Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part VII)

Before Moses left the Tent of Meeting to meet up with YHVH for the second time, he was instructed by Him to cut two stone tablets (like the ones he had broken), and carry them up the mountain the next morning.  But while the first tablets originated from YHVH and were hewn at the top of the mountain, these new ones were going to originate from the bottom of the mount and be brought up to YHVH, where He would inscribe on them once again the ten words (Exodus 34:1, 2, 28). As we will see, Moses is about to have a completely different experience from his former forty day stay on the mount.  YHVH had already agreed to reveal to him His glory - “kavod”, His goodness - “tuv”, and His favor - “chen”, all of which constituted, as it were, the backside of His glory (see Ex. 33:18ff). 

Just before we accompany YHVH’s faithful servant on his ascent up the mountain, let us take note of some of the differences between the previous scene and this one. YHVH sealed the first covenant with the blood of bulls. Immediately after that Moses, Aaron and the elders all went up the mountain, where they ate and drank and saw Elohim (see Exodus 24:8-11).  Following the golden calf episode and the breaking of YHVH’s stone tablets, the mountain became off limits, this time to everyone except Moses (34:3).  It seems that the first episode had a potential of launching an intimate relationship between Israel and their Redeemer, but instead ended with a colossal failure which speaks volumes of their condition and ability to observe the covenant. Moses, having interceded on behalf of the people, is now called back up to witness the “favor” and the “goodness” of YHVH and much more.  

Moses’ earlier plea is about to be answered. The Almighty promised him that He would call out His name and make His glory known to him (33:19-23), and now the time has come. Thus, when Moses arrived at the mountain top, the cloud came down and surrounded him while YHVH passed by in front of him calling out His name: "YHVH, YHVH Elohim, merciful  - “rachum”, and gracious/favor - “chanun”, longsuffering - “erech apayim”, and abounding in goodness/grace - “chesed”,  and truth - “emet”… (Before we go on let us recall another text:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory -“kavod”, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of  “chesed” – goodness/grace and “emet” - truth” John 1:14.)  …keeping “chesed” – goodness/grace for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6-7).  Moses was so overwhelmed with what he had just seen and heard that all he could do was to make haste and bow his head toward the earth and worship (v.8).  Through this encounter Moses was assured of his Master’s faithfulness and favor, and so proceeded to ask on behalf of the people: If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord (Adonai), let my Lord (Adonai), I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance" (Exodus 34:9).

What we are witnessing here is the kind of worship and intercession that Elohim desires - worship or adoration in “spirit and truth”, as a result of knowing Him and seeing Him as He is. This is the worship that He will respond to and expects from His people (refer back to last sentence in part IV). In other words, worshiping Him for who He is, not for what He does for us, nor causes to happen.  Moses saw His intrinsic and quintessential glory and “met up” with YHVH’s very character and nature.  Again, unlike the previous meetings with Elohim, Moses’ skin was set aglow by this encounter. After he returned to camp he had to cover his face, removing the cover each time he entered the tent to meet up with Elohim (ref. 34:29-34).   

Immediately following this incredible declaration and manifestation of His name and disposition YHVH, hearing Moses’ plea for His people, declared that He would make a covenant with him and with them.  But hang on, what is going on here? Is YHVH referring to the same covenant that Israel has just messed up, or is He?  "Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of YHVH. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you” (Exodus 34:10).  While it seems that He is referring to conquering the land and destroying its inhabitants, and indeed shortly Israel was going to have some awesome experiences while taking their inheritance, yet for a covenant to be legally in effect it had to be sealed with blood.  When we examine closely the full content of the said “covenant” and YHVH’s real intent, we find that it has more to do with forgiveness of sin, iniquity and transgression, including marvels and awesome wonders.  What covenant was sealed by blood and was accompanied by wonders (of healing the sick, blind and deaf and raising the dead)?  It appears that the signs and marvels promised here point to Yeshua and the “miracles, wonders, and signs which Elohim did through Him” (Acts 2:22), and his followers. However, the capstone of Yeshua’s life was the shedding of His blood that sealed this second covenant of Sinai and atoned for the sins of the people so that they could become the royal priesthood and holy nation that YHVH declared them to be.

In the meantime, in order for Israel’s Elohim to dwell in their midst, the Israelites would need the instructions that were given to Moses at his first forty day stay on the mount (instructions which He repeated during the second ascent). Thus, if the “current” covenant that YHVH has just announced to Moses is indeed linked to the new covenant as declared by Jeremiah (31:31), then the Ten Commandments and the Torah remain valid.   Yeshua declared: "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Torah till all is fulfilled… "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me” (Matthew 5:18; John 5:46).

 Moses’ climactic epiphany of Elohim on the mountain has made it possible to now leave that location, and carry out the instructions to erect a portable “holy place” instead, signifying that the Almighty’s presence is not limited or bound to exclusively one spot. And so He came to dwell in this portable sanctuary, and later in a stationary one. His desire all along was to abide in a people – individuals who together form a holy abode for His presence. But this would have to wait until the second “covenant of Sinai” could come to its completeness (more on this in Hebrews chapters 8-10).  Until then YHVH is committed to carry and move His people Israel along, under the shadow of His wings to their prophetic destiny ‘beyond the mountain’.

How precious is Your “chesed”, O Elohim! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.  For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. Oh, continue Your “chesed” to those who know You, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart” (Psalm 36:7-10).  

Friday, May 10, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part VI)

After the display of outright rebellion against the Redeemer and His covenant (a covenant that Israel consented to), their leader went with fear and trembling before a wrathful and angry Elohim, to intercede on behalf of Israel.  Moses and Joshua entered the tent of meeting, pitched outside the camp, and waited to see if the cloud would descend and land in front of the entrance.  YHVH’s words were still ringing in Moses’ ears:  "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you… Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin" (Exodus 32:33-34).  This did not bode well with Moses, who knew what the consequences may turn out to be. YHVH’s recent proposal, to destroy the people of Israel and to start all over again with his seed, was fresh on his mind (Ex. 32:10).

Fortunately the cloud did come down and positioned itself in front of the tent, while Moses intoned the following:  "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people.' But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found grace/favor in My sight.'  Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace/favor in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people" (Exodus 33:12-13 emphasis added).  Moses was not ignorant of YHVH’s “grace”, as he understood the deliverance, the “eagles’ wings”, the manna, the water from the rock, and the total provision for the people of Israel.  Yet there was still something missing in his relationship with the Almighty. He did not have that quite assurance that YHVH would totally forgive them and would not forsake them. The grace that he had in mind was still somewhat shaky. 

When the people first arrived at the mountain, Israel’s Deliverer presented Himself to His “subjects” in an awesome and overpowering way that left them in fear and trepidation. This initial impression, upon the initiation of the first Sinai covenant, was at the foundation of their relationship with their Elohim. Signed and sealed by the blood of the bulls that Moses sacrificed and sprinkled on the people, this covenant had been a conditional agreement. It is worthy to note that this overwhelming display of sight and sound did not instill in the people a desire to walk in obedience to their Deliverer. Their attitude was similar to that of children who grow up in families where strict laws and punishments are enforced.   

In his quest for a deeper relationship with Elohim, Moses suspected that there was another “face” to this Master of the Universe, and so his intercession continued:  "If Your Presence (panim – face) does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.  For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found favor/satisfaction/appeasement in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate (palah - distinguished, marked out), Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth" (33:15-16 emphases added). What was Moses driving at here? Was he reminding YHVH that these people, this nation, was His own testimony as to Who He was/is?  Moses remembered full well what Elohim had said to him during the negotiations with Pharaoh, at the time when the Hebrews were extremely upset at he and Aaron for making their burdens even more difficult. 
Here is what Elohim said to Moses at that auspicious time: “And Elohim spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am YHVH.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as Elohim Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name YHVH I was not known to them.  I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers.  And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.  Therefore say to the children of Israel: 'I am YHVH; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your Elohim. Then you shall know that I am YHVH your Elohim who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am YHVH'" (Exodus 6:2-8).  In this declaration YHVH repeats His name five times.  It is necessary to take to heart this entire dialog, when we intercede for Yah’s people.  But more important will be the next episode, as YHVH is about to call Moses back up the mountain.  

Just before the cloud lifted from the tent of meeting, Moses made his last plea: "’Please show me Your glory.’  Then He said, ‘I will make all My goodness (tuv) pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of YHVH before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’  But He said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live’" (Exodus 33:18-20). 

Moses no doubt was greatly relieved by YHVH’s positive response to allow him to get a glimpse of the glory of His presence.  But for that to happen YHVH needed to put him in the cleft of a rock, and additionally also to cover him with His hand and only after His glory passes by would He lift off His hand, so that Moses would see His… back.  This event is encouraging for us, who have been placed in the cleft of the Rock of our salvation - “Yeshua” -  so that we too may get a glimpse, and even more than a glimpse, of the glory of the great goodness (tuv) of our Elohim,  for it is the goodness of YHVH that leads to repentance, and if I might add, to obedience (see Romans 2:4).  (To be continued)  

Friday, May 3, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part V)

At this point in time in the wilderness journey (ref Exodus 33-34) it doesn’t look like the people of Elohim will be progressing “beyond the mountain”.  They had just demonstrated their complete unworthiness, unfaithfulness, and infidelity to their Redeemer.  No other people had ever heard the voice of the Almighty Creator, let alone witnessed His signs and wonders, and yet so quickly walk off, turning instead to rebellion, stubbornness, and insolence as the nation of Israel.  YHVH, understandably, was ready to destroy them had it not been for the intercession of one man, Moses.  Elohim even proposed to this Levite that He would make a nation out of him.  This is all a little bit puzzling, because YHVH already knew what was at stake. Had He indeed destroyed the seed of the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, except the Levitical, He would have actually proven Himself to be just like them, and would have been unfaithful to His covenants and promises to the forefathers and to Himself, as He called Himself after the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Such a scenario, of course, would have been implausible.  In 2 Timothy 2:13 there is a very revealing and categorical statement regarding YHVH’s character: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”  YHVH has to remain faithful to His word, for He is the Word.  Moses did not have to remind the Almighty as to Who He was/is.

Please note that, the first time that Moses went up the mountain YHVH gave him the ten words on two tablets of stone, sealing the first Sinai Covenant.  However, the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf actually annulled this covenant. They were now totally at the mercy of the Almighty’s judgments. They had promised to “do and obey” His instructions.  Hence, the act of smashing the tablets by Moses was not just due to his anger, but was also a response stemming from knowing what their rebellion meant from YHVH’s perspective.  Elohim was fully aware of what was in their hearts, and actually used this opportunity to reveal it to them.

This first Sinai Covenant was not meant to make the people righteous but, as written: “to bring… to the knowledge of sin” (ref. Romans 3:20). The end result, therefore, could only be the consequence stated in the contract: “If you do all these commandments you will live” (Deut. 5:33), but if not, you will die.  YHVH had no other choice but to carry out His portion of the contract by declaring that He would not go with Israel, for if He did they would be consumed by Him (ref. Exodus 33:3). Upon hearing this, the people removed their gold jewelry, symbolic of their repentance, and wept. 

Moses, for his part, took up the tent and pitched it outside the camp and had a ‘pow-wow’ with the cloud. Apparently Moses’ tent, or another special tent, was used during the journey for a meeting place (before the Mishkan), but only outside the camp.  It was there where the people would go, to see Moses and inquire of YHVH (see Exodus 33:7). Upon their return to their tents they would wait for Moses to enter the tent and for the cloud to descend in front of the entrance, then everyone would worship at the opening of their respective tents (v. 8-9). (This was most likely the same tent that Moses and Jethro went into upon the latter’s arrival, ref. Exodus 18:7.) 

Moses’ tent was named “the tent of meeting” (Ohel Moed), being pitched, as mentioned, outside the camp. Later, after the tabernacle (Mishkan) was erected it became the “Ohel Moed” in the midst of the camp.  Why was the first tent always pitched outside the camp, while the Mishkan was situated in the midst of the camp? Initially YHVH could not be present in the heart of the camp because sin had not been atoned for. Only after He instituted the priesthood and the sacrifices within the tabernacle could His presence be in the middle of the camp (although hidden away inside the Holy of Holies).

This little phrase here, “outside the camp” is important to ponder, especially in light of Hebrews 13:11-13, where it says: “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Yeshua also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (emphasis added).  

 As mentioned above, Moses had a ‘discussion’ with the cloud, setting the stage for his next aliyah (ascent) up the mountain.  There is much to say regarding Moses’ intercession but far more about the response of the Holy One of Israel.  (To be continued)