The Mountain of the Lord (Exodus 19).
Mountains have always had an allure for me, a magnetism that draws me to them and emblazons them in my soul. They are places of beauty and majesty and otherness. There is mystery in the mountains, wildness and great adventure. These, and other qualities, are what make them suitable abodes for the gods in various mythologies around the world. The ancient Greeks saw their pantheon dwelling on Mt. Olympus and the Norse theirs in Asgard. In Nepal the Sherpas think of Sagarmartha (Everest) as a divinity herself.
The one true God likes mountains too. That makes sense, because they’re the nearest points on Earth to His throne in heaven and the obvious place for Him to set foot when coming down. They reflect and embody His glory and majesty. They symbolise how much higher He is than us. The Bible is full of references to this and Exodus 19 is the start of a long-running metaphor where the mountain of the Lord is His holy dwelling, the place where heaven touches Earth and where the people can meet their God. First off it is here at Mt. Sinai, later it would move to Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, the pinnacle of the holy city and the place where many believe Christ will return.
Of course, none of these mountains were God’s true home. He resides in heaven in unimaginable splendour, and even the magnificent temple built later by King Solomon was only a shabby anteroom to God’s real abode (1 Chronicles 28:2; Isaiah 66:1). Nevertheless, here in Exodus God has taken up temporary residence on Mt. Sinai and hallowed it with His presence. Suddenly what was once an ordinary sun-baked heap of rock in the desert becomes a holy, glorious throne. When God touches something, it changes completely.
God’s holiness is so fierce, so complete and so uncompromising that anything impure will not survive contact with it. Now even to touch Mt. Sinai would mean death, and the Israelites were duly warned about getting too close. Before the Cross there was no way for us to come to God. Attempting to do so unaided would be fatal. It’d be like a spacecraft trying to land on the sun – it would burn up before it got anywhere near. We’re too fallen, too sinful. Only with a mediator can we come anywhere near. Here in Exodus the Israelites could come into the general vicinity only because of God’s grace. Their contact with God required mediation, someone to represent them. Moses performed this go-between role in a limited and imperfect way here in Exodus, but much later Jesus would come and do it fully.
At this stage in the story of the Bible humanity’s relationship with God depended on a representative (Moses) going up to God and interceding for us. The same was true when the tabernacle was erected and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies to represent us, and in the Temple on a hilltop in Jerusalem also. Most of the world is still stuck in this stage of trying to get to God. All religions other than Christianity preach that holiness is achieved through effort and personal spiritual achievement. Even people of no specific creed mostly have a notion of having to try to please God, of earning His love and acceptance. It is all a Babel-style model of striving, of reaching up, of trying to get to heaven on our own merit.
The good news of the gospel is that this model is not the only one available to us. We don’t have to win a way to God, nor are we dependent any longer on an intermediary to represent us. Because of Jesus our sin no longer bars us from God’s presence. Moses went up, but Jesus came down. He came down because we couldn’t get up.
In Exodus the relationship with God was distant and scary; now it is intimate and secure. Before it could only be corporate and strictly organised; now it is personal and free. Before it could only be in a fixed time in a fixed place on set conditions. Now we can know and meet with God anytime, anywhere. What Jesus has done for us is wonderful, a complete transformation. Mountains can still teach us a lot about God’s majesty, but they are no longer a barrier between us and Him.
To take away:
Do you feel like anything ever keeps you from coming into God’s presence? Take some time today to reclaim your right of access in Jesus’ name.