Commentary on Exodus 24:12-18
Like a real estate agent who knows that location, location, location is the key to a successful business enterprise, in matters of faith, relationship, relationship, relationship is of utmost importance.
Jesus affirmed this in Matthew 22.
When asked about the greatest commandment, he said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37b-40).
If good communication is the key to good relationships, what might that look like in the divine/human relationship? How might God connect with human beings, beings whose first response to God is to retreat in fear, making communication and relationship with God impossible?
In the New Testament, God is incarnate, human and divine, in Jesus. In the gospels, Jesus, in his humanity, operates as a consistent presence who communicates through ordinary language. In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, however, God appears infrequently, but in many forms, each appropriate for its context. Some manifestations are visible, others are invisible. While these appearances can be thought of as spiritual, biblical writers seem to want their readers to think not only spiritually, but to think of physical manifestations as well.
In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, God appears: to the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden, at the Tower of Babel, to Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Balaam, Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, Manoah and his wife, Samuel, Elijah, Solomon, Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego, Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and to Moses. Non-physical examples include the voice that called Samuel to be a prophet and God’s promised blessing to Solomon in a dream for choosing wisdom rather than riches when he was appointed to lead Israel. Physical manifestations include Balaam’s encounter with the angel of the Lord with a drawn sword in his hand.
The Bible records more theophanies connected to Moses than any other character. These include God’s appearance as a cloud engulfing Moses on Mt. Sinai and as a fire by people at the foot of the mountain. Later in the Exodus story, God will use this same manifestation, a cloud by day and fire by night, during Israel’s journey to the Promised Land.
Here in this passage, God prepares Moses to receive the guidelines, including the Ten Commandments, that will order Israel’s life as a newly formed nation. Readers accustomed to the nonstop pace of contemporary living are likely to miss the significance of how long this process takes.
It took six days of just being in the presence of God to get Moses ready for this life changing encounter. While the Bush That Did Not Burn prepared Moses to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, apparently, he needed something more, a deeper relationship with God to prepare him to receive the vision of how different the new nation would be. Six days of being alone in the presence of God was just the beginning. It took that long to prepare Moses to be taught by God so he could teach Israel how to be in relationship with God and with one another.
God did the work of creation in six days. Six days were the prelude, laid the groundwork for all that would follow. God rests on the seventh day signalling a time of completion, making room for creation to fulfill its purpose. For Moses, the seventh day marked a new beginning. Neither he nor Israel would ever be the same again.
Forty days and nights can seem like a mighty long time. Yet, that was how long it took for God to teach Moses the design for the new nation.1 This was to be a nation of good healthy relationships between God and humanity, and among human beings. Starting with the Ten Commandments, people needed to understand that God and everyone was due respect. Israel would be a nation that worshiped One God, not many. Moreover, God is holy and not to be worshiped any kind of way—no graven images, no taking God’s name in vain.
This was to be a community where the sabbath day was kept, giving everybody a break from the stress and activity of everyday life. These were to be healthy relationships where neighbors’ lives, including family members, household members, and belongings were to be treated with kindness. There would be no false witness against one’s neighbor. This way of life was so different than anything on earth, it took time to explain to Moses what God had in mind.
The goal of this new community was to embody what Jesus would articulate many centuries later when he spoke love of God, neighbor, and self. It is a reminder that it’s not enough just to show up. We need to be present, and tuned in to God, in the church, in the community, in every aspect of our daily lives. Everyone would have to do their part.
This passage has a lot to teach about being in the presence of God. In today’s fast-paced world, it is often hard for people to spend even five minutes quietly alone before God. However, if one learns to slow down, be quiet, and be patient in the presence of God, if one tarries, God will show up.
Moses’s experience with God on Mt. Sinai is a reminder that the things of God take time. In the words of a gospel song:
You can’t hurry God (No no) You just have to wait
Trust and give him time. No matter how long it takes
He’s a God you can’t hurry You don’t have to worry
He may not come when you want him
But he’s right on time Right on time
As with the people at the base of the mountain, just because we don’t see anything doesn’t mean that God is not working on our behalf. Learning to trust God and wait on God’s timing is as important today as it was for Moses and the Israelites.
- Conversation with Rev. Carol Grant Gibson, February 3, 2020.