We might ask “Why didn’t God speak more softly?” We know that He prefers to. That’s what He does when talking to His friends, as in the still, small voice with Elijah at the mouth of the cave (1 Kings 19:12). But when people are hard of hearing, God will raise His voice. And how grateful we should be that He is willing to raise His voice when we need it! Now did He speak too loudly at Mount Sinai? Did He terrify them too much? I would say not. Forty days after the fire, the earthquake, the lightning and the thunder died away, they were dancing drunk around a golden calf in a fertility cult ritual.
Surely those of us who have taught little ones, or have children of our own, know how difficult it is to gain proper respect so that learning might occur without fear. What a delicate thing it is to accomplish both! Whenever God raised His voice He got reverence, but there would also be some terror. When He talked softly they would despise Him as later generations despised gentle Jesus. So God has had to go back and forth on this through history.
Imagine that you are a grade school teacher with forty years of experience. You have never raised your voice in forty years to your little pupils. It is the last day of fall quarter, and there is a rap on the door. The principal says, “The building is on fire. Please line up the pupils and get them out the door.” So you step back into the room with your usual dignity and in your usual quiet voice, you say, “Students, the building is on fire. Please line up and we will go out that door.” But it is the last day before Christmas vacation, and let’s say it is the period after recess, and there is a tumult in the room. The little ones don’t see you standing there.
Would you say at this point, “Well, I am not going to sully my reputation by shouting for the first time in forty years. I have given them a chance. Let me just go home and save myself.” Or would you, dignified you, be willing to shout to the students for the first time? What if, to your horror, they still don’t notice you? Would you be willing to climb up on the desk, throw the chalk and some erasers, until with terror the children finally see you? Then, once they have slipped into their seats and you have slipped into yours, you say, “Children, don’t go home and tell your mothers I am angry with you. I am not angry with you. I love you and I don’t want you to be hurt. But the school building is on fire. So in this quiet moment while I have your attention, would you quickly line up the way we’ve practiced and go out that door?”
Now which approach shows greater love? Would it be not terrifying them briefly? Would it be not raising your voice? Or would it be better to run the risk of being feared? Wouldn’t it be better to be obeyed for the wrong reason momentarily? It seems to me that God has taken that risk over and over in Scripture. We should be prepared to say, “Thank you God, for raising your voice so many times. It must mean that you really love us.”