The Power of a Time-Out

Imagine the relief Moses felt when he heard these words,

And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

Exodus 32:14

Just a few verses earlier, God was ready to destroy the entire Israelite nation.

Their worship of a golden calf had crossed the line.

Pushed God to a breaking point.

Like the days of Noah,

He was ready for a fresh start.

“Now leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. 

Then I will make you into a great nation.”

Exodus 32:10

Would man ever learn?

Surely they had heard of the flood?

They had definitely seen the plagues.

And walked through dry land as the Red Sea parted.

What more did they need?

Thankfully, Moses loved these short-sighted people.

He could have joined God in His judgment of the Israelites

and been part of a new beginning.

Instead, he pleaded for them.

Reminded God of His promise

to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And God listened,

sending a plague instead.

This time punishment came without destruction.

But it didn’t come without frustration.

God wanted to keep His promise to His people.

But He no longer wanted to join them on the journey to it.

In Chapter 33 of Exodus,

God tells Moses to take the people and go to the promised land.

He even says He’ll send an angel ahead of them.

But He adds words no Israelite wanted to hear.

He says,

“But I will not go with you.”

(Ex. 33:3)

God takes a step back from the chosen people.

as if to say,

“I love you, but I need a boundary too. 

And being too close to you right now is toxic.”

This time the people don’t turn to someone else for help.

They don’t cry out to Aaron for another golden calf,

throwing their jewelry in a pile as a way to help with its construction.

This time, they simply take their jewelry off and mourn the thought of not having God with them on their journey.

They stay in their tents.

Only approaching their flapping doors when Moses walks outside the camp to meet with God privately…

in the tent of meeting.

They’re able to see the cloud in the distance.

hovering over this sacred place just outside their camp.

But God is no longer with them.

It must have looked like the nation had placed themselves in a long time-out.

Thousands of tents scattered over the wilderness

with families safely tucked inside.

Waiting for moments when Moses would go to meet with God.

Peeking from the behind their walls of fabric, they were able to catch a glimpse of Him too.

I’m not sure how long this went on,

but eventually Moses had the courage to ask God for more.

He, along with all the Israelite people,

needed God in their midst.

Not just beside them.

So He pleaded again.

Asked for more of God’s presence.

And God listened…….

again.

He said,

“I will do the very thing you have asked,

because you have found favor with me,

and I know you by name.” 

Exodus 33:17

God took Moses back to Mt Sinai.

Started over.

Not with new people.

but with a new set of commandments,

forgetting the shattered stones of days gone by.

Even Moses had to learn there’s more power in laying down stones than in throwing them.

When he returned this time,

I wonder what he expected.

As he held the new commandments,

was there any part of him that also held a grudge?

I’m sure his face lit up with both God’s presence and pure joy as he realized the people weren’t throwing another party.

There was no golden calf to be found among them.

The time-out had worked.

When they saw the radiance shining from Moses’ face,

they knew he had been with God.

And they were finally ready to listen.

God had more than commandments to share this time.

This time He also had instructions.

A detailed plan for building a place where He would dwell.

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

Talent jumped into action as resources began to pile up.

Some gave gifts of jewels and fine linen

while others used their gifts to sculpt and sew.

I can’t imagine the excitement that must have spread through the wilderness as they realized God was there too.

Making a way for them to approach Him.

No more watching from their tent doors.

Their self-inflicted time-out had ended.

God now had their full attention.

What does it take to get my attention today?

——————————————-

I spent the weekend with my two-year-old granddaughter.

When she’s upset or doesn’t get her way,

she likes to put herself in a time-out.

Step away.

Take a break.

Peek from her cupped hands

until she’s ready to face the world again.

I’m really no different.

I, like Elaine and the Israelites,

often need time-outs too –

before I’m ready to listen.

I’m so thankful for a God who never leaves.

But patiently waits for me.

(Today’s reading was  Exodus 33 – 36)

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