We now come to a new section in the Book of Exodus—a most momentous point in history of Israel and all mankind. Chapter 19 begins a new literary structure for the rest of the Book. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the OT Law is that it is enclosed by narrative, which is story.
The pattern/structure from Chapter 19 thru Chapter 40 is Story—Ten Commandments—Story—Covenant Code—Story—Tabernacle and Priesthood—Story—Tabernacle. Since the Scriptures are God-breathed, me must ask, Why did God have Moses us this structure? What is God teaching us?
A diligent study of these chapters reveals that God is THE SUBJECT in both law and narrative. God is the giver of the law and the chief actor in the narrative. God is present as One who speaks and acts in both law and narrative. The law fleshes out the Word of God as speech; the narrative fills out the Word of God as event. The narrative enables a fuller picture of the God who stands behind the law, while the law enhances the images of God available in the narrative.
Law is more clearly seen as a gift of God’s graciousness when tied to story. Law becomes another part of the larger story of God’s goodness and mercy. From the story, it is clear that the law is grounded in personal and gracious Divine will.
Narrative reinforces God’s intention in the law—never to leave the people without an indication of what it means to be a community of faith, without a direction in which a person of faith could walk, without some instruction regarding the life of faith. Narrative helps to show that law is fundamentally a gift, not a burden.
Narrative keeps the personal character of the law front and center. Experience has shown how easy it is for law to become an impersonal matter, manifested especially in a debilitating legalism. It becomes, as it were, a “law unto itself,” unrelated to any specific giver, dissociated from the dynamic will of the One who stands behind its formulations.
In the narrative, one is confronted with the Giver of the law as One who is living, personally interacting with people through every step of their journey. The narrative reveals a lively, pulsating relationship between God and people. It is the same God who gives the law and who gives it as part of an existing interpersonal relationship. The law must thus be understood in personal and interrelational terms. We can see this in the opening sentence to the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:2—
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
The motivation for obedience to law is contained in the narrative. Hence, the law is not understood as something to be obeyed just because God says so. The law is not an imposition from God that is unrelated to Israel’s particular history—to what is in the best interests of true life. The law is to be obeyed because it can be seen to serve life and well-being. It is to be obeyed because it contributes to wisdom and understanding and it can be recognized as such by those who are not a part of the community of faith.
Law emerges from within the matrix of life itself. Law is integrated with life. Law is woven into the very fabric of life. Law is not the means by which one is made a member of the community of faith. The law is given to those already redeemed.
The law is always intersecting with life as it is, filled with contingency and change, with complexity and ambiguity. It moves with the times, taking human experience and insight into account, while remaining constant in its objective—the best life for as many as possible.
There will be new laws for new occasions to teach new duties as life of God’s people is constantly changing. One does not know exactly what the will of God is for every aspect of life. But the law provides the compass for the contingencies of wandering in the desert and living in the Land.
Thus, Chapter 19 of Exodus marks a significant turning point in God’s dealing with man. The rest of this Book, plus Leviticus and the First Ten Chapters of Numbers contains the block of teaching known as the Mosaic Law. These chapters shape the life of faith.
THE MOSAIC COVENANT is given as the foundation for RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE and QUEST FOR PLACE.
In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on the very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
MT. SINAi is usually identified as GEBEL MUSA, a 7,500-foot peak at the South end of the “V” formed by the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. At the foot of this peak is a a plain 2 1/2 miles long by 1/2 mile wide in which the people could easily have camped for the more than 11 months they were there. The mountain itself is an imposing granite formation. It is called Sinai from the multitude of thorny bushes that overspread
The texts states, IN THE THIRD MONTH AFTER THE ISRAELITES LEFT EGYPT—ON THE VERY DAY. There is a great tendency to read right over THE RECORDED DATES in the Bible. Certainly, recorded dates fixed events in time and space. Sometimes, like this one, they have prophetic events awaiting fulfillment embedded within them.
History moves on God’s timetable—Yahweh is sovereign in time and space. From the date in this chapter, it is calculated that the Ten Commandments were given just fifty days after Israel came out of Egypt. The fiftieth day after the Passover is PENTECOST. In harmony with the giving of the Ten Commandments on this date in history, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles, at the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the death of Christ.
The Ten Commandments tell us how to love the God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. And God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
The Old Covenant and New Covenant are in-separately connected to the day of Pentecost—Two of God’s greatest gifts (the Law and the Spirit) were given on the same date in history—1,480 years apart.
The SIGN promised to Moses is 3:12 is fulfilled as he returns to the MOUNTAIN OF GOD. Exodus 19:3-4—
Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
At the center of the memorable experiences in Exodus stand God and Moses, who is the prophetic interpreter of God’s liberating action and the priestly mediator of the covenant between God and people.
Almighty Power and steadfast-loving-kindness are given as the foundation for Covenant. YOU HAVE SEEN WHAT I DID TO EGYPT is a reminder of God’s almighty power. HOW I CARRIED YOU ON EAGLES’ WINGS calls to mind God’s steadfast-loving-kindness. This metaphor is more fully described in Deuteronomy 32:10-12—
In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. The LORD alone led him; no foreign god was with him.
This is a wonderful metaphor/image of God as a mother-eagle, who cares for her young during this time—when they were especially vulnerable. They can find refuge from the threats of life under the shadow of her wings. In addition, it is an image of growth and maturing, a time of testing, as the mother eagle seeks to help her young learn to fly for themselves. She pushes them out of the nest so that they can try their wings, and if they flounder, she swoops under them and bears them up on her strong wings.
With this imagery of the Eagles’ Wings, God states He has been involved in Israel’s life from Egypt through the desert to this point in their lives. This declaration stands as the foundation of all that follows. I DID; I CARRIED YOU; I BROUGHT YOU TO MYSELF. The LORD’S actions have demonstrated His love for Israel. It is up to people to respond to His love with love. Exodus 19:5-6—
Now if you obey me fully [my voice] and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
The nations of ANE during the days of Moses entered into two types of treaties or covenants, with each other. A PARITY COVENANT would be instituted between equals, whereas a SUZERAINTY COVENANT would impose terms of a powerful king on inferior subjects. God’s covenants with His people are always suzerainty covenants initiated by Him alone. He is the divine King, and we are His human subjects. Therefore, He refers to His covenant with Israel made at Mt. Sinai as MY COVENANT.
Our Bible is divided into two Testaments: Old and New. The word for TESTAMENT can also be translated COVENANT, a term that implies a formal, binding agreement defining relationships and responsibilities between two or more parties. COVENANT undergirds and forms very the structure of the entire Bible.
No topic has been more misunderstood among Christians than relationship between THE OLD COVENANT and THE NEW COVENANT. Both the OLD and NEW COVENANTS come under the umbrella of THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT, in which God promises LAND, NATION, SEED and BLESSING. From these four promises come four covenants:
THE MOSAIC COVENANT (Exodus 19) God promises Israel that out of all nations you will be my treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy NATION.
THE PALESTINIAN COVENANT (Deuteronomy 28-30) promises Israel the blessings for obedience and cursing for disobedience once they are in the LAND. The Palestinian Covenant has a threefold condition for Israel: (1) love the LORD your God; (2) listen to His voice; and (3) hold fast to Him.
THE DAVIDIC COVENANT (2 Samuel 7:12-16) promises that David’s SEED will have a dynasty, kingdom, temple, throne, and everlasting rule. Fulfillment will happen when Israel accepts the Messiah and keeps God’s covenants and statutes.
THE NEW COVENANT (Isaiah 59:20-21; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-27) promises that the Law will be written on the heart by the Spirit of God. All nations will be gathered to the Land and Christ will reign as the Davidic King of the future millennial kingdom—all peoples on the earth will be BLESSED.
Beginning with Exodus 19 and continuing to the Cross of Christ, God’s people were under the Mosaic Covenant. This covenant is called THE LAW OF MOSES, THE LAW, and sometimes THE LAW OF GOD. THE LAW has three parts:
THE MORAL LAW, which is the Ten Commandments
THE CEREMONIAL LAW, which is the sacrificial system and sabbaths
THE CIVIL LAW, which is the everyday laws that governed Israel
For the nation of Israel, the MORAL, CEREMONIAL and CIVIL LAWS are intertwined as three strands making up one cord. THE LAW was given to Israel to mark them as God’s chosen people and His holy nation.
The Bible says that God gave the Law to Israel for six reasons:
1. To reveal His glory and holiness
2. To reveal man’s sinfulness
3. To mark Israel as His chosen people, and to separate them from other nations
4. To give Israel a standard for godly living so that they might inherit the land and enjoy its blessings
5. To prepare Israel for the coming of Christ
6. To illustrate in type and ceremony the Person and work of Christ
In the NT, THE LAW is compared to:
1. A MIRROR because it reveals our sins
2. A YOKE, because it brings bondage
3. A CHILD-TRAINER, because it prepared Israel for the coming of Christ
4. A SHADOW in contrast to the reality and fulfillment we have in Christ
5. LETTERS WRITTEN ON STONES in contrast to the law written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit
It is important to note what the Law cannot do:
1. It cannot make anything perfect
2. Justify from sin
3. Give righteousness
4. Give peace to the heart
5. Give life
OBEY MY VOICE is more of a call for personal commitment to God. To obey the voice of God entails more than obeying the laws given at Sinai—that’s what is called with the words KEEP MY COVENANT.
God is calling for an open-ended commitment to do whatever He asks over the course of Israel’s history. And when we call Jesus LORD, that’s exactly to what we are committing ourselves—to do whatever He asks over the course of our life.
YOU WILL BE MY TREASURED POSSESSION is a conditional promise, depending upon Israel obeying God’s voice and keeping His covenant. Here Israel is commissioned to be God’s people on behalf of the earth, a special group of people from among all the nations belonging to God, and hence people whom God can call on to be a missionary people. As a missionary people, they are called to be priests and holy—a nation of saints consecrated to Yahweh’s service.
OUT OF ALL THE EARTH Israel is chosen by God to be His TREASURED POSSESSION. Not that God was enriched by them, as a man is by his treasure, but He was pleased to value and esteem them as a man does his treasure; they were precious in His sight. He took them under his special care and protection, as a treasure that is kept under lock and key. He distinguished them from, and dignified them above all people, as a people devoted to Him, and to His service.
Therefore, Israel is to be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS. That is a servant nation instead of a ruling nation. Israel is to be devoted as a nation to a mediatorial role between God and other kingdoms, to function among the nations as a priest functions in a religious community. As such, all the people of God, not just the clergy, are to be committed to the spread of the knowledge of Yahweh throughout the world.
Here we have the first occurrence of the word KINGDOM in the Bible, where the idea is directly associated with the rule of God. This is to be no ordinary kingdom where men will rule upon earth in their own right, but rather a kingdom for Yahweh. In other words, whatever else its characteristics may be, it is to be first of all, God’s kingdom.
When Jesus of Nazareth came, He announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near/at hand.” This theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God was central in His mission. His teaching was designed to show men how they might enter the Kingdom of God. His mighty works were intended to prove that the Kingdom of God had come upon them. His parables illustrated to His disciples the truth about the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus taught His followers to pray, at the heart of their petition were the words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” On the eve of His death, Christ assured His disciples He would yet share with them the joy and fellowship of the Kingdom. He promised that He would appear again on earth in glory to bring the blessedness of the Kingdom to those for whom it was prepared.
The various aspects of GOD’S KINGDOM often appear bewildering and complex. With Exodus 19:8, God’s Kingdom on earth becomes a present reality for the Israelites as by faith they enter into it—
The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.
At the same time, the Kingdom is a future realm to be entered. THE NATIONAL KINGDOM OF GOD is near/at hand in Exodus 19. Yet, it will take another 400 years until Saul is chosen as Israel’s first king and 40 more years until the Davidic dynasty begins.
At the time of King David, God reveals that THE NATIONAL KINGDOM OF GOD foreshadows THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM OF CHRIST. God’s promise to David (2 Samuel 7:11-13) is the Davidic Covenant—
The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
Because of Israel’s rejection of Christ the King, the National Kingdom of God has been set aside in favor of THE KINGDOM OF GOD/HEAVEN—THE CHURCH. This kingdom is that inner rule of the Spirit of God over the hearts of men who yield themselves to His will.
It is a present reality, and yet future in its blessing. It is an inner spiritual redemptive blessing, which can be experienced only by the way of new birth, and yet it will have to do with the government of the world. The kingdom is a realm into which men now enter through faith in Christ, and yet, it is a realm into which they will enter tomorrow.
THE NATIONAL KINGDOM OF GOD began on Pentecost 1446 B.C., with the giving of the Law. THE KINGDOM OF GOD/HEAVEN began on Pentecost A.D. 33, with the giving of the Holy Spirit. The national and spiritual aspects of these two kingdoms will be combined in THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM when Christ returns to the earth—possibly on Pentecost A.D. 2010?
Even the Millennial Kingdom will have a present reality and a future aspect; for it prefigures THE ETERNAL KINGDOM, which will begin when the Son hands over the Millennial Kingdom to the Father at the time the new heavens and earth are created. So 1 Corinthians 15:24 predicts—
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
Israel is called to be A HOLY NATION, that is, a people set apart, not simply FROM other peoples/nations, but FOR a specific purpose. Israel is to embody God’s own purposes in the world.
Note that CHURCH and STATE were not to be separated from each other, as the combined descriptions KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and HOLY NATION both demonstrate.
The words NOW IF do not indicate how they might become God’s people; Israel is God’s elect already. It is an invitation to be a people that carry forth God’s purposes in the world. It means being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
NOW IF indicates that they will not be a TREASURED POSSESSION, A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and A HOLY NATION if they do not obey God’s voice and keep His covenant—they will remain His firstborn son—but will fail in their purpose. Because they utterly failed, the church replaced Israel during this present age. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, we read that the Church now occupies Israel’s position—
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Until the Rapture, THE CHURCH is to fulfill the defaulted role of Israel. This mission is spelled out for us in Revelation 1:4-6—
John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
The commitment to take on the responsibility of being a kingdom of priests is essentially, the task of mediation, of obeying the law, not for its sake, but for the sake of the world.
Deuteronomy 4:6 states how the effect of obedience to God’s laws relates to other peoples—
Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
Of course, that ties into the key verse of the Bible—Proverbs 9:10—
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
THESE ARE THE WORDS YOU ARE TO SPEAK TO THE ISRAELITES sets apart this people as THE NATIONAL KINGDOM OF GOD. Even though God has chosen them, they are not to forget that THE WHOLE EARTH IS YAHWEH’S.
Israel became a KINGDOM on Pentecost 1446 B.C. Israel’s election as the people of God, however, did not take place at Sinai. It is important to interpret these words in the larger context of chapters 1-18. Israel has been identified by God as “MY FIRSTBORN SON” (4:22-23) and “MY PEOPLE” throughout the narrative.
The Covenant at Sinai does NOT establish the relationship between Israel and God. That relationship was established with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Other OT texts show that the covenant at Sinai is under the umbrella of the Abrahamic Covenant. Hence, the covenant at Sinai is a specific covenant within an already existing covenant with an elected, redeemed, believing, worshiping community.
God’s commitment to Israel and to the whole world is articulated in the previous verses. Now, Israel must commit to Yahweh by accepting its role as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to the whole world. Exodus 19:7-8—
So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.
Although the specific terms of the covenant had not yet been spelled out to them, the Israelites at Sinai agreed to obey them and later renewed their intention (Exodus 24:3, 7) to do so even after they heard the full list of stipulations. Likewise, one becomes a Christian without knowing everything God requires. But once you learn what He commands, you need to obey.
If the people’s response deserves any criticism, it should be for its apparent lack of any proper expression of humble insufficiency for the tremendous task of fulfilling the condition of obedience laid upon the nation. They did not say, “We hope to do, or we will endeavor to do.” NO—all the people responded together—”WE WILL DO EVERYTHING THE LORD HAS SAID.”
Deuteronomy 5:28-29 records the LORD’S evaluation of their pledge and His lament—
The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children for ever!
It is one thing to make pledges to God; it is another thing to fulfill them.
Yet, we must admire these people at this point for they are willing to STAND ON THE PROMISES of God. They have embraced the idea of being a kingdom of priests, a holy nation—GOD’S TREASURED POSSESSION.
How about you? Are you STANDING ON THE PROMISES?