Exodus 19:9, “And Yah said to Moses, “Behold I am coming to you in a thick cloud.” 9:16, “On the morning of the third day, there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain…” 9:18, “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because YHWH had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of kiln…” 20:18, “the people were afraid and trembled.” 20:21, “The people stood afar off, while Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was”.
The clouds and darkness here at Mount Sinai, otherwise known as Mt. Horeb (Yah’s Mountain Home) must be what Solomon experienced when he was dedicating the first temple, in 1 Kings 8:10-12, “And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of YHWH. Then Solomon said, YHWH has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.” I suppose Solomon also could have been referring to Genesis 1:2, “The earth was without form, and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Either way, I think there’s a misconception that YHWH is associated only with light. The truth of Yah’s pattern shows us that He prefers to start the most important things, in clouds, darkness, implications of fear and terror, or all of the above.
The sign of the covenant with Noah is typically remembered as a rainbow, but the actual language is full of heavy cloud cover. “This is the sign of the covenant that I will make between me and you and every living creature that is with you for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds…When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant…” Furthermore, before we get to the clouds, Noah first releases two birds—starting with a raven. The English word ‘raven’ is based on the Hebrew word ‘erev’—darkness. So, even the covenant with Noah begins with both darkness and clouds. Children’s nursery artwork betrays the reality that every human on earth was just drowned to death—so intense fear is implied in this entire story, despite the happy ending.
The circumstances surrounding the covenant with Abraham hints at this same symbolism. Genesis 15:11, “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him…” vs 17, “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the pieces.” According to Exodus 12:41, this ceremony took place on Pesach (430 years before it was called Pesach.) Darkness, dread, flames, and smoke.
The “plague” that just preceded the plague of the “death of the firstborn” (aka Pesach) was a plague of darkness. Pesach itself begins at sundown, and Exodus 12:42 describes it as “a night of watching for YHWH, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to YHWH by all the people throughout their generations”. For me and my house, we extend this concept to our Pesach celebration by staying awake until dawn each year, recognizing YHWH is with us, even and especially in the darkness.
The Pesach afternoon when Messiah died holds similar language as well. Luke 23:44, “It was now the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that Yah starts important things with darkness. Each and every day we are offered a reminder when the sun goes down—as that is the beginning of each new biblical day. Traditionally, each Hebrew month begins with the new moon (conjunction) but even if your tradition is to spot the first sliver of the moon, you can really only see it once the sun goes down and after a large degree of darkness has set in.
Of course, we’d be foolish to dwell in the darkness, death, and dread–it is inconsistent with Yah’s name to do so, but it can’t be denied that He uses fear and darkness for his glory, likely to show the contrast with the goal—which most certainly permanent and perfect light. In the same way that every Israelite has to start their walk in Egypt (even Yeshua), we are also all “called out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). Shock and awe is Yah’s style. He and darkness are the only things we are designed to fear.
“The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10) but the light is the final destination of The Way.
John 1:1-5, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him, not any thing was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…For the Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Messiah Yeshua”. That same introduction to the Gospel of John, says that John came as witness, “to bear witness about the light.”
Moses represents the foundation of the Torah. John represents the spirit of Elijah and the prophets, none of whom preach anything but a message of repentance and turning back to the Torah.
Paul reminds us that “Messiah is the goal of the Torah.” (Romans 10:4). We arrive at that goal, becoming like Messiah, through this same Torah of grace and truth, the Torah of Liberty (James 1:25), by walking exactly in the Way our Messiah walked.
Moses and Elijah have two other things in common. First, they both came to Mt. Sinai to personally witness the glory of Elohim. In Moses’ case, “the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.” (Exodus 19:19) In Elijah’s case, the scene was similar in many ways, “Go out and stand on the mount before YHWH”. And behold, YHWH passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before YHWH, but YHWH was not in the wind. And after the wind and earthquake, but YHWH was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” (1 Kings 19)
Moses and Elijah (representing The Torah and The Prophets as two witnesses) also shared another mountain top (albeit in a vision and on an unnamed mountain). Here’s an excerpt from Mark 9:2-8, “Yeshua took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Yeshua. Peter said to Yeshua, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Yeshua alone.”
Back to Sinai. Exodus 20:20, “Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” I’ve heard many commentators and conversations implying that the people failed the test, by staying far off and sending Moses up the mountain instead. I completely disagree. The test was designed to see if Israel would accept the fear of YHWH. Israel passed with flying colors, at least for now (they do fail miserably at “The Golden Calf”.) They were terrified by the cloud and the disembodied voice–just like Peter, James, and John were at the vision of the transfiguration. I also disagree that “fear of YHWH” simply means “reverence”—the above foundational examples show dread and absolute terror—as the language also shows with Yeshua and his three disciples.
“Behold, the fear of YHWH that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28)
“The fear of YHWH is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
“And the spirit of YHWH shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of council and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of YHWH.” (Isaiah 11:2)
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does YHWH require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with YHWH. The voice of YHWH cries to the city—and it is sound wisdom to fear his name: “Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!” (Micah 6:8-9)
Tomorrow is Day #40 of counting to Shavuot, the day Messiah chose to ascend into the clouds—as Moses is just about to do back here in Exodus!