Holy Beyond Words Known by Words (Exodus 20:18–21)

God is holy. Israel was staggered by the manifestation of this truth at Sinai. It wasn’t just the production that jolted them, it was the propositions. God’s holiness was manifest not just in His delivery, but the content delivered.

Smoke and fire—we’ve seen these before at this mountain. At this mountain God declared His name to Moses, YHWH, built on God’s declaration, “I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:13–15).” The manifestation matched the declaration, and the declaration is the clearer and fuller revelation. The Words are not a less, but a more explicit and a more abiding revelation of the holiness of God. In His name are implications for many of God’s attributes, including His incomprehensibility, immutability, eternality, and aseity. The bush that burns without being consumed harmonizes with His name. The words give clearer perception into the manifestation. A picture is worth a thousand words they say, but Biblically, it’s words that give the clearest picture.

And so at Sinai, there is smoke and fire, thunder and lightning, trumpet sound and trembling earth, but the words, well, they are words from the fire. The propositions themselves, even more than the production, speak to God’s holiness. By this I do not mean that they simply reflect God’s moral purity as we are called to be holy as He is holy. No, holy fundamentally means that God is other. From the very first command we see that God is so other that there is not another. A NBA star stands out from many, but there are others. He is other, but there are others. God is so other, there is not another. He is God alone. Likewise with the other commands we see the majesty, glory, holiness, and beauty of God. The second table of the law is just as potent. The imago Dei is what underlies the seriousness of the commands to love our neighbor. Slaughtering an animal is different from murdering a man, because man is made in God’s image. Man’s uniqueness speaks to God’s uniqueness.

The words tell us that the flames and cloud, the flashes and crashes, the shaking of earth, and booming voice are not just a production. This isn’t pomp and ceremony for the sake of a special covenant ceremony, though this is a manifestation for a special covenant ceremony. My point is that God didn’t get all did up only to go home and let loose. God is holy. This is God all natural. We say clothes make the man, but when God puts on clothes, it is a veiling, a coming down, an expression of humility. This is who God is, or rather, it is a limited manifestation of His infinite glory. God is not less than this, He is more; and it is the words from the fire that more fully disclose just how Holy the God who is a consuming fire is.

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