“In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on the very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.
The LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothesand be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.”
After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes.”
(Exodus 19:1–14 NIV)
How you interpret something is extremely important. Two people may look at the same thing and interpret it completely different. For example, a person could look at our dog. They could see it as a fun pet or a good looking animal or an opportunity for exercise. While all these are correct, they might not see what we see, that is that Halo is a service dog who is a great help to Logan both safety-wise and emotionally. How does this work out in our understanding of the Bible? There are various ways to look at the Bible. We could say that these are words about God. That is various people over the years have sat down and reflected on what they thought about God and have passed on their thoughts. Many Christians would want something stronger, seeing it as a book about the history of how God has interacted with humanity and as the primary source on which we can build our theology. That is better, but is that the best that we can do? Have we ever thought of it as God’s revelation to us, as his attempt to communicate with humanity? This communication is vital to any real relationship. One of the hardest days of my life was the day my father died. I arrived at the house and went into his room to be with him. He had been given morphine to make him comfortable. When I would speak his name loudly he would flicker his eyes open briefly and then he would be out again. Is that how we see God? Does God just flicker some interest briefly at our most intense prayers and then go back to ignoring us? And if God is interested enough to communicate with us, what is the nature of that communication? We are going to look at this through the experience of Moses.
When we think of Old Testament revelation, our minds tend to go to the Ten Commandments. We can picture Moses walking down the mountain with the two tablets. We may imagine it as a pristine and reverent moment. We may even imagine it as Moses stumbling upon the tablets, perhaps finding them in a regal temple and just knowing that it had to be shared with the people. What we find in this passage is the story before the Ten Commandments. There was much preparation that took place that really set the tone for what was to take place. In fact what we find here gives us an important key to understanding how to interpret God’s revelation. Moses is invited by God to go up the mountain to receive the revelation. This communication is initiated by God. The mountain was not just any mountain. It was a mountain overflowing with the presence of God. It was covered with a dark cloud and God speaks out of the thunder. Think of a volcano brimming with power. That is the kind of setting God chose. God was not just a gentle being hoping to share some good thoughts, God was a God of power who was speaking out of his holiness. The holiness of this event was so intense that there was a need for security. Not to protect God but to protect people. What was about to take place was so awesome that people we not to wander about enjoying the scenery. Everything that was taking place was stressing the holiness and power of God’s revelation. The communication that was taking place was not just a greeting or an expression of have a nice day. These were commandments that a holy God was expecting his people to follow. In case that sounds too oppressive, there is more in the context for us to see. God says that is about entering into a covenant with him. What is a covenant? It is a formal relationship. In some ways it is like a marriage. God is revealing commands not because he needs to feel like a boss. This revelation is like marriage vows where a couple promises to do certain things for each other. God promises that if they will obey his commandments, he will make them his treasured possession. He will make them into a kingdom of priests. That is why the Hebrews saw the Ten Commandments, not as a burden to be endured, but as a communication of love from a holy God who desired to be in relationship with them.
How do we see the Bible? Is it an irrelevant relic from a previous age? Is it something to be respected but left alone? Is it a book of rules that should be feared? There is much to be learned from the experience of Moses. First of all, the Bible is a revelation that is initiated by God. He desires to speak to us. We speak of people who seek God but in fact God seeks us. The creation of the Bible was a complex event, but the rest of the Bible beyond the Ten Commandments, was just as holy. Not every biblical writer wrote on a cloud covered mountain, but all of it took place in a setting overflowing with the presence of God. Think of the Gospel writers recording their experiences and memories of Jesus, remembering that Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would guide them through that process. Think of Paul, a man filled with the Spirit, apply the revelation of Jesus to the messy experience of Christian ministry in the first century. We speak of the Holy Bible not because it has a nice ring to it but because it is indeed a holy book. Have we lost that sense of holiness and power? I think back to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. There was Jesus, weak physically and attacked by the devil and what does he do? Jesus quotes the Bible. If Jesus could find power in the Bible, how much more do we need to? Also, we must get beyond the idea of the Bible as a book of rules. It does have strong expectations for us but it does so in the context of relationship. Jesus tells us that the children of the devil are recognized by doing what the devil does and the children of God are recognized by those who live according to God’s will. Our goal is to be children of God. Imagine if no information was given to us as to who God was, what he expected or what God’s plan was for our life. What would we ever do? God wants us to be his treasured possession and that takes place through intentional relationship where both parties make promises.
Pick up your Bible. It is a book. It has a publisher, a cover, it may have maps and introductions and an index. But it is more than that. The Bible is revelation from God. It is a holy book. It is powerful and dangerous and must be respected. Recapture the sense of awe that comes from knowing that the Creator of the universe is communicating to you through this book.