A Glimpse of God.
Exodus 23-24, Mark 9
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. – Mark 9:2-4 ESV
What would it be like to see God? Unimaginable, isn’t it? I can’t even begin to get my mind around what a personal glimpse of God would look or feel like. And yet God is incredibly interested in revealing Himself to us. The entire Scriptures are His revelation of Himself to mankind. His Son, Jesus Christ, “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). When Jesus came to earth, He made God visible to man. But in Moses’ day, God was hidden. His actual form was unseen by human eyes. They could see His glory, but not His true divine essence. To have looked on God would have been a death sentence. Later on in the Exodus story, Moses will ask for permission to actually see God, but God will tell him, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20 ESV). Moses would be allowed to see God’s glory, but not His face.
Yet in the 24th chapter of Exodus we have the story of Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders all getting a glimpse of God. “They saw the God of Israel … and he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank” (Exodus 24:10a, 11 ESV). Yet the description of what they saw is quite cryptic and limited: “there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stones, like the heaven for clearness” (Exodus 24:10b ESV). They were given a glimpse of God’s glory, but not a full-on revelation of His person. They couldn’t have handled it. It would have been too much for them. God gave them just enough for them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was indeed Him.
Even the people got to experience a God-sighting. “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel” (Exodus 24:17 ESV). There was no doubt in their minds that they had experienced the presence of God. It was clear and powerful. God’s purpose behind these appearances was to convince His people of the reality of His person and presence. He was a tangible, living being. He was real and not the figment of Moses’ imagination. Moses had been convinced of God’s reality on a number of occasions. But now His leadership team was receiving up-close and personal proof of the reality of God. They would know for sure that the laws being given to them by Moses were from God and not man.
What does this passage reveal about God?
The laws of God carry no weight if the existence of God remains in doubt. In chapter 23 of Exodus, God repeatedly tells the people, “you shall” and “you shall not.” He clearly articulates His expectations and requirements of His people. He leaves nothing up to speculation or the imagination. But He knew that the people needed proof. Everything God commanded and demanded hinged on the reality of His existence. It all goes back to the key question the people had been asking since they had left the land of Egypt. “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7b ESV). God was patiently proving His presence to a people who were plagued by doubt and constantly in need of evidence. But God lovingly refrained from displaying His full divine nature, because the results would have been devastating. Instead, He provided glimpses of His glory – small revelations of Himself that were faith-building, but not life-threatening. In the case of Moses and his leadership team, God wanted them to know that they were ratifying a covenant with the all-powerful, holy God of the universe. They shared a covenant-closing meal with God Almighty. That would prove to be a dinner they would never forget. The people had eagerly agreed to God’s covenant demands, shouting as one, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:3 ESV). But God knew the people well. He knew that their pledges to obey would be short-lived and nothing more than lip-service without a visual reminder that the God to whom they were swearing allegiance was both real and ready to hold them accountable.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Man has an overwhelming need to see God. That’s why men make idols and worship the creation instead of the Creator. We value what we can see. The unknown, while intriguing, is difficult to wrap our minds around. We desperately search for explanations for the inexplicable and rationalizations for the unknowable. Not knowing is uncomfortable for us. And we find not being able to see scary. So we search for God in the visible. But the danger is that we end up making a god of our own choosing. The disciples were guilty of doing just such a thing. Their view of God had been influenced by generations of ancestors before them. Their God was invisible and unknowable. He was distant and disconnected from their everyday life. It had been a long time since anyone had seen the glory of God in a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud. They had not been at Sinai when the glory of the Lord descended on the mountain in smoke, thunder and lightning. Their God was real, but unproven in their day-to-day existence. They continued to make sacrifices at the Temple, attend the Synagogue on the Sabbath, and attempt to keep His commands, but the proofs of His presence were few and far between.
Then Peter, James and John got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a glimpse of God, up-close and personal. And it would not be what they had been expecting. They had been walking with Jesus for some time. They had chosen to follow Him, becoming His disciples and slowly coming to grips that He might be the Messiah for whom they had long waited. When Jesus asked them “who do you say that I am?,” Peter quickly responded, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29 ESV). The word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for “Messiah.” It means “anointed one.” Peter was clearly acknowledging Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. But His statement did not carry with it an understanding of Jesus’ deity. So Jesus would include Peter in the trio of disciples who would witness His transfiguration on the mountaintop that day. Mark records, “And he [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:2-3 ESV). Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, having a conversation with Him. When Peter saw this remarkable sight, all he could say was, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5 ESV). In spite of what he saw, Peter still could not see who Jesus really was. But God cleared it up for him. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Sometimes I see only what I want to see – that includes what I see of God. I can be just as guilty as Peter of having my own vision of what God “looks like” in my life. Peter was willing to acknowledge Jesus as his Messiah, but based on his own definition and according to his own terms and expectations. He was wanting a conquering Messiah who would lead the Jews in a political and military victory over the Romans. But Jesus came to be the suffering Messiah. He came to bring victory over sin and death, not Roman rule. He came to bring freedom from slavery to sin, not from Roman oppression. God gave Peter a glimpse of His glory by allowing him to see His Son in His glorified state. Over in Exodus 24:15-16, Moses spent six days on the top of the cloud-cloaked mountain before God appeared to him on the seventh day. In the gospel of Mark, we read, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (Mark 9:2 ESV). It was on the seventh day that God revealed Himself to the disciples in the transfigured form of Jesus, His Son. God was proving His presence among men. He was lifting the fog like a veil, in an effort to prove His presence and communicate His Word to His people. That day on the mountain, God told Peter, James and John, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” (Mark 9:7 ESV). Jesus is the very nature of God, revealed to us as proof of God’s presence among us. But I must learn to listen to Him. I must seek to know Him and see Him for who He is, not who I have made Him out to be. I have been given a glimpse of God in the life of Jesus. And He now lives in me!
Father, thank You for revealing Yourself to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ. But forgive me for failing to see Your abiding presence all around me through Your indwelling Spirit and the power of Your Word. Give me eyes to see Your glory and worship You for who You really are. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men