Meditations in Exodus: 67. Mountain Top Stay
Ex 24:12 The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”
We now arrive at circumstances that are strange to say the least. Bear in mind that we have read that Moses has written down everything the Lord has said so far, which must include the Ten Commandments and all the Law that followed in chapters 20-23. The Lord’s instruction to Moses seems to indicate a period up on the mountain: “The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here.” (v.12a) That ‘stay here’ should have indicated to Moses that this was going to be more than a few days.
But why is he to go up there? “and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.” (v.12b) Now there is some lack of clarity here about exactly what was on these stone tablets. Some following detail would suggest just the Ten Commandments but here the description is “law and commands” suggesting all that Moses has written down. In Ex 31:18 they are called the “two tablets of the Testimony” and in Deut 9:9 they are called “the tablets of the covenant.” However, on the Plain previously, Moses had said, “He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.” (Deut 4:13) The tablets appear to be just the Ten Commandments, or at least they are all that was mentioned at that point.
Now Moses may have a sense of being away a while for, “He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.” (v.14) and so we see, “Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God.” (v.13) Thus we see he takes Joshua with him and leaves Aaron and Hur in charge while he is away.
What follows is simply a description of what then happened: “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (v.15-18) Moses goes up, the cloud comes down and for six days Moses waits with nothing happening except the glory of the Lord was clearly there on the mountain top which, to the onlookers down on the plain, appeared as fire. Then Moses appears to enter the cloud and go further up the mountain, presumably leaving Joshua at a lower level.
Now that is all we hear of him until chapter 31. The intervening chapters are about the Tabernacle and establishing the priesthood, all presumably given to Moses in that forty days. Then we read, “When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.” (Ex 31:18)
Now here is my question again: why did the Lord have Moses write down the Law, then take him away for over a month to give it to him on stone tablets when he already had it? Well, in respect of the stone tablets, the intent must have been to give them (the Ten Commandments at least) supreme importance over all other law, having come from the ‘hand of God’ Himself. They are laws which can be applied to any nation in the world for they sum up God’s intent or design for mankind, to have a relationship with Him and a good relationship with all others summed up by, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” (Deut 6:5) and “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19:18)
As to why the Lord kept Moses up on the mountain for over a month we can only speculate. We will go on in the next study to see what terrible things went on back at the camp as the time passed by but we’ll wait for the next study for that, but here is the crucial question: when the Lord seems distant or we don’t seem to hear anything from Him, how will we react?
You see it seems to me as if the Lord was testing Israel, and specifically Aaron and the others under Moses, those in charge back at the camp. How will they act in Moses’ absence, especially if that absence seems to drag on? Will Aaron, Hur and the other leaders keep Israel in the same attitude towards God that Moses always maintained, one of respect and awe? Will those leaders be faithful and will they keep Israel faithful? How much have they taken in from all that has happened, especially that recent encounter up on the mountain where they ‘saw’ the Lord? Will that revelation hold them true and faithful?
I ask these questions in the light of what went on here and in the light of what sometimes seems to happen in the Christian life. There are times when the presence of the Lord is obvious it seems, times of great revelation, times of great blessing. In the UK we have ‘Bible Weeks’ in the Summer where thousands gather to worship the Lord and learn of Him, times of great blessing. But then there are the times back home when church seems mundane, life appears boring and for some reason or other the Lord seems distant. Now maybe it shouldn’t be like that but it is; we all of us suffer times when for a while at least, the Lord seems distant.
These, I would suggest, are times of testing, times when, the Lord wants to check the depth of your commitment, check the reality of your relationship with Him. When there appears a half hour silence in heaven (e.g. Rev 8:1) will we stand still and remain firm, holding to what we are and not being moved by the enemy? When the Lord remains silent will we remain faithful and patiently wait on Him? Israel didn’t do very well in this waiting period. Will we?