Exodus 19:21–22 (HCSB)
21 The Lord directed Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to see the Lord; otherwise many of them will die. 22 Even the priests who come near the Lord must purify themselves or the Lord will break out in anger against them.”
I think this passage loses some of its force for the modern reader and Christian. What is described here is God manifesting Himself in this huge cloud, with thunder, billowing smoke, and a “violently shaking” mountain. And then He speaks from it, to Moses. And I think as believers today, at least in the West, we have a sort of detachment from these miraculous appearances of the mighty God. I think there can even be a tendency to maybe try and explain some natural event that might have occurred that the Israelites might have experienced and attributed to God. But I think we need to stop and really soak in the picture and try to feel the awe and inspiration that must have been at the foot of this mountain. Because when we do, it feeds the remainder of the pericope.
So there is this odd dichotomy in my mind of a loving, gracious, welcoming God, yet He warns the people not to approach Him, don’t come too close or you will die. And I think this is why it is so important to feel the setting and experience scripture provides. God is an all-powerful being, and perfectly righteous and just. So when He demands separation, it is not because He is trying to withhold anything good from us, it is because He knows it is for our safety. Exodus 19:22 informs us of what our state must be to come before Him: purified. So in this setting, that required sacrifice and purification rituals to satisfy the justice of sin. Today we are covered by the perfect sacrifice of Christ, so we can approach God as cleansed by His blood. But it is the same perfect God, mighty and just, continuing to provide for and draw His people. So we should maintain the same awe and reverence as those who stood at the foot of the mountain, and give thanks for the freedom to approach our loving Father.
Lord, thank You for making it possible to be reconciled with You. We no longer have to remain at a distance, but because of Jesus’ sacrifice we can approach You, and fall into Your arms. I pray that we approach Your mountain, always in awe and reverence of You. Amen.