Summary: God's glory is a consuming fire, burning away our sin because He loves us and wants us to experience the abundant life that He has promised us.
We have been looking at experiencing God’s glory, and our last study of Scripture was with the Israelites as God’s glory – visible in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night – led them out of Egypt to the Red Sea, and then delivered them from Pharaoh and his mighty army. We talked about that together, and were awed – perhaps even a bit frightened – by the overwhelming nature of the glory of God. And that might cause us to shrink back, to be apprehensive, about the idea of us today experiencing God’s glory. That would be a terrible mistake.
Ex 19: The Beginning of the Covenant
As the story continues throughout Exodus, the cloud and the fire lead the people for two months (Ex 19:1) across the desert to Mount Sinai, where the God of the Universe enters a covenant with His people – they promise to always obey everything the Lord commands (Ex 19:7), and God says to Moses, “Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. 11 Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. 12 Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. 13 No hand may touch the person or animal that crosses the boundary; instead, stone them or shoot them with arrows. They must be put to death.’ However, when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, then the people may go up on the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down to the people. He consecrated them for worship, and they washed their clothes. 15 He told them, “Get ready for the third day, and until then abstain from having sexual intercourse.”
Now, just before I read this next part, I want you to imagine yourself there. Imagine that you are one of the Israelites. Just over two months ago you were a slave in Egypt and some strange things started to happen. You have heard about this God that your ancient ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew and experienced, but all you have ever known is whips across your back and mud beneath your fingernails as you make bricks. Then some guy named Moses shows up, strange plagues happen, some weird stuff, and suddenly you are leaving Egypt following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and then Pharaoh’s army is chasing you down and this cloud protects you and then destroys the entire army. And you are free. You walk across the desert for a couple months and come to the base of the mountain, and are asked to make a decision to follow this God that you see in the cloud and the fire, this God that delivered you from slavery, and you have stood and said “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.”. You heard Moses’ command, and you have spent two days getting ready. Now it is the morning of the third day, you wake up and join the rest of your kin prepared to meet and enter a covenant with this God. Imagine you are standing there…
16 On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. 17 Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. 19 As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. 20 The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain.”
How might you feel? (invite response). Now, in the face of all of this, keep this fact firmly in mind: this God of thunder and lighting and fire and smoke has said He is for you. He is your God, and wants you to be His people. Now keep that fact right next to this awesome display of power. Now how do you feel?
So Moses climbs the mountain at the end of chapter 19, and God gives him the 10 commandments along with a host of other instructions, those are all recorded for us in Ex 20-23. Chapter 23 ends with this: “20 “See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you. 21 Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. 22 But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you. 23 For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them completely. 24 You must not worship the gods of these nations or serve them in any way or imitate their evil practices. Instead, you must utterly destroy them and smash their sacred pillars.