Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come, Follow Me podcast. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor, and today we’re doing a joint podcast with Dr. Kerry Muhlestein, who also has a wonderful podcast called The Scriptures are Real. Maybe you could tell us one second about that, Kerry.
Yeah, thank you and welcome. So, this is also The Scriptures are Real podcast. It’s a podcast where we focus on elements of the scriptures that have just become real to us, and thus we just dive into what it would have looked like, or what it would have felt like or some
element that speaks to us and hopefully helps us draw more power out of the scriptures into our lives.
And this week we’re studying Exodus chapter 24 and chapters 31 to 34 a lesson called “My Presence shall Go with Thee”
Just a word about Kerry Muhlestein. Honestly, he is one of Scot’s and my favorite thinkers and authors. We love his books. He is an Egyptologist, he is a professor at BYU. He has an active dig, in fact, going in Egypt. He’s written God Will Prevail and has written a great deal about the Book of Abraham. His latest one is Let’s Talk About the Book of Abraham and I have not only read His God Will Prevail, I listened to it too because I thought his insights on the covenant were so wonderful and important.
So Kerry, we’re really glad to have you with us on this podcast today.
Well, thank you and you’re very kind and maybe we can let my audience know a little bit about the two of you. I’ve known Scot and Maurine for a long time. I’ve visited with you in Israel.
You take tours to Israel. You take tours just about everywhere; Egypt Israel, I think you do Church history tours as well, don’t you? And, and so on. They run Meridian magazine, which is an online magazine that has so much good material; gospel material, and current events that with a Latter-day Saint focus. I mean this is the kind of thing that if you just get on it each day or at least a little bit each week, you will find yourself being edified. You’ll find yourself doing those things that President Nelson has talked about to make more time for the Lord and less time for the world just to replace some of the world time with Godly time. Meridian magazine is a fantastic opportunity and tool for that.
And I think you both do so much good in the world with all of the hundred pans you have in the fire. You do so much good. And I’ll also just say that their daughter Michaela was with me in Jerusalem as one of my students and so I know that they raised fantastic, amazing children and I’m just glad to have you with us.
Thank you so much, Kerry. It’s just fun to be together again. And as we open in this first chapter in Exodus 24, it sounds like the Lord wants us to see His face. And as you study the Gospel in all of the standard works, there is a common theme that first of all, God is not far from us, but second of all, He really, really does want to reveal Himself to us. Now, If our faith is only strong enough, that he reveals himself through his Holy Spirit, that’s not a bad thing.
I mean, having the Holy Spirit testify of Him is about as real as it gets. But interestingly enough in this first Exodus 24, He’s really inviting a visitation like into the First Vision. Tell us about this setting.
Yeah. And and I love what you said. So I think that the plan is that the initial step and for most of us that will probably be the step we spend our lives in. But the initial step is to come into God’s presence by coming into the presence of a member of the Godhead; and that’s the Holy Ghost, whose job it is to reveal the the Son to us. And the Son’s job is to bring us to the Father. And so that’s the first step. But God does not want that to be the final step for any of us. He wants us all to actually come back to be with him fully in His presence.
And if you remember back when we did the podcast on the Exodus 18 through 20, we talked about how He wanted to do that for all of Israel. He wanted all of Israel to literally come into His presence. The phrase is often “behold my face” or “come unto my face,”
but that’s the way you talk about someone being before you or in front of you in Hebrew as you talk about in front of your face or before your face. But He wants them to come into His presence, they decide they’re not going to do that. They’re afraid that they can’t survive God’s presence, which as we said then is true. If you don’t have God helping you and changing your nature, you can’t come into his presence.
So, they reject that, Joseph Smith teaches us, that’s why we get the lower law. But as a result, instead, what is going to happen is that God is going to say, okay, I still want representatives of Israel to come into my presence. There are some people who believe enough who have enough faith and are willing enough to come into my presence. So, let’s do that. Whoever can, let’s do that. So you’re going to get Aaron and Moses and Nadab and 70 of the elders of Israel and it seems like this is where the idea of a 70 comes from. But 70 of the elders of Israel are all going to come literally and physically into God’s presence and enjoy the blessings that he wanted to give everyone and that eventually He will give everyone, who is willing.
I was thinking, as you were talking, that since you did this book,I Saw the Lord,which is the compilation of the nine accounts of Joseph Smith of the FirstVision; I wondered if you’re working on the 70 accounts of the 70 in Israel.I would love to see that in one nice big book.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
So would I.
But isn’t it interesting how many people in the beginning of this dispensation were able to behold the face of Godl; with Joseph in the school of the prophets, the meeting in January before the Kirtland Temple was dedicated. There were incredible outpourings.
So, this is not unique what we’re seeing here at Sinai, we have experienced this in our own Restoration.
Yeah. And it is true that we find, often at the beginning of a dispensation, a greater outpouring of this opportunity. And it seems to be a little bit like we saw in the book of Moses; Adam and Eve have personal experiences with God and that allows them to testify of God in a way that is important for all of their family after that.
So, we have Moses and the 70 being able to testify. That we have a whole bunch of people at the beginning of our dispensation and then we can read those accounts and have the Spirit bear witness to us of their truth, so that it’s always based on someone’s firsthand experience with that witness of God.
And Scot, you’ve actually inspired me. I did do an article once on the Old Testament accounts of seeing God, but it might be worth doing just scriptural accounts of coming into God’s presence and what we can learn from those. Maybe we’ll have to work on that together. That would be fun.
That would be awesome.
It’s so interesting that there are all these accounts; Moses seeing God face to face. And yet in the New Testament, we hear that no one has ever seen God and lived and that is an interesting contrary set of statements.
And of course, Joseph Smith changes that a little bit right?
The idea is that exactly what we were talking about, that our nature is so incompatible with God’s nature, that if God does not change our nature, we cannot survive His presence. He is so glorious in comparison with us. But thank goodness because of the atoning sacrifice of His son, We can. You actually see that reflected here at the beginning of Chapter 24. If it’s all right, if we can jump in and look at a couple of these things, because it is the covenant and so we have been and will talk about covenant a lot this year. Covenant is extremely important in the Old Testament and in all of scripture and I think President Nelson wants us to realize that.
So, this covenant idea is so important and we’re going to see covenant has always entered into via sacrifice. That’s how you enter into a covenant. And it’s important, there’s a dual set of symbols there, because when you sacrifice, you’re giving up something. And I think in the end what you have to give up is yourself. And then you partake of Christ’s sacrifice. So, the sacrifices in the temple where you enter into the covenant, our temple or their temple. Or the sacrifice we’re reading here—and Mount Sinai is a temple—as we’ve talked about before. It really truly is a temple. They symbolize both what we sacrifice and our partaking of Christ’s sacrifice.
And you can see that when we get in chapter 24 verse verse three, Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments so that this is the covenant he’s talking about and the people answered with one voice and said, “all the words which the Lord has said will we do.” I think that’s the name of the Come, Follow Me lesson right now. And Moses writes these words, and he builds an altar under the hill. 12 pillars, according to 12 tribes of Israel. So, this is a symbolic of covenant for all of Israel. And they get verse five, “and he sent young men of the Children of Israel which offered burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings of oxen under the Lord.” Now, this is really wonderful that those are two different kinds of offerings. The burnt offering is something that is wholly consumed by the fire. No one eats anything from that burnt offering. It’s all given to the Lord. And there’s some great symbolism in there again that we have to completely give of ourselves fully consecrated and also that Christ fully went through the atoning sacrifice and was completely consumed in that.
But then we have the peace offerings, peace offerings or shalom offerings are offerings that that make you whole or full. But those you partake of, you eat most of that offering.
It’s kind of an offering that’s designed for you to eat.
So what you have is a ritual meal taking place here. And that’s wonderful. There’s some symbolism that runs throughout the ancient near east in this; the idea is that as you bring someone into your house—these hospitality laws that that we talked about often–when someone comes to you, they become part of your household. The way you signify that is you wash them wash their feet, you give them something nice and clean to wear and then you feed them and invite them to eat dinner with your family. And we do that right in our day and invite others to have a family dinner with us. That makes you feel like you’re part of our family.
So, that’s when you’re really part of the family is when you’ve eaten with them. So here at what in essence is God’s house, Mount Sinai, they have a meal with God. He has invited them in; they’re now part of his family. I think we see echoes of both elements of this in the sacrament today; where it’s symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice and we partake of that sacrifice, but we’re also having a meal in the Lord’s house and we’re becoming part of His family week after week after week, which I think is beautiful stuff.
What’s interesting to me about this is that the Israelites say that they will do all that they’re asked; we will do it. And that’s repeated a couple of times and I think they fully intended to do it, I think they wanted to do it. But it is interesting that in that process of coming close to the Lord and keeping your covenants–you mentioned a burnt offering that is utterly consumed–that means that there are weaknesses and inclinations and ways of looking at things that have to die inside of us that have to be utterly consumed.
And C.S. Lewis again said that it is hard for us to give up our favorite weakness; that our favorite weakness stands in the way of that road back to heaven. And I think that it is interesting that when part of us dies that is not unpainful. I mean it’s glorious in the end, because you are freed from a burden you didn’t even know you were carrying. But in the short term, it can be really challenging.
I’ll tell you a quick story. Scot and I were on a cruise with a doctor and one day at dinner he said “Maurine, how’s your health?” And I said, “my health is great, I am doing well, everything is wonderful.” He said, “no, you’re not.” He said, “you have a severe sinus infection and I think you probably even need surgery.” And I said, “oh, you know” and he said, “I’ll do the surgery for you if you can come to my house”, and that was two states away. “If you can come up to where I operate,” in other words, “and I’ll do it for free.” “But you don’t feel well.”
And I was first of all, amazed that he noticed that I didn’t feel well and secondly, I really didn’t want to go through surgery and a sinus surgery is very close to your eyes and your brain and I wasn’t sure about it. But finally, it got so that we took him up on that offer and we went up and had this operation. And he had done 3000 of these operations, and they’re supposed to take only a couple of hours. But when I came out four hours later, he said, “you were one of the
top three worst cases I’ve ever seen and your bone had grown very thin on your sinus to your brain. So, you were you’re on you’re on your way to a brain infection. And so he really saved my life in many ways. And I didn’t even know I was sick, and he said “you’re sick, you need some help.” And I think that’s what the Lord does to us. We accommodate to being as we are, and we don’t even know that there are parts of us that need to change. So yes, Children of Israel say “we’ll do it” and then they can’t pull it off, because that road can sometimes be humbling and difficult and freeing in the end.
That’s so beautifully said. The sacrifice of ourselves is so absolutely necessary. And again like C.S. Lewis said, God wants to kill the natural self in us. But that that’s painful. You know, these phrases we get like He’s going to “purge” us. That doesn’t sound nice, does it? But it’s what’s necessary and as you said, in the end, it’s so freeing and beautiful because what he gives us again as C.S. Lewis said, what He gives us instead is His self. He gets rid of the natural self and gives us himself instead. And that’s a beautiful replacement.
I’m fascinated by the commandment about keeping the Sabbath day holy. We sometimes take it lightly in our times because, in this workaday world, it’s just another day for many people. I remember when I was growing up in Rolla, Missouri, there was a little shopping center; the Hillcrest shopping center. And I remember this so clearly; they had a shoe box that had a hole cut in the top of it, kind of like one of those valentine’s boxes. It was right by what we would now call the service desk and it had a question on it, “Should we open on Sundays? We’re taking a poll” And you had to write out your feelings about it and fold it in half and drop it in.
Now, I was like maybe seven years old when I noticed this, but I remember it sat deep in my soul because I thought, why would they ever open on Sunday? Isn’t Sunday a special day?
And within a few weeks after that poll, they opened on Sunday and because they opened at Hillcrest shopping center, well A&P had to open as well, and Kroger’s of course, they’re not going to be sitting there closed while everyone else is open on Sunday and making money.
So, Kroger’s opened and you know, we didn’t have a big town, but it was a university town. We had a sophisticated audience there.
So, all of a sudden everything changed and the Sabbath was just–and I noticed the same thing today–I noticed that all of a sudden our mail gets delivered on Sundays. I mean, certain packages and things are, we have a Fedex delivery or an amazon delivery or something on a Sunday. I think, why are we not paying attention to this and why did the Lord set this up? That there was a sabbath that Israel should keep and there’s something about it that, that blesses them? Tell us about that a little bit.
Yeah, I think this comes down to a little bit of what I was talking about even when I was introducing you this idea; that we need a day where we unplug from worldly things and worldly ideas and are completely and fully plugged in to the things of God because the world is clamoring and is loud all the time. I think even more so in our day than in Moses’ day. There’s so much that’s jumping to get into our ears and in front of our eyes, just really hammering us to hear more from the world and think more like the world. And as President Nelson pled with us in October 2021 General Conference, please spend a little less time with that, right? Don’t have all your information coming from social media and other sources, he says. And instead have more of it coming from God. And so, we need a day where we rest from the world. It doesn’t say we just rest. We rest from the world and instead we infuse ourselves with God’s ideas with Godliness is what we should say. We are infused with Godliness and thus we can avoid some of the traps of becoming so worldly. And instead become more of what we are trying to be.
I think that’s what he’s saying in Exodus 31: verse 17. “It is a sign between me and the Children of Israel forever.” This sign of keeping the sabbath holy. This is how He recognizes His people.
Are they willing to set aside a day a week to focus on Him? Because it changes us and we become more like him. Were purified little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, lesson by lesson, interaction by interaction. And over time We become different people and the Lord recognizes us.
And this is the sign between us, that He knows us is that we are keeping his Sabbath.
Now, I’m interested. Of course, we know that in one of these trips to Sinai, Moses is there for 40 days and 40 nights and there is clearly glory on top of the mountain, like a devouring fire and the eyes of the Children of Israel are upon this. Moses has gone for a really long time. Do we know anything about the nature of the experience that Moses is having?
We don’t, I wish we knew more. So, we do get that at the end of this chapter 24 where he goes up with Aaron and Nadab and Joshua and the 70 elders and they all see God. They have a hard time describing how amazing God is, and then everyone else goes back, except for Moses and Joshua and they go further up into the mountain. And the cloud covers them, so no one else can see what’s going on and the glory of the Lord comes down. And it says that the cloud covered it six days, we’re in verse 16 of chapter 24, and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
So, Moses has a week of sitting there being prepared. He’s preparing himself spiritually for a week to have more. He just saw God, that’s a pretty good experience. But he has to get prepared to see God even more, which is amazing to me. Seven days of preparation to have a greater experience with God. And that’s when we get at the end of that chapter, that he’s going to be there for 40 days and 40 nights. While we don’t know what happens there, I’m sure there’s some teaching. Maybe this is where some of the story of Moses chapter one happens, but I don’t think so because in Moses chapter one, he is being told that he’s going to deliver Israel from Egypt and he’s already done that by the time we get to Exodus 24. So, I don’t think that’s it.
But I don’t know what all happens there, but we do get a little clue that he is as he has this long experience with God. Whatever is happening there, he has to be transfigured and his nature has changed so significantly. We know he was transfigured in the experience that in Moses chapter one. I am going to assume, I can’t see any other way other than to say that they’re all transfigured when they see Him at the beginning of Exodus 24. But in this 40 days and 40 nights, which probably means a long time; I don’t think it means exactly 40 days and 40 nights. It’s a way of just saying this was a long time. He has changed so significantly that when he comes back down, his nature doesn’t immediately change back to a worldly nature.
His face is so bright that he is incompatible with the Children of Israel and he has to veil his face because they can’t take being in his presence and it takes a little while for that glory to kind of wear off and him to become worldly enough. And I don’t think he’s hoping to become more worldly, but I think we’re just talking about his physical nature has been changed so significantly that it takes a while for it to become more like the rest of Israel so that they can stand being in his presence, because initially they can’t take it and he has to veil his face.
So, that gives you just a clue that whatever experience he is having, it’s transformative literally it is a transformative experience. It’s just great and wonderful stuff.
So, it’s another example of that darkness that is in us, because we’re in a fallen world and we’ve learned fallen things, is gradually transformed to be light. And in Moses’ case, because of his experience and because of who he was, his face shines. And I suppose that in the long run that is why with more and more experience with the Lord, we see angels like Moroni who come and are shining. There is something different that has happened.
And it’s interesting, we see Abinadi’s face also shines like this, but we also have several accounts from Church history where Joseph Smith face is shining after he’s receiving revelation.
I agree, it’s fascinating stuff and maybe I’ll just recommend, I’m just kind of halfway through listening to it right now. I can’t remember the author, but there’s this great new book called The Spiritual Physics of Light that just gives you a lot of interesting stuff to think about in these terms.I’m really enjoying listening to that book, in any case.
So, some fascinating stuff.
Yes, I’ve read it too. I like that book. So meanwhile, Moses is having this transcendent experience. And the Children of Israel below are frightened and they’re losing faith and they want to make a golden calf. I think it’s so fascinating the part that fear plays in stopping our progression, because we become fearful of anything we don’t know. We become fearful of a of a more dedicated path. We think that there’s something we’re going to have to give up that’s going to really hurt.
And in their case, I think they were just frightened that they had lost Moses on the top of the mountain, that this glorified fire burning on the top of the mount looked threatening and fearful. And boy, let’s turn quickly to something familiar.
Yeah, I agree. You remember that they were afraid to begin with—and we talked about this last time—they were afraid that they would die if they came into the presence of God. And so, it just plays naturally into the fears they already have. And again, that would be accurate if God didn’t have the capability of changing them, which He can do, because of the atoning sacrifice of His son.
But they have this realistic fear that is only realistic if you don’t believe God can save you, but they have that fear. So, the fact that Moses isn’t coming down plays into their fear. They’re like, “oh see we knew you couldn’t really spend time with God and survive it, so Moses is gone, we need to have a plan B.”
I think again, just as you said, it plays into that lack of faith and fear. Remember fear and faith cannot exist in the same place. So, they’re going to start to kind of go spiritually sideways and immediately start to break the first commandment which they’ve been given; not having other gods and not having graven images. Although only kind of, I think they’re trying to find a way to wiggle their way through this, we don’t usually just jump from one thing to the other. We start to rationalize, we start to wiggle our way around really coming to God and I think that’s what we see happening with the Children of Israel and with Aaron.
I find that I am not the least bit attracted to worshiping a calf or any kind of a bovine of any kind, but why would the Children of Israel turn to some graven image like this? Was this something—the Egypt that was still in them? What is this going on here?
I think so, and again, this is part of why I think that there’s kind of a middle ground they’re trying to find. It is common in the ancient near east for any god to have a sacred animal associated with it. And that’s really true of ancient Egypt, especially.
So, for example, Amun is associated with the ram and you get these ram-headed sphinxes as you go up to the temple of Amun in Karnak. A bull is associated with a number of gods, especially —, sometimes other gods. So, you have this association where sometimes you’ll picture–in fact, we have depictions of El, a Canaanite god who is associated with the bull. We have depictions of him standing on a bull and so on. But in Egypt, you often just depict the animal. So again, Horace is associated with the falcon. So, sometimes you just picture the falcon and it’s supposed to remind you of the god.
So, that’s something that they are accustomed to now. I’m also going to say that I think that they have some problems with idolatry. Joshua makes it pretty clear, “are you going to worship those gods you had over there?” I wonder if they were ever fully not idolatrous. I think that Jacob is not idolatrous at all, but he goes up and he marries Rachel and Leah and they’re in a household where they are worshiping Jehovah and other gods. Remember that’s why Abraham left that family behind, because they kept worshiping idols. They’re they’ve been raised in this family where they have other gods, Rachel takes idols with her when she leaves.
We see just a little while later when Jacob is trying to get his sons to go to Bethel with him, to be able to have an experience with God there, he tells him we’ve got to get rid of these idols, let’s get rid of the idols, and they finally give him their idols and he buries it under a tree. But you get this sense that maybe they had never fully–maybe Rachel and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah had never fully gotten rid of a little hint of idolatry.
And then they go down to Egypt where there are so many gods that, as a professional Egyptologist, I can’t keep track of how many gods there are. That’s how many, I mean there’s just so many gods, and they seem to bring some of that out with them. So, they have a tendency towards idolatry anyway and then they have this idea that you can depict an animal and it will remind you of the god that you are trying to think of and I think that’s what they do.
They build this calf, right? And we know that there’s some symbolism that associates calves with God because you sacrifice young bullocks as part of a sacrifice that represents Christ.
So, they seem to be trying to to find that kind of little way of starting back towards their idolatry, but feeling okay about it. Aaron is going to tell them, you know, these are the gods which brought you out of Egypt and so they’re pointing towards Jehovah, but they’re doing it in exactly the way he said not to, and in a way that it surely will lead to idolatry. And I think so often we do that to your point, Scot.
Yeah, my grandpa raised beef cattle. I was part of that birthing process and castration and all that stuff enough that I have zero desire to worship any cows, right? I think they’re stupid animals, tasty, but stupid. So, I have no desire for that, but I think our tendency is to point to our Israelite ancestors and say, “what was wrong with them”, when really we should say, “okay, they’re our ancestors, we probably have the same proclivity.” Not “what was wrong with them?” and not even, “do I do the same thing they do?” The question should be, how do I do it?
We have modern day idolatry, there is no doubt in my mind, every single one of us struggles with modern day idolatry. And I think we probably do it in the same way they do it, where they’re saying well, I’m worshiping Jehovah while I do this, so it’s just fine. My guess is that we worship Jehovah, and in some ways, we worship Him in a way that is really worldly, but we feel great about it because Jehovah is in the mix. We’re going to church, and I want to go to church, and when I’m at church, I want to worship God this way. And I want to tell the prophets, actually, you’ve got the wrong policy on, on same sex marriage or on whatever it is. So, I’m just going to tell you the right way to worship God, because I know and really what we’re doing is we’re just influenced by Egypt; by the world. Our way of thinking, our values are so influenced by the ways of the world that we tried to worship Jehovah in a worldly way.
And the ideas of the world influence so much of what we do, that I am convinced that were idolatrous without even recognizing it and we’re so happy because we’ve got Jehovah somewhere in there.
Well, idols are also very handy because they comfort us, and we make them demand nothing of us and they are easy to use as justification for whatever it is we believe. You know, because my idol doesn’t really talk back to me. But I do think it is an interesting challenge for us in this modern world as we pray to a God we cannot see, and we feel him, but we cannot see him.
And I think that that’s why it’s so easy for people to turn to other things that just simply look more tangible, but aren’t.
And as we said earlier, we hear so much more from the world than from God. Even someone who is trying to be as Godly as possible. If you have to have a full-time job and you have to manage life, you’re going to hear from the world more than God. And so, it’s easy for that to become the focus.
I love what you said Maurine that, at least initially, it seems like the our modern idols, whether that be prestige, wealth, having been accepted by those around us, whatever that idol is.
Initially, it seems like it’s not asking much of us and God clearly does ask a lot of us. In fact, as we said, he’s asking for us. That’s what he’s asking for. Give me your whole self, that’s a lot.
Now it’s a good lot. And in the end, if we take his burden upon us, it becomes light. Isaiah has this really interesting image where and he’s talking about something literal, but it’s clear he has a symbolic intent as well; where he talks about hauling the idols of Babylon and he’s probably making reference to when Persia conquered Babylon and they take their idols and they haul them back to Persia.
But he talks about taking these big idols and putting them in a wagon and hauling them back. But they’re so heavy that eventually it becomes a burden that’s heavier than the wagon can bear. And I think that’s exactly what happens with us. We feel like, okay, if I just want–if your idol is to be accepted by the world, so you’re going to think the way the world thinks and value the way the world values, that initially that feels like there’s no burden. But in reality, this is a burden that will weigh heavier and heavier upon you until it becomes more than you can bear. But no one is going to help you carry that burden. Satan is not going to help you carry that burden. He wants it to become more burdensome.
Whereas if you are following God, He takes the burden on Himself. That’s a beautiful contrast.
I’m fascinated by Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants where, starting in verse 21, “without the ordinances thereof and the authority of the priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh. For without this, no man can see the face of God, even the father and live.” Now, in verse 23, “this Moses plainly taught to the Children of Israel in the wilderness and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God.” We’ve talked about that. “But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence. Therefore, the Lord and his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, and swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fullness of His glory.”
Now, this kind of comes to the point where Moses is coming down and he has a set of tablets and this contains the higher law and then he comes right upon them as they’re in this series of rituals or worshiping this golden calf. And he, himself, Moses is really upset by this and just tell us about this process of him coming down and what he finally came down with after a while.
Yeah. And it’s interesting, we have a little bit of a–I don’t know that I can fully solve exactly the order of the sequence of how this works, because typically we say, okay, it’s the calf incident. He comes down with the higher law and they see the calf and that’s when okay, we’re going to destroy these tablets and we get the lower law. But as you said, in Section 84 elsewhere, Joseph Smith teaches us that they get the lower law because they refuse to come and see God when He asked them to come see Him. And so that would suggest that maybe Moses during those 40 days and 40 nights is getting the lower law, and he comes down, and he’s so upset.
I don’t know exactly how that works, but somewhere, probably a combination of all of this is going to make it so that Israel will receive the lower law rather than the higher law. And basically, what’s happened, is God has said, “okay, it is clear you are not ready for all that I want to give you, so let’s give you training wheels,” right?
It’s a little bit like if you’re going to teach a young child to ride their bike and after a while you figure, okay, they’re not old enough or whatever, not coordinated enough. Let’s just give them some training wheels for a while and that will help them get ready for when they can ride the bike without these extra training wheels. And the lower law is basically, it’s a schoolmaster to Christ is how Paul puts it, but it’s a set of training wheels to help them be prepared to then receive the higher things of the Gospel so that they can come into the presence of God.
And when I say they, I also mean we. We’re part of the House of Israel were in the midst of that, taking the training wheels off, and doing this for real and hopefully coming into the presence of God and being a true Zion society.
So, the Children of Israel are at Mount Sinai for almost a year, and then it will be time for them to go forward into the promised land. And going forward into the promised land is filled with difficulties. It’s a wilderness journey and the Lord promises that He will go with Him. In what way is his presence felt?
Well, there’s this amazing and beautiful symbol that will be drawn on throughout all of scripture, including Doctrine and Covenants. It is drawn on everywhere; that God provides for them exactly what they need in a wilderness. So, this is a desert wilderness, the kind of place where it’s way too hot during the day and yet by night, it gets quite cold, right? And it’s very dark. So, at night, He is a pillar of fire which provides light and warmth, and by day, He is a cloud, which provides shade from an overwhelming light, and coolness. And so they can see His presence is with them.
And I love that the way the Lord organizes this, it’s going to be where the Tabernacle is. So, they’ve had–in this reading, we get the directions, right? They’ve had Mount Sinai as a temple, a place that allows them to experience God’s presence. And while on Mount Sinai, they’re given instructions on how to build a portable temple; that’s the Tabernacle. And they have these inspired artisans who, I think, in Egypt were actually trained in how to build very similar structures and features; things that they carried around statues on that would be like the Ark of the Covenant. So, they know how to do it. And then God inspires them how to do it in a way that will give them the real Tabernacle; a real temple to God.
So, they build this portable thing they can take with them so they can still experience God’s presence when they leave Mount Sinai, which is a temple. They now have a temple, they can continue to experience it. When they make camp, the Tabernacle is to be at the center of camp. They arranged the 12 tribes around, but it’s at the center of camp. It’s fantastic symbolism there, of the temple being at the center of our lives, but that’s not good enough if the temple can become an idol in and of itself, if we’re focusing on the temple. Remember the temple is about the presence of God. So, it’s God’s presence that is the center of their lives and the center of our lives. And then that is symbolized by this cloud by day, or a shade by day and a pillar of fire by night. So that they can see God is with them, and He is being what they need when they need it.
And that’s a fantastic symbol for what God is in our lives. Hopefully, the center of our lives being our fire by night and our cloud by day, when the blistering heat of some elements and moments in our lives, and in the freezing cold and darkness of some portions of our lives; God is what we need him to be and can be that presence in the center of our lives.
Scot and I had the experience of camping out in Oman at Wadi Sayq, which is one of the candidates for Bountiful, and it was so fascinating. We’d get up really early in the morning before the sun had come up to begin our work, because when that sun came over the mountain, the thing that we usually rejoice when we see; here comes the sunshine! In that desert climb, it was like, “oh no, oh no, here comes the sun”, because it is so hot.
So, to have that cloud by day means everything. And so, what a very vivid image that is.
That’s one of those times where that became very real to you. It’s beautiful.
We have been delighted to be together today in this joint podcast with Dr. Kerry Muhlestein and his podcast, The Scriptures are Real. And you’ve been with Scot and Maurine Proctor with Meridian Magazine’s Come, Follow Me podcast. This has been absolutely delightful. Next week, we will be studying Exodus chapters 35 to 40 and Leviticus chapters one 16 and 19, in a lesson entitled, “Holiness to the Lord.”
Thank you all for joining us. We’re grateful to Paul Cardall for the music which accompanies this podcast, and to our producer Michaela Proctor Hutchins. Have a wonderful week and see you next time.