The High Priest
Whenever the Israelites had the privilege of encountering the living God, they were terrified: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips . . . . My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,” the prophet Isaiah exclaimed in terror (Isa. 6:5). Imagine what it would have been like to see what Isaiah saw—to experience the depth of his shame before the holy God!
The Israelites at Mount Sinai had a similar experience. Each of them visually experienced the glory of the Lord “like a consuming fire on the mountain top” (Exodus 24:17), and they learned that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Here is how Exodus describes the people’s initial response to their experience of God:
All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” (Ex. 20:18–19)
The people were ill-prepared to stand in the presence of God. After reassuring them of God’s purposes, Moses alone climbed to the top of Mount Sinai to hear from God (Ex. 20:20–21). God spoke to Moses (v. 20:22ff.) and later “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Although God desired a close relationship with all Israel, the relationship between Moses and God was unique and intimate. At the request of the people (v. 20:19), God allowed Moses to stand in an intercessory place between Him and the nation…