We have two stories of meetings taking place on a mountain; Moses meets with God and Moses meets with Jesus... and Elijah and the three disciples. I'm trying something a little different today. My focus will be on the story of Moses meeting with God and I'm using the Bible translation The Message to tell the story. First this, on another day and another place, Moses and Jesus met in a different setting, a golf course. As they were about to tee off, they were joined by an elderly gentlemen. The first hole, like The Willows at Little Crow in Spicer, called for them to tee off over water. Moses teed off first, took his shot, and plop, it landed squarely in the water. But Moses parted the water, took another shot, and landed next to the cup.
Jesus was up next, and his shot ended up also in that water. So Jesus walked out onto the water, and took his second shot and landed even closer to the cup.
The old man stepped up, and took his shot. He also landed in almost the same spot, in the middle of the water. But a frog came by, and picked up the ball. It started to hop away when an eagle came swooping down on it, carrying it over the green. As it flew over, the frog dropped the ball. The ball then rolled into the hole for a perfect hole in one. Moses then turns to Jesus and says, "I hate playing golf with your father."
A very different meeting than our bible readings. But our focus is on Moses starting with the passage Ruth read from Exodus. This really is just a bit of a much fuller story kinda dropped into the middle of our lectionary cycle. I am going to back up a couple chapters to set the scene and then move forward to see what this account of Moses meeting God leads to.
This all occurred during the time the Israelites were traveling through the desert following their escape from Egypt. And while Moses was on that mountain, the people grew restless. Chapter 33 “When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”
Aaron took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!”
You may recall this story from your Sunday School days. It is not preached on very often in Sunday worship. We recognize the anxiety that so often plagues the human race. We don't see what God is doing and so we take things into our own hands. And while faith does call for action, we need to discern God's leading. And God was not in the making of that golden calf, that idol, which was in direct violation of the Law Moses had just received. And neither God nor Moses were pleased.
19-20 “When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water.
“9-10 God said to Moses, “I look at this people—oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them.
11-14 Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’ And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.”
That interesting, isn't it. God thought twice. Moses convinced God not to destroy the people. Wow. Bible professor Justin Michael Reed says this, “(Moses) appeals to God for a different course of action—not because the people deserve it, but because all who witness the survival of the Israelites can testify that God’s promises are trustworthy.” Consider this account in your own times of pleading with God. We can't see in the workings of this world all that happens in answer to prayer but we see here that God does listen and God is trustworthy.
We are now at the beginning of today's chapter 34. But we didn't hear how Moses ended up meeting God this second time, “1-3 God spoke to Moses: “Cut out two tablets of stone just like the originals and engrave on them the words that were on the original tablets you smashed. 4-7 So Moses cut two tablets of stone just like the originals. He got up early in the morning and climbed Mount Sinai as God had commanded him, carrying the two tablets of stone.” And then Moses asked God, 18 “Please. Let me see your Glory.”
19 God said, “I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you... “But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live. 21-23 Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back. But you won’t see my face.”
At once, Moses fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Please, O Master, if you see anything good in me, please Master, travel with us, hard-headed as these people are. Forgive our iniquity and sin. Own us, possess us.”
10-12 And God said, “As of right now, I’m making a covenant with you: In full sight of your people I will work wonders that have never been created in all the Earth, in any nation. Then all the people with whom you’re living will see how tremendous God’s work is, the work I’ll do for you. (List of do's and do nots) 27 God said to Moses: “Now write down these words, for by these words I’ve made a covenant with you and Israel.”
And here is where today's reading begins. 29-30 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai carrying the two Tablets of The Testimony, he didn’t know that the skin of his face glowed because he had been speaking with God.
An interesting side note here comes from Reed again, “For centuries, Moses’ terrifying visage was often described as “having horns” rather than “shining.” An early translation of the Bible into Latin (by Jerome in the 4th century CE) popularized the notion that Moses had horns in the Christian world, and many famous artistic renderings of Moses carried on this tradition. This interpretation is not as far-fetched as it seems at first blush since the Hebrew root used here (qrn) occurs dozens of times in the Bible to unambiguously indicate an animal’s horn. However, most modern scholars agree that other early translations (like the Septuagint in the 3rd century BCE) are correct in describing Moses as glowing, not horned.”
Well, I think it's interesting.... But glowing makes sense in that Moses had to put a veil over his face to appease the anxiety his glowing face aroused in the Israelites. And the apostle Paul will use this story to assure us that we can now come into God's presence freely. But we can also conclude that, while we might not glow, being in God's presence should somehow be apparent in how we live. Coming from the presence of God should show-- we shine in our attitude, our words, our kindnesses, our patience, our love of neighbor. Do people see that you have been in the presence of God?
And the people of the Exodus were changed by these experiences. After this, Moses set about making a Tent of Meeting where God would be with them in a special way. And God was with them and God would lead them, 34-35 “The Cloud (capital C, God's presence) covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of God filled The Dwelling.
36-38 Whenever the Cloud lifted from The Dwelling, the People of Israel set out on their travels, but if the Cloud did not lift, they wouldn’t set out until it did lift. The Cloud of God was over The Dwelling during the day and the fire was in it at night, visible to all the Israelites in all their travels.”
This has gotten a little long, but I want to bring us forward to the mountain in Luke's account of the transfiguration. The meeting there of Moses and Jesus and Elijah, Peter wished to build a tent. But, “While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
This cloud might not have meant much when I first read the gospel today, but now we recognize, as the Jewish readers would, that it recalls the Cloud that led the people in the exodus; the cloud where God was present. And Luke calls our attention to this as well when he tells us what those three were discussing, 31”They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure.” Departure comes from the Greek word exodos. Exodus; a full circle to Moses and the mountain.
I want to conclude with a view of how God's disposition is shown here. God takes sin very seriously, yet in Christ especially, we learn of God's compassion and mercy. Our Exodus reading also tells us this. From Reed again, “Exodus 34:6–7, God discloses the essence of God’s nature: “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty... Here, God foregrounds grace, mercy, and forgiveness that is not based on faithfulness to God’s covenant. And the perspective that God’s steadfast love and unmerited forgiveness outweighs punitive justice becomes a beacon of hope for fallible people facing the great tensions of a dangerous and uncertain world.” And in Christ, this steadfast love and unmerited mercy is fully demonstrated for us. Paul wrote of our access to God and God's grace, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
Jesus is revealed as God on that mountaintop, bringing us the grace of God. Jesus invites us into perfect communion with the Father as the veil is removed. And we are challenged to reflect the glory of God in our lives. Let us enter into that fellowship and worship this God of mercy, grace and love. Amen.
Hymn: Crown Him with Many Crowns 151 PH