The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
The repeated description of the glory of God as it is displayed among Israel is that of a fire and of a cloud. We get an even more interesting description of an encounter with God in this chapter in Exodus 24:9-11 where 74 men from among Israel, including Moses and Aaron, get a special audience with God. There the description is not of God at all, but rather of the “pavement” of clear sapphire-like stone under His feet. This description leads me to think that they just saw the feet of God upon the mountain, and that was awesome enough!
The nation saw the glory of God on the mountain. As Moses ascends the mountain to commune with God and receive the intense revelation of the Law of God, the people are amazed at the sight of the mountain. It has been transformed to a fuming, burning, fire-topped furnace at the approach of God’s glory. And this lasted the entire 40 days that Moses was up with God on the mountain. They had to be impressed, and we know from later accounts, both fearful and worried for Moses.
I saw a new insight from this chapter as well. It had never sunk in to me that ALL of the elders of Israel got to see God “up close” before Moses went all the way to the top of Sinai to receive the Law. This makes Israel’s lapse into idolatry in chapter 33 as Moses descends with the law all the more tragic. They could not hold on to a vision of God for 5 weeks! It faded in their minds so quickly.Their leaders failed to keep a vision of God and His commands before them. And human nature is the same stuff today. I can encounter God vividly in His word in the morning, only to feel and act like a miserable sinner by day’s end! And if I ever find myself in a visionless ministry… it is my fault as a leader because I did not point people to the glory of God. Oh how I need to look carefully at how Israel saw the glory of God in the desert. The lesson is for me.