Two months of living in the Desert, and now the Israelites will face their biggest challenge, and their greatest calling: how will they live with God? They are the people God has redeemed, as He says, to be “my treasured possession…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v.4). They have seen His works (v.4), but now they will see His Presence, and receive His Word. With that Word they will be able to walk in His ways. And they are eager to do just that (v.8), but they little know just what it will mean.
God will reveal Himself, but it is Moses who will have the fullest revelation, and this will secure his standing as leader of the people (v.9). Before God comes, the people must make themselves ready (vv.10-14). It is clear that they must be ready for their Lord in mind and body.
They are prepared, but nothing can prepare any of us for when God truly arrives. The mountain shakes and smokes, and the Israelites are in a holy terror (vv.16-19). God comes in fire, and tells Moses to warn the people against venturing onto the mountain (vv.19-23). They have been redeemed to know this God, but they must first know that God is mighty in His holiness and power. He is not a God in any way like us, yet we are called to walk with Him by grace.
And we are called to walk on His terms, which is by His Law. So Moses and Aaron ascend the mountain alone to meet with God and to receive His Law (vv.23-25). Their rules will never bind a people to God, and bring lasting change. Only the Law of God can bring true hope, order and freedom to any society.
We Christians continually make the mistake of thinking we come to a God who is different form the God of Sinai; which is nonsense! The writer of Hebrews is reflecting on the Sinai revelation in Hebrews 12.18-29. Of course, the giving of the Law and the grace of Christ do make for a start contrast: whereas the people at Sinai were excluded from God’s Presence, we are all invited to draw near with all of God’s people. But our God is still as terrifyingly holy. Our welcome comes at the price of Jesus’ exclusion, the spotless Son of God who at the Cross was made sin for us, and who endured the fiery wrath of God’s justice. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb.12.29). Let us never forget the grace which redeems us, and the wonder that we may hear the Voice of God who calls us to to walk in freedom as we walk in His Ways.