Sunday, June 26, 2011

When Fear Evaporates

Sometimes, it's the simple light bulb moments that pierce me the most. Not the mind-bending time spent in Greek and Hebrew dictionaries or in commentaries heavy enough to break a toe--nothing that could be considered an intellectual pursuit of things too amazing for me know.

Just me, a quiet moment, and the Word.

I get lost in the familiarity of stories I have known for so long that I don't remember learning them. Verse after verse, page turning page...and then there it is, something new. Was that really there before? How could I have missed it, this divinely illuminated phrase leaping off the page at me?

This week's divine moment came in the story of the Ten Commandments and Moses--what can be more familiar?

Fire, billowing clouds as from a smoking furnace, mountain quaking, lightening flashing, trumpet resounding louder each time, and a voice wrapped in thunder. At the foot of Mount Sinai, the people come to meet with God, wait for word from the one man allowed to reach the top, and then receive (both priest and people) an ear-full of warning for them not to "break through to come up to the LORD, or He will break forth upon them" (Ex. 19:24).

Yes, the Israelites had reason to fear of this all-powerful God who was calling them into covenant with Him. And so when one verse later, God speaks the Ten Commandments, the people say, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die" (Ex. 20:19). They feared God, which, according to Moses, was kind of the point of God's whole pyrotechnics demonstration, so that "the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin" (v. 20).

Then comes Exodus 21-23, full of the commandments and ordinances, rights, laws--all the legal stuff. Maybe it's that I have always been mentally asleep by the end of the do-this-but-don't-do-this list found in those three chapters so that Exodus 24 escaped me.

The chapter starts with God commanding Moses to bring "Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel" up the mountain so they can "worship at a distance" (Ex. 24:1-2).

Wait--what about God's command for the priests and people to not come up? And seventy four people going up the mountain? I remember only the one (plus the tag-along Joshua)...and everybody else shaking in their boots below.

But here, at the foot of the mountain, there is no mere shaking. There is a divine invitation, a ceremony, when the people enter into covenant with God, all speaking in unison, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!" (Ex. 24:3). Blood is slain in burnt sacrifice of bulls on the altar. Then, "Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Ex. 24:8).

God's people, not just their door posts covered in the blood so that death could pass over like in Egypt, but here literally their own flesh was covered in the blood of covenant, long before the One would come to cover their sin once and for all.

And then to mark, to remember the covenant, there is a feast! Those seventy-four men go up to feast with God--not just with God present yet shrouded in a cloud--but with God, Himself, appearing: "Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex. 24:9-11).

Why were these 74 men suddenly invited to worship "at a distance" yet close enough to see God with their own eyes? And why were they no longer in fear of their lives? What happened?

I think this change is, at least in part, due to the covenant. When two persons enter into covenant, they become one. My strength becomes yours. My possessions become yours.

Here, the elders, representing the entire people, are invited into the Father's presence. They are covered by the blood of covenant, a blood which purifies them so that they are able to enter into the presence of holiness and also a blood which casts out fear through the protection found in the covenant.

I wonder if this idea finds parallel in the oft-quoted verse in 1 John, "perfect love casts out fear" (4:18). In covenant with Christ, we who are in Him fear not the judgment to come. In covenant with Christ, we are ushered into God's presence...and we, too, will feast with Him there one day soon, in view of that sapphire pavement beneath his throne.

A covenant which casts out fear. A covenant which grants me entrance into the holy of holies.

I can only imagine...

No comments:

Post a Comment