Most of us desire intimacy in our relationships, whether relationships with spouses or friends or God. But when it gets right down to it, are we willing to pay the price for greater intimacy? Too often we want the rewards of intimacy without being willing to go through the often arduous process it takes to get there. Exodus 24:12-18 paints a picture of varying degrees of intimacy with God and what it takes to draw closer to him.
In verse 12, God extends an invitation to Moses: “Come up to me on the mountain and be there.” The invitation here is to enter into God’s presence and just be there. That is all that is required of Moses; God will take care of the rest. God will provide tablets of stone, and he will write the laws and commandments on them for the instruction and guidance of the people. All Moses has to do is show up and listen.
Moses and Joshua proceed up the mountain. The other leaders who were with them and had participated in the fellowship meal in verses 9-11 celebrating the establishment of the covenant were to wait for Moses and Joshua’s return. Those present at that fellowship meal had enjoyed the amazing privilege of seeing God. In an atmosphere of awed silence, they saw God and ate and drank in his presence. It was a place where God’s presence created a haven of silence and peace, quietness and calm, at the heart of the covenant.
This is certainly a picture of an intimate relationship with God. But Moses has been invited to a place of greater intimacy. Moses comes up to the mountain, and a cloud envelops the mountain. This was the glory of the Lord “tabernacling” on the mountain. Moses waits for six days before God calls to him on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud, inviting him into the midst of God’s glory. God’s presence is not to be entered into lightly or hurriedly, without preparation or invitation.
Verse 17 notes that the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire to the people of Israel at the bottom of the mountain who had chosen to keep their distance from God (Exodus 20:18-21). They viewed God’s presence as a risky and treacherous place to be, choosing to remain at what they saw as a safe distance from God. But Moses entered the cloud and went on up the mountain, remaining there for forty days and forty nights.
Moses enters into a place of the tumultuous release of the fuller presence of God. Though there is intimacy in the encounter between the leaders and God in Exodus 24:11, Moses enters a place of further intimacy. Exodus 24:11 recounts a place of subdued restraint; that is how those who came up to God and worshiped at a distance experienced God. It appears, however, that the nearer one draws to God’s presence, the more tempestuous the situation becomes.
God yearns for closeness to his people, but he is willing to take us as we are. God accommodates his presence to the need and desire of his people, allowing us to choose the degree of intimacy we will experience. The people of Israel chose to remain at a distance, experiencing God as a somewhat remote consuming fire. The leaders come up closer to God and enjoyed a time of silence, contemplation, and fellowship in his presence. Moses alone willingly entered the consuming fire at the invitation of God, taking the greatest risk yet enjoying the greatest intimacy. God is inviting you to enter into the cloud of his glory. It is risky—maybe a bit scary—but only in the fullness of his presence do we ultimately find fullness of joy.