As the Israelites camped at the foot of Mount Sinai; as their leaders were somewhere up on that mountain; as Moses had climbed even higher up, they witnessed a cloud cover the mountain and then from their vantage point it looked as if a consuming fire was consuming and devouring the top of the mountain. And that is what Moses had walked into; a devouring fire; the very glory of Yahweh. And if Yahweh showed up today to have a sit down meeting with us, he would still be a consuming fire. God’s nature has not changed. The difference would be, instead of Moses going up there all by his lonesome, all of God’s people would be up there; in the cloud; in the glory; in the devouring fire. Again, Jesus didn’t come to tame God. He came to cleanse us so that we could stand in Yahweh’s Awesome Presence; consuming fire and all.
The theme of Exodus is the Presence of Yahweh. His presence is salvation; his presence is guidance; his presence is too holy for humans. Exodus 24:12-18 is about Moses being called up to the Presence of Yahweh. Yahweh commanded Moses to climb up to him and exist there. The word translated “remain” can mean that, but it can also mean “to become, to exist.” It is possible I am making too much of this, but it is true that we do not fully exist until we have climbed up to be in the Presence of Yahweh. God promises to give Moses tablets with Torah and Mitzvah which God had written in order to guide the people of Israel. Torah refers to instruction and Mitzvah to commandment. Although some will question it, there does not seem to be any good reason not to understand that the Ten Commandments – the Ten Words the people have already accepted – are what was written by God on these tablets of stone.
Moses repeated God’s instructions to the elders (cf. Ex. 24:1-2); they are to wait for him and Joshua to return. Now, this is interesting, because when the whole golden calf incident occurs, Aaron appears to be down the mountain with the people. But the word “wait” is literally “sit” and it sometimes refers to the sitting of a king or judge. The instruction may be for them not to come up with Moses, but rather to go back to the people and sit as judges. The next phrase would seem to confirm this; “whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them – Aaron and Hur.” This seems to fit the overall context better than the idea of Moses telling the elders, and therefore Aaron and Hur, to wait halfway up the mountain until he came back down; instructions which they would have ignored. Something else may be going on here as well. Aaron and Hur are to be approachable, but only Moses was allowed to approach Yahweh. Yahweh is too holy for the people. Some have even seen here an allusion to the arrangement of the tabernacle with Moses representing the high priest who was allowed to enter the holy of holies and the elders representing the priesthood who could go into the holy place while the rest could not go past the court of men. And this might be the case. Either way, both the Mount Sinai Theophanic event and the temple arrangement were intended to illustrate the consuming holiness of Yahweh.
So, Moses goes up and a cloud covers the mountain. The cloud represents Yahweh’s presence. The glory of Yahweh settled on the mountain, which may be parallelism – the cloud represents God’s glory; His majesty; his flaming holiness. The cloud covered the mountain for six days and on the seventh day Yahweh calls Moses to come up even higher. This may be a symbol of entering into God’s rest or sabbath since God rested on the seventh day of creation. And then the scene shifts to the bottom of the mountain and to the Israelites it looked as if the top of the mountain were being devoured by fire. This image of a devouring fire and the length of time Moses was up there – forty days – may explain the people’s anxiety and longing for a god that wasn’t so blasted holy; too holy for them to even come close. Could Moses survive such holiness?
God’s holiness has in no way diminished. Without the blood of Jesus we would yet be reduced to the outer courts, trembling at the consuming fire that is our God. But we have been washed clean and we are able to enter the holy place with confidence because of Jesus’ sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 10:19). We can traipse on up the mountain and walk right on into the fire, because Jesus’ blood makes us holy. But we should still have a healthy and awestruck respect for Yahweh’s holiness. Does it drop you to your knees? Does it make your heart race? The consuming fire has invited you to come up higher. And because of the Christ you can. Climb into the fire! Climb into the rest of God! Climb up to the Presence. Peace, Walter