowship with His people. Psalm 95:4 expresses it as well, saying, “Today, if you would hear His voice.” This is repeated in Heb. 3:7 and 15 and again in Heb. 4:7.
So God established an indirect relationship with Israel, which became one of the main features of the Old Covenant. Paul describes this relationship as that of a bondwoman (Gal. 4:24). A bondwoman may hear God but has no decision-making authority and must submit all revelation to her earthly master for approval. As a nation, Israel insisted upon submitting to Moses, for they did not want a direct relationship with God.
Their system was flawed from the start, for when Moses was led by the Spirit, the people complained that he was leading them to places that had no food or drink. As the nation developed in later years, the religious leaders claimed to be submitted to Moses, but in fact they did not believe Moses. Jesus told them in John 5:45-47,
45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?
It is ironic that Israel would refuse to hear God, but yet they said they would obey whatever God had told Moses. The truth is that if men will not hear the voice of God, they will not obey His voice coming through a prophet either. Their flesh invariably turns to fleshly doctrines and carnal understanding. In this way they are enslaved to a religious system of men and become as Hagar, the bondwoman. This was the condition of the people as a whole when Jesus came to minister.
The fulfillment of Pentecost in Acts 2 had the potential of creating a Sarah Church that would be free to hear God and to be obedient apart from the persecution of denominational systems.
Return to Your Tents
As we have seen from Deut. 5:28-30, Moses tells us that God recognized Israel's fear of hearing God's voice. Later, Moses tells us in Deut. 29:4,
4 Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.
So in that sense, Israel's refusal to hear was legitimate. It was God's will that they hear, but it was God's plan that they remain blinded at least until Jesus would come to do His work. For this reason, God said in Deut. 5:28, “They have done well in all that they have spoken,” in their request to have Moses do the hearing. Israel was not ready for a direct relationship with God, for they did not want their flesh to die.
Then Moses continues in verse 30, telling us God's response to their request,
30 Go, say to them, “Return to your tents.”
God had extended the invitation for Israel to draw near to Him on the mount. But after they assigned Moses to do this on their behalf, God says, “Return to your tents.” The Hebrew word for “tents” here is oholah (Strong's #170). It is a feminine form of ohel, “tent,” so it could be translated “her tent.” Strong's Concordance says that it might be understood to mean “an idolatrous sanctuary.”
In Ezekiel 23:4 we find that Samaria, the capital of Israel, was called by the spiritual name of Aholah (Strong's #170), which is essentially the same name in Hebrew as oholah (#170). The root word for both of them is ohel (#168). The prophet called Samaria Aholah, and he called Jerusalem her sister, Aholibah, “My tent is in her.” (This was a reference to the temple of Solomon, or perhaps to the tabernacle of David before the temple had been built.)
Samaria was Aholah, because she had committed spiritual adultery with Assyria. God divorced Israel (Jer. 3:8) as a result, and she went to live with Assyria and his gods. Ezekiel 23 is a chapter describing the adultery of Israel in “her tent.”
It is significant, then, that in Deut. 5:30 God told Israel to return to their oholah. Many years later, the prophet Ezekiel called Israel by that name in order to make the point that in refusing to hear/obey His voice, they were committing spiritual adultery. The root of this problem is seen in their initial refusal at Mount Horeb to hear and obey God's voice.
God’s Instruction to Moses
Then God spoke directly to Moses with different instructions:
31 But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess. 32 So you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.
Being willing to hear God's voice results in the revelation of God's will and character. The mind of God is revealed in the commandments, statutes, and judgments. Moses proclaimed the law, the prophets apply it prophetically, and the New Testament writers explain the law by the mind of Christ by the Holy Spirit. By hearing, the law is written on our hearts, so that we do not turn aside from His righteous standard, but “walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you.”
The people of Israel thought that they could avoid hearing God's voice by substituting Moses in place of God as their teacher. Moses, indeed, could speak to them, but even those inspired words could not write the law in their hearts apart from the mediation of the Holy Spirit. Hearing Moses was better than nothing, of course, but in itself, this could only educate their carnal minds.
Their carnal minds, being from the first Adam, were naturally at war with the mind of God (Rom. 7:23). The carnal mind desires to violate the law by following “the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). Sin is lawlessness (anomia). For this reason, any spiritual education that the carnal mind receives results in a master-servant relationship at best. God's will is imposed upon the unwilling carnal mind as it is brought into subjection. The only way to have the law written on the heart is by hearing God through Moses (or any other person). This is done only by a spiritual process via the Holy Spirit.
So when Israel requested that Moses hear God on their behalf, it ensured that the vast majority of the Israelites would be subject to what we now call the Old Covenant. Paul thus calls them the sons of the bondwoman (Hagar), or sons of Mount Sinai, where they were commanded to return to their tents of spiritual adultery.
Moses, on the other hand, went up the mount to hear the voice of God. He alone heard the rest of the law and learned the more complete picture of the will and mind of God. And so Moses shifts into teaching mode, yet continues to stress the people's need to hear God and obey Him.