The Jewish community understands how we must bring our imaginations to the task of interpretation. Many verses are pregnant with implications only visible to those prepared to picture what’s going on in Scripture. The text is music in our ears when we pay attention to what it says and to what it leaves unsaid. As with music, the rests and the spaces between the notes are as important as the notes themselves.
Such is the case with Exodus 19:17, part of the drama of Moses, Israel, and the Living God meeting at Sinai, - “And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” What was it like for these people? What were they thinking? And what does all of this have to do with all of us?
No one in the crowd knew how long they would be standing there. Certainly, it was inconvenient for them to come out of their tents, to stand for who knows how long before a mountain blazing with fire upon which their ancestral God was manifesting himself. We know they were terrified, afraid to get too close to the Holy One. They begged Moses to intervene, to meet with God on their behalf, and then report back. They could handle that. But this God? “Moses? You go talk to him!”
As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Aslan is not a tame lion.” And there at Sinai, Israel felt the hot breath of his roaring.
“Moses! We can deal with you, but that one up there? No way!”
If we would meet with God and ve transformed, yes, we will need to come out of our tents and inconvenience ourselves by standing in a place to which we are unaccustomed, a place to avoid, too close for comfort, too close to God.
Standing before Him will require us to stand apart from our normal self-perceptions, and to reconsider, repudiate, and replace our customary way of seeing ourselves and how we have domesticated the eternal King who summons us to come.
Many of us will choose rather to stay in our tents .Let others, anyone else, go and stand there on the trembling ground.
What does it cost to play safve with God? Just this: decline his terrifying adventure and lose everything worthwhile.
So let’s join hands with others in the faith. Let’s go to the mountain, even if we're shaking.
Risk the roar.