The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:21
Recently God opened my eyes to a beautiful truth tucked into Exodus 19. A single purpose has always marked God’s heart in His dealings with man. He expresses it in verse 4.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
We tend to think that God delivered the Israelites from Egypt so that He could deposit them in the Promised Land. But the land of milk and honey wasn’t His primary objective. Relationship was.
“I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
God rescued the Israelites out of their slavery—out from under the law of the land that oppressed them—to bring them to Himself. I think sometimes we overlook that part.
Beloved, God prioritizes bringing His people near. His people, however, don’t share His priorities. We often skip the relationship and focus on seeking the earthly blessings He can provide. We don’t want Him. We want His gifts.
Unfortunately, that’s the same choice the Israelites made. And do you know what happened to them, dear one?
They died in the desert outside of their land of promise. They never made it to their earthly blessing because they rejected the means to get there. Oh, that you and I would learn from their mistakes!
God further revealed His intentions for Israel in Exodus 19:9.
“Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”
Did you catch it, dear one? God wanted the people to hear Him speak. Until that point, He had only spoken to Moses, and Moses communicated God’s desires to the people. But now He called them all to Mount Sinai because He wanted them to hear Him too.
So God gave Moses instructions to prepare the people for their encounter.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Exodus 19:10-11
An unholy people were about to encounter a holy God. So God gave them instructions to follow that would enable them to survive the encounter.
He told them to purify themselves for three days. During their time of cleansing, He set some boundaries in place for their protection.
“And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” (Verse 12)
You see, sin can’t live in the presence of pure righteousness. The people couldn’t draw near to God’s holy mountain while they remained impure.
But once they were cleansed, God offered an invitation.
“When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” (Verse 13)
The Message Bible states it this way.
“A long blast from the horn will signal that it’s safe to climb the mountain.”
Let’s see what happened when the trumpet sounded.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Exodus 19:16-20
Notice the purpose clearly stated in verse 17. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. This was the moment God had prepared them for, to bring His people to Himself. Now note the language indicating their posture in the rest of the verse. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.
Picture the moment, will you? Thunder and lightening burst forth from thick clouds. Knees tremble in fear. A trumpet sounds, its volume increasing as the people stand firmly planted at the foot of the mountain. Nobody moves. No one ascends. Until finally Moses cries out to God and meets Him on top of the mountain.
Exodus 20:18-21 reveals what happened in those moments.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Do you see it, dear one? God brought them out of Egypt to bring them to Himself. But the people didn’t want to come close. They preferred boundaries and limits over relationship. They didn’t want to hear God speak. Instead they chose an intermediary to tell them what God wanted. They didn’t want to hear it for themselves.
I wonder, dear one. How many today continue to make that same choice? Christ tore the veil so that each one of us could boldly enter the presence of God. He longs to speak to each of us through His Word and whisper life into our hearts by His Spirit.
But we’d rather let a pastor talk to Him and tell us what He says.
If we choose to stand far off, dear one, we’ll suffer the same fate the Israelites did. We’ll die in the desert without ever entering His promises. And we’ll blame God, but it won’t be His fault. It will be the result of our refusal to draw near.
You see, we can’t just call on His Name and expect to enter His promises. Every promise comes through Him. We must step into His arms and let Him draw us to Himself.
Only then can He carry you to your land of promise.