I know that I have asked the question already in this series of articles, but sometimes repetition is necessary for our health, so here we go again; How do you view God? Is he like George Burns, a little old man smoking on a cigar and cracking jokes? Is he more like Morgan Freeman, a ultra calm and cool God who relinquishes his power over to a human to teach him what it means to be God? Is God awesome? And just what does it mean to be awesome? We use the term to mean fun or exciting. Dude, that was awesome! But the original meaning was all about fearful reverence. It held within it the idea of something so terribly powerful, that your knees buckled and your heart was struck with terror. O, to be sure, it would be respectful and healthy terror, but terror nonetheless. And God is indeed, AWESOME!
The people of Israel have prepared for the third day; the approach of Yahweh. Exodus 19:16-25 is about Yahweh descending upon Mt. Sinai. And it began, early in the morning of the third day, with a storm. Thunder boomed, lightning electrified the sky and a thick cloud covered the mountain. O yeah, there was also a mighty trumpet sound. Wait a minute, storms don’t make trumpet sounds. But this is not really a storm. It is the approach of Yahweh. And it must have been awesome because the people were quaking with terror. They were not looking up at the mountain saying “Dude, that is awesome!” like we might while watching a powerful storm. This was no ordinary thunder and lightning. They had been told to wait until the blowing of a trumpet before they came near the mountain. The trumpet blew and Moses leads them to the foot of the mountain to meet God. And they are rightfully awed.
Imagine, standing there at the foot of the mountain and looking up and seeing smoke boiling up. And the smoke boiled up because Yahweh had descended in fire onto the mountain. Smoke covered the mountain just like it filled the temple of God in Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:4). And in both cases, the smoke may serve the purpose of obscuring from view what humans are not able to see without dying. I mean, God is that awesome. So, fire comes down and smoke goes up and the mountain quakes violently. And the word used here for quake is the same one used for the tremors of fear that struck the people. Even the mountain finds the presence of God to be truly awesome. The sound of the trumpet walked closer and louder. Man, it’s almost as if an angelic army was marching toward them. This whole scene is electric with terrible awesomeness.
Moses is summoned to meet and speak with God on the top of the mountain, where all the fire, smoke, thunder and lightning is. The word translated “thunder” throughout this passage is the word for “sound, voice”. It is often used for a loud sound. The idea is probably that when God spoke to Moses his voice was like thunder. Okay, so Moses climbs up the mountain only to be told to go back down to warn the people not to let their curiosity overcome them and break through the boundary to get a look see at God. If they do, God will break upon them. And the priests are to consecrate themselves again or God will break upon them. The priesthood of Aaron had not been established at this point, so this either an anachronism (a time flaw) or there were men who functioned as priest before the formal institution of the priesthood. The latter seems more likely to me. We know there were priests, like Jethro, who already served Yahweh. Moses, probably huffing from the effort of climbing the mountain said, “Good news. You already set up the boundary and warned the people.” But God tells him to go down and come up with Aaron and to make it very clear that no one else can break through or Yahweh will break upon them. Again, this is about the awesomeness of God and it further establishes the importance of Moses and Aaron. Although, at eighty years old, traipsing up and down the mountain, Moses may not have felt all that important.
God loves you and he longs to be your Father. But he is also a terrifyingly awesome God. He is the Almighty Lord of all creation; the God of Hosts; the Existing One; the King of kings. And yes, through Jesus we can boldly enter into the presence of God. But Yahweh’s Presence is still awesome; thunder, lightning and earthquake awesome. And there are moments when we should allow his awesomeness to awe us right on down to our knees; moments when we get that we are in the presence of pure and frightening holiness. So, next time you think about being in the presence of Yahweh you can cry out, “Dude, God is AWESOME!” and then maybe do some respectful cringing. Peace, Walter