"Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." - Exodus 24.15-18As I have been reading through the Bible this year from beginning to end, certain passages are starting to jump out at me. This passage in particular made my inner biblical theological geek sing full-throated praise. What is being literally described is spectacular enough, but looking through the lens of redemptive history, this passage seems to explode. Two themes jumped off the page at me: Sabbath and new creation.
The context of the passage takes place at the foot of Sinai. Israel has left Egypt and rests at Mount Sinai while Moses ascends alone to the top of the mountain to talk with God. From Sinai, God has delivered the Decalogue and other laws to the people in thunder as he spoke to Moses face to face. After telling the congregation what God had commanded, Moses ascends back up the mountain and this scene takes place.
First the theme of Sabbath. The text says that the Glory-cloud covered the mountain, as if a foretaste of what the people would have with the Tabernacle later in the wilderness. For six days the cloud rested on the mountain, and on the seventh day God spoke to Moses. This detail is most definitely supposed to hearken back to the original creation week. For six days God worked, and then on the seventh he entered into rest. Here, in contrast, God rests for six days and then on the seventh God calls out to Moses. The emphasis in both cases in on the break of the seventh day, the Sabbath day. God calls out to Moses and reveals his glory on the seventh day. The Sabbath day points to the eschatological rest, and in the true Sabbath the cloud will be pulled away and we will see our Lord Jesus Christ face to face. We will bask in his unveiled glory and we will rest in the presence of God.
The second theme is new creation. I have already noted the connection to the original creation week, but the Scriptures have a series of new creation narratives. One of them is the flood narrative. Mankind was judged by God and in the judgement the waters broke forth and flooded the entire world like a decreation of sorts. For 40 days and 40 nights God poured out his judgement on the earth and once again brought forth dry land, vegetation, and life out of the waters that covered the earth. The flood narrative is drenched in creation language, and can easily be seen as a recreation narrative after judgement, a cosmic baptism that washes away all that came before. Decreation happened again in Egypt as all of creation was thrown into chaos. The decreative chaos ended in another baptism and here at Sinai, Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. Carrying this 40 day pattern forward through redemptive history, during which it appears a number of other times, we ultimately come to the the most significant 40 day-pattern, the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Just as with Noah and Moses, the 40 days of Christ are tied to decreative-judgement (where God kills himself), baptism, and new creation as well. Whereas the former new creation patterns ended in rebellion and corruption, the new creation of Christ ushers in the consummate new creation. New creation at Noah looks forward to the renewal of all things; new creation at Sinai looks forward to the children of God living in love and obedience; new creation at the time of Christ actually begins the process of consummating all the expectations that came before.
What happens here with Moses at Sinai, when viewed from the lens of redemptive history, points us forward to the eschaton. Moses, and the congregation at Sinai, saw a glimpse of the great Sabbath rest that is to come. They saw a glimpse of the new heavens and new earth that is to come. When God said that he would be their God and they would be his people, he who began a good work in ages past carried it through to completion in Jesus Christ. This is what happened while Moses was in the Glory-cloud on Sinai.