What if someone showed up to their wedding all filthy and gross? Picture their clothes all muddy and tattered. Picture hair in disarray and unkempt. Picture grime caked in on skin, clothes, hair and teeth. What if this couple had nice clothes; what if they had a washing machine and a shower; what if they owned a tooth brush complete with toothpaste? What if they simply could not be inconvenienced by all that washing and preparing? What would you think about their commitment to marriage? Would you wonder if they understood the magnitude of the situation? And if they could not be bothered to prepare to get married, will they make any effort to keep the marriage going? I mean, you would wonder wouldn’t you?
Exodus 19:7-15 is all about approaching holiness. Yahweh has made an offer of relationship. Moses summons the elders of the people and tells them all about it and they in turn must have communicated to the people. The resounding response was an agreement to listen to Yahweh’s voice and to keep his covenant; to do all Yahweh had requested. Moses takes the message to Yahweh and Yahweh then informs Moses that he will be coming in a thick cloud. A cloud is often used to represent the presence of Yahweh. It is emphasized here that Yahweh wants all the people to hear what he has to say so that they will trust Moses forever. Well, that is the plan anyway.
Moses is to give the people the information and consecrate them; make them holy; prepare them for the coming of the Lord. Just how does one go about getting all consecrated in anticipation of Yahweh’s approach? First, it is not a last minute, Yahweh is at the door, make yourself holy kind of thing. It is a three day event. It may have included more than what we are told, but it includes washing their clothes, establishing a holiness zone, and abstaining from sex. Imagine if the queen of England were coming to your house. Would you wear clean clothes; maybe even your best clothes? This is about honoring Yahweh’s Presence. It is not about showing off one’s wealth or good taste in clothing. And notice, they are not told to wear special clothes, just to make sure their clothes are clean. Then they are to establish a sacred space; a boundary around the mountain. Yahweh is going to descend upon this mountain. It is placed under the ban. For the next three days, it is reserved for the holiness of God. If anyone touches the mountain before the designated time, they are to be killed. Even animals are to be killed if they cross into the holiness zone. And whoever touches the mountain is not to be touched. They are to be stoned or shot (most likely with arrows). Extreme much! But do we get holiness? Yahweh, the Ever Existing One, is coming! The creator of all things is going to come down to Mount Sinai to speak to his people! The overwhelming holiness of this event needs to be acknowledged. This is not the Queen of England we’re talking about. It is God Almighty! I wonder sometimes, if we don’t treat the holiness of God too lightly. Well, the Israelites didn’t during those two days of waiting for the third day.
On the third day they are to wait for the sounding of a bell-horn. This is most likely a ram’s horn that has been amplified by attaching a metal resonance-bell. I am not a sound engineer, so I have difficulty picturing this. Either way, the sound will be clear and distinct. It will not be confused with the sound of a passing goose or mooing cattle. When they hear the blast from the horn, then they are to come to the mountain of God. Moses goes down and informs the people. They get busy washing their clothes and not coming near a woman, which is a euphemism for sex. In Leviticus 15:16-18, the male discharge is considered unclean. This may be what is behind the prohibition. Or, maybe God wants their focus is to be on the approaching holiness. The overall point, is when God approaches it should be taken very seriously. There is holiness here; there is awesome grace here.
It is different today. We are told that we can enter the very presence of God with boldness. But does that mean we overlook the holiness factor? While in the presence of God shouldn’t we have something of the feelings of Isaiah who cried out while in the throne room of God, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”? Yes, through Christ, we have unprecedented access to Yahweh. But that doesn’t make God any less holy. And that holiness is a consuming fire; an overwhelming sacredness that ought to drop us to our knees with cries of “Woe is me!” So, wash your clothes, set up a holiness zone, focus completely on God, and be overwhelmed by holiness. Praise your access and honor God’s sacredness. Peace, Walter