Moses on the Mountain
Not least among the features endearing the prophet Moses to the mind of a believer is the memory of his efficacious and powerful intercession for God’s people in the hour of their apostasy. Thus, when St. Symeon the New Theologian sought to praise someone for this same quality, he could do no better than to compare him to Moses. “I know a man,” he wrote, “who desired the salvation of his brethren so fervently that he often sought God with burning tears and with his whole heart, in an excess of zeal worthy of Moses, that either his brethren might be saved with him, or that he might be condemned with them. For he was bound to them in the Holy Spirit by such a bond of love that he did not even wish to enter the kingdom of heaven if to do so meant being separated from them” (Book of Divine Love, Homily 54.1).
The biblical text that St. Symeon has in mind here is Exodus 32:32, where Moses prayed for sinful Israel in these words: “Yet now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of your book which you have written!” That fervent prayer was more than a bare intercession; it was Moses’ generous self-offering by an association of himself with the people’s guilt.
The context of that prayer is worth a detailed examination. There is, to begin with, a two-level scene: Moses is on top of Mount Sinai with God, while Aaron is down in the valley with the Israelites. Just prior to the prayer, two things have been transpiring simultaneously, both of them having to do with Aaron. On the mountain Moses has been receiving from the Lord a series of ordinances and statutes governing the consecration, vestments, liturgical instruments, and other matters concerning the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 25–31).
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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