And they saw the God of Israel - As they ate the sacrificial feast, the presence of Yahweh was manifested to them with special distinctness. In the act of solemn worship, they perceived that He was present with them, as their Lord and their Deliverer. It is idle to speculate on the mode of this revelation. That no visible form was presented to their bodily eyes, we are expressly informed, Deuteronomy 4:12; see Exodus 33:20; compare Isaiah 6:1. The latter part of this verse may be read: “under His feet, it was like a work of bright sapphire stone, and like the heaven itself in clearness.” On the sapphire, see Exodus 28:18; compare Ezekiel 1:26. The pure blue of the heaven above them lent its influence to help the inner sense to realize the vision which no mortal eye could behold.
They saw the God of Israel - The seventy elders, who were representatives of the whole congregation, were chosen to witness the manifestation of God, that they might be satisfied of the truth of the revelation which he had made of himself and of his will; and on this occasion it was necessary that the people also should be favored with a sight of the glory of God; see Exodus 20:18. Thus the certainty of the revelation was established by many witnesses, and by those especially of the most competent kind.
A paved work of a sapphire stone - Or sapphire brick-work. I suppose that something of the Musive or Mosaic pavement is here intended; floors most curiously inlaid with variously coloured stones or small square tiles, disposed in a great variety of ornamental forms. Many of these remain in different countries to the present day. The Romans were particularly fond of them, and left monuments of their taste and ingenuity in pavements of this kind, in most countries where they established their dominion. Some very fine specimens are found in different parts of Britain.
Sapphire is a precious stone of a fine blue color, next in hardness to the diamond. The ruby is considered by most mineralogists of the same genus; so is also the topaz: hence we cannot say that the sapphire is only of a blue color; it is blue, red, or yellow, as it may be called sapphire, ruby, or topaz; and some of them are blue or green, according to the light in which they are held; and some white. A very large specimen of such a one is now before me. The ancient oriental sapphire is supposed to have been the same with the lapis lazuli. Supposing that these different kinds of sapphires are here intended, how glorious must a pavement be, constituted of polished stones of this sort, perfectly transparent, with an effulgence of heavenly splendor poured out upon them! The red, the blue, the green, and the yellow, arranged by the wisdom of God, into the most beautiful emblematic representations, and the whole body of heaven in its clearness shining upon them, must have made a most glorious appearance. As the Divine glory appeared above the mount, it is reasonable to suppose that the Israelites saw the sapphire pavement over their heads, as it might have occupied a space in the atmosphere equal in extent to the base of the mountain; and being transparent, the intense brightness shining upon it must have greatly heightened the effect.
It is necessary farther to observe that all this must have been only an appearance, unconnected with any personal similitude; for this Moses expressly asserts, Deuteronomy 4:15. And though the feet are here mentioned, this can only be understood of the sapphirine basis or pavement, on which this celestial and indescribable glory of the Lord appeared. There is a similar description of the glory of the Lord in the Book of Revelation, Revelation 4:3; : "And he who sat [upon the throne] was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." In neither of these appearances was there any similitude or likeness of any thing in heaven, earth, or sea. Thus God took care to preserve them from all incentives to idolatry, while he gave them the fullest proofs of his being. In Scheuchzer's Physica Sacra, among his numerous fine engravings, there is one of this glorious manifestation, which cannot be too severely reprehended. The Supreme Being is represented as an old man, sitting on a throne, encompassed with glory, having a crown on his head, and a scepter in his hand, the people prostrate in adoration at the foot of the piece. A print of this kind should be considered as utterly improper, if not blasphemous.
It is Satan's work to tempt minds. He will insinuate his wily suggestions and stir up doubting, questioning, unbelief, and distrust of the words and acts of the one who stands under responsibilities and who is seeking to carry out the mind of God in his labors. It is the special purpose of Satan to pour upon and around the servants of God's choice, troubles, perplexities, and opposition, so that they will be hindered in their work and, if possible, discouraged. Jealousies, strife, and evil surmising will counteract, in a great measure, the very best efforts that God's servants, appointed to a special work, may be able to put forth. 3T 343.1
Satan's plan is to drive them from the post of duty by working through agents. All whom he can excite to distrust and suspicion he will use as his instruments. The position of Moses in carrying the burdens that he bore for the Israel of God was not appreciated. There is in the nature of man, when not under the direct influence of the Spirit of God, a disposition to envy, jealousy, and cruel distrust, which, if not subdued, will lead to a desire to undermine and tear down others, while selfish spirits will seek to build themselves up upon their ruins. 3T 343.2Read in context »
Aaron and also his sons had been exalted by being called into the mount to there witness the glory of God. “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in His clearness.” 3T 297.1
God had appointed Nadab and Abihu to a most sacred work, therefore He honored them in a most wonderful manner. He gave them a view of His excellent glory, that the scenes they should witness in the mount would abide with them and the better qualify them to minister in His service and render to Him that exalted honor and reverence before the people which would give them clearer conceptions of His character and awaken in them due obedience and reverence for all His requirements. 3T 297.2
Before Moses left his people for the mount, he read to them the words of the covenant that God had made with them, and they with one voice answered: “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” How great must have been the sin of Aaron, how aggravated in the sight of God! 3T 297.3
While Moses was receiving the law of God in the mount, the Lord informed him of the sin of rebellious Israel and requested him to let them go, that He might destroy them. But Moses pleaded before God for the people. Although Moses was the meekest man that lived, yet when the interests of the people over whom God had appointed him as leader were at stake, he lost his natural timidity and with singular persistency and wonderful boldness pleaded with God for Israel. He would not consent that God should destroy His people, although God promised that in their destruction He would exalt Moses and raise up a better people than Israel. 3T 297.4Read in context »
“And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar, and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes, lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people; but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled. And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die; for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses.” The father of the men slain, and their brothers, were forbidden to manifest any signs of grief for the ones who had been justly punished of God. When Moses reminded Aaron of the words of the Lord, that he would be sanctified in them that come nigh to him, Aaron was silent. He knew that God was just, and he murmured not. His heart was grieved at the dreadful death of his sons, while in their disobedience. Yet, according to God's command, he made no expression of his sorrow, lest he should share the same fate of his sons, and the congregation also be infected with the spirit of unreconciliation, and God's wrath come upon them. 4aSG 12.1Read in context »
When God called for Moses to come up into the mount, it was six days before he was received into the cloud, into the immediate presence of God. The top of the mountain was all aglow with the glory of God. And yet even while the children of Israel had this glory in their very sight, unbelief was so natural to them that they began to murmur with discontent because Moses was absent. While the glory of God signified His sacred presence upon the mountain, and their leader was in close converse with God, they should have been sanctifying themselves by close searching of heart, humiliation, and godly fear. God had left Aaron and Hur to take the place of Moses. In his absence the people were to consult and advise with these men of God's appointment. 3T 296.1
Here Aaron's deficiency as a leader or governor of Israel is seen. The people beset him to make them gods to go before them into Egypt. Here was an opportunity for Aaron to show his faith and unwavering confidence in God, and with firmness and decision to meet the proposition of the people. But his natural desire to please and to yield to the people led him to sacrifice the honor of God. He requested them to bring their ornaments to him, and he wrought out for them a golden calf and proclaimed before the people: “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” And to this senseless god he made an altar and proclaimed on the morrow a feast to the Lord. All restraint seemed to be removed from the people. They offered burnt offerings to the golden calf, and a spirit of levity took possession of them. They indulged in shameful rioting and drunkenness; they ate, they drank, and rose up to play. 3T 296.2
A few weeks only had passed since they had made a solemn covenant with God to obey His voice. They had listened to the words of God's law, spoken in awful grandeur from Sinai's mount, amid thunderings and lightnings and earthquakes. They had heard the declaration from the lips of God Himself: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.” 3T 296.3Read in context »