Friday, May 30, 2014

Mount Sinai Transformed Into An Awesome Site -- Exodus 19:16-20


So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.  And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.  When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.
 
Living in North America, I have had the pleasure of watching some incredible firework displays.  But as I read this passage of Scripture, I realize that even though millions of dollars were spent to put these shows on, they pale in comparison to what God did on Mount Sinai.
The event begins as the right time had elapsed and morning had come.  The two day waiting period in which the Children of Israel were to consecrate and prepare themselves to hear God when He came down on Sinai were over.  The big day had arrived.  Showtime.
The text says there was thunder and lightning flashes.  I remember my experience recently at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve when the sky was lit up like a Christmas tree.  I believe it was nothing compared to what was going on here, since the “whole mountain shook violently”.  Can you imagine thunder and lightening that effective?  David Guzik says these were meant to signal the power and glory of God’s presence.
And then there was the “thick cloud” upon the mountain just as God had promised (verse 9 of this same chapter).  God was in that cloud.  That must have been quite a sight.  Here is a mountain out in the desert and on it, and it alone, was this thick cloud.  Possibly there was sunshine all around the mountain, but not on it.
And then a very loud trumpet sound was heard.  There are differences of opinion as to its source.  Some think it came from heaven and not the camp.  Others believe it was a sound blown from a trumpet played by angels.  If either possibility is true, it is no wonder the people trembled.  They had never heard anything like this before.  It is also possible that this was a sound from the priests of Israel as orchestrated by Moses or as was their custom on such impassioned religious occasions.  But regardless of its source, we note that God had (in verse 13) told Moses that this would be one of the signals for the people to approach the mountain.
Capture in your imagination the scene.  At the appointed time, there was thunder, lightning, a thick cloud, and now the awaited blast from a trumpet or ram’s horn.  Was there really anything left for the people to do but to tremble as they realized what was about to happen?  And tremble they did.  The text says “all the people” in the camp trembled.
So Moses calls them all to come out from the camp and “meet God”.  I am sure they moved forward with great fear of not knowing what to expect, like children who really wish to get closer to the activity taking place before them at some amazing exhibit they have never seen before, but at the same time wanting to cling onto and hide behind their mother or mother because all this was new to them.  Can you imagine the experience the children of Israel were having?  And given what did occur next as we find out in the passages still to come, is it not surprising that it would not be long before they would forget it?  Many of us do exactly the same thing today.  We forget the time that God was so real to us.  We forget His mighty show of presence in our own lives.  When there is no thunder, no lightning, and no mountain shaking to be seen, we think God is nowhere to be found and does not care.  Oh, that we would remember that day when we were called to come out of our camp.
So the children of Israel stood at the foot of Sinai and waited.  I am reminded of going early to my seat at a concert or where someone famous was about to make an important speech and just waiting for him or her to appear on the stage.  The more unique the event we were about to experience, the more that those with me and I talked about what we imagined we were going to see.  The Israelites could see the thick cloud be overtaken by smoke because God had come down on Sinai in fire.  I wonder what they were saying to each other as the excitement mounted.
The smoke from the fire went up “like smoke from a furnace”.  I picture a vertical column of smoke shooting up, perhaps through the thick cloud, almost like a volcano erupting and spewing its lava, and causing the whole mountain to shake “violently”.  Can you imagine the scene before their eyes?  Most of us have very little to compare it to.  The best I can do is to reflect on my seeing the life performance of what the Disney people bill as a “breathtaking 30-minute fireworks and water extravaganza” called Fantasmic.  Those of you who have seen it will know what I mean.  But I assure you it does not compare to what was happening on Mount Sinai.  While the Disney World audience got to see Mickey Mouse emerge from the man-made display that took millions of dollars, thousands of hours, and hundreds of people to produce, the children of Israel were about to hear the voice of the living God in a solo performance – where He alone designed, produced, and starred.  What a sight that must have been!
Then one could hear that trumpet sound that was heard earlier get louder and louder – and as a result longer and longer, just as God had said there would be.  And as if by cue, Moses spoke, the Scriptures tell us, and God answered him with thunder.  What possibly could this servant have said to God at this point?  He knew what God had said would happen, but what does one say to God right at this moment?  “Okay, God, we’re here.  Show up please.”  I doubt it.  Guzik hypotheses that Moses may have been asking God to stop everything that was causing the people to tremble.  Matthew Henry indicates that some believe this is when Moses uttered the words ascribed to him in Hebrews 12:21, “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.”  Did he say that directly to God?  Perhaps this was that time.  It just blows my mind thinking about how Moses must have felt at that very instant.  How amazing is it to have such a relationship with God that a whole nation could be brought to the point of hearing Him?  Henry points out that here was a man who led the people out of their bondage and was now leading them to receive the law from God.  What I see in that suggestion is the very order in which we should do God’s work today.  First, address the physical basic needs of people; then provide them the opportunity to accept God’s solution to their spiritual needs.  For years, we evangelicals have ignored that approach, often going only for the latter.
I cannot wait to ask Moses about that day.
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