Hebrews 12:22 “And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”
There are terms I’ve heard through the years that have required more understanding. I’ve heard preachers talk of God as being awesome and terrible in His countenance and these adjectives would leave my mind scrambling to relate a God who is spoken of as being loving, gentle, merciful, and gracious. How can the Lord who one moment scolds the disciples to “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” be the same Lord who angrily turns over the money changers tables in the Temple?
How does God who is lauded as so kind and gentle in one instance, be the same God who is then feared when His countenance draws near?
Lamentations 3:22-24 “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
Does this depiction of God sound fearful? There is no fear in Solomon’s description but rather a rejoicing in God’s mercies, knowing that He won’t consume His people because of His great faithfulness. There is the echo of hope that has resonated in the songs of the redeemed for generations past.
When we consider the Psalmist, we look into God’s judgement and see another aspect of God’s Holy indignation.
Psalm 18:7-12 “Then the earth shook and trembled;
The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken,
Because He was angry.
Smoke went up from His nostrils,
And devouring fire from His mouth;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With darkness under His feet.
And He rode upon a cherub, and flew;
He flew upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His secret place;
His canopy around Him was dark waters
And thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him,
His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire.”
The idea of God being merciful and gracious is much easier for people to digest than the thought of His terrible wrath. No one wants to endure punishment, the very notion invokes concern of pain and suffering. If punishment is to occur it implies failure. Failure to be obedient—the very idea has become more foreign every day with the removal of discipline in today’s homes, many are raising up a generation that doesn’t understand consequences.
When God disciplines His own, it is a good sign, it shows His care for His children and desire for them to grow and know His peace.
God’s wrath on the other hand is reserved for those who are His enemies and likewise the enemies of His people.
Neither punishment nor wrath are pleasant, one is an expression of love in correction and the other an expression of love in judgement. It is in the midst of God’s wrath we witness the measure of His disdain for sin.
The term terrible is a word that implies being frightful; it’s adapted to excite terror and elicit the image of being formidable. Prudent in peace, and terrible in war—When used to depict God it is adapted to impress dread, terror or solemn awe and reverence.
Deuteronomy 10:21 “He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome(terrible) things which your eyes have seen.”
When the children of Israel were brought forth from Egypt, God’s terrible wrath was upon all who opposed His plan. Egypt suffered greatly for their refusal to comply with God’s demands and every nation that stood in their way found this wrath of God to be impossible to oppose.
Psalm 99:1-3 “The Lord reigns;
Let the peoples tremble!
He dwells between the cherubim;
Let the earth be moved!
The Lord is great in Zion,
And He is high above all the peoples.
Let them praise Your great and awesome(terrible) name—
He is holy.”
The reality of God’s judgement becomes evident in the midst of a sinful people. Holiness is His name, His glory, and His goodness—for all who stand in the camp of the enemy, opposing God is determined by their lifestyles and their thoughts. They may not understand it now but all who live contrary to God’s plan, place themselves under a position of wrath.
Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
The plans of God are formidable.
The grandiose nature of God’s power is not easy to overlook. We can get so accustomed to watching the sun appear at the dawn and then set in the evening, we often forget this order was set by Him. The movement of the constellations, the moon in its orbit, the miracle of birth and the conclusion of life, every day there are reminders of God’s sovereignty.
In the midst of all we see, it is only the tip of the iceberg that is visible. We have no idea how wide the spectrum is of God’s intervention in our world each and every moment.
If we could just understand the array of all God touches every moment, we would undoubtedly stop and declare His greatness—it would leave us in awe.
To understand how ‘terrible’ is our God, is to truly grasp the fear of the Lord.
When Moses fled Egypt after killing an egyptian, he lived in the land of Midian for 40 years. This area located in the northwest region of Saudi Arabia is today an arid land of desert and rocks, a distant reminder of a great and terrible day. When God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, the fear of God fell over Him.
Exodus 3:5-6 “Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.”
One day we too will stand before God and the reality of God’s abiding power will be on full display. We are reminded that it is not the place that holds the power, it is where God now abides.
The arrogance of mankind today is on full display in our world. A russian madman is invading europe as of now, his arrogance is only leading his people into great trouble. The arrogance of secular scientists lay claim to knowing the origin of life, rejecting God in their narrative. The arrogance of people in power think they can legislate morality apart from God’s moral law. All over the world, people live like there is no God, no judgment, or no standard by which they will be held accountable.
Exodus 15:11-13 “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
You stretched out Your right hand;
The earth swallowed them.
You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom You have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.”
For those who are counted among God’s people, their fear will be turned into praise.
It is by God’s mercy the people can rejoice for there is a reprieve from the fierce judgement that awaits this world. When the Lord delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Egyptians, a song could be heard as they marched triumphantly in victory. The people were brought through the waters like a baptism of redemption, were led to the holy mountain and there God established His law before them. It was there where He separated those who were of the camp of the rebellious while He led forth those who followed faithfully.
We have a future that looks very similar to what God did for Israel. For those who are counted among His people, baptism becomes the act of obedience that begins the journey. God still leads His people to His holy habitation, one day He will lead us to Heaven where the full magnitude of His law will again be evident. For those who have never partaken of God’s goodness, the separation of the godless from the redeemed will culminate in the lake of fire.
The awesome power of God has no equal. No one will stand against Him, no excuse will suffice for those who have lived their lives on their own terms.
Isaiah 34:1-2 “Come near, you nations, to hear;
And heed, you people!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
The world and all things that come forth from it.
For the indignation of the Lord is against all nations,
And His fury against all their armies;
He has utterly destroyed them,
He has given them over to the slaughter.”
If you hear His call, be thankful. It is only by His mercy does He beckon you to come, it is only through His Son are you made holy.
You have but one recourse to escape the terrible wrath to come, place your sins upon His altar and they will be remembered no more. The sacrifice that was required of you has been fulfilled by the Lamb of God.
When we stand before our judge we will either be found worthy in Christ or we will be found unworthy by our own accord.
Who have you placed your hope in?