Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Reflections on Old Testament Law and History #3

Another pattern relates to the location where people interact with God. Once instituted at Mount Sinai, the tabernacle is the official place of worship (Lev. 9:22-24) until Solomon builds the temple (1 Kgs 8). Yet significant religious events occur not in the tabernacle or temple, but on mountaintops. This pattern begins when Abraham attempts to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:2). Moses hears God’s call on Mount Sinai (Exod. 3:1-4) and receives the Law on the same mountain (Exod. 3:12, 19–20). Aaron dies on Mount Hor, where his priestly robes are passed on to his son (Num. 20:27-28), then Moses dies after seeing the Promised Land from Mount Nebo (Deut. 34:1-5). When Israel enters the land, they offer sacrifices and Joshua reads the Law at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim (Deut. 27:12-13; Josh. 8:30-35). Elijah contends with Baal’s prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs 18:16-40) before being recommissioned by God on Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19:15-17). The altitude at which these events take place is not solely a reflection of the mountainous terrain of the Promised Land. Indeed, God instigated most of these events and selected their locations, suggesting mountains are generally good places to meet with him.

In contrast, the ‘high places’ of pagan worship were to be torn down by Israel (Num. 33:51-52; Deut. 12:1-2). They were used by Israel before the temple was built (1 Kgs 3:2) and later kings were criticised by the historical author for building them, using them and not tearing them down (1 Kgs 3:3; 12:30-32; 14:22-24; 22:43; 2 Kgs 12:3; 16:2-4; 21:3 etc). The key feature distinguishing the mountaintop events from high place paganism seems to be God’s word, either spoken directly or read from the Law.

So should I, as a Christian, seek God upon mountains? They are sadly lacking in Perth! When I travelled to the USA several years ago and visited the Rockies, the Olympic Mountains, and the Sierra Nevadas at Yosemite, I certainly felt awe for their creator:I felt the same fear and awe for the LORD in Death Valley, USA's lowest point, though:From this reading, I now understand that it wasn’t until I shared my responses with my husband, praising God aloud, that my awe changed from a pagan high place experience to true Christian worship involving God’s word.

One privilege of being Christian today is my ability to access Scripture any time, anywhere, in the pages of my Bible, on a screen via the internet or an app on my phone, or simply from my mental store of memory verses. I don’t need to climb a mountain to hear God’s voice, but I do need to be ready to listen to his word.

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