They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
Exodus 19:2-4 (ESV)
God brought Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, delivered them from the armies of Egypt at the Red Sea and later took his people into the Promised Land. However, before he brought them to the borders of Canaan he led them to Sinai. The Lord instructed Moses to have Israel wash their clothes because on the third day he would descend on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Moses obeyed all the words of the Lord and on the third day led Israel out of the camp to meet with God (Exodus 19).
Many of us have in our memory bank the movie The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston. In the movie when God gave Moses the commandments a huge fireball burned the words on a large stone while this booming voice sited the commandment that was being written. However, in the biblical account, the first time the commandments were recited was in the hearing of all the children of Israel. All of Israel had the opportunity for God to speak to them personally and witness his glory.
Moses recalls the scene forty years later. And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess. (Deuteronomy 4:11-14 ESV)
As the children of Israel drew near the mountain and heard the voice and saw the glory of God they became afraid. The bible says, “They stood far off” (Exodus 20:18). Moses encouraged them not to be afraid and said that God was testing them so that they would fear him and not sin (Exodus 20:20). Israel’s response to Moses was, You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us lest we die. (Exodus 20:19)
Israel’s response must have broken the heart of God. His greatest desire for Israel was not to take them into Canaan. It was to bring Israel to himself. He wanted to speak with all of Israel face to face. God’s desire was to have an intimate relationship with his people. Intimacy is still God’s desire for us. In fact, it is one of the reasons for which Christ gave his life (1 Peter 3:18). Paul wrote to the Ephesians, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 ESV)
Do you stand “far off” from God? Do you desire intimacy with God?
Scriptures for meditation: