Have you ever gotten “mixed messages” from someone you love? It’s typically only those you care about that give these messages that are conflicted, often opposing. You might think that our Creator and Savior, as the perfect Communicator, wouldn’t give mixed messages, but He does.
The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord. The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”Exodus 19:9-13 NASB
Notice that God is coming to the people, yet has Moses set bounds around the mountain, setting a penalty of death for any man or animal who approaches. And God then tells Moses to bring the people near when they hear the sound of the Shofar (ram’s horn). The Savior and Redeemer of the people of Israel comes close, tells them to remain at a distance, and then, to come out to meet Him. Those are mixed messages, but only to modern readers.
The Transfiguration is the same way. Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, bringing the transcendent Creator into His creation. Yet, only takes three to see Him as He truly is. And those three don’t really understand what they see. In the same sense, the message of Jesus brings our Creator close, but then, not too close.
But this message, again, is probably only a problem for modern readers. We would be the ones asking why only Peter James and John. Why would God show up, but then not want anyone to see Him? He sounds almost like He’s afraid of being seen. And I believe He is, but not because His creatures would see Him and not be impressed. I believe He doesn’t want them to see Him because the sight would destroy them. He wants them breathing.
The sons of Israel, they get this without it being explained. They have the legends of the gods of Egypt, the gods of Mesopotamia, the gods of Canaan, and probably the Hittites. There are plenty of reminders that people are not to interact with the gods because they can’t, except by invitation to the “realm of the gods”. But this God is coming to them, from His “plane of existence” into theirs. It’s not normal.
But this abnormal behavior is one of the markers of this Yahweh. He is El, the chief of the pantheon. He is Elohim, above all gods. He is the Creator, not one of several who helped create. And what He wants these people He has chosen to know about Him is that He exists. That’s what they need to know. He’s not content being ignored, not any more. He shows up in flame and smoke, and loud shofar, and speaks to Moses from thunder. He wants to speak to them, to reveal Himself to them, but He needs to do so through Moses. So, this dramatic appearance is really to validate Moses.
God wants to have a relationship with us, but on His terms. He has gone to extreme lengths for this relationship, unbelievable lengths. He draws us to Himself, but He also knows there is a limit in our current condition. Perhaps on the other side of “too close” we would step into His realm, and no longer be able to be in this one. Who knows? But the prohibition from touching the mountain or the one touching the mountain (19:12,13) has to refer to “holiness”. They have touched what has touched Yahweh, and have therefore contracted His holiness. Rather than profane their condition by touching others, they must be killed.
Jesus has redeemed Jews and Gentiles alike to be a holy people. We, by coming into contact with Him, have contracted His holiness. But, we modern people have no sense of what this means, no appreciation for it. Maybe it’s a “first-world” problem, and those in “underdeveloped” countries understand it better. But my fear is that holiness is disappearing from our Christian culture. Otherness, being different, living different, seeing this world and the people in it differently, these qualities are going away. At least I don’t see them around me often. Maybe I need new eyes to see, and perhaps, I need to exhibit this holiness more myself.
What about you? Do you embrace this mixed message of a Holy Creator and Redeemer? Do you walk in this “newness of life” seeing as He sees? Or are you taking the contracted holiness and profaning it daily? We choose, you and I. We can either share the holiness, allowing others to contract it from us, or we can profane it, contracting commonality from others. Today, what will you choose?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation