12 February 2024Exodus 24:12-18
The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. (vs 16-17)
We are on Mount Sinai, where God gave the law to the people of God – twice. I’m sure you can picture the stone tablets being handed down to Moses. Three elemental words punctuate this iconic passage from Exodus.
'Cloud' comes first. Cloud seems soft and its presence almost imperceptible. In hot places, it provides welcome respite from the glaring sun. Yet cloud impairs vision too – I recall climbing and descending Ben Alder in Scotland without ever seeing the mountain; cloud completely obscured it. I’ve still never seen Ben Alder close up. Perhaps the blanket of cloud was essential protection for mere humans, faced with the glory and holiness of God.
'Fire' follows. Moses had previously encountered God in a burning bush. God’s presence was visible to the nomadic people of God in the desert through a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Fire is essential for human life, yet it is dangerous, unpredictable, fickle. Perhaps it is a reminder that God is not under our control. God is all-powerful and cannot be domesticated, or mobilised for human ends. Perhaps it is a warning to us if we ever call on God to justify our own political goals and objectives.
'Stone' is the third. We perceive it as hard and unyielding, permanent and secure. Yet the very presence of mountains shows that faced with irresistible forces, stone can crack, shift, melt and crumble. Moses demonstrated later how impermanent stone is as he smashed the first edition of the commandments in front of the people. (Exodus 32:15, 19) He’d discovered their crass unfaithfulness after just 40 days of absence from them up the mountain.
Cloud, fire, stone – all are to be respected, but all are insignificant compared with the infinitely greater strength, glory and mercy of almighty God. It’s easy to be astonished by the view of a developing thunder cloud, or the terrible force of a volcanic fire, or the scale of massive cliffs resisting crashing waves. Yet God is stronger than all of these. And God’s mercy will astound you: he knows you and loves you for eternity.
- It’s hard to imagine what God is like, which is why the gospels are so helpful. They show us Jesus, who we believe to be God living among us. What is it about Jesus that you most admire? Jesus is God’s son, so why not spend some time worshipping him for who he is and what he shows us about God?
- Do you have a special place where you feel close to God? It may be in church, but it may not! Try to spend some time this week in that place, to be in God’s presence and spend time in worship.
Almighty God, you are amazing, incredible, and way outside our experience or understanding. We have no idea how to worship or what to say, but we know that you know even the thoughts of our hearts and the words we can’t think of. So accept our worship, and help us to accept your love and grace for us, as shown through Jesus Christ your son. Amen.