15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
One of the defining aspects of understanding God’s holiness is that God’s holiness is likened to a consuming fire.
This image conveys perhaps frightening sentiments of encountering this God. Fire burns up things in its path. Said by God in context of having his people understand our relationship with him is not a comforting idea. It is a statement to God’s nature and how otherworldly he is and what happens when things and people who are not holy get in the way.
The poor guy in 2 Samuel 6 seemed to get the brunt of it when he put his hand in the ark. Do you know what happened to him? Well, he died.
Now back to Exodus 24. As Moses walks up the mountain to what is seen as the devouring fire of God all over the place, does he demonstrate a sense of ignorance of what he is getting into? Does he now know what God is a consuming fire and that if you are not ready you might be in big trouble? Or perhaps does Moses know something about the nature of God which gives him courage and joy as he approaches the fiery blaze?
In Exo 33, the writer of Exodus makes an amazing commentary about the nature of Moses’ relationship. It says that the “when the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Moses was God’s friend.
Perhaps what didn’t drive Moses away from a consuming God was that he knew that God was his friend. And perhaps the fire he experienced was not the fire of God’s wrath, but the fire of God’s intimate love. And perhaps what the message for us today is not a warning to stay away from God’s burning presence, but an invitation to deep friendship.