Fiery Mounts and Altars
Lord, I thank You for revealing Yourself to me apart from the theophanies found in the Old Testament.
Read Exodus 20:18–26
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Idols and Altars
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.
24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’
New International Version (NIV)
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“Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you” (Exod. 20:24).
There are several common features in the recounting of theophanies. For example, first, there is often fire and smoke; second, the cosmos joins in with phenomena such as thunder, lightning and earthquakes; third, the people’s reaction is one of fear; fourth, God normally appears to bless or benefit the people. In this case, he gives Israel the Ten Commandments. The people’s fear leads them to keep their distance and to tell Moses that he must mediate between God and them, for if God speaks directly to them, they will die (19). In Prophecy and Discernment R. W. L. Moberly points out that in the parallel passage in Deuteronomy God approves this request: “The Lord heard you when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good’”
(Deut. 5:28). What seems to please God particularly is their fear of him and their promise to obey, neither of which are explicitly stated in our Exodus passage.
Even though Moses was a mediator in terms of direct communication, the people must still make altars on which to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings (24). These altars are to be natural altars, not made with tools (25). By this means the people would also be able to communicate with God. They are to remember, as well, that they are to have no other gods alongside God (23).
We live in a world where we are unlikely to see God as directly as the Israelites did. At the same time, we have no mediator other than Christ Jesus. Neither do we make sacrifices, since Christ made the ultimate sacrifice, though our bodies should be offered as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). One thing that remains unchanged, however, is the command not to make any gods alongside God (23). What about us? Do we have other gods alongside God?
How much of our leisure time do we spend praying and reading the Bible and how much do we spend on social media, our phones or watching movies?
Our God, You are truly an awesome God. Your knowledge is unfathomable and Your power is limitless. Thank You for extending to me a right standing before You.