Theme: Pay attention to God
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, today we recall your glory coming among us on two different occasions and two different times, because your presence is not limited to time or space; you are always among us in dramatic and subtle ways; make us always cognizant of your presence, this day and always, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Leonard Sweet shares this with us, “The last couple of weeks have brought us a full plate of pictures from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. Can any of us ever forget the images from Cairo’s Tahrir Square? Or the monstrous Muammar al-Gaddafi, also known as Colonel Gaddafi, speaking to his people from the back seat of an automobile holding a white umbrella?
“But the one that may stick the longest is the human ring of ordinary men and women standing guard around the Cairo Museum, making a barrier of bodies all the way around the perimeter of the building. Word had spread that the night before a small but clumsy gang of looters had broken into the museum, stealing some objects, stupidly destroying others.
“The youthful crowds of protestors responded by rushing to protect the building and the priceless items it housed. Why did they do this? It is doubtful there were very many worshipers of Amon Ra or any of the other ancient Egyptian gods and pharaohs that those museum relics celebrate. So why did they protect the museum with their very bodies?
“The Egyptian people did not rally simply around religious reliquaries. They were protecting their own history, the stories and symbols of who they were as a people, of where they had been, and what they had done. They were guarding their historic identity. Every item in that museum had its own special ‘provenance,’ its own place in the story of their world. That provenance was the treasure they banded together to protect.
“Any ‘Antiques Roadshow’ addicts here? (Suzie loves the show.) If you’ve ever seen just one episode, you know that it is the ‘provenance,’ the verifiable stories of the persons who interacted with the items brought in, that makes an item valuable or a possession priceless. An antique gold ring is literally ‘worth its weight in gold.’ But an antique gold ring given to your great grandmother by Pablo Picasso as a ‘thank you’ for doing such a good job cleaning his studio? That’s called ‘provenance,’ and with such a ‘provenance’ that gold ring is worth much, much more than it’s (sic) weight in gold. It is the gold ring’s story that adds value and luster to a simple piece of jewelry.”
God gives Jesus provenance at the Transfiguration. God gives Moses provenance on Mount Sinai, even though it took a while to convince the Israelites. God also gives us provenance. God longs to know us and be with us. Jesus and Moses give us examples of how God interacts with history to be with us. Every one of us is worth much more in God’s viewpoint then we can ever know.
We will hear more about the Transfiguration in August, when we observe that patronal festival. So, I wish to focus on the part of Moses’ story today.
Okay. This is what Exodus is telling us what happened with Moses and God on the mountain. God issues an invitation to Moses to join him on the mountain. When Moses gets there, he is to wait. Then God will give Moses some stone tablets, which God already wrote on. The tablets have law and commandments on them.
So, the first thing Moses does is modify God’s invitation. The invitation is only for Moses. But Moses brings along his assistant, Joshua. They go up the mountain.
Then we seem to have a flashback with Moses talking to the elders. So, who are the elders? “The elder, or the institution of elders, is closely linked with the tribal system. Tribes were composed of clans, and clans of large, extended family units. By virtue of age and function in a patriarchal society, the father of a family ruled. This fact of age, as well as the wisdom and maturity invested in older persons, is undoubtedly the origin of the authority that these elders exercised.
“A clan was ruled by the heads of the families constituting it, forming a council of elders. . . . In Israel’s premonarchy period local administration and judicial action was largely in the hands of those elders. In the exodus narrative it was the elders of Israel (heads of families) who were instructed by Moses...
“Similarly, according to Numbers 11:16, 17, Moses was instructed by God to select 70 men from among the elders of Israel to assist him in leadership of the people. In this latter account the elders were marked by a special endowment of God’s Spirit. In the former the elders—chosen as co-administrators with Moses—were those known to be trustworthy, who ‘hate a bribe.’
“A central function of elders was the administration of justice. They were the ‘judges,’ who sat ‘in the gate,’ the traditional courtroom of ancient villages and towns. Here disputes and trials were settled by the elders, and community affairs were discussed and decisions made (Gn 23:10, 18; Jb 29:7; Prv 24:7; 31:23).
So, to these elders, these judges, Moses tells them who will replace Moses as the Court of Appeals. That is, Aaron, Moses’ brother, and Hur.
When Moses goes up the mountain, a cloud covers it. We are told the glory of God settled on the mountain. This is not a throw away remark. The Hebrew word translated as glory here literally means “heavy.” It was used to describe Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. In the Old Testament it usually carries a negative connotation. But it also used to describe someone as heavy in importance. A skinny person can be heavy with authority. The glory of the priest’s vestments were “heavy.” And it is used to describe the glory of God when God becomes manifested to someone. When God is immanent, God’s glory is heavy.
Remarkably, after six days, in other words, on the Sabbath when God is going to tell Moses that no work should take place, God calls to Moses. So it seems that God never rests.
To the people below looking upon Mount Sinai, they saw God’s glory as a fire. Sinai looks just like a volcano. Moses entered the cloud and was up there for 40 days and 40 nights. As I have said before, this a Hebrew euphemism for a long time.
If we were to read on, we would learn why Moses was there a long time. God told Moses a whole bunch of laws and minutia that take several chapters to relate. In other words, the boring parts of the Bible. We know the rest of the story. The people get tired of Moses’ delay and even think that he is never coming back. So they abandon God and make the Golden Calf. This part of the story describes how the Israelites treat God for centuries.
This story is obviously picked because it is similar to the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. It turns out that Moses is also transfigured. Also, Moses talks to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. God likes high places.
We are told these stories, because they are important. They are our stories and so they become our provenance. God gets close to human beings. God has something to say to us. And God does this in dramatic ways. We are supposed to pay attention, because God knows that we are all basically ADD on some level. Once we hear God’s word, God expects us to respond. God calls us to be faithful and to treat others as we expect to be treated. That sums up all those laws that Moses had to sit and listen to. But this generality was too hard for Israel. They needed specifics. Jesus came and made it simpler for us: love God and love others.
Text: Exodus 24:12–18 (NRSV)
12 The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.