This is part two in a series called Mountaintop Experiences. It is based on a sermon I preached at a retreat last month at Camp Beaverfork. You can read part one, Mountaintop Experiences: Abraham, here.
Last week, we talked about Abraham and the life-changing experience he had with God on the mountain. Abraham had what we call a mountaintop experience, a one-on-one encounter with God where a person takes his or her relationship with God to the next level. These experiences signify shifts in a person’s life where he or she can look back and say, “Because I had that experience with God, my life will never be the same.” Abraham had that kind of experience when he climbed the mountain and laid the most important thing in the world to him—his son—down before God and said, “I want You more than even this.” What an incredible, life-changing encounter with God Abraham had on the mountaintop that day.
This week’s mountaintop experience story is about Moses. Moses was God’s hand-chosen leader for His chosen people, the Israelites. During Moses’ life, God’s people went from Egyptian slaves to free, roaming conquerers on the brink of the Promised Land. Moses lived an incredible life and went down in history as one of the strongest men of God to ever walk the earth. And it all started (and ended) on a mountain.
Moses had several notable mountaintop experiences in his life. Moses’ journey with God really started on a mountain when God appeared to him out of the burning bush and called him to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. Once Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, he returned to the same mountain and spent 40 days on top of the mountain with God receiving the commandments for God’s chosen people. And Moses’ life came full circle when he climbed his final mountain on the border of the Promised Land and died in the presence of the God he had served all his life.
The particular mountaintop experience from Moses’ life covered in this post comes from Exodus 33:18–23. It comes right after a major crisis in Moses’ life. As I said before, Moses spent 40 days on a mountain with God receiving the commandments. And when he came down, he found that the Israelites had rebelled. They had given up on Moses and on God, and they were worshipping a golden statue of a calf that they had created themselves.
Moses was livid, and so was God. Moses destroyed the idol and punished the people, and then he headed back up the mountain to do some damage control. The people had broken their covenant with God, and now it was questionable whether or not God would even continue to go with the Israelites as they travelled to the Promised Land. Moses pleaded with God not to give up on them, and when God finally agreed to continue going with Israel, Moses made this request to Him in Exodus chapter 33 verse 18: “Show me Your glory.”
I think Moses really needed three things in this situation. First of all, he needed some encouragement. He was charged with leading a very stubborn group of people who couldn’t seem to learn their lesson. They had watched God send plagues down on their Egyptian slave masters so that they could be set free. They had walked across the Red Sea that God had miraculously parted for them. They had eaten the manna that God had miraculously provided for them. And yet, they still rebelled against Him and against His chosen leader Moses. Moses didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t handle these people alone. He needed some encouragement, and that’s exactly what he got on the mountaintop.
Moses also needed to feel God’s presence in his life. Really, when Moses asked God to show him His glory, Moses was asking God to show him His presence, to show him who He was. Moses felt betrayed and alone. The people had rebelled against him. God had almost abandoned the Israelite people and left Moses to lead them on his own. He needed to know that God was with him in a very real way.
Finally, Moses needed some direction. He was in charge of God’s chosen people. He not only had to lead them to the Promised Land, but then he had figure out how to lead them in claiming the Promised Land for themselves despite the fact that it was already inhabited. Moses had no plan. He had no sense of where he was going. He needed God to show him that, and God did show him that on the mountaintop.
Moses got everything he needed from this mountaintop experience that he had with God. He received encouragement and a very real sense of God’s presence in his life when God set him up on the mountain and let him see His back as He walked away. Moses literally saw God’s glory on the mountain, and this had a profound effect on his life. When Moses came down from the mountain, scripture tells us that his face radiated with God’s presence. He literally shined from reflecting God’s glory. He had to wear a veil on his face because people couldn’t look directly at him. That’s how present God was in Moses’ life after this experience that he had on the mountaintop.
Moses also got some direction up there on the mountaintop. God refused to show Moses His face because He said that any man who sees God’s face will die. And that’s true, but I think there’s more to it than that. While discussing this passage, a friend of mine once asked me, “Why didn’t God show Moses His face?” My friend paused for a second, and then he answered, “It’s because we’re supposed to seek it.”
When Moses looked out from that mountaintop, he literally saw God. He saw His back as He was walking away. And seeing God in that way gave him some direction to follow. It gave Moses something to seek. Moses wasn’t content with just having that one experience of God’s glory. He sought God’s face for the rest of his life. He spent the rest of his days following the direction God gave him on that mountaintop. Because he climbed the mountain and asked God to show him His glory, Moses’ life was never the same.
Moses was a great man of God. He has served as an example for billions of people throughout history of the kind of faith and dedication to God we should all strive to have. Moses was so great because he took the time to get away, to climb those mountains, and to have those life-defining experiences with God that shaped him into who he was.
Maybe you see yourself in some aspect of Moses’ story today. Maybe you need encouragement. Or maybe you’re in desperate need to feel God’s presence in your life right now. Or maybe you’re looking for some direction in making a big decision or figuring out what the next step is for you. If you see yourself in any of these situations, follow Moses’ example. Climb that mountain, whatever that looks like in your own personal spiritual life, and ask God to show you His glory. Choose to make today one of your mountaintop experiences. If you climb that mountain, I promise you will find Him there. And I promise your life will never be the same.