Moses experienced something that few other men in history have ever experienced: he saw God in person. What must that encounter have been like? In this message Stephen discusses what Moses learned on that Sinai Summit and and what we can learn from it as well.
“THE SINAI SUMMIT”
Exodus, chapter 19. Earl Weaver was once the manager of the, then, Baltimore Orioles. And he had an out-fielder, who was a believer, by the name of Pat Kelly. One day Pat Kelly came to his manager and they were talking about his relationship with the Lord. And he told his manager, who was an unbeliever, he told Weaver, “I am learning how to walk with God.” And to that, his manager, in cryptic tone, said, “I would be more interested if you learned to walk with the bases loaded.” It is interesting, men and women, that the world would view, what we consider, our passion as something insignificant and unnecessary. We walk with God, what is that? And I fear we really don’t talk enough about it from day to day. And Sunday to Sunday oftentimes finds its absence. And what we want to do, this morning, is go back to what would be the basic foundation, not only for the Israelite nation but, for us as believers. And in Exodus, chapter 19, we are given some principles as to how to walk with God and why it is important to walk with God and how it all began back then near the mountain, we refer to as, Mount Sinai.
Exodus, chapter 19, answers, first of all, the question, “Why did the Sinai Summit occur?” And one of the first reasons is, that God wanted to communicate significant revelation to the people in light of His own character. Look with me at chapter 19. Let’s begin with verse 1, “In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:’”. Now, revelation from God is based upon several things and I’ve given those to you in your notes. If you are following along, I think they may be helpful.
First of all His revelation begins with a review. Verse 4, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.” The word “eagle,” or the title, there is a reference throughout the Old Testament of His deity. In the book of Ezekiel, the eagle’s face represents the deity of God. In the book of Revelation, chapter 4, it is the eagle that surmises all of the wonderful character of God’s holiness and awesome power. He refers to Himself here as an eagle. He says, “Just as that eagle, with all of its majesty, bore you out of Egypt,” or “Just as he flies, so I bore you out of Egypt.” In fact, it’s interesting, if you were to study the life of that bird, whenever that eagle will take her little eaglets and force them out of the nest, she will fly underneath so that if they are not able to fly, they will land on her back and she will swoop them up and then turn and drop them off again until they learn how to fly. And he refers to His care as an eagle. He says, “I know you will stumble. I know you have failed already. But, like that mother eagle, I am underneath you.” And that is the review that He gives.
And then He says, “My revelation to you is dependent upon a response.” Verse 5, “Now then, if” - you ought to circle the word “if,” because this is a conditional covenant - “you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine”. We need to get just a little deeper here and I think it will make sense as we go through the Old Testament. There are several covenants given between God and man. A covenant determines how he will respond to them and how they should respond to God. The word “covenant,” comes from the Hebrew word which means “to bind” or “to fetter.” And it is the idea of binding two parties in contract. It was used, this Hebrew word, of treaties between two factions, or two warring parties, that would now get along with one another. God was, in a sense, saying, “I am giving you another treaty and this is how you are to respond to Me and this is what you can expect from Me.” Now, the Abrahamic covenant, which we studied in earlier days, was unconditional. And that was, no matter what Israel did, they were His people. Then there is the Noaic covenant and now we come to the Mosaic covenant. And this is what we would refer to as conditional. That is, “If you do all of these things, you will enjoy the benefits of being My people. You will never fear not being My people but you may or may not experience all the benefits of this covenant.” And so, it depends upon their response. It is obeying and it is keeping.
But He says, “There are rewards involved if you obey, if you keep My word.” And you ought to underline each of the three. The first word is, “possession” - “you shall be My own possession”. This is a tender term. Not that they will not be the nation that belonged to Him but they will experience all of the benefits of being His possession. And I think He uses this word to imply a greater truth. Theologically it is so true that GOD would not belong, necessarily to Israel. He wants them to think in terms that THEY belong to God. And there is a missing element today. We tend to think that God is a heavenly bellboy who belongs to us, and He does. But there is a greater truth underlying that and it is, that WE belong to God. He is the creator. We are the creature. And there is a fine line that we so easily transgress. We’ll talk about that more in this chapter. But He says, “you shall be My own possession”. That is, “I am in control. I am in charge. You are Mine.”
And He says in verse 6, “and you shall” - also -“be to Me a kingdom of priests”. Its interesting, in Peter’s writings, in chapter 2, verse 9, of the first epistle, he talks about this in terms of New Testament believers. He says, “you are . . . a royal priesthood”. It’s a fascinating concept that could be a sermon in itself. A priest was one who stood between God and men. A priest is one who spoke to God on behalf of some people. And spoke to people, as it were, in response to what he would learn from God. And you and I, ladies and gentlemen, are priests; Peter says so. We don’t necessarily have priests between us and God but, we, as His priests, speak to the people, the neighbor, the person we work with, in light of who we represent. And we go to God and pray and intercede for this people. So, even today, we have, in effect, the office of priests. We all, as believers, speak to God on behalf of someone we intercede for. And we speak to them on behalf of God. He says, “you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests”.
He says also, thirdly, circle or underline the word “nation” - “you shall be . . . a holy” - a set apart, a distinct - “nation.” So what we find in the covenant is an identity. They are His possession. They are His nation. But a responsibility, “You are priests and you are to obey the conditions of the covenant.”
And God will come and speak to Moses who will speak to the people. And we’ve had the idea, and I, in fact, did, and it wasn’t until I began studying, I thought Moses went up and down the mountain twice. He went up the first time, he came down with the tablets. He broke them because the people were disobeying already. And then he goes back up and he gets a new set. And that was it. It’s interesting that Moses will go up the mountain seven times. And the first five are preparatory to receiving that first issue, that first revelation from God. God has some specifics to say to His people before He will entrust them with His revelation. And that’s the second point. And that is this, God not only wants to give them revelation, He wants to create in them a sense of sincere respect for who He is. Look over at chapter 20, verse 20. It says, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.’” In other words, what God is doing and why all of the fireworks that we’re about to look at occur, it is so that He will create in you a sincere awe and respect of who He is, His holiness, His majesty. And He says, in order to create that respect and to have that evidence, there are four things that I want to see. I’ve given them to you in your notes.
First of all, you must, if you respect God, have a willingness to obey. Look at verse 7, “So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him.” - that is, in verses one through six - “And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do!’ And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.” The beginning step, that first step prior to the receiving of revelation was, “God, whatever you have to say, prior to this moment and ahead of time, we want you to know, we will obey. We will obey.” I wonder if God would speak to us more, in our hearts through His Spirit, I wonder if His word would mean more, as we study it, if He knew ahead of time that in us dwelled an obedient heart.
The second thing is that there had to be an openness to listen. Look at verse 9, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever.’ Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.” It wasn’t necessarily that they would hear. In fact, I’ve used the word “listen,” an openness to listen, because we all hear many things but few things we are, literally, listening to. When we listen, we act upon what we have heard. It’s like you husbands, and you are told by your wives to empty the garbage and you hear what she said but you don’t act upon it because you really weren’t listening. And your wife says, “Didn’t you hear me?” And you try to explain. There’s the difference. I use that illustration knowing that’s probably happened in your marriage, never in mine, at least that I can remember! But “I want you to, not just hear words, I want you to listen to the words. And I want you to put them into practice.” In fact, I think, James has a good illustration of what I’m trying to say. Turn over to James, chapter 1. James, chapter 1. Look at verse 22, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,” - or a listener - “he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently” - I like to think of that as listening intently - “at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.” That’s the difference in listening and hearing.
Now back to Exodus, chapter 19. There’s a third thing. Not only a willingness to obey, an openness to listen but, an attention to instruction. Verses 10 and 11, “The Lord also said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate’” - or prepare, set apart, purify them - “them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments;” - interesting - “let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” It’s interesting that God didn’t just decide to toss ten commandments down to the people, on clay that would soon disintegrate. He had a system that was worked out that was marvelous in detail. And I don’t think we’ll ever understand why it was the third day and why they washed their clothes and why five times up and five times down before they got it. We really won’t know. The point is that God sometimes gives specific instructions we may not understand. But, if we respect Him, we follow those instructions, even though we don’t understand.
Then there is a recognition of holiness. This is the balance of the chapter where we will spend the majority of our time. A recognition of holiness. Look at verse 12, “And you shall set bounds for the people all around,” - this mountain - “saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.’” Why? Is God cruel? No. God is impressing on them that there is a separation between the Creator and the creature and this mountain is that which He has chosen to, in a sense, indwell. Just as the ark, only the high priest could go in. It was an awesome thing to come into the presence of God. An awesomeness that we do not understand today because we forget that He is indwelling us. But He said, “Build a border,” He said to Moses, “so that no one accidentally rubs up against it.” “No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through;” - verse 13 - “‘whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain. So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and” - he set them apart, he - “consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, ‘Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.’ So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.”
Now you get the picture here, in fact, history and archeology has helped, pictures help, and I try to use all of them. But this is a wonderful place for God to choose to give His revelation. Mount Sinai, or at least the mountain that they believe matches the descriptions of history and scripture, is a mountain peak that stretches 7,465 feet into the air. The interesting thing about this mountain is that there are no valleys on either side. It comes straight down, as it were, and then the desert stretches out for two miles. They refer to this mountain as a pulpit or as a hand. Its tall peaks stretch straight up into the sky, as if waiting something from God. And this was the perfect place because two million people could congregate around this massive stone. Another interesting thing about this is, you did not have inclines up the mountain. Its as if you came right into a stone wall and it rose straight up into the air. And it was this mountain, the scripture tells us, that begins to tremble, smoke settles in, lightning begins to flash.
Let’s read on and find out. “When the sound of the trumpet” - verse 19 - “grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. And the Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses”. I would have loved to have been in the company of people who stood around, although it would have been very frightening. They were all trembling. Fire and lightning criss-crossing the air, shooting toward that mountain. Smoke, perhaps confusion, all silence. And then God says, “Moses, come up here.” Can you imagine all of that happening and then God saying, “Come up.” I would have said, “No way.” You know, “Wait until the storm quits.” But, in the middle of all of that, God says, “Moses, I want you to come up to the top of the mountain.” And the last part of verse 20 reveals his great faith, “Moses went up.” Is He going to give the revelation of the ten commandments? No. In fact, He’s going to say to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.”
Now we can refer to this appearance, the ten cent term is theophany, and you’ll run across that as you study your Old Testament. “Theo” means “God,” the word “phany,” means “to appear.” It is the appearance of God but, because God is spirit, God has never revealed a face to man because He has no face. The visible personification of God is Jesus Christ. Sometimes it’s confusing as you read the Old Testament, it talks about seeing the face of God or the feet of God or the hands of God. Those are terms referring to Him in human understanding when He is a vast, awesome spirit. But God didn’t want them to try to gaze through just to see the glory of His manifestation because they would die. In fact, when Moses will come down at a later time, his face glows for days because he has seen the magnificence of God’s glory. He says, “Go down and tell them not to try to look through, they’ll perish.” Verse 22, “And also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” It’s serious to approach God. “And Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for Thou didst warn us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break forth upon them.’ So Moses went down to the people and told them.”
I think all of these verses, basically, are God’s point of creating, in this nation that He is calling to Himself, a great sense of respect and awe. In fact, that awe would be carried through so that when the Hebrew scribes would copy scripture, as you perhaps already know, when they would come to one of the names of God, they would place their quill down, or whatever the instrument was that they were writing with, and they would go and they would wash their hands carefully and they would come back and they would pick up a brand new writing instrument and they would write out the name “Elohim,” “El Shaddai,” “Elyon(?),” “Eloi(?),” whatever name it was. And then they would put that one down, never to use it again. They would pick up the old one and they would continue writing. All through the Old Testament, they reverenced even the names of God. In fact, the Old Testament “Yhwh” didn’t have any vowels because they didn’t want anybody to pronounce it. It was sacred. Does it strike you how different we are today? Does it strike you how flippantly people will approach Him? He has become a universal chum to everybody, this heavenly pal. And, although we do understand that we can boldly approach Him as our Abba-Father, and there is compassion and love from His heart and He loves to see us coming, we do not rush in with unconsecrated hearts, we do not go to Him flippantly. We respect Him. He is God. God would develop that respect with His people. It is a respect, men and women, that I believe we should have for Him too. We go to Him in worship and we love Him. We go boldly, openly, without a mask. He knows our hearts. And yet, we go respecting His sovereign power, His majesty. We don’t go to change Him. We allow Him to change us.
Now, as I’ve studied this passage, believing that everything applies, and if it doesn’t seem to apply, it’s my fault, I’ve come up with some things that I think are very necessary that are taught to us from the Sinai summit. Let me give them to you. Let’s call them summit meetings. And these are times, men and women and young people, when you meet with God. We’ll refer to them as your summit meeting, whenever or wherever that may be. From this chapter, I think that there are principles to help us make these meetings profitable and inspiring. The first is this, there needs to be a specific place for you. Now I know that sometimes you could be in your car, your office, or in the kitchen. But, I think, there is an overriding principle, and perhaps if we could have observed Daniel, he would have had a place, there by the window open to the east, where he would commune, where he would have a meeting, a summit meeting, with God. I think it behooves us to choose a place, to have some place where we can be alone and quiet, reverent. I don’t think it would help to be at the kitchen table with kids running back and forth. I’m not sure it would be good to have it in the office when all of the people are around. It would be good to have a place that is alone and quiet where you meet with God in a specific way.
I think another thing that this chapter gives me is this, we need a prepared spirit. Moses would go up and down five times for one reason, to prepare the people to meet, in a sense, the revelation of God. C. S. Lewis said once that, “The problem we have with our thoughts of God is that we have so few of them.” When we come to approach God, our minds, our focus, it isn’t, “All right, I’ve got to catch my ride in five minutes, go Lord.” And we start flipping. Turn the fan on, get the pages rolling, look for that verse. It isn’t that at all. We come, we’ve set aside time and a place, and we may even be systematic in a book study or a passage or a theme, where we come to it to be students of the word, to allow God to minister to us through His word. That makes a profitable summit meeting. Not, “Lord, give me a fantastic verse that I can use to carry me through.” Now that may come and there may be days when we may definitely need a verse, a thought, but we come with prepared spirits. We come with the idea that God is, literally, meeting with us to change us, to conform us, to motivate us. It isn’t fifteen minutes just so I can do my duty. It is fifteen minutes so that God can conform me and prepare me for the day.
I’ve already mentioned this before but I believe this is one of the key thoughts and that is, we need teachable hearts; not just to hear but, to listen, not just to read but, to obey, not to become smarter, in a sense, but for God to develop holiness in our lives. Now I’m talking to you very practically about times that you meet with the Lord. I believe this is a basic principle, from chapter 19, that so many have never put into practice. And I’ve come up with, what I believe are, excuses as to why. Suggestions, I have heard these, put these down for myself, and let me give you four excuses that you or someone else may use for not studying the Bible. Why is it that we are not in this book? Why is it that we will drive across town to get under the sound of the word but we will not walk across the living room and pick up the Bible and get in it ourselves? You see, our Christian community is fast becoming a community that wants to be under the word but very few are in the word for themselves. Why is that? What are the excuses that you and I use any given day? Perhaps you’ll see yourself in here. I sure have. In fact, I think I’ve used all of them at one time or another.
The first is the excuse of motivation. The excuse of motivation. And this would be the individual who says, “I get enough at church.” But I think the person who says that will be the person in church who is counting all of the burned out light bulbs in the ceiling. How many are there? Anybody want to . . . no, you wouldn’t volunteer that now, would you? The truth is, people are waiting to get motivated off the launching pad. “Lord, give me a blast and I’ll take off.” When He gives motivation to those people who have said, “I’ll meet you. I’ve set aside a place, and I’ve got a time, and I’ve got a spirit and a teachable heart. Now meet me here.” It is that individual who has motivation. And let me say this too, we don’t hear enough of this, I believe the greatest motivation in a married man’s life is his wife. Now I know she motivates you for a lot of other things but how about studying the Bible? You know where I get that from? When Paul told women, in I Corinthians 14, “If you have a question,” - do what, ask who? “Husbands.” All the wives said that. All the men are thinking, “Boy, you’re getting me in trouble.” Great motivation. You have a question, go to that husband and say, “Look, I’m studying the Bible and I’ve got this question. Would you find out the answer for me?” Could you imagine? I think what I’ll do, people, guys and gals call up with questions, every time a married woman calls me now, I’m going to say, “Have you asked your husband?” And she’ll say, “Yes, and he said to call you.” No, don’t do that. Guys, this would get you in the book. And women, don’t take that responsibility away from him. In the Christian community, so often the women are the students. THEY are reading. THEY are buying books. THEY’RE into it. And the guys are pulling up the rear. That’s not the way it ought to be. One of the best things you can do, dear lady, when you have a question, is ask your husband. Motivation.
Number two, the excuse of priority. This is the individual who says, “I’m really too busy.” Now you know that’s an exciting excuse that we have all used. And I have used this illustration before and I always think about this whenever someone says to me or I say to myself, “I don’t have enough time.” I think of the investment that God has given me today of 86,400 seconds. Now, if that were dollars, I guarantee you I could take 900 a day and put it aside. God has given you and me 86,400 seconds. Can we invest 900 seconds, 15 minutes, for Him? There is always enough time to do what we want to do. But that is an excuse often given. We’re too busy.
The third, is the excuse of technique. And I would say that this is perhaps the most legitimate of all. In fact, we have developed a study of teaching people how to study the Bible that I learned from a great teacher of the word. But I also believe that it is an excuse. Because the individuals who are studying the Bible are the ones who know how to study the Bible. Did you ever catch that? The people who are in it, know it. Someone came up to Sam Snead and asked him, a great golfer, “How did you become such a great putter on the greens. How could I become as great as you?” Sam Snead said, “I’ve got a fantastic solution. It’ll work, guaranteed.” The guy that asked him that, pen and paper ready, “What is it? The way I hold my elbows; my mouth?” He said, “No. I want you, and this is how you will be as great a putter, I want you to go putt 100,000 golf balls.” That wouldn’t work today. “I want something quick.” Technique is developed by people who are already doing it.
Then the fourth, I think is probably an excuse but perhaps a result, it is the excuse of apathy. This is the person who says, “Why should I?” “Why should I?” We mentioned last Sunday that one out of four people read the Bible throughout the week. The other three are not really convinced that it is relevant. Let me ask you a question? Are you tempted to sin? And what is that temptation that you struggle with? What is that pressure at the job or at school? And people are saying, “Do this.” Your flesh says, “I want this.” What is the temptation? Are you tempted? Of course. What if we suggested a study for you of the book of Deuteronomy? Is it relevant? Yes it is. In fact, Jesus Christ, the three times that He was tempted in the wilderness, quoted from the book of Deuteronomy. How well would we overcome temptation if it depended upon our knowledge of Deuteronomy? The question is not, “Can I or should I study the Bible?” The real question, men and women, is, “Can I afford not to?” There is a direct relationship between overcoming temptation and an understanding and application of this book. Are we in it for ourselves? I have read where in the Yellowstone National Park, there are signs, as you can drive through and you see the wild animals, the lions, the bears, the tigers, and there are signs that say, “Do not feed the bears.” And this article, that I was reading, talked about how every winter, when the tourists are gone, they cart dead bears away from the road. Why? Because, during the tourists months, people ignored the signs and fed the bears and the bears began to depend upon someone else to feed them. And, when winter came, they died. Along the path of this Christian life that we live, I believe there are starving people because they have learned to depend on someone else to feed. They are not developing the ability to feed themselves. Do you have a summit meeting? Is there a place, a time, an attitude, a teachable heart?
The second point of application, at the bottom of your notes, is this, moments when God meets with you are not to be taken casually. And I fear we have taken Him for granted. Back in the book of Exodus, chapter 19, it says, and this is an interesting jigsaw puzzle that we find the missing piece to in the New Testament, in verse 19, “When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder” - that is, the smoke is coming, the lightning is flashing, the mountain is quaking, and then here is this trumpet and this sound gets louder and louder and louder, and it says - “Moses spoke” - we don’t know what he said but we find out in the book of Hebrews. Turn there, the book of Hebrews, chapter 12. Hebrews, chapter 12, look at verse 21. The verses before that, verses 18 to 20, talk about this mountain. Let’s start with verse 18, “For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.’ And so terrible” - so awesome - “was the sight, that Moses said,” - here’s what he said back in Exodus - “I am full of fear and trembling.” All this is taking place in Exodus, chapter 19, and it says, “Moses spoke”. What was it Moses said? “I am full of fear and trembling.” I am emphasizing a point, ladies and gentlemen, that you may think I am overemphasizing. I am not forgetting the approachability of God through Jesus Christ. I am emphasizing His holiness and the awe that we should have when we approach Him. Like Moses, when he saw the glory of God, he trembled. Know that if God would give us that kind of attitude, it would revolutionize our respect for Him.
But I am glad of this, men and women, as you have that summit meeting, if you have that place, if you have that attitude, if you have carved out a deposit of time where you have said, “Lord, I want you to mold and to make me. I want to be alone with you where it is quiet, where I can worship you, where I can study the word you’ve given me.” The wonderful thing is that He says to you, just what He said to Moses, “Come. Come meet with Me. I am available.” I think the question He asks is, “Are we available for Him?” Let’s pray.