I go to a small camp here in Washington called Shiloh on occasion. It is a quiet little camp lost among the woods between several minuscule towns. There are no freeways here and there are few cars–it is very calm and relaxed. Honestly, I find it incredibly enjoyable.The road out to Shiloh reminds me of roads in Bolivia, as it is mostly a gravel road filled with many twists and turns. As you look back all you see is a cloud of dust following you, seemingly snapping at your tires, like a million little brown dogs.
On one of these trips out there about a year ago, I was with my dad, enjoying a nice Summer day. A Lynx flashed across our car as we went and I furiously reached for my camera and was able to get a few shots of him.
I was able to get this one good shot before he scurried into the forest. And since I had my camera out, I looked around me for something else that was worth “shooting”.
“Hey pops, what do you think goes on under those clouds? ” I remember asking, as we looked out across a long expanse of small hills covered with tall, dark evergreens. I was referring to Mount Rainier, which is about a two hour drive from where we were right then. The sun was setting and the sky was turning that beautiful golden/red color. I zoomed in my camera and got a shot of the mountain.
My dad had no answer, and neither did I. But never-the-less it lead into a fantastical discussion about angels.
Looking at this picture again it reminds me of something that has been “cooking” in my mind lately. I recently finished reading through the book of Exodus, and if you have looked through the book, it gets quite slow in the 2nd half of the book–compared to such a phenomenal first half. But there is definitely great things to learn from every single chapter in the Bible!
In between the first layout of the Law (the 10 Commandments) and the directions to build the temple, an incredible story unfolds, in between the seemingly useless monotony of the end of Exodus…
It all starts in Exodus 19 as Israel settles at the foot of Mount Sinai, where they would receive the 10 Commandments. Here God gives Moses a message for the people:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Then God told the people to cleanse themselves because his intention was to come and visit them–something that had never happened to them. Here is what happened 3 days after God had commanded the previous things to the people:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a [great furnace], and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 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.
Imagine the sight of 1,000,000 people standing outside their tents as the sun rose up to see this sight. All of a sudden the sun is blotted out and fire falls onto the looming mountain next to them. The mountain seems to be burning! Smoke is now billowing up from it, much like a volcano, and it forms a massive cloud around the mountain that would not leave until God’s visit ends (seemingly more than 40 days). Now add to this the loud sounds of thunder and trumpet blasts. God himself is speaking in a voice of thunder and lightning flashes in their faces as heavy rain falls on them.
If you see it this way, it is no doubt that the people in the camp “trembled” at this startling event. They were in the presence of God’s glory, and he had summoned their leader to converse with him.
Moses then spends time with God as he outlines his plan for his people, Israel (Chapters 20-23). He gives Moses the 10 Commandments and outlines some basic principles for living that he expected from Israel. When Moses came down, he told the multitude about these things and they respond: “All the words that he LORD has spoken we will do.” In this they ominously sealed their fate.
Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
The description of the mountain is indescribable, and the sense of fear if caused the people is probably not understood from this passage.
Moses himself became a changed man. This was not the burning bush experience, this was not even like the Red Sea crossing. This was much, much greater. He was in the presence of God himself, for 40 days, simply listening and learning from God.
And [God] gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
Yet when he came back “down-to-earth”, the people had belittled the glory of God. They became restless and looked for something to worship, they wanted something to thank for the miracles that had happened. So they asked Aaron, Moses’ right-hand man, to make them an idol. Aaron himself bought into the idea,
And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”
God was not unaware of this, and he immediately commanded Moses:
Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it.
The wrath that built-up in God because of this, is not described, but it was without a doubt present. The writer of Exodus (namely Moses) did not have to include God’s feeling towards the people because he had spent so much time with Him that his feelings towards evil were now similar to God’s. And Aaron would bear the brunt of Moses’ attack. In his defense, he said this of the Israelites:
Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil…So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.
Aaron was a culprit in their crime, and they would be punished. He ground up the golden calf into a fine powder, threw it in a stream and had the people drink it! As night came about, 3,000 men also lay dead by Moses’ command.
His wrath had him to a boiling-point, and fear overtook him, because he had seen and felt the very glory of God.
This is where Moses grew-up, even though he had not committed this great evil, he would be the leader and hold the blame as his own:
The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”
The people God had taken out of Israel, the ones he had borne up on eagle’s wings had turned to worship the created instead of the Creator. Their crime was absolute treason against him, and God had no reason to take them back.
The most gripping fact is that of God being with them. God had willingly shown himself before his people (an act no other religion’s “god” could attest to or ever has been able to) and spoken to their leader, Moses. He had responded in obedience and his life had been transformed by God’s visitation. For over 40 days God had been in the very presence of the people, and the sight of his appearance was constantly visible to them in the form of a massive burning mountain covered in smoke and spewing out thunder and lightning.
Yet his visitation had worn off, and the people became unaware of the great blessing they had received. Their actions added insult to injury, and the volcano was about to explode and in his wrath he would kill all the people because they had committed treason.
Would God take them back? Was there any reason to?
How would God respond to Moses’ plea?