“In distress you called and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah 8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! 9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. 10 I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. 13 Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! 14 I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes. 15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever. 16 But he would feed you[e] with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:6-16
The cries of the Hebrew people had penetrated through the heavenlies. It was here that the plea of man entered into the secret place of God’s counsel; His throne room. With the eloquent wording of verse 6, “I answered you from the secret place of thunder”, something is revealed. A place where the sound of glory can be heard colliding with grim, the majestic crashing into the common, and the temporal calibrating with the eternal, thunders through the visible into the heart of man. The psalmist shows how prayer unleashes God’s providence and sets us free from our prisons. Providence is the divine care of God on mankind’s lives, it is detailed deliverance. The kind that is specific and personal, the kind that leaves no room for question about where it came from. Providence is always active in our lives, but there are times when in order to experience it we must pray for it. The throne room is the dwelling place of God, every time it is mentioned it is to symbolize the divine rule and authority of the one who sits upon it. As John the revelator sought to find words to express the grandeur of the throne room, Revelation 4:5 says “there came from the throne flashes of lightening, peals and rumbled of thunder…”. Our prayers usher us into this place, where majesty is a glow and justice is served.
Not only is God’s presence related to the sound of thunder clapping, it is also linked to the voice of God.
“God thunders wondrously with his voice, he does great things that we cannot comprehend.” Job 37:5
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the God of glory thunders, the Lord is over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” Psalm 29:3-4
God not only answers from the “secret place of thunder”, it is His answer that shakes the foundation of the earth, bringing forth His purpose. The thunder of this voice shakes the chains off our dusty feet and wakes up something within us.
Not only did God bring the thunder on the Egyptians, He also tested the people at Meribah. These accounts are recorded in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. Here the people of God “quarreled” with their Deliverer, not Moses, but with God. These people put God to the test by asking this simple question “Is the Lord among us or not?”. A seemingly logical answer for a people who have been carried out of the familiar on a pilgrimage to the unkown. It is often times when we leave the familiar confines of captivity for the abundance of inheritance that we feel lost. And when we feel lost we start questioning: “where is God?”, “What am I doing here?”. In the wail for help, our flesh gives us a solution; to go our own way. It reasons within, besieging faith with doubt, that we must have been mistaken “God doesn’t have our best interest at heart”, so we plot our own path. From now on we’ll be the writers of our own destinies. We plot and plan, analyzing every turn. But we never get there. Our promise land evades us. And like the Israelites, who decided to “follow their own counsels”, we die wandering; Aimless and confused. This bend we have that drives us to follow our own ways wastes our God given potential and most tragically diffuses the impact that potential was meant to have for the Kingdom of God.
We see in James 4 how quarreling between believers arises from evil desires within. But what about when the fight turns to the hand that is holding us? What causes a Christian, a child of God, to run and hide from her Maker?
11 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.[a] 12 They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore, great anger came from the Lord of hosts. Zechariah 7:11-12
This passage is referring to the people who refused to obey the command of God to abstain from idolatry (what was referenced to in Psalm 81). The message translation says that “they steeled themselves against God’s revelation.”.
We run because we don’t like where God is going, it may be uncomfortable or even worse-painful. It may stretch and pull us. We want to see the goodness of God, the blessing of God, to eat the provision of God but we do not want to be altered in the process. We want to keep our sense of control. So, we disobey. We go our way instead of His and in the process, we litter this world instead of shaping it.
The word quarrel in Exodus 17 is the Hebrew word “riyb” and means of many things, the clamoring of people for possessions and stations.
What drives us to quarrel and resist the providential hand of our Deliverer? The threat to our own “station”, the picking apart of our “possessions”.
We are taught in this nation to stand up for our rights. But perhaps we have mistaken privilege as a right. Everything our hand touches, is a gift, a loan from heaven. Yet, we mark it and label it “ours”. And nobody, even God, better not ask for us to lay it down. We guard our privileges and bury our possessions to keep them safe. If we do hand things over to God we do it with white fists, full of bitterness and disappointment. The Israelites did the same thing. They longed for what God asked them to leave, even though it was tainted by bondage. They longed for the food and delicacies of Egypt and shown contempt for the manna of heaven. Their bodies followed God but their hearts stayed in Egypt and as a result, they were aimless, void of influence, they forsook their inheritance and clung to the perishable-something that would never fill them. It is ironic that Asaph wrote this particular psalm for the congregation of Israel to sing during the Feasts of Tabernacles. The feasts of Israel are steeped in tradition and religiosity. It would be easy to lose the spiritual intention of the feast in the demand tradition held. Asaph used this story to remind the readers, that religious people can be the most disobedient. Are you lost in tradition? Has the meaning of worship been suffocated by the hands of man? We can sit in a pew week in and week out and miss what God has for us. On any given Sunday, countless children of God will be with Him in form but their hearts are wandering.
That’s why the Lord pleads through the Psalmist in Psalm 81 “O, Israel if you would only listen to me!” I challenge you to replace your name for Israel’s. And answer this question honestly: what has your deformed desires cost you? They cost Israel their inheritance, their promise land, the place they dreamed of and robbed them of their potential and thus stole God’s glory.” If only” echoes through the aisles of our churches. The faint echo of what was to be is replaced by the groaning of a wandering soul.
“If only you listened…” breathes the Spirit over our dry bones.
God uncovered what He had instore for His people:
“open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”
“I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes.”
“he would feed you with the feast of wheat, and with honey form the rock would I satisfy you.”
Yet, they “would not submit to Me” said the Lord. Our obstinateness costs us our satisfaction. Our attachment to our deformities deceives us into chasing something that will never fill us, that offers no satisfaction.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that the word “submit” in Psalm 81:11 can be translated “desire”. Our willingness is directly linked to our desires. A lack of obedience isn’t born in the will but in the heart.
Our verses from Zechariah 7 show us this, in that as the people refused to pay attention. The idea here is that they refused and offer, their desire to do as they wished caused them to reject God’s offer of richness and satisfaction. Their desires drove them to digest “ashes” (Isaiah 44: 20 “He (the idolater) feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has lead him astray.) instead of the finest of wheat and the honey from the rock.
I won’t be so dogmatic as to say that every time we question if God is among us or not, our hearts are misplaced. But I do believe that for the vast majority we question His presence, not because He isn’t there but because we don’t like where He’s going. And that is a clear indication we trust our own counsel over God’s.
Disappointment is caused by our hope being deferred, but the deference of hope is cause by the heart being deluded by deformed desires. Because when our hope is in the Kingdom, then it will never be deferred.
If only we would submit…….we would find what our heart desires. If only we would listen we would find purpose and meaning. If only we would obey, the kingdom of heaven would be made evident to earth.
If only we would receive the thunder that is pealing in our souls, maybe we would cross the border of the Promise land. The land that flows with the honey from the Rock. Where the sweetness of provision yields the abundance of satisfaction. O, That our mouths would be opened wide in expectancy of heavens wheat and honey.