So the past couple of Mondays, I’ve been telling you all (or, at least, as many of you stop by to read) the story of how I used to be obsessed with spiritual highs—mountaintop experiences, as it were. And last week, I told you that one of my professors in college helped pull me out of that, although it was somewhat inadvertent. What he did do, though, was set me on a journey through a few Biblical stories that changed my outlook entirely. I stumbled on a pattern that shows, while mountaintops can be fun, you can’t stay on them forever.
The pattern is fairly simple: one of God’s people go up a mountain and encounter God. They come off the mountain and have a negative experience. And then there’s a second mountaintop experience that delves deep into who God is and what He does.
The first place I found this pattern was with Moses.
Moses on the Mountain
When we think of Moses, one of the first images that comes to mind is him going up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. This would have been quite the experience. We’re told that before Moses could ascend the mountain, the people of Israel had to be consecrated. Once that had happened, the Lord Himself descended onto the mountain in smoke, thunder, lightning, and fire. And then Moses went up on the mountain. At first, he went with his brothers and the elders of Israel, where they saw a heavenly vision of God. But then, Moses went up onto the mountain by himself.
During that time, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and began to explain the relationship He was creating with the Israelites.
I can only imagine what it must have been like for Moses to be up on that mountain. Exhilarating, awe-inspiring, maybe even a little terrifying. Moses may have thought that the people of Israel would be just as excited as him when he came back down the mountain and told them about everything he experienced.
Yeah, not so much.
Almost immediately, the Israelites decided that the whole God thing didn’t work out for them. They wanted Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make a new god for them to worship. And Aaron did, creating a golden calf.
God told Moses what had happened and He sent Moses down the mountain to deal with His rebellious people.
Moses off the Mountain
So Moses came down the mountain and he was not happy about what happened. The Bible tells us that Moses was extremely angry, so much so that he smashed the newly minted Ten Commandment tablets. And after he did that, he destroyed the golden calf, ground it up, and dumped the ashes in the Israelites’ drinking water (which is a pretty strong condemnation of idolatry; just think about where the golden calf eventually wound up after the Israelites drank it).
Once Moses had chewed out the Israelites for what they had done, God invites him back up onto Mount Sinai to not only reissue the Ten Commandment tablets but also to experience something…rather unique.
Moses on the Mountain Take Two
Moses asks God to see His glory. God responds:
“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
And that’s exactly what happens. Moses goes up on Mount Sinai and he gets to see God face-to-back.
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.
This experience left Moses permanently changed. When he came back down the mountain, his face shone with the reflected glory of God. Needless to say, it freaked the Israelites out pretty badly.
So what’s the point?
Moses’ reaction is similar to what we may experience after coming down from a mountaintop experience. We’ve spent time with God. We’ve been refreshed, renewed, re-energized. And we come down the mountain and we hope those around us will be just as appreciative. We see their sinfulness. We see their indifference.
As a result, we may get as mad as Moses.
But that’s not helpful. Should we be grieved by other people’s sinfulness? Absolutely. But anger is counterproductive. And it can make us miss the fact that God is still with us off the mountain.
The pattern’s not over, though. Come back next week and we’ll see how the pattern repeats itself later in the Old Testament.