Early the next morning, Moshe wrote all the words of Yhwh on a papyrus scroll, then built a slaughter site beneath the mountain. He placed twelve standing stones at the site, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, then he sent young men to offer sacrifices. He took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half he tossed against the stones of the altar. Then he took the scroll containing the regulations of Yhwh, and read it again so everyone heard. And again we said, “All the words Yhwh has spoken we will do!”
Then Moshe took the blood of the young bulls and sprinkled it upon us. “This blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these laws.”
Then Moshe and Aharon climbed the mountain, along with Aharon’s two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders. There they saw the God of Israel, and beneath his feet something like the blue of sapphires, as pure and clear as the heavens. They knelt in the presence of God, then shared a covenantal meal.
Later, when I pressed Aharon for more details about what God looked like, I received only a trembling smile in answer. “I confess I do not recall much.” Aharon smoothed the disheveled strands of hair at the back of his neck. “I was so overwhelmed that I cowered on the ground and glimpsed only the tiles beneath his feet.”
“But you ate with him! You broke bread in his presence! Surely you were not lying on the ground then!”
Aharon smiled with a distracted, inward look, as though he were thinking of something beyond his power to describe. “No, I was sitting upright. But I was so astounded to be sitting in God’s presence that I could only stare at my trembling hands.”
He looked up, and for a moment his face went smooth with secrets.
I knew that look. I had seen it a hundred times in our childhoods, and always when spite or selfishness motivated Aharon to keep a secret from me.
I captured his eyes with mine and steeled my voice. “Tell me, Aharon.”
He drew a deep breath. “I did catch a glimpse of him . . . but only a glimpse.”
“So tell me!”
My brother pressed his lips together, then wiped sweat from his eyelids and squinted toward the horizon. “He wore many crowns upon his head. A name had been woven into a shawl around his neck, but I could not read it, and only he knew what it meant. He was clothed in a white tunic, but blood stained its edges. And his eyes . . .”
Ever impatient, I prodded him. “Yes?”
“His eyes were as bright as the sun, and should have been painful to gaze upon. Yet in the instant I looked at him, I felt no pain . . . only love and understanding. And though we were eating a meal of celebration, when I looked into his eyes I saw sadness there, as though he had suffered greatly . . . on my behalf.”
“On your behalf?” I made a face. “Why? What have you done to displease him?”
“I don’t know.” Aharon’s voice sounded uneasy. “But I must have done something.”
I exhaled sharply and waved the matter away. “If you had displeased Yhwh, do you think he would have invited you to celebrate the covenant meal? No. So stop torturing yourself. You are the brother of Moshe, and no one has done as much for these people as the children of Amram and Yokheved.”
As I left Aharon’s tent, I found myself wishing that I had been among those invited to the mountaintop. Perhaps if I had gone, I might have been able to stop the disaster that soon befell us.
For the next day Moshe told us he must go up on the mountain and remain long enough to receive tablets of stone engraved with the instructions and commands of God. He left Aharon and Hur in charge of the camp. I stood by, of course, ready to help when needed.
Then Moshe arose, with Yehoshua his attendant, and together they climbed the crimson Mountain of God. As they grew smaller and more distant in our sight, the Shekinah cloud withdrew from us and dwelt atop Mount Sinai, glowing like a consuming fire on the top of the peak.
Moshe stayed on the summit forty days and forty nights . . . long enough for us to get into dire trouble on the plain below.
Q: Did the leaders of Israel really eat dinner with God? How is that possible?
A: Yes, the story is recounted in Exodus 24:9-11. They saw God and ate a meal in his presence. (No word on who did the cooking.)
The Bible clearly teaches that God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and therefore invisible, so if they could see God, he had to be present in a physical manifestation. Physical manifestations of God are known as theophanies, and there are several recorded in the Old Testament. Christians believe that these are Old Testament appearances of Jesus Christ, who is God revealed in physical flesh.
When Moses spoke to God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11), I believe he may have been speaking with Jesus, God-in-flesh, who appeared to him—either that, or the phrase is a metaphor to describe the extremely close relationship between the Lord and Moses.
When Moses asked to see God—the entire glory of God the Spirit—he was refused, for no living man can behold things of a spiritual dimension. Yet God did allow Moses to see the parting remnants of his glory (see Ex. 33:18-23).
I don’t claim to understand these mysteries. Even Paul, who was caught up to the third heaven and glimpsed visions of Paradise, admitted that such things were beyond his understanding (see 2 Cor. 12:2-4). But, as Paul wrote, even though we can’t explain it, God knows.