“God is coming for a visit. Get ready” -- essentially, that’s what Moses told the Israelites when they finally left Egyptian slavery. With over 400 years of oppression in their backpacks, God instructed Moses to prepare the Israelites for a visit from him.
Holy God set the standard for the meeting: the people were to wash their clothes and married couples were to abstain from sexual relations. They were not to touch the mountain or go near it. Three days after their preparations, God came to earth at the site of Mount Sinai. The Israelite’s witnessed a “violently” trembling mountain with dense clouds hovering, lightning strikes, and roaring thunder. Smoke billowed “up from it like smoke from a furnace” (Exodus 19:18). If that weren’t enough, a trumpet sound “grew louder and louder.” I imagine humility grew in great measure as the Israelites met God under those circumstances.
Moses later wrote, “Everyone in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16). The writer of Hebrews recorded, “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear’” (Hebrews 12:21). For us, the picture becomes clearer. When God displays even a portion of his power, all people instinctively recognize their smallness.
The Israelites already had primer lessons about God’s power: they had witnessed the land-destructive, economic disastrous plagues of Egypt. They had walked on a dry seabed with walls of water heaped up on each side. God had already provided three months of provisions for their company of over a million people. Future teachings also awaited them when God would care for them over forty years: their shoes or clothing would not wear, they would eat daily bread, and they would drink water in a wasteland -- all from God Almighty’s tap.
Soon after the fiery power of God displayed on the mountain, God commissioned and equipped workers to build a mobile meeting place, a symbol of his steady presence among them. Because they would travel for many years before inheriting a permanent land, a movable tent would become a meeting place for God and man. Gifted artisans would construct the tent and furnishings of worship.
One furnishing, the Ark of the Covenant measured 4 x 3 x 3 footage, still and small compared to a quaking mountain. The box’s lid, the atonement covering, had two cherubim with wings stretching over its length. God told Moses, “There, above the cover between the two cherubim, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22). A smoldering mountain or a 4 x 3 x 3 meeting place for one-to-one contact present a marvelous contrast. At the mercy seat, God accommodated the smallness of man. He harnessed his glory.
For hundreds of future years, God would meet Israel’s leaders in a less terrifying and public way at the mercy seat. Through the less intimidating meeting place, all-powerful God simply gave another brush stroke to his portrait. My small mind cannot comprehend all of God, but he ably assists those who long to know him. Much later at the right time in history, God sent his servant, Jesus. Immanuel, meaning God with us, Jesus furthered our understanding of mercy. He became the altar, the atoning sacrifice, and the mercy seat, and most of all, he showed us that God is very approachable.
The prophet Isaiah whetted Israel’s appetite for Jesus with this description: “Like a shepherd he will tend his flock, in his arm he will gather the lambs and carry them in his bosom” (40:11).
This week, imagine yourself awaking with the rest of the Israelites to that smoldering mountain and the deafening trumpet blasts. After meditating upon God’s power and your probable response to that situation, think about the cradle of God’s arms around you, tending your every need. Both displays represent God’s holiness and his ability to take care of his dear children. Our casting every worry into his capable hands remains a key to becoming humble.
Hunger for Humility (8): “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4).