Finally, the Israelites come to Mount Sinai–the place where God meets Moses on the mountain as the Israelites stand below, remaining at a distance from the mountain on which God’s glorious presence has descended in a dense cloud reverberating with thunder, lightning, and the sound of trumpets.
This is God–the Almighty, Holy God.
And He is about to enter a covenant with the people He has chosen, with the people He has rescued from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
But to be completely honest, reading the next few chapters–and, really, the remainder of Exodus–is hard. The chapters leading up to Exodus 19 are filled with action and excitement. And suddenly this falls to the side as God instructs Moses with covenant laws. It’s like going from a football game to a lecture.
For me, the hardest part about reading the latter half of Exodus was the distance I felt from God. The Holy God I was seeing giving command after command, law after law to Moses did not seem like the loving God who sent His Son to die for our sins. I knew He was the same God, because God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Yet somehow, my image of a New Testament God–with His sacrifice of His only Son to rid me of my sins forever so I can have a relationship with Him–contrasted this image of an Old Testament God. A God who is so holy that He descends on Mount Sinai in the shape of a dense cloud reverberating with thunder, lightning, and the sound of a trumpet.
When reading Exodus–and really, the rest of the first five chapters of the Bible–it’s so easy to get bogged down in these laws and covenants. It’s easy to think, “Okay, God, we get it. There’s rules. There’s a standard of cleanliness. We’re human. We mess up. We take our animal and food sacrifices to the tabernacle. You cleanse us again. You forgive us. We repeat the process until we die.”
But, let’s skip way ahead to Leviticus 15:31:
“You must keep the Israelites from their uncleanness, so that they do not die by defiling My tabernacle that is among them.”
God did not give these covenant laws in Exodus to Moses just to keep the Israelites in line. God did not give these laws to weigh them down with do’s and don’ts.
God gave the Israelites these laws to set boundaries of holiness and unholiness, so that by following them, His people would be holy like He is.
So they would be on one level of holiness with Him–and not separated by sin.
God loved the Israelites enough to give them rules and boundaries so that He would not have to see them separated from Him because of their sin.
And even when, in later chapters, God instructs Moses on how to build the tabernacle, He is working with the same purpose. He seeks a way to reside among His people. To create a holy place, a holy ground where He can meet with Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons. Where He can lead the Israelites. Where He can see each Israelite approaching the tent of meeting, sacrifices in hand and sinfulness in heart, seeking to be cleansed.
And God sees the heart of each one coming, and He longs to cleanse them of their sin and uncleanness, to welcome them back to the standard of holiness in which He resides.
This is such a beautiful picture! Because even when Jesus would not be born for centuries more, before He would become the ultimate and final sacrifice for our sins so we wouldn’t have to rely on covenant laws and tabernacles . . .
God was still looking out for us, wanting to be close to us. Wanting us to be holy like He is holy. And this want, this love–this is what it took for Him to sacrifice His only Son for us.
Again, what a beautiful picture.
It’s a picture that gets lost between the words of the laws in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It’s a picture that we cannot see because we are so weighed down with the rules and the laws–weighed down with the distance we feel from God because He is so holy . . . and we are not.
So the next time you read any of the books of law in the Bible, I challenge you to read it with this picture in mind: God sitting in the tabernacle, watching as His beloved people come with sacrifices in hand for the sin in their heart, sitting on the edge of His mercy seat as He yearns to welcome them back into the holiness in which He resides, so He can be one with His beloved children again!
I promise you . . . you won’t be disappointed.