Fire On The Mountain
Last month we saw that what Moses did in obedience to God at Mount Sinai enacted God’s Covenant with Israel, taking the mixed multitude who came out of Egypt, calling them to obedience to God’s law and through the blood of the sacrifice making them one people, the People of God, His chosen nation, a royal priesthood. We saw that the blood that was sprinkled on the Altar of God and on the people gathered there was the Blood of the Covenant. As they came under that blood sprinkled over them, they became one. We also saw how Jesus proclaimed His own blood to be shed on the Cross as the blood of the New Covenant that makes all who receive it to be one in the renewed People of God.
This month, as we approach the Feast of Pentecost, I would like to share more about what happened at Mount Sinai and God’s plan for His people through the ages.
The Feast of Pentecost commemorates the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. It is a joyous time of celebrating God’s love for Israel. It is considered the wedding of God to his bride, the people of Israel.
For Christians, Pentecost commemorates the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the people gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, empowering them to proclaim the Gospel in the mother languages of all the mixed multitude gathered there for the Feast, calling them to repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of their sins and entrance into the Body of Christ, the renewed Israel. On that day 3,000 people were baptized. Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Let’s see how this is connected to what happened at the first Pentecost at Sinai.
First, we will look at what happened on Sinai after the Israelites came out of Egypt. Exodus 19, leading into Chapter 20, describes what happened. We will quote a few selected verses here, but the whole chapter is worth studying to understand more deeply.
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai… Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1,3,5-6)
The LORD also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” (Exodus 19:10-13)
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. (Exodus 19:16-19)
Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:1-2)
There are several things in these passages that I want to point out. First of all, God came down on the mountain in fire, smoke and thunder. He called Moses up to Him on the mountain but the people were not allowed to touch the mountain. The mountain was made holy by the presence of God. Only Moses was deemed able to be in that presence. Anyone else who touched that holy mountain contracted holiness as one might contract a disease. They could not, because of their unholiness, be allowed to continue in that state. They had to be killed but killed by others without touching them—by spear or stone—so as not to contract that same holiness. I also want to draw attention to the fact that it was from that holy place above, on the mountain, that God gave the Law which created the People of God and later on was ratified with the Blood of the Covenant (Cf. Exodus 23). Finally, this Law was given to the People of God carved on stone and written with ink. It was also this Law that brought the People of God into relationship with Him as a bride to a husband.
We know that the Israelites did not keep the Covenant and suffered as a result but we also know that was not the end of the story for them. Let us look at the wonderful words of Jeremiah.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The wonderful promise here is that God will make a new Covenant by writing His Law on the hearts of His people, placing it within them. All of this was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost following the death and resurrection of Jesus and His ascension to the right hand of the Father from where He sent the Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:1-6)
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself…” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)
What becomes even more significant, as we compare this episode with the original Pentecost, is that the Holy Spirit comes upon and into the people in the room with loud sounds and tongues of fire—not up on the mountain but onto the heads of each individual who had already been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ and made holy so that they could receive God’s glory and holiness themselves. The Law was no longer on stone outside of them but in their hearts where it was available to them to proclaim as the Gospel of Jesus Christ without human teacher.
God does all things excellently. It was at Pentecost that God came down from the mountain and inscribed His Law on the hearts of God’s people and they were made one as the people of the New. It was at Pentecost that the estranged bride became the new Bride of Christ. It was at Pentecost that people from all nations became one in the renewed Israel of God. Praise God!