This blog post will cover the devotionals #82-86 for Exodus Chapter 19.
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[#82] Exodus 19:1-8
In the third month after their departure from Egypt and Rephidim, Israel went into the wilderness of Sinai and camped in front of the mountain. God spoke to Moses from the mountain about what to tell Israel. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice, and keep My covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure above all people unto Me: because all the earth is Mine: and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation unto Me.” ‘Covenant’ is defined as: ‘a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement’; ‘a written agreement or promise usually under seal by two or more parties, especially for the performance of some action’. Two or more parties mutually agree (in writing, under seal) to do or not do something. Thus, we see that God formally proposed a covenant through Moses (a mediator, minister, negotiator), who gathered the elders together so they could relay it to the people. Israel agreed, saying, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.” In doing so, they declared their stand under God’s system of government as His designated people. This passage is incredibly significant in Scriptures (and is the same as Exodus 24:3). Moses got back to God with their response. Thus, an initial, mutual, and voluntary agreement was made—constituting a covenant. The idea that God had chosen them to be a peculiar / special people to Him, above all others, is a theme we can see repeated throughout Scriptures (see also Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2). Notice how the passage says, “…all the Earth is Mine.” This shows the dominion of the eternal King. By this solemn covenant, the people were pledging to be loyal to God, their King—and were designated (accepted) as His peculiar people. God’s incredible love for humanity was revealed here, because for God to fulfill the covenant promises, Christ would be humiliated and killed. He wanted to bless Israel—promising honor, love, power, and care for them—and all He expected of them was to obey His laws. What’s more is that this covenant was a generous offering by God to a people who were not asking, seeking, or knocking for Him. He reached out and offered to be the ultimate Ally to this once enslaved nation. This covenant promise is for us today just as much as it was for them all those years ago. We are to obey His commandments and be true to Him, and we’ll see the blessings He has always wanted to pour out on His people. He didn’t want to bless or rule them arbitrarily. The blessing of keeping His commandments would preserve their integrity—uniting them with divine power that would help them overcome the temptations to sin. Like any covenant, God based His proposal on something—His law. A written ‘document’ that contains the terms of an agreement is also called a covenant. This is why God referred to the ten commandments (which were later written down) as His covenant when He said, ‘If you will keep My covenant’ (the condition from verse 5). In devotionals #143-148, we’ll look more at the two covenants, but what we just saw here was the beginning of the Old (or First) Covenant.
[#83] Exodus 19:9-15
After the people claimed they’d keep God’s covenant, God spoke to Moses again. He wanted to give Moses some more relief in helping the people believe that God really was directing Moses on how to lead them. Verse 4 showed God reminding of all He had done for the people, and now (in verse 9) God said that He would come to Moses in a thick cloud when they spoke together so that the people could hear them. This should help them to believe Moses without a doubt from then on. Choosing not to believe now would be to ignore what their very senses were receiving from God Himself. Deuteronomy 4:36 says that “Out of Heaven, He made you hear His voice, so He might instruct you: and on Earth, He showed you His great fire; and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire.” Recall that Moses had been given another sign by God on that same mountain that would be used to convince the people (through the elders) that God was leading (see Exodus 3:16; 4:5). Just as God spoke to him out of the midst of the flames roughly three months prior, He now spoke out of the cloud of darkness. Both things were meant to conceal His glory enough so the viewers wouldn’t be consumed. So, Moses told the people how that was going to function. They were to be sanctified that day and the next (and were to abstain from sleeping with their wives), and have their clothes washed and ready for the third day—which is when God would descend upon Sinai in the cloud. We’ll discuss this in devotional #84. Then, they were instructed on their boundaries. Verses 12, 13 tell us that they (whether person or animal) weren’t to touch the border of the mountain, or they’d be ‘put to death’ (either by stoning or by arrows). We’ll see what this meant in devotional #85. They’d know they were to come up to the mountain when the trumpet would make a long tone. Why did God choose a desert mountain as His platform for proclaiming His law? He loathed the cities and palaces—which were made by man’s hands. Instead of speaking from a building created by men, He would speak from a place that man’s hands didn’t touch (hence their restriction from touching the mountain). The desert scene was surrounded by towering mountain peaks that He had created, which practically shouted His eternal nature and magnificence. Mount Sinai towered above the other mountains in the range, and their minds couldn’t help but be impressed by the solemnity and wonder of God’s presence—feeling their lack of knowledge and strength. They were to be surrounded by creation when He appeared to them, rather than man’s wealth and pride. This would reveal their insignificance in God’s presence. They were going to receive God’s most wonderful revelation to man ever. He was going to present His requirements to them with His own, audible voice—something He has never done at any other time. Why did God decide to show them powerful manifestations? He wanted them to understand, not only how great their reverence should be for the Author of the law (the Creator Himself), but how sacred, important, and unchanging the law itself is. The declaration of God’s law was going to be done with a level of magnificence that would reveal its exalted character. God wanted the people to recognize how every aspect of God’s work must be greatly revered.
[#84] Exodus 19:10
In devotional #83, we saw what preparations were to be made and which boundaries were to be kept. Let’s discuss these a little. They were to be sanctified—abstaining from sex. There are other instances in Scriptures where the men are called to be in prime condition for an important event, and they’re told to abstain from sex. There’s a state of weakness and/or vulnerability that the men are in afterwards that would prevent them from having the clarity and strength needed for the task and/or instructions at hand (like battle, etc.). Next—why were the clothes supposed to be washed? No impurities (even on clothing) were to come near God. As we’ve discussed in past devotionals (especially Genesis), the Bible often uses clothing / garments in the symbolism of character. In Revelation 3:18, Christ counsels men to buy white raiment from Him, so the shame of their nakedness doesn’t appear. It’s interesting that God clothes us in the light of His righteousness so that our iniquity is ‘hidden’ from Him (so our iniquity won’t separate us from God, as seen in Isaiah 59:2—which would destroy us), and He clothed Himself in darkness so that His glory was ‘hidden’ from us (so His glory wouldn’t destroy us). In other words, God’s perfect character would consume us in our imperfect character—so He and Israel both needed to put on a garment to draw us near to Him and save us. Malachi 3:2, 3 says, “But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and He shall sit as refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, so they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” God had to bring them to a place where they’d be enabled to stand before Him and offer to Him in righteousness. There was another instance in which the people were instructed to clean themselves and change their clothes. In Genesis 35, when Jacob was going to Bethel to draw his family back to God—he gave the same instructions, and they were to give him all their idols so he could dispose of them. God was trying to do the same thing with the children of Israel. He had brought them out of bondage (including idolatry), but now He needed to take the bondage / idolatry out of them.
[#85] Exodus 19:12,13
Let’s discuss what the meaning could be for verses 12, 13, where they’d be stoned or shot with arrows if they got too close to the mountain (see also Hebrews 12:18-20). The point is made that the mountain was holy because God’s presence was there (like the ground surrounding the burning bush when Moses was there roughly three months prior)—so it was to be respected with boundaries. However, I’d like to view the ‘death’ penalty warning from the perspective of the true character of God. We know that God took Israel out of Egypt with no weapons, and then led them the long way around so they wouldn’t experience war. He overcame their attackers at Rephidim, and provided for them along their journey to keep them safe from death. Why would He now suggest execution by stoning or arrow? Notice that the verse doesn’t say that man was to do this, nor does it say that God would do it. Think about the craziness that was going to happen on the mountain. There was thunder, lightning, a thick cloud of smoke (because God was descending on the mountain in fire), and the mountain was quaking. In devotional #62, where we were looking at Egypt’s experience in the Red Sea, we read Psalm 77:17, 18, which talked about God’s voice, arrows, and a trembling and shaking earth. We saw that this actually referred to thunder (‘voice and shaking’) and lightning (‘arrows’). Psalm 144:5, 6 speaks similarly and almost seems to describe the exact situation that’d happen at Sinai. “Bow Your Heavens, oh Lord, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out Your arrows, and destroy them.” If the largest mountain in the wilderness was going through such torment upon God’s descension, can you imagine there not being falling stones, lightning strikes, and etc. as a natural result of the tumult? If the people were too close to that, they’d be killed for sure. Think about how God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge, or they’d surely die. Of course, Eve claimed they couldn’t even touch it, but it probably would’ve been better if they didn’t get too close at all. Likewise, God warned the people that if they touched the mountain, they’d surely die. He told them this not as a threat, but as a warning. I also can’t help but think about the similarity of God’s descension here and Christ’s descension at the end of time when He returns—how tumultuous, loud, and unmistakable that will be. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 tells us that “…the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout…with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” The audio and visual impact of the event will be undeniable to the entire world. The graves of the righteous will be ripped open. Revelation 6:16, 17 tells us that the unrighteous people will cry for the stones / mountains to fall on them (to hide them from the glory of God), because “who shall be able to stand?”. It’s so interesting that they’ll say this, because we’re going to see how Israel responded after God’s appearance to them on Mount Sinai in devotional #86.
[#86] Exodus 19:16-24
On the morning of the third day, there was thunder and lightning, the thick cloud on the mountain, and the incredibly loud trumpet sounding. This made the people tremble. The people were led from the camp to the base of the mountain to meet with God. The whole mountain was quaking and smoking like a furnace because God came down upon it in fire. When the trumpet made a long tone and got louder and louder, Moses was cued to speak, and God responded with a voice. He came down upon the mountain and stayed at the top—where He called Moses to come up to Him. He said the priests that approach Him also needed to sanctify themselves so the Lord wouldn’t ‘break forth’ upon them. Moses reminded God that the people couldn’t come up to the mountain because of the bounds and sanctification God required. God told him to go down and bring Aaron back with him—but to not allow the priests or the rest of the people to pass the borders. If God’s purpose in speaking audibly and revealing Himself in such power was to impress the people and let them hear His voice, why would God then call Moses to go up the mountain to speak with Him there? We’ll see why, in devotional #108, but it has something to do with the peoples’ request. God reminded them not to breach the borders of the mountain in hopes of gazing upon God because they’d perish. God delivered Israel from Egypt to give them a greater understanding about Himself than they’d ever known before—and aside from all He had already done to show He was God—His descension upon the mountain was the greatest proof yet. And to top it off, He would reveal His character to them through the ten commandments He was there to give them, as we’ll see in devotionals #87 and 88.