So, understand this: It’s not because you’ve been living right that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess. You are impossible to deal with!
Never forget how you made the Lord your God angry in the desert. You’ve rebelled against the Lord from the day you left Egypt until you came here. Even at Mount Horeb you made the Lord so angry that he wanted to destroy you. When I went up on the mountain to get the stone tablets, the tablets of the promise that the Lord made to you, I stayed on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights without food or water. Then the Lord gave me the two stone tablets inscribed by God himself. On them were written all the words that the Lord spoke to you from the fire on the mountain on the day of the assembly.
At the end of the 40 days and 40 nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets with his promise on them. He told me, “Leave right away. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything. They’ve quickly turned from the way I commanded them to live. They’ve made an idol for themselves.”
The Lord also said to me, “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with. Leave me alone! I’ll destroy them and wipe their name off the earth. Then I’ll make you into a nation larger and stronger than they are.” (God’s Word Translation)
Significant things happen on mountains in the Bible. In the anticipation of Transfiguration Sunday, in which Christ’s glory is revealed on a mountain top, today’s Old Testament lesson reminds us of a great mountain event. And it was not all bunnies and butterflies.
The book of Deuteronomy is a restatement of the Law. Moses recalled and recounted an oral history of Israel. They were about to enter the Promised Land, and Moses wanted the people to remember and never forget God’s saving actions and God’s Law.
Forty years earlier, God graciously met with Moses on the mountain and gave him the Ten Words (Ten Commandments). However, the ugly truth was that, while Moses was with God on the mountain, the people became impatient, insolent, and rebellious. They degenerated into a chaotic mass riot who quickly worshiped an idol. Definitely not Israel’s best moment.
In restating Israel’s Law and history, Moses wanted the people to remember the Mount Sinai event in all of its foulness and degradation. It was important for them to not forget how stubborn and pig-headed their parents and grandparents were in running from the one true God to a false god. The people needed to avoid the sins of the previous generation so that they could enjoy God and thrive in the new land being given to them.
It does no one any good to whitewash the past or to altogether ignore it.
Whether it is one’s personal past, a previous generation, or even a national history, we must face the sins of our forebears, to remember and not forget. We must neither be so extremely individualistic that we disconnect ourselves from our generational moorings, nor be dismissive of past sins – as if they have no influence upon us today.
Mountain experiences can either be glorious, turn very dark, or a bit of both. We are meant to learn from them all, to remember and not forget.
Yet not all remembered. Which is why, over a millennium later, the New Testament issued it’s own remembrance and warning so that we will learn and not forget – contrasting the two mountains of Sinai and Zion:
Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble—to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them, and they begged him to stop. When they heard the words— “If an animal touches the Mountain, it’s as good as dead”—they were afraid to move. Even Moses was terrified.
No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.
So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.
Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire! (Hebrews 12:18-29, MSG)
The old adage from the late philosopher, George Santayana, stated in his 1905 book, The Life of Reason, is true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”
Winston Churchill, restating the phrase for the British House of Commons in 1948 said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
Let us, then, ascend the mountain with Jesus and learn from him. And let us descend into the valley of the world remembering Christ’s words and ways for ourselves and for the next generations of believers.
God of history, your sovereign reign and rule extends to all creation and has existed for all time. You know the sins of my past, the heart of my present, and the soul of my future. Do not let me forget my sins, not because you hold them over my head, but because your grace has saved me from them all through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.