12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there.
We read past this instruction to wait so quickly it is easily missed. Moses spent six days waiting before God revealed the commandments he had summoned Moses to receive, six days before God gave his instructions for this people newly born into freedom: 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.
Waiting plays an important role in the spiritual life. When Anna was an infant and woke up hungry at night, she went from sound sleep to a demanding cry in an instant. Children are not wired to wait; learning to wait is an important part of maturing. Waiting for Christmas, waiting for your birthday, waiting for a friend to arrive, waiting for an answer from your parents (“I need to think about it.” “Why?!”) Learning to delay gratification, learning to surrender some of our selfishness (“You go first”), learning patience – it’s all an important part of spiritual formation. Too often we want God to solve our problem now, to change our hearts now, to answer our questions now.
Waiting is not easy. Surely Moses was in a hurry to get back down to the people – and he had good cause. In his absence they made a golden calf and caroused around it declaring this was the god who delivered them from Egypt. But God made Moses wait.
When the prophet Habakkuk cries out to God, impatient at the injustice and corruption around him, God’s answer is simply “If [the vision] seems slow, wait for it.” This is God’s central message: “Trust me.” Trust that I am good. Trust my promise. Trust my commands. Trust my justice. Trust my mercy. Trust my love.
Psalm 27 bids us “Wait for the Lord,” and Psalm 37 to “Be still before the Lord.” Isaiah declares that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (40:31). “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
If I wait for my father to pick me up from school, I wait because I trust him. If I did not trust his promise to come, I would find some other way home. Patience is the flip-side of faith. It trusts the promise despite delays, despite fears, despite sorrows. It’s not belief against evidence or denial of reality; it is enduring trust in the one who has made the promise. Because we trust we wait. And the fruits of faithful waiting are those related virtues: endurance, courage, steadfastness, and hope
So Moses must wait.
But there is also grace in the waiting. He had six days to put behind him all the pressure and labor of leading that unruly crowd; six days to learn to “let go and let God,” six days to center himself, six days to enter into the peace of God. And after six days he was finally ready to hear what God had so say.
And then God spoke.