Preparing for Divine Rendezvous at the Mountain of God.

YHWH is lofty and His dwelling is elevated; in the Old Testament, we find Him on mountains. As we have seen before, Eden was a mountain. Mountains and structures of divine dwelling are three fold. Eden was the mountain source of the river of life, the “Holy of Holies.” The garden from which the river divided onto the 4 corners of the earth was part way down, the “Holy Place” where the priests stood before God. Then there was the base, the border of Eden, like the outer courtyard of the tabernacle. What we have here in Ex. 19 is of supreme importance in the history of humanity. Humanity is invited back to the Mountain of God. The mountain is different – Sinai is not likely the primal Mountain of Eden – but it is essentially the same with regard to its importance and three fold structure. Moses alone is able to ascend its summit into the very presence of God (Ex. 24:2), certain of the priests and 70 elders, who represent the whole of humanity are invited to a position part way up the mountain (Ex. 19:22, 24:1, 9-11), and finally, the people of Israel were to be stationed at the base where they were to hear the very voice of God speaking with Moses and “see” God (19:9,11). For the first time since the fall, humanity was to prepare for divine rendezvous at the Mountain of God.

What is expected of them for the preparation of such an auspicious encounter is instructive. First, the people had to be willing (19:8). YHWH never forces Himself on anyone. By and large, humans get what they want when it comes to the things of God. Second, the people had to be “consecrated” by Moses. What this looked like we do not know, but it is associated with the washing of clothes (19:10, 14). The clothes motif is critical in Scripture. The fall, as we have seen, is described in terms of nakedness, the sad attempt to cover ourselves (fig leaves), and God’s provision of animal skins. Dirty clothes are not appropriate for divine rendezvous; the body has lost its original glory, and to appear before God foul and smelly is an affront to holiness. The foul is associated with mortality, and death cannot come into contact with the divine. Moreover, purity of exterior clothing is meant to symbolize interior purity.

The people must wait three days (19:11). The number three is a perfect number in Scripture indicating completeness. Humanity must not rush thoughtlessly into the divine presence. One must center the soul, and this takes time. Such work often is frightening, for we create noise and interior clutter for the very reason to avoid encounter, and to create interior silence to come to terms with who we really are is an unnerving process. Next, boundaries at the base of the mountain are to be set and strictly observed. Only God can exist without boundaries comfortably. For humanity, to break boundaries, either physical or spiritual, is to play God; it is chaos. Of course, this was the human primal sin.

Finally, the men were to keep away from women (19:15). In the Hebrew world, sexuality within its proper boundaries is celebrated as a gift of God. Indeed, maleness and femaleness in all dimensions are part of the imago dei, and although God is infinitely beyond our notions and experience of sex, it has some correlation to the divine. In fact, sex is holy. That is, of all human experiences, it stands alone in its mystery, power, ecstasy, intimacy, relational union, etc. For this reason sexuality and religion have always been interwoven, and this is true in the worst sort of way with pagan fertility cults, an ever present temptation for Israel as we shall shortly see. This is exactly why YHWH prohibits sexual contact here. As holy as sex is, human experience of God is categorically beyond and incomparable. At best, human sexuality can only be a sign of something that spiritually dwarfs it. Here before the Mountain of God sex could only be a distraction, out of place, inappropriate.

These five requirements provide for us a meditation on spiritual preparation, on the holy. We find ourselves drawn into this scene before the mountain. It begs the question, “Who shall ascend the Mountain of God?” (Ps. 24:3). Are we ready for a rendezvous with God?

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