Published March 21, 2013
Bible Studies for Life, April 7
Every nation has experienced watershed moments in its history – those events that have long-lasting impact, positive or negative, on the course of its people. We have memorialized many such events in America: the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, World Wars I and II, and the Civil Rights Movement are but a few of the pivotal moments that helped shape our nation into what we are today.
Exodus 19 introduces a pivotal period in the life of the nation of Israel, and more specifically in the story of the Exodus, that impacted the future of God’s people in untold ways.
This chapter begins the account of God’s revelation on Mount Sinai that occupies the remaining chapters of Exodus. The central figure of the chapter is God and the major event is a theophany, or the visible manifestation of God before the people.
What we witness in this passage is the preparation for the Sinaitic Covenant between God and Israel. The two parties come together in preparation for a watershed agreement.
God’s disclosure - Exodus 19:1-13
Because of God’s great love for His people, He took the initiative to covenant with them by choosing to make His presence known among them. He had sought out Moses in Exodus 3. Years before, He initiated contact with Abraham (Gen. 12:1). He used the prophets of old to contact a people uninterested in hearing from Him (Heb. 1:1). Jesus chose some unrefined men to be His special assistants, men probably more interested in making a living than looking for the Messiah (John 15:16).
Praise be to God that He sought us out, even in our own rebellion (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 1:4). Likewise, God’s initiative brought about this covenant at Sinai, and He makes His presence known through smoke, fire, and an earthquake (19:18).
Why was His appearance necessary? Could not God simply demand the loyalty of His subjects? At least three reasons answer these questions.
• A Special Occasion
This was not God’s first theophany before the Israelites. He had appeared to them, veiled in a thick cloud, at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 13:21-22). God powerfully demonstrated His presence to signify He was doing something monumental. The Exodus 19 account is no different, for God was preparing the people to receive the Decalogue, the 10 Commandments.
• A Serious Occasion
God wanted to teach His people the seriousness of dealing with Him. His presence reverberated throughout the mountain. In fact, His presence is so overwhelming that He warned of impending death for any who dared to touch the place of His presence (19:13; see also Lev. 16:2 and II Sam. 6:6-7). We too easily take for granted the privilege of prayer. To enter into the presence of God would be too much to bear were it not for the death and resurrection of Christ.
• A Sanctifying Occasion
The covenant and the commandments are beneficial only in the context of an encounter with the Lord. Apart from a relationship with Him, the law condemns us (Rom. 7:7-12); but for those who believe, the law instructs us in how to please Him. So before the law was given, God drew near to His people to establish the relationship before He delivered the stipulations of the covenant.
Just as with any covenant, both parties must express a willingness to participate. In Exodus 19, God demonstrated His own willingness by His disclosure. However, He demands a response from the people as well. They must agree to three demands.
God first instructed Moses to consecrate the people (19:10). In “The New American Commentary,” Douglas K. Stuart explains, “Consecration means ‘making holy,’ which means ‘making acceptable to be close to God.’”
He goes on to say that “The most basic meaning of the word ‘holy’ in (Hebrew) is ‘belonging to God.’ In one way or another, anything that is correctly called holy is a thing that belongs specially to God.”
For two days, the people were to prepare to meet with God. Sadly, most who enter our churches each Sunday have given little thought to meeting with God, much less preparation to do so.
What preparation are you making for this Sunday?
Next, God told them to wash their garments (19:10). Such an undertaking would have been difficult, given the number of people, varying needs for water, and limited water supply. However, the sacrifice would be necessary to demonstrate their cleanliness before Him. The visible action was meant to represent a desire to eliminate anything objectionable to God.
Today, under a New Testament faith, we call that repentance. Before we meet for any type of worship, a primary emphasis should be placed upon personal confession and repentance before a Holy God.
Finally, God called on them to avoid legitimate physical relations with their spouses (19:15). He did so, not because it is sinful – indeed it is pure and sanctioned by God (I Cor. 7:2-5) – but because it would be a distraction from this sacred event.
Likewise, we should purpose in our hearts that God will be central to all that we do, whether it be personal, civic, religious, etc. The mastery of Christ in every arena of life is inherent when we call upon Him as “Lord.”
Though Exodus 20 receives the spotlight from us today, Exodus 19 prepares us to receive the blessings of the covenant.
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