Thundering forth from Sinai’s height
With lightning, smoke, and fire light—
An invitation to take God’s grace,
And prepare the soul to see His face.
Yet Israel’s children with hardened heart,
Chose, instead, a lesser part.
Again, the call goes forth today;
And as before, there’s price to pay.
Will you seek the face of the Living Fount?
Will you pay the price to climb the mount?
Or will you turn to your baser half,
And build, instead, a golden calf?
I am learning something about how the Lord communicates with me. It is at seemingly random times and about seemingly random things. Here is an example. I woke up a few nights ago very alert from a deep sleep with an entire packet of information distill upon me. I know this was revelation because of the completeness of the thought and because I had not been thinking about any of this in the preceding days. Because inspiration comes more as a feeling than a thought, I will try to convey my understanding.
The children of Israel had lived as slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. Considering the marvelous promises God had made with their fathers, they were living far beneath their privileges. We all know how God called Moses who petitioned Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. We know the amazing miracles that then played out and the successful escape of God’s chosen people through the Red Sea.
However, God’s intent was not simply to save the people from slavery. Neither was his miraculous deliverance simply to fulfil His promises made to their fathers. They were not freed just to return to their covenant lands and worship as they saw fit. No, God had something vastly more significant and sacred in mind.
Only a few weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites pitched their tents around Mount Sanai. Here God called Moses to the mountain and revealed His will, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:10-11).
The Lord wanted the people to sanctify themselves so they too could climb the mountain and stand in His presence! For such and invitation, what happened next was a tragedy:
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up. . . .
And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 19:16-20, 20:18-29).
Instead of seeing God, they were content with Moses being an intermediary.
Forty years later (Deut 1:3), Moses recounts this experience, telling the people to remember “the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice” (Deut 4:10-12).
And why did they only hear His voice but not see him? Moses answers, “I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to shew you the word of the Lord: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount” (Deut. 5:5).
We know what happened next. Moses climbed the mountain and spoke with the Lord. He was up there a long time—forty days and nights (Exodus 24:18). The children of Israel grew impatient waiting for Moses to return and succeeded in convincing Aaron to build a golden calf to worship (Exodus 32:1-24). Because of their lack of faith and stiff-neckedness, God had them wander in the wilderness for a generation. God also took away His invitation to have them enter His presence and took away the higher law and the higher priesthood for centuries (See JST Exodus 34:1-2).
Speaking of the significance of what was lost, the Lord himself explained in our day:
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also (D&C 84:21-25).
So, what does this mean for each of us? Our situation is not all that different from the people in the days of Moses. In sacred, spired buildings we are told to sanctify and prepare ourselves. At one critical, pivotal point we are asked a deep, soul-searching question, “What is wanted?” I have thought about that often. What do I want? I want to put in a sprinkling system because I am tired of watering my lawn by dragging hoses around. I want one of those nice four-door Toyota Tacoma trucks. I want to see the ancient ruins in Guatemala. I want lasagna for dinner. I want to make more money and enjoy more job satisfaction. While none of these things are bad; in context, don’t you see and feel how trivial they are? Of all that can be desired, what do I want most? Anything less than desiring to figuratively climb the mountain and literally enter God’s presence—to see Him face to face—is to build my very own modern-day golden calf.
Desiring and striving to obtain God’s presence is a divine quest, and should be one we seek for while in mortality. Interestingly, a few days after my morning inspiration, I read this quote in the Ensign from Oliver Cowdery. He was speaking to the early apostles, but it applies equally to each of us, “Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face” (Ensign, October 2017, page 27).
What is more, this quest is personal and individual. Even though the congregation of Israel as a whole rejected God’s invitation to climb the mountain, there were still individuals who did. “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone. . . .” Now, lest you think this blessing is only for prophets, apostles, or seventies, the verse continues, “And upon the nobles of the children of Israel. . .also they saw God” (Exodus 24:9-11). So, what makes one noble? In part, you must believe that what we are discussing is possible for you, and then the verses suggest you must sanctify your soul and not harden your heart to God’s call.
“What is wanted?” May each of us leave the golden calf, and begin our personal climb.
Written: October 29, 2017