From Egypt to Sinai—Becoming a People for a Possession (6)
By Titus Chu
After a long journey starting from God’s salvation in Egypt and their baptism by crossing of the Red Sea, the children of Israel finally arrived at their destination—Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horob. This was the same mountain where God appeared to Moses at the burning bush and gave him the commission to return to Egypt to lead the people out of their bondage. At that time He told Moses, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain” (Exo. 3:12). That sign was now fulfilled.
Station 8—Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai was the eighth and last station of this journey, and along the way both Moses and the children of Israel learned much about who God was and what He wanted. But they still had a long way to go in order to become His testimony. God’s goal for them was much higher and required even greater revelation and commitment.
Eventually, Moses would be brought to the point where he could see God face to face, walk with God, and be incorporated with God. From this place of incorporation, Moses would be able to dispense God and His heart’s desire, and to raise up the Tabernacle, the testimony for God in Israel.
Moses might have thought that he had already had enough training when he arrived at Mount Siani, but God’s way is progressive. He always has more to take us through. His training is not given to us as book learning. If that were so, we could eventually pass a test, graduate, and be done with it. God’s training is to give us Himself so that we and He can be one. God’s dealing with Moses and the children of Israel at Mount Sinai was complicated and exposing, but it made them into a people for His possession.
In 1956, I had a chance to participate in a three month church training. I was actually too young to qualify for this training and had to get special permission. It was hard with my disposition to sit there for three months listening to things too high for me, but the Christ I gained at that training has lasted my whole life. I keep learning the lessons from what I heard there. As I pass through things, I am often able to say, “Oh, that’s what they meant!” God’s training is progressive. We don’t get it all at once.
Up the Mountain
God called Moses up the mountain many times (Exo. 19:3, 20; 24:1; 32:31; 34:2). Moses could have complained that he was eighty years old—much too old to be climbing mountains. But instead he went with no hesitation because along the way he had learned the lesson of the burning bush, he learned the works and ways of God, and to a degree he even knew God Himself. There was no such complaint from Moses. Each time up the mountain God showed him more.
On the first trip, God prepared the people for what He was about to do by telling them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:4-6). He went on to say that they should consecrate themselves to prepare for this (v. 10).
God twice told Moses to bring Aaron up the mountain with him (19:24; 24:1, 9). On Aaron’s second trip, Moses, according to God’s word, “went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank” (24:9-11). This is perhaps the sweetest scene in the entire Old Testament. The Bible doesn’t say if the food they ate was supplied by God or if they brought it up the mountain with them, but either way, they ate it in the very presence of God Himself.
Moses was called further up the mountain by God, and he disappeared for forty days and forty nights (vv. 12, 18). Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders had no idea how long Moses would be gone and no doubt grew impatient, because we next see them at the foot of the mountain with the rest of the people. “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him'” (32:1).
Aaron had just been on the mountain where he had seen God as he ate and drank with the others in His presence. He was there when God called Moses further up the mountain and so he knew where Moses was. He should have stood strongly for God and assured them about Moses. Instead, he told them, “‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt'” (vv. 2–4). That Aaron would do this is almost unbelievable. “The next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (v. 6). Aaron allowed the whole situation to degrade into idolatry. How dangerous it is to be in God’s presence yet not know God.
The Tabernacle and Its Furniture
During Moses’ forty days and nights on the mountain, God had much to show him concerning the Tabernacle, which was to be a physical picture of His full relationship with man. He first showed him the ark with all its details (Exo. 25:10), then the showbread table (v. 23), the golden lampstand (v. 31), and eventually the bronze alter (27:1).
It would seem that God was done with the furniture of the tabernacle because He moved on to describe the things of the outer court, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. But then He suddenly came back to add two more pieces of furniture: the incense alter and the bronze laver (30:1, 18). Why did He add these two items? Surely God was not forgetful and just remembered them at the last minute. I believe it was because, while Moses was interacting with God on the mountain, Aaron was forming the golden calf in the camp of the Israelites. At the very time that God was unveiling His economy to Moses, Aaron was leading the people into idolatry. The incense alter and the bronze laver were added because of man’s failure.
From God’s viewpoint, first we consecrate ourselves at the alter, then we enjoy the Lord at the showbread table, then we are beaten and formed by the Spirit into the image of Christ as the golden lampstand, and finally we are ushered into the presence of God at the ark to be one with Him to bear His testimony. For a truly consecrated person, that is all that is needed.
But Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders, who had just been with God on the mountain, messed everything up. They thought they were leading the people to worship God (32:5), but in fact they brought them into the idolatrous, fleshly world. It is so easy to begin by the Spirit and end up in the flesh (Gal. 3:3). We don’t even know the difference.
This is why I believe God added the last two pieces of furniture. We need the bronze laver to wash off our touch with the world and renew our consecration, and we need the incense alter to offer prayers of intercession for our struggling brothers and sisters. Without these, it would have been impossible for the children of Israel to repent and be received again by God after worshipping the golden calf. Without the reality of these two things, we also would find that we have no way back to God once we have strayed into the flesh.
The church needs spiritual leadership. Where the congregation ends up depends on its leaders. The more spiritual, committed, and visionary the leaders are, the more spiritual, committed, and visionary the congregation will be. The more the leaders are incorporated into God, walk with God, and bear His testimony, the more blessed the congregation will be.
Where the leaders are common, the congregation is in danger of becoming common also. Eventually their coming together will be mainly to enjoy a social life. They may find that their meetings match the description of the Israelites: “the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exo. 32:6). It is a Christian gathering, but it is hard to find Christ among them. Paul had to tell the Corinthians, “I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17). The church in Corinth had come to a place where it would have been better for it to not come together at all.
Aaron proved himself to be a poor leader at this point. He was joined by other poor leaders—Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders. They had all just been on the mountain with Moses, eating and drinking before God. Now they were at the bottom of the mountain fulfilling the people’s wish for a golden idol to worship as their god. As a result, the whole congregation ended up in their flesh thinking they were worshipping God.
When Moses came down the mountain and saw the golden calf and the dancing, he became angry (Exo. 32:19). He confronted Aaron, but Aaron refused to take responsibility. First he blamed the people (v. 22). Then he said he had cast the gold he had collected from the people into the fire and spontaneously out came the calf (v. 24). Aaron was not only a poor leader, but also a poor liar.
It is hard to say why Aaron told such an unbelievable story. I would guess that he did not know how big a mistake he had made until he saw the anger on Moses face. This absurd excuse popped out of his mouth because he had not realized in advance that he had done anything wrong and so had not considered what to tell Moses. Many lives were lost to the sword and plague because of God’s anger. It would take the face to face intercession of Moses with God to bring about the mercy needed for the situation to be rescued (33:11–17).
The Laver and the Incense Alter
It is God’s mercy to us that He added the laver and incense alter to the tabernacle. Without the laver there would be no way to wash away our touch with the world and the flesh, and without the incense alter there would be no intercession in support of one another. Every leader among God’s people makes mistakes, but because of these two items there is always a way to go on. God’s way is simple. We can wash by confessing our sin and enjoying in the water of His word in the church (1 John 1:9; Eph 5:26). We can intercede by fervently praying for one another in spirit (James 5:16).
This enables us to go through the rest of the Tabernacle. We start with consecration, that is to be consumed to ashes at the alter in the outer court. If we are not willing for this, we will continually be climbing off the alter and will never go deeper. If we are willing, we next move into the holy place where we find the enjoyment of Christ as the showbread and the work of the Spirit which conforms us to Christ as the lampstand. All this is to bring us into the holy of holies where we are one with God at the ark. Each step builds on the other, yet each step never goes away. It is in this way that we become the testimony of God, a people for His possession.