It is commonly thought that Moses went up a mountain where he received two stone tablets, written by the finger of God. Cynics claim that he made it all up – actually that a bunch of politically-motivated dudes conspired the whole plot around a thousand years later.
Actually, God spoke directly from the mountain with thunder and lightening to millions of Jewish refugees to give us the ten commandments in Exodus 20. This is a stark contrast to other religions where some dude receives a private revelation that cannot be verified independently: e.g. the Joseph Smith of the Mormons or Mohammed of Islam. Such an event would be very hard to conspire – similarly to the death and resurrection of Jesus – that along with the many incredible miracles confirming God’s affirmation of these guys.
It was not until Exodus 24, that Moses went up the mountain to receive the stone tablets. He fasted up there for 40 days while God revealed more of the law to him. In chapter 32, the people assumed Moses missing and pressured his brother Aaron to provide another God they could worship. As they are having a swinger’s party around their golden calf that Aaron claims happened to fall out of the fire, Moses returns and in rage smashes the tables he received. After the Levites side with Moses to “execute justice”, Moses begs God to spare his people or send him too to Hell.
In chapter 34, Moses returns up the mountain, fasting for another 40 days as he inscribes the “words of the promise” on tablets he cut from the rock.
What really impresses me is the people’s response:
18 All the people heard the thunder and saw the lightning. They heard the blast of the ram’s horn and saw the mountain covered with smoke. So they shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!”
20 Moses answered the people, “Don’t be afraid! God has come only to test you, so that you will be in awe of him and won’t sin.”
21 The people kept their distance while Moses went closer to the dark cloud where God was.
This reveals the heart of men – we don’t want to hear from God directly. At best, we want an intermediary. We see this among those who pray to saints, but also a natural tendency to put one’s faith in priests, pastors and visiting preachers – rather than to exercise our own faith. The Bible story is all about God seeking a personal relationship with us, but Satan conspires against this through every manner possible.
When we encounter the awesomeness of God, we’re so fearful because it makes us aware of our sin and God’s judgement thereof. This fear blinds us from seeing that God is trying to reach out to us – just like in Exodus 20 or when God sought Adam in the garden of Eden. Sin makes us want to hide and run away from God, but God wants to heal us from our imperfection and the consequences thereof. In Eden, God did not jump out from behind a bush booming, “Found ya!!!”, but rather he gently called out to Adam “where are you?”, giving Adam the opportunity to come out when he was ready to face up to what he had done.