Moses, Elijah and the mountain of God

One of the things I’m doing this year as I read through the Bible is noting down place names. It’s something that had been in the recesses of my mind for some time, but watching this lecture on the physical theology of the Bible gave me the prodding I needed to get on with it (using Microsoft OneNote). So far I’ve got about 90 place names and every so often I make a connection, which is most exciting!

That said, the scaffolding for the observations in this post came from this talk . No doubt I’m unconsciously plagiarising someone else as well 🙂

Moses, Horeb and Yahweh’s glory

Mount Horeb (or Sinai) is unquestionably a very significant location in Israel’s history. It was there God first revealed Himself to Moses in the not-burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2) .

Three months after the Israelites left the bondage of Egypt, they arrived at the same spot and there they all met with God (Exodus 19:17). God revealed Himself in fire, smoke, thunder, lightning and a quaking mountain (Exodus 19:18, 20:18).

Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18), came down (Exodus 32) and then went back up again for another forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28). This second ascent happened after the golden calf incident, and a despondent Moses asked to see Yahweh’s glory. Yahweh obliged, adding some health and safety stipulations for Moses’ benefit (Exodus 33:19-23). As He passed by, Yahweh spoke. The result of the encounter was a reassured servant.

After 11 ½ months of camping at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1, Numbers 10:10-12), the Israelites left, never to return. Except for one lone, despondent prophet centuries later.

Elijah, Horeb and Yahweh’s glory

Elijah the Tishbite had just been mightily used by God, but the mass repentance he had hoped for wasn’t happening. After receiving a death threat from the queen, he ran for his life (1 Kings 19:1-3). While he was out in the wilderness, God sent an angel to give him food for the journey ahead—a forty-day trip to Horeb.

Yahweh met him the day after he arrived. After a brief dialogue, He instructs the prophet to stand in a particular spot and “the LORD passed by” (1 Kings 19:11, ESV). There was a hurricane-force wind, an earthquake and a fire—all followed by the voice of God. Yahweh spoke, and the result was a reassured servant.

Moses and Elijah on another mountain

The ends of the lives of Moses and Elijah were atypical. Moses was buried by God Himself (Deuteronomy 34:5-6); Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Both of these men of God who had talked with God and had seen something of His glory turned up at the top of a different mountain to talk about another atypical departure from the earth (Luke 9:30-31 and parallels). Only this time their faces weren’t covered when the Son of God revealed His radiant glory.

So what?

Moses and Elijah had specific God-ordained roles in salvation history, so it would be presumptuous to desire their experiences. That’s not my point. While I think there’s much we can learn, I’ll briefly mention two things.

God’s servants

I’ve already noted that right before meeting with God, both Moses and Elijah were in a state of despair. Incidentally, the cause was identical—the people of God had abandoned the covenant. In this they point to Someone else who grieved over the people of God (Matthew 23:37-39, Luke 13:34-35). (Do you ever grieve over the condition of the church?)

The servants’ God

Another thing that struck me as I re-read both accounts was the importance attached to what God said over and above what God did. There were great displays of (super)natural phenomena, but the lasting element was what Yahweh said.

The words He proclaimed to Moses in Exodus 34 turn up in lots of places in the rest of the Old Testament, from the psalms to sulky Jonah.The instructions he gave to Elijah had an immediate effect in the following decades and an indirect one for much longer. And we would do well to heed what God said about His beloved Son on top of the third mountain.

And I think that’s where the beauty of all this lies. Even though we may never experience a jaw-dropping, mind-blowing theophany this side of eternity, we have the written records of those who did, and “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19)!