What does this passage have to say about your day? We did not come here tonight to hear about ancient Israelite history or the different sections of the law. We came to meet with God.
(A) Grace (Exo 24:9-11)
This passage opens with the word “then” (Exo 24:9). What this means is that a series of events have taken place and only now, these events were going to take place. In the verses before, God instructed the people to come and worship Him, but they could only do so from afar. We don’t quite know how far or how near, but in Exo 24:9, we are told that a group of people were told to go up, and they see something (Exo 24:10). Moses stops referring to God as YHWH (LORD) but calls him the “God of Israel” here. They don’t meet the covenant God but meet the God of Israel. This is a word that is much bigger more cosmic than LORD. They see the Elohim of Israel.
The writer tries to describe an impressive sight and is reaching for an approximation (the use of the word “like” gives us a clue). In fact, the writer is quite precise. God is being described with “feet” and a simile is being used to describe the view. We read of a “pavement of sapphire stone”, and “like the very heaven for clearness”. Rev 4 uses the same kind of approximation language. They are no longer looking at God from afar and they’re now near. God looks like a man in form but it’s not entirely so. The floor looks like sapphire but it is not entirely so too. What this means is that they are at the top of Mt Sinai but where are they truly? Dare we say that they were in the throne room of God’s presence. They thought they were climbing up to a mountain, but they were in the presence of God.
What does God do? “And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel” (Exo 24:11) and He also allows them to eat and drink. This is stunning. They probably did not expect more than manna and water from the rock when they went up the mountain. On the top of the mountain they were actually consuming food and drink for their physical bodies. This is not a hallucination or only in their imagination.
And this is surprising because of what Ps 24:3-5 says. None can ascend the hill of the Lord nor can we stand in His presence. No one has clean hands. No one has a pure heart. The very idea that the God of the Bible will allow them to come into His presence and behold His feet and not die is grace. Every one of them was a sinner and continued in their sin. Yet they saw God and did not die.
We know the holiness of God very well and we know the miserable condition of our sinful state. We know this as part of our theology, so much so that we’ve just harped on it. But at some point we’ve started to believe that we are bad but we are not as bad as others. We are at this Bible study at least. But when we read Ps 24, we are reminded that before God, no one is righteous. In those moments when we think that we are fit to stand before God and see His feet, consider the words of Ps 24? Have you considered yourself to be a graduate of grace? You and I tonight are also recipients of His grace as we hold His word. Who we are is not defined by what we wear and how we look on the outside. None of us are graduates of grace.
(B) Gift (Exo 24:12-14)
God calls Moses out of the group and only Moses could “come up to (God)” on the mountain so that God could “give (him) the tablets of stone with the law and the commandment which (He) has written for their instruction” (Exo 24:12). Exo 31:18 also describes it in slightly different terms – “the finger of God” writing on these stones. What do we make from these descriptions?
God has a finger.
He can write on stone.
He has something to write about.
He gives it to Moses and no one else
In Exo 20, God spoke to everyone and He gave them the 10 Commandments. This is what all Israel hears. The 10 Commandments have 2 big thrusts – loving God and loving man.
After this, God calls Moses specifically, and He gives more detailed instructions known as the Book of the Covenant. These instructions unpack the principles in the 10 Commandments. What God is giving to Moses is the 10 Commandments, and through that, He wishes the people to know His character and ways.
Moses “rose with his assistant Joshua and Moses went up into the mountain of God” (Exo 24:13). Then, he also tells the elders to wait there until they return and Aaron and Hur are going to settle any disputes they might have (Exo 24:13). Moses understands that we can have transcendental encounters with God but in the very next minute, our human nature easily shines through. (c.f. Jas 4:1-4). James teaches us that the outcome (quarrels) stem from the inner desires. When we don’t check and guard our hearts and act according to our hearts, it leads us to conflict with each other. We quarrel and fight because in our hearts we all wanted something that was not God. It wasn’t because we had a bad day or that the other person is irritating. Moses understood (to some extent) that our hearts are either constantly being offered to God for Him to be filled with His joy, or it is being filled with things other than God. When the latter happens, we will run into conflict with one another.
Do you believe that you need supervision, that we cannot be trusted with our own life or that we cannot trust our own heart? Our sin always follows us, always ready to stop us from doing what we know we ought to, and always ready to encourage us to do what we know we ought not to. What is the hope that we have There is a great hope and a lesser hope. The lesser hope that God has given us to restrain evil and walk in His ways are those tablets of stone. Romans tell us that without the law there is no knowledge of sin. God gives His tablet of stone so that His people will know what holiness looks like and His people will know their own unholiness. The law was given so we will know God’s righteousness and see our own need for help.
Are you willing to submit yourself to another, to ask another person to walk with you in such a way that if you drift from Jesus, this person pulls you back or calls you out in your sin? Does this sound like a strange and foreign way of living your life? God has designed for His people to submit to one another (c.f. Col and Eph). How do we build a culture of this kind of trust?
(C) Glory (Exo 24:15-18)
The next series of verses describes the events that occur in three stages.
There are many things in this passage that are worth us looking at. Notice that the glory of the Lord dwelt on the mountain. Dwelling is not a place of transit nor is it a place of short- term occupancy. God stayed on Sinai. Once again, approximation language was used — “like a devouring fire” – and it paints for us a picture of power and glory.
Why does this matter? We don’t quite know but what we do know is that Moses emerges with the tablets and he also emerges with the blueprint for the tabernacle (ceremonial law), detailed for us in Exo 25 and on. For 40 days and 40 nights God provides the plans for Moses and instructs him as to how to lead God’s people. But when he comes down, his own heart will be broken as he holds these instructions but also hear what the people are doing at the foot of the hill. At the foot of the hill, he sees the people of God offering their bodies and soul and all the gold that they plundered from Egypt to another God. As a pastor and leader, all he wanted is for God’s people to obey Him.
But here, this God has gifts to give His people and has plans for His people. This is a God who knew what was going to happen and He himself would be broken, yet chose to proceed. Later on in Matt 17:1-8, Matt took this account and showed how it was fulfilled in Jesus at His Transfiguration. What were they talking about? There’s probably only one thing that they’d talk about – His death and how it fulfils the purposes of God. The voice from the cloud says “listen to Him”. What does Jesus say? “Rise up and have no fear”.
The God of glory that came down on Mt Sinai is the same God that came down as Jesus Christ. He comes to us tonight and shows us who He is. He has come for us. He loves us, and we belong to Him if we put our faith in Him. Our fears belong to Him. Our days are His. Our worries and regrets and struggles are His. Will you come before this God of Sinai and just dwell in His presence? This is the only hope that we have. We draw near to Jesus only to find out that He has drawn near to us. In the week after Easter, we celebrate the fullness of His work! He calls us too, today, to rise up and have no fear.