Monday, July 26, 2010

The Patience of Moses: Exodus 24

In Exodus 24, Moses is called up the mountain to meet with God, and to receive the Ten Commandments from God's hand.  Together with seventy elders from Israel, he "sees God" and does not die, remarkably.  They ate and drank in God's presence.  Then, Moses makes arrangements for governance in his absence (v. 15), and goes up the mountain to meet with God.  A cloud covers the mountain for six days, and it is only on the seventh day that God calls for Moses. He waits upon the mountain for six days.

I have read this account many times over my lifetime, but only today was I struck by the patience of Moses, and how foreign his experience is to my own.  Consider it in your imagination: You are the chief judge and governor for a huge multitude of people traveling through a wilderness, and you have made some arrangements for judicial coverage in your absence, and you have been called into the presence of God upon a mountain in the middle of a wilderness.  You live a couple thousand years BC, so no iPhones, no white-gasoline Whisperlite stoves, no nylon tents, no communication of any kind with persons out of sight or shouting distance.  You have climbed a mountain, a strange mountain that you do not know.  It has become covered with a cloud, so you do not have a view, you do not see anything in the valley, the world has closed around you, you are completely isolated.  You wait, for hours, and nothing happens, no call from God.  You relieve yourself, you make a fire perhaps and prepare some food.  Still nothing.  Night approaches.  You have to make some sort of shelter, you wonder what else is up there with you on this mountain.  Where is God?  What is the point of this past day?  What is going on in the camp below?  Did you misunderstand God?  Did he want you to come up higher?  Did you do something wrong?  Did you leave something out?  Really, what is the point of this? What are you thinking to yourself as hour after hour of waiting in this fog creeps by?  You make some sort of shelter, you fall asleep, and you awake the next morning to more fog.  You have to prepare, maybe find food.  How much food did you bring?  How long did you expect to be up here?  Another whole day goes by, and no call from God.  No change.  Nothing.  Minute by minute, hour by hour time passes, and nothing happens.  The end of another day approaches.  This happens for six consecutive days.  Yet Moses waits.

I cannot identify, I cannot conceive of doing this.  Six days with no word from God, isolated on a mountain in a cloud.  I would have second-guessed myself any number of times by the end of the first day.  I must have misunderstood, I must have gotten something wrong, surely.  God would not waste my time like this.  What is going on in the camp without me? (a legitimate concern, because Moses' absence does, in fact, lead to the camp taking matters into their own hands and creating the golden calf.)  What kind of faith, what view of time and life allows a man to stay on a mountaintop, waiting, for six solid days?  Is it patience?  Is it humility?  Was the culture that incredibly different from today?  I wish I understood this.  I wish I were the kind of man that could content himself with waiting in the dark, with nothing at all happening, for even one day, without busying myself and making excuses for why I am not waiting upon God, why I cannot wait upon God but must busy myself in the meantime.  I cannot comprehend doing absolutely nothing but what is necessary to stay alive, and waiting upon God for an entire week.  What was Moses thinking?  Really, what was going on in his mind?  I think I need to understand this. How did he occupy his mind, what were his conversations with himself, as he waited upon God?  What did he see in his mind's eye?

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