The verse we are focusing on is Exodus 24:12, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.” Note the English phrase, “come up”, is translated from the Hebrew word עֲלֵ֥ה (ah-leh) (Strong’s #5927) which means, “to go up”. God knew that in order for Moses to obtain the complete revelation that He had for Him, Moses needed to disengage from his surroundings so that he could focus completely upon God. So, God commanded Moses to come up to the top of Mt. Sinai.
The phrase, “be there” in verse 24 is translated from the Hebrew phrase, הְיֵה־שָׁ֑ם – (h’yeh sham). In the previous verses, the elders of the children of Israel had offered sacrifices to God. However here, no mention is made of building an altar, or offering sacrifices. Moses waited six days (verse 16) atop Sinai before God called to him from the cloud on the seventh day. What did Moses do during those six days? He was not reading the Bible because he had not written it yet! He was not reading commentaries as there were not any. He was not talking to anyone because he was alone. God said He wanted Moses to just “be there”. Moses waited and meditated upon God. Patience is a lost art in our society today. Everyone wants everything to happen instantly. However if we truly want to know God, we must learn patience and to wait upon God.
Moses experienced God face to face as Deut. 34:10 tells us, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” This phrase, “face to face” (Hebrew: פָּנִ֖ים אֶל־פָּנִֽים – panim el panim) is repeated three other times in the T’nakh: Ex. 33:11; Num. 14:14; Deut. 5:4. The Bible tells us clearly that no other prophet in Israel ever knew God the way Moses did. Certainly Moses’ “waiting ability” had much to do with his closeness to God! Our modern society has programmed the younger generation to need constant external stimuli so they are always on the smartphone – texting, tweeting, facebooking and seeing what is trending. This behavior has produced an entire generation with no original thinkers – everyone believes what is trending or what they are told to believe by someone else, by the news agencies (which are not reliable), or by the ‘movement’ they identify with. Few people think their own original thoughts and even fewer think deep thoughts about God! However, the only time we can do deep thinking (ie, Biblical meditation) is when all external stimuli are turned off. Biblical meditation means to deeply ponder and pray over Biblical truths. We have produced a generation that does not know how to wait on God like Moses had to wait and because of that, we do not experience God like Moses experienced Him either.
Time our most precious gift: So what did Moses do while waiting on God? Well, he was giving to God his most precious possession: time! God puts a high priority upon our fellowship with Him and wants a close relationship with us. He is a person, and as with any person that we are close to, we must invest time in our relationship with them or we drift apart. No one today has time for anyone anymore. Everyone is “busy”. In the old days, people used to visit their friends. Then the phone came and they replaced visits with calls. Then calls were replaced with emails. Now we are fortunate if we get a simple text. Our generation which has all the technology, has almost zero true communication. Tragically, the same is true with our relationship with God. He does not want to hear from us once a week while we are running out the door to work! He created us for fellowship and He will never give us peace without this deep relationship with Him!
Note the final phrase in Exodus 24:12, “that thou mayest teach them.” God’s purpose in giving the Law to Moses was so that he could in turn, teach it to the children of Israel. The best Bible teachers are those who spend time knowing God. I do not mean knowing “about” God by reading a book. I mean, “knowing God”. The only way to truly know someone is to be with them a lot! Like He did to Moses, God will sometimes place us in a ‘desert place’ of life so that we can be removed from things that are distracting us from seeking Him. He may remove us from family, friends, activities, or even our job or ministry. He desires to speak with us and He desires that we listen to Him. Only then will our words have power and relevance to our hearers. Do not despair if you find yourself in a ‘desert place’ of God’s making, but rather move forward to God. “Be there!” with Him and trust that He has designed this circumstance especially for us so that we may draw closer to Him. Moses is our example. He knew God ‘face to face’. I sure want to know God that way! Don’t you?
This week’s Torah Portion, יִתְר֨וֹ (Yitro, the English translation is ‘Jethro’), covers Exodus 18, 19 & 20. Chapter 18 speaks about Yitro (Jethro), Moses’ father-in-law who is the “priest of Midian” according to Exodus 2:16. Remember that Moses had lived in Jethro’s clan for 40 years in the land of Midian, in Arabia, before returning to Egypt after the burning bush episode. Now Jethro, along with his daughter, Zipporah ( צִפֹּרָ֖ה), who is Moses’ wife, comes to visit Moses. Jethro gives Moses some sound advice and then departs again “into his own land” (Ex. 18:27).
Israel was exactly three months out of Egypt when they entered the wilderness of Sinai according to Ex. 19:1. Verse 3 says, “And Moses went up unto God…”. The Hebrew: וּמֹשֶׁ֥ה עָלָ֖ה אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים
Transliterated as Moshe ah-lah el-HaElohim. The very important verb ah-lah (עָלָ֖ה) is used which means literally ‘to go up’.
Notice the beautiful words that I am calling God’s preamble to the giving of the law in verse 4: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Ex. 19:4). The Hebrew word for eagle is nesher and we see it here in the plural, nesherim (נְשָׁרִ֔ים ). God’s view of the Ten Commandments (and eventually the Law) was God’s way to prepare the children of Israel to come to Him as the eagles came to Him. God did not mean for the focus of Israel to be on the Law itself, but rather, on Him! God’s Word is extremely important because it is the path to God. But we worship God, not His Word. He seeks a personal relationship with each of us, not just a knowledge of His word.
As we read the passage carefully, I count that Moses went up to Sinai (and back down to the people) a total of four times by the end of chapter 20.
Ex. 19:1 “Moses went up unto God”
Ex. 19:7 “Moses came and called for the elders”
(obviously he had come back down)
Ex. 19:8 “Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD”
(obviously he had gone back up to Sinai)
Ex. 19:14 “Moses went down from the mount unto the people”
(in order to sanctify them as God commanded)
Ex. 19:20 “Moses went up” (ie, to God on Sinai)
[This time, Sinai was on fire and there were earthquakes – signaling volcanic activity]
Ex. 19:25 “Moses went down unto the people”
[Again, God sends Moses down with further cautions to the people of Israel to not touch the mountain]
In Exodus 20, God verbally gives the Ten Commandments, speaking them out loud for all the camp of Israel. The two tablets of stone also known as the Two Tablets of the Covenant – Sh’nei Luchot HaB’rit
( שני לֻח֥וֹת הַבְּרִֽית), are not given until chapter 31. The people are now in fear and awe of God – which they had not been before despite the plagues and miracles that God had performed for them in Egypt.
Notice verse 21, “And the people stood afar off, and Moses DREW NEAR unto the thick darkness where God was.” There was something very special about Moses. First, he had a great godly fear and respect of God, yet he was NOT AFRAID to approach Mt. Sinai when the people were afraid. The people on the other hand, did not have the godly fear of God (evident in their worship of the golden calf that we will see in a few more chapters), yet they were AFRAID of God. Their fear was same that Adam and Eve had in the garden after they sinned. Remember what Adam said in Genesis 3:10, “And he [Adam] said, I heard thy voice [God’s] in the garden, and I was afraid.“
Secondly, Moses did not think of any sacrifice as ‘too much trouble’ to get closer to God. Think of him walking up and down Mt. Sinai now FOUR TIMES! Remember that he was 80+ years old! [He had to be very fit by the way!] He had such a desire for God, that he did not think of this as bothersome!
God wanted the Israelites to be close to Him as is evident by His words in Ex. 19:4, “I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” As we continue to study Moses life, we see that He realized a closeness to God that few people do and this passage gives us a glimpse as to why – Moses took TIME to be close to God! Time is the greatest gift we can give to anyone. Not money or other gifts, but just time. Moses took time to listen to God and God listened to Moses. If we want to be close to God, it is simply a matter of spending more TIME with Him – reading His Word and in prayer. (The same is true of our family and friends too. Time is always the greatest gift!)
Jewish tradition attributes Psalm 91 to Moses. Who else could pen those majestic words except that man who lived in the secret place? “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1 That is where I want to be also! Don’t you?
Tu B’Shvat literally means, “the 15th of the month of Sh’vat” and is also known as the “New Year for the Trees”. It is the date decided upon by Jewish sages as the day to calculate the age of trees for the purpose of tithing. The practice of tithing the fruits of trees is detailed in Leviticus 19:23-25. However, scholars have also discovered that in ancient Israel, it was also a day for the planting of trees especially “marriage trees.” It was customary for parents who had been blessed with children during the preceding year to plant a tree on Tu B’Shvat in honor of the baby. Cedars (Heb. Erez – ארץ) were planted for boys, cypress trees (Heb. Bah-rosh – ברוש ) for girls. When the children grew up and married, the trees were cut down and used as part of the chuppah (marriage canopy).
After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, it was no longer possible to bring the tithes from the fruit trees to the Temple. Thus began the era of the Diaspora (which is a Greek word), to use the Hebrew term – Galut – גלות . At Tu B’Shvat each year, Jews began a custom of eating what is known as the Seven Species of fruit (Shivat Haminim in Hebrew). They are first mentioned in the T’nakh in Deuteronomy 8:8, speaking of the land of Israel: “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey.” [Note: the ‘honey’ refers to date palm honey and thus, dates being one of the Seven Species.]
- Wheat – חִטָּה֙ (chitah)
- Barley – שְׂעֹרָ֔ה (se’orah)
- Grapes – גֶ֥פֶן (gefen)
- Figs – תְאֵנָ֖ה (te’enah)
- Pomegranates – רִמּ֑וֹן (rimon)
- Olives – אֶֽרֶץ־זֵ֥ית (zayit)
- Dates – דְבָֽשׁ (d’vash)
Later this practice of eating these fruits on Tu B’Shvat grew into a seder, similar in form to Passover, but using the fruits and nuts of the Seven Species. Today the Tu B’Shvat seder is increasing in popularity.
In the late 1800’s, God was raising up many people who would help the state of Israel to be established. In 1884, German mathematician and Zionist Hermann Schapira proposed an agency which became known as the Jewish National Fund (JNF) – and was officially founded in 1901 by Theodore Herzl. Before the founding of the state of Israel, the JNF was characterised by small “blue boxes” that every Jewish household in America used to collect money to help purchase the land of Israel. Very often the very leftist news media leaves out the facts so I will share them with you! During the past 100 plus years, the JNF has purchased hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Israel for Jewish settlements. The land of Israel actually belongs two-fold to the Jewish people! It was given by God Himself, and then the JNF purchased it with the hard earned money of the Jewish people! It is not ‘occupied territory’ no more than South Carolina is ‘occupied territory’ in the USA!
Tu B’Shvat is always celebrated in late winter – not spring. The Psalmist wrote about the tree that brings forth fruit, “in his season.” A fruit tree does not have fruit year-round, but only when it is the season for fruit! Trees do not rest each night like people, but winter time is when trees rest. In the spring, they wake up! Our lives pass through seasons as well. If we find ourselves in the ‘winter time’, we must not worry, but be patient and wait on the Lord. God will allow us to bear fruit when it is our season. I want the kind of prosperity that the writer of Psalm 1 wrote about. It does not come from money, but from meditating on the Word of God.
It is also an important tradition to plant a tree in Israel in honour of someone or in memory of someone through the JNF. The first time that I visited Israel, I planted trees in honour of my parents, of a dear friend and prayer warrior and of my Hebrew teacher. Thousands upon thousands of trees are planted in Israel by the JNF on Tu B’Shvat. If you get to visit Israel, be sure to honour a loved one by planting a tree in their honour.
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.“