“Moses and Aaron were among His priests;
Samuel also called on His name.
They cried to the Lord for help, and He answered them.
He spoke to Israel from the pillar of cloud,
and they followed the laws and decrees He gave them.
O Lord our God, You answered them.
You were a forgiving God to them,
but You punished them when they went wrong.”
Psalms 99:6-8 NLT
This is the Old Covenant, the Old Testament. There were priests who called on the name of the Lord, on both their own behalf and on behalf of the people. And God spoke to His chosen people from inside a pillar of cloud, perhaps of smoke. As an aside, I wonder how big it was – its diameter, its height. Was it totally opaque? But come what may, it must have been an amazing sight. The Psalm continues with the statement that God’s laws were being followed, and God answered the people, presumably when they cried for help. Was it an audible voice, like the thunder at Mount Sinai? Or Elijah’s still small voice? But here’s the thing, when they followed His laws and decrees, God forgave them. But when they didn’t He punished them.
How do we view our wonderful God? As a stern parent who praises us when we do right in His eyes, but punishes us when we don’t? The society in which we live will leave us largely alone if we abide by what’s written in the statute book, but will apply “the full force of the law” when we don’t. Keeping to a speed limit when driving through a town will invoke no penalties, but exceeding it will result in fines and points on our licence (if we’re caught). And that’s the thing. In our societies, getting caught out if we commit a misdemeanour may or may not happen, but in God’s Kingdom, our actions will always come before His gaze.
So back to our question, what picture, what impression, do we have of God in our minds? I meet people who never knew their fathers, or who never had a good experience with them. And they have then projected their bad experiences into the image they hold in their minds of God. They are fearful of God’s response to their behaviour, good or bad.
Thankfully, through Jesus, God’s love and concern for us shines through with the light of the New Covenant. The New Testament bulges with the excitement of the Isalm 99ncarnation, bursting out with the news of our God who came to this earth to save us. No longer do we need to fear a stern and remote parent. Through Jesus we have the very means to enter God’s presence at any time. We can call Him “Abba” or “Daddy”. We can have an intimate personal relationship with Him, enjoying Him as a true Father. Can we feel His love and grace today? He’s ready and waiting to delight in us, His children.