When do you feel closest to God? When is his presence the most real to you?
The Lord is always with us, but we enjoy times when He gives a deeper and a truer sense of his nearness.
Perhaps it is when you pray to God in a spirit of humility and love.
Or the Lord’s presence seems very near when you’re hiking in the mountains or standing on the seashore, amazed by his glory and grandeur.
Or you read the Scriptures, and you’re reading them hungrily: eager to be encouraged, or guided, or reassured. Then it can be like the Lord is speaking to you directly, with words meant just for you.
This is the desire of every child of God: to be close to him, to enjoy his presence from morning ‘til evening, for our communion with Christ to be tangible.
But it doesn’t always happen this way. Because our faith is weak, and because our thoughts are distracted or troubled, we can feel far from God’s presence. But still we long to draw near. And God generously lets us come close for Jesus’s sake.
There’s an example of this grace in Exodus 24. It’s when Moses and seventy elders are given the privilege of experiencing the reality of communion with God. They climb Mount Sinai, and in verse 11 it says simply yet beautifully,
They saw God, and they ate and drank.
Up on that mountain, something amazing happens with God.
Exodus is telling the story of how God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt and brings them to the Promised Land. On the way, they make an important detour to Mount Sinai. Here God has made a tremendous display of his power, with thunder, lightning, and the blast of trumpets.
Amidst this uproar, God descended and caused the mountain to shake violently and the whole camp to tremble.
All this was too much for the Israelites. They beg for Moses to speak with them directly, not God. So the Lord meets with Moses and gives his holy will in laws and precepts. Then there is a ceremony of covenant renewal: an altar is set up, and twelve stone pillars, and burnt offerings and fellowship offerings are sacrificed. This is when Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders go up the mountain.
The leaders of Israel climb the terrifying heights of Mount Sinai, and “they see God” (v. 11). Moses says it so matter of fact—“they saw God”—like you might say, “I opened the door and saw my Mom.” Suddenly they are in God’s presence.
These verses require us to read carefully. It says that Moses and the elders get to see God on the mountain, but not really. Verse 10: “They saw the God of Israel. And there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone.” They see God, but notice that what’s described is only his feet—and actually, they only see the pavement beneath his feet! Instead of seeing God himself, they see a clear layer of sapphire. It’s like a sparkling mountain lake, perfectly calm and clear, underneath the Lord.
The God who had been hidden in thick darkness and cloud now allows them to draw near. They come into his presence, and they “eat and drink.” They enjoy a meal up there on the mountain, right in the presence of God!
Is it just an ordinary meal, something like you and I will enjoy later today? Are Moses and the elders just replacing all the calories that they spent hiking up the mountain, now being refreshed for the journey back to the camp?
This is a covenant meal. This meal confirms the loving relationship that God has with them, celebrates the peace between the Lord and his people.
Compare it to how we eat and drink with the people we love. We invite our family over, or some good friends, or fellow believers. Having a meal speaks of your good relationship, because you sit down in the same space and have conversation, and share all the food that’s been prepared. A meal joins people as one.
Likewise, the meal on the mountain proves the peace between God and sinners. Moses and the elders can draw near, and not only not be wiped out, but can eat and drink in the holy presence of God. The Lord is unspeakably glorious, profoundly holy, a consuming fire, yet his people are allowed draw near.
This makes the meal on the mountain just a foretaste of the redemption we have by Christ’s blood. For how much greater is the blood of Christ in bringing us to God!
We’re not at Mount Sinai anymore. As Hebrews 12 says, we haven’t come to a mountain that burns with fire, one surrounded in blackness and darkness. It’s not a place of restricted access, with stern warnings not to come any closer. But we have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. Says Hebrews, “You have come to God” (12:23), for sinners may draw near through the blood of Jesus.
Between the Lord and us, there is now beautiful peace. Through Jesus’s blood, our sins are completely wiped away and we have been made right with our Maker. And this is what we long for, to know—and to experience in a deeper way—that our God is near. We want to know that the Lord is with us and that He is for us.
In the present time, we don’t know God as fully as we might. We are easily sidetracked and are often worried. We don’t always think about how close God is in his greatness and glory and goodness.
But He is near to us. And He wants us near to him.
So seek God while He may be found (Isa 55:6). Make today a day for looking at God with the eyes of faith. Hear his words to you in the Scriptures. Share your heart with him in prayer. Look forward to the next time you can eat and drink at Christ’s table.
These things are a joy, for this is the God we love, whom we long for and live for.
For a child of the Lord, it is good to draw near to God (Ps 73:28).