Picture yourself for a moment in the wilderness at the foot of Mt. Sinai with the Israelites. You’ve been told that you’re going to meet with God – that He is actually going to come down and talk to you. It’s a clear, hot day but suddenly there is thunder and lightening and a thick cloud coming down onto the mountain. The piercing blast of a ram’s horn sounds above the noise of the thunder. But this is not one of the priests blowing the shofar. No, the sound is coming from above you and it’s growing louder and louder until it merges with your spirit and brings you to your knees. Now the ground begins to rumble and quake beneath you and fire breaks out on top of the mountain. Then, as you lay terrified on the ground clinging to the roots of a large tree, you hear the loud, clear voice of the living God.
This was not just a supernatural, spiritual experience or a vision. This literally happened to every one of the Israelites who came out of Egypt.
God’s deep desire has always been a close fellowship with man, the kind He enjoyed with Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall. He chose Israel to be a holy people separated unto Himself. He planned to come and dwell in the midst of them and be their God. He had revealed Himself through the miracles of Egypt and the escape into the wilderness. He showed Himself in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that travelled with them. He supplied numerous miracles in the wilderness to sustain them. But He longed to be closer to them. Finally He told Moses to prepare them to meet with Him.
After all the preparation was finished, “on the third day, it being morning, it happened. There were thunders and lightnings, and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of a ram’s horn, very strong! And all the people in the camp trembled. And the mountain of Sinai was smoking, all of it, because Jehovah came down on it in fire. And its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace; and the mountain quaked exceedingly. And it happened while the sound of the ram’s horn was sounding, and becoming very strong, Moses spoke. And God answered him by a voice. ” (Ex. 19:16-19 Literal Translation)
A careful reading of Exodus 20 and the parallel passage of Deuteronomy 5 reveals that this was the time when God gave them the 10 commandments. I had always pictured God giving them to Moses on the mountain, then Moses coming down to read them to the people. But God says clearly to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, you have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.” [Ex. 20:22] In chapter 5 of Deuteronomy Moses is relating their history to them and tells the whole story of how they saw the mountain on fire and heard the voice of the Lord giving them the commandments. He also reminds them of their response. They were terrified and told Moses to hear from God then tell them what He said so they wouldn’t die.
So God’s plan of closer fellowship was rejected by them and God gave them what they asked for. Now He talked to Moses and Moses told them what God said. The Lord spoke His heart on the matter later through Jeremiah (Jer.7:22-24) when He said that His first plan was obedience to His voice rather than sacrifice. His original goal was always a close, intimate relationship with man. But since they rejected the relationship He desired, another system with laws had to be put in place for their own protection.
The lesson here is about relationship once again. Our own fears can keep us from the presence of God. The book of Hebrews tells us that Moses was fearful as well. (Heb.12:21) But evidently His hunger and passion for God was greater than his fear. The voice of the Spirit within us always whispers, “You were made for this.”
When we allow God’s perfect love to cast out our fear, (1 Jn. 4:18 ) when we hunger and thirst for Him more than anything else, we can be drawn into a depth of relationship with Him that others only dream of.
In the next posting we will look at Moses reaction to the same fiery mountain. (Ex. 19:20) “The Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.”