Reading through the Bible this year, I am recognizing common threads that run throughout the Old Testament … the gospels … David’s songs … Solomon’s wisdom. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise: throughout thousands of years and dozens of human writers, it was the same Author telling the same Story.)
Day 35 - Exodus 20-21, Matthew 23: 13-39, Psalm 28: 7-9
Terror: In Exodus, God outlines 10 commandments from atop Mount Sinai. From the midst of a dark cloud. With trumpets blaring. Complete with peals of thunder and bolts of lightning.
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear and kept their distance. They said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Thankfully, Moses was a willing intercessor; he entered the cloud that shrouded the Lord and received His commands for Israel. But the inapproachability of God, that awe-full distance, moved God’s chosen people to reject Him for a golden trinket of a god, one far less terrifying and far more manageable.
God’s treasured people neglected His law and turned to their own way: man-made idolatry.
Community: Following these 10 most familiar commandments, God’s beautiful heart shines forth in subsequent commands: mutual respect, justice and mercy for the oppressed, integrity and humility in community, and sincere worship. The flavor of these commands (if not the specifics, which can sound odd to our modern-day ears) is savory and satisfying, full of the ingredients that create a life of harmony and sacrificial love.
Woes: Flipping over to Matthew 23 was like flipping a coin to its other side. Unlike the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, huddled in fear before Yahweh, the Pharisees commended themselves as good teachers and exemplary law-followers.
Just as those at Mount Sinai rejected the true God for a handmade imitation, so the Pharisees rejected the true God for their own misguided imitation of His laws.
Jesus didn’t pull any punches in his diatribe:
“You keep the letter of the law, but neglect God’s heart: justice mercy and faithfulness! You should have practiced them both.”
“You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
Like Israel at Mount Sinai, the Pharisees neglected the true intent of God’s law and turned to their own way: self-exalting legalism.
Sorrow: Afterwards, Jesus wept. Perched on the Mount of Olives, he lamented over his people:
“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
(Only days later, he would weep on this mountain again, agonizing in prayer with His Father on the night of his arrest.)
Victory: Ultimately, it is yet another mountain, Mount Zion, which embodies the triumph of God’s kingdom and the dwelling place of His chosen people. Joyous worship replaces the terror of Mount Sinai; true righteousness in Christ replaces self-righteousness; and God’s people flock to Jesus ... the One who has fulfilled all the Old Covenant commands ... the One who welcomes His chosen people as righteous ones, made perfect in Him.
… you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them… the sight was so terrifying that Moses said “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant and to his sprinkled blood…”
So, what is God saying to us from atop these mountains?
Don't turn away from Him in fear; turn to Him in faith.
Resist the urge to create a safer, more manageable god; exalt Him, not yourself.
Live a life of Love and Mercy and Justice. In His name.
Let Him take you under His wing.
And worship Him with great joy!