From the Seminar, Walking in the Light of Pentecost
Not only did God come down as a teacher to instruct his people on Mt. Sinai. He also came down to dwell in their midst.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21)
Remember, we are supposed to walk not by sight but by faithfulness. Here the newly delivered slaves were walking by sight; they saw the thunder and lightning, they heard the trumpet, they saw the smoke, they trembled. They stayed at a distance desired Moses to go hear for them.
What did he hear God say? That he wanted his people to be a kingdom of priests. A priest is one who can approach, one who can draw nigh for service.
On this occasion, Israel, rather than walking by faith, walks by sight and says in effect, what we see and we hear fills us with fear; we would much prefer to hear the watered down version through your lips. Just like you would much prefer hearing from a teacher, pastor or preacher, rather than hearing God speak to you himself.
And so, pastor, Dwight, or whomever, go up the mountain and get a word from God. Come back trembling with your face illuminated with the glory of the Spirit of God, and you tell us all that God says.
Moses came down with his face illuminated. Instead of saying he had radiance the Latin Vulgate mistranslated the Hebrew text as Moses came down with horns. That is why Michaelangelo's statue of Moses has two horns on its head.
The rabbis say God wrote the Ten Words on the two tablets, and then Moses wrote down all the other instructions that God gave using black fire upon white fire. At one point a lock of hair fell down on his forehead and covered his eye, and he brushed it back with his hand. As a result, the fire got upon his face, so when he came down the mountain his face was glowing with the fire of God.
But to the point, the people here are failing in their high calling. They hear God speak and they tremble, but they prefer to continue to walk by sight and not by faith, "You speak to us, and we will listen." The word listen in Hebrew has the connotation of obeying. There is irony here, and a powerful spiritual lesson; at the moment of Israel's greatest spiritual opportunity, Israel suffered its greatest spiritual defeat.
That should be a sobering thought to each of us, especially to those of us in ministry. At the moment of greatest opportunity, divine visitation, supernatural demonstration, and Godly revelation—Israel falls back, and in falling back they fall down. What happens? Watch carefully.
Moses approaches God, going up the mountain to receive instruction God desires to give his people whom he has redeemed. Meanwhile, what do the children of Israel do? They create a golden calf; they dance around it and worship it. This is the greatest sin in the history of Israel.
The rabbis say this whole passage teaches a great deal about the leadership of Moses and why he was the greatest of all men. Because at the risk of his own life, he interceded for these unworthy people. God then makes a provision that if he is not going to dwell in the midst of these people, he will instead dwell in the midst of a tabernacle. Remarkable. He precedes to provide plans on how to build the tabernacle.
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (Exodus 25:8-9)
This is a key text that is a subject of great speculation in the interpretive history of Israel. Why?
Because the Lord says, "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst." You would not expect the Lord to say, "I will dwell in them" rather, "I will dwell in it"(the sanctuary). But he doesn't say that. He says, in effect, "given the circumstances, make this sanctuary exactly like I will describe for you, because it is going to symbolize all that is necessary for us to have an ongoing good relationship. But my original and ultimate desire and intention is to dwell in them, among the people."
We hear this language again in Exodus 29:43-45, "I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God." The word dwell is where we get the word shekinah—the presence, the dwelling of God. The truth is that he brought them out of captivity in order to dwell in them.
We are not prepared for God to take up habitation in us, it is just too close for comfort. We prefer that he dwell in our sanctuaries, in our churches. Yet God would say to each of us, build your sanctuaries but understand that my desire is to dwell in you.
This devotional study is from a professionally produced transcription of Dwight's audio message. It is a full and accurate transcript, formalized and edited for readability and clarity by JC Studies.