Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Lord Visits Sinai -- Exodus 19:20-25

The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.  Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.”  Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’” Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them.”  So Moses went down to the people and told them.
I love the opening sentence of this passage – “The Lord came down, to the top of the mountain, and He called Moses up to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”  What a perfect scene it is.  God comes down to meet man and invites him up to Him.  And notice the text says that God came down to the top of the mountain signifying His position above all the earth.  And Moses accepted the invitation of God.  That is God’s plan for each of us.  That is His heart.  But so many are too busy with things that do not matter as much in the big scheme of things, to accept His invitation.  It takes discipline to ‘put the urgent aside for the important’.
And when man accepts the invitation, God speaks to him.  In the case of Moses here, God tells him to go down again to warn the people not to break though the barriers in order to get a closer look at Him.  God did not want any of the children of Israel to die as a result of disobedience.  Had not God already warned them?  Had He not already given instructions to Moses to give to the people?  Did He not know that Moses had obeyed and had taken the necessary precautions to prevent the people from getting too close to God?  Of course He did.  But is it not like our loving God to give people a second chance, a second warning, to hear His word?  Consider how many warnings you and I have had. 
And there was another reason for God to repeat His instructions.  It appears the priests of Israel thought they were already consecrated enough and did not have to go through it again when God had sent the instruction to do so through Moses, earlier in this chapter (verse 10).  So God says to Moses now, “And also get the priests to consecrate themselves.”  I love that word “also” as if to say, “Who do they think they are, not consecrating themselves?”  The message is very clear to pastors and Christian leaders, when it comes to the instructions of God, no man (or woman) is above them.  No one gets a special pass.  It was not beyond God to “break out against” the priests if they thought that by their position, they were above others and thus God’s instructions did not apply to them.  Woe to spiritual leaders today who think they are.  Not only is God no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but I also believe He is no respecter of titles.
Now something most interesting occurs next.  Moses actually tells God there is no way that the people will come up the mountain because “we heeded your warning and we set bounds as you instructed”.  Instead of the normal immediate obedience that we were getting used to expecting from Moses, we get some push back to God.  What was going on here?  Surely God was aware of all that had been done.  Matthew Henry believes that Moses was pleading that no further action was necessary, as all the God-given instructions had been followed.  To this Henry says, “But God, who knew their willfulness and presumption, and what was now in the hearts of some of them,” hastens Moses down with this charge, that neither the priests nor the people should force the lines that were set to come up to God.
Many a times we feel that we obeyed all of God’s commandments as to how we should live and we still are not being blessed. In fact, sometimes some of us feel we have been abandoned by Him.  We have clung on to God for His blessings rather than for Who He is.  We want to see more from God.  Our text, as Henry implies, suggests that God knows our presumptions and what wrongful attitudes are now in our hearts.  But He does not let go.  He sends the instructions again and warns us.  He is looking for a change in our hearts.  He wants us to love Him for Who He is, not for what he may not allow to happen to us.
So here God tells Moses to “go down and come up again, bring Aaron, but keep the priests and the people away”.  Only Moses and Aaron could come up the mountain for their hearts were right and God was delighted to honor them.
Of interest also is that Moses talks about the mountain being consecrated.  We have no earlier mention in the text of that being part of what God had asked for.  However, with it being part of the inspired Word of God, we must accept its validity.  Moses was basically saying, “Because you God were to come to the mountain, we understand the need to consecrate it.”  Are we asking God to visit us in our places of worship, in our homes, at our workplace? If so, have we consecrated these places in preparation for His presence?
Bible commentator Matthew Henry ponders what God was really forbidding the priests and the people to do.  He suggested it was the ability to ‘gaze’ at Him.  He was willing to let them ‘see’ enough to awaken their consciences, but not enough to allow them to gratify their vain curiosity.  Henry writes:
“They might see, but not gaze. Some of them, probably, were desirous to see some similitude, that they might know how to make an image of God, which he took care to prevent, for they saw no manner of similitude . . . Note, In divine things we must not covet to know more than God would have us know; and He has allowed us as much as is good for us. A desire of forbidden knowledge was the ruin of our first parents. Those that would be wise above what is written, and intrude into those things which they have not seen, need this admonition, that they break not through to gaze.  And Henry continues, “The restraints and warnings of the divine law are all intended for our good, and to keep us out of that danger into which we should otherwise, by our own folly, run ourselves. It is at our peril if we break the bounds that God has set us, and intrude upon that which He has not allowed us; . . . And, even when we are called to approach God, we must remember that He is in heaven and we upon earth, and therefore it behooves us to exercise reverence and godly fear.”
The points are well made.  We need not add anything here with respect to what Henry expounded on.
On a separate note, I did find it interesting that both in verse 21 and again in verse 24 of this chapter, God speaks to Moses about Himself in the third person, “the Lord” and then God adds, “He will break forth”.  It is as if, from our human and limited perspective (our Hellenic minds) there are too entities here – the ‘Lord God’ Who loves and protects and cares and wants none to perish, and the ‘Lord He’ whose judgment may befall us.  However from a divine perspective (and the Judaic mindset), there is no such division – it is One Lord, One God.  It is us that have to get comfortable with that, or at the very least to accept it.
As a result, I have also often wondered about our approach to the Almighty God.  We seem to do it with so little reverence at times.  There is indeed a time for closeness with God, a time of intimacy or even familiarity perhaps through Jesus Christ, our Brother and Best Friend.  I am neither denying nor objecting to that need.  However, when we approach the Almighty God on His Throne of grace and wisdom and judgment and truth, can we give Him any less respect than He seems to give Himself?
The passage ends with Moses, seemingly understanding where God was coming from, obeying and going down and telling the people again what God expected of all of them, including the priests.

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