I have a confession to make. In preparing to write this entry in our Moses study, I thought I had it all figured out. I admit that I ignorantly approached this portion of scripture with an “I already know this” kind of attitude. I had somewhat of an outline forming in my brain, all surrounded by the commandments themselves. I was going to write about the fact these commandments reveal the heart of man, as much as they reveal the heart of God. I was going to suggest that man really hasn’t changed all that much since Moses’ time; we still struggle today with the same sins that God forbid of His people back then. And I absolutely believe that these things are very true, yet that is not the direction that God led me in once I finally sat down and allowed His word to teach. God did a little calling out with me through these verses, and though I walked into these scriptures prepared to simply review the 10 commandments; the bulk of what impacted me came before the first commandment was ever even spoken by God. Let’s review His word together:
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. Exodus 19: 16-19
I would like to suggest that you read these verses several times. For me, it was about the fifth time through them that they really began sinking in. We cannot comprehend the magnitude of God. He is beyond anything that we can see or imagine. We cannot fit Him into a box of our own making, we cannot force Him to be confined to an image that we need Him to be. He is beyond what we can make of Him…and that can cause a little trembling. Things are much neater and a little easier when we picture God in a white robe sitting on His throne keeping a close watch over His children. I’m not suggesting that that is not an appropriate image of the Lord, there is certainly scripture to defend that truth. But what I am saying is that God is so much more than just that image, and we as humans can barely scratch the surface of His glory. But here in Exodus, God peals back the tiniest chip of paint to give us a glimpse of His holy power and might; and our servant Moses gets to be the recipient and messenger of God’s audible words.
Let’s rewind a little and go back to a few previous verses before the Lord even descends to the mountain top. Did you catch all that the Lord had His people do before they were ready to hear His commands? Charles Swindoll helps break down what the Lord requires of His people before they can be ready to receive His word: “Exodus 19:3-15 lists four prerequisites God made of His people before they could meet with Him. He brought them to His chosen place of meeting, but before He would give His revelation to them, He required them to do four things”:
- Be willing to obey (vv.3-6)
- Be sensitive to listen (v.9)
- Consecrate your hearts (vv.10-11,14)
- Show a deep respect for God’s presence (vv.21-23)
And for me, herein lies my own personal conviction. I couldn’t help but think how often I approach God flippantly. How often I talk much more than I listen. Have you ever considered that? This is a fine line that we walk as Christians, and one that someone could quickly distort and use as a way to condemn others. Please do not misinterpret what I am saying as judgment. The Lord desires an intimate relationship with us. He wants us to meditate and think on his word, and to talk with Him all throughout our day. So for you and me, that is often going to be in the carpool line while picking up kids, or in a grocery line, or while changing a diaper…you get the picture. God desires conversation throughout our day. But what I am really getting at is something deeper. Do we often get down on our faces before the Lord and truly submit to His authority. Do we ever take the time to approach Him in awe and reverence for all that we can fathom Him to be? Do we often take the time to humbly bow down before the One that spoke the heavens into existence, and for some grace filled incomprehensible reason, also chooses to speak to us? I think if we did that more often, we would find that the result would be a deeper, closer, more intimate walk with the Lord.
But now let us consider how Jesus has changed our approach to the mountain. When Jesus left heaven to walk among His people, He did so in an approachable form. He drew close to His children, and begged them to draw close to Him. He ate dinner with people like you and me; He attended their parties, and mourned their disbelief. He became flesh and thus became approachable. And yes, when He gave Himself up on the cross, the veil in the temple tore in two. There was no longer a barrier between God and His people. We are indeed in a new covenant with Jesus our mediator, and His blood does speak a better word than the old covenant. But what I would like to mention is that He is still the same God. He is still every bit as powerful and incomprehensible today, as He was on the top of Mt. Sinai with fire and smoke and lightning blazing.
The writer of Hebrews does a beautiful job of comparing two mountains where we meet God. The first is Mount Sinai, where we meet God in the old covenant. The second is Mount Zion, where our God welcomes us through Christ into His holy city. Let’s read these words together:
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Tell me you are not glad you are a child of the New Covenant! Jesus makes all the difference in how we approach the Father. If you have accepted the Lord’s gift of salvation, than you my friend may joyfully walk up to Mt. Zion without fear or trembling, for your name is written in heaven. But let us never forget that He is the same God that met Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai, and only by His shed blood do we approach the mountain with boldness. May the only word that we are able to speak when we get there be “Glory!”
One of our church’s pastors preached a phenomenal sermon on Psalm 29 last summer. In Psalm 29 David writes of God’s might and power through the visual and audible experience of a storm. If you have the time, I think you would be blessed to listen to the entire sermon (particularly if you are presently in a “storm” of your own). But at the minimum, I would love for you to click over to the below link and listen to the 5 minutes where Pastor Chris walks us through Psalm 29 with a thunderstorm as the backdrop. Once the video loads, you can do so by fast forwarding the sermon to minute 20, and listening through minute 25. I think you will agree that it fits in beautifully with our scripture for today.
Thanks for coming along with me friends. You will never know what an honor this has been for me. May we always give Him the glory for all the grace He has shown!
Your homework for next time is to read Exodus 23:20-33.
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[i] Swindoll, C. R. (1999) Moses: A Man with Selfless Dedication. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc. pg 267-269.