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In the Wilderness of Sinai
Here a new section in Exodus begins. After the wilderness of Shur (Exo 15:22) and the wilderness of Sin (Exo 16:1), they come “into the wilderness of Sinai”. There the people set up their camp “in front of the mountain” to meet the LORD. This will be a meeting with consequences reaching into the distant future. Every meeting we have with the Lord has consequences for the future, either in blessing or in judgment, depending on our attitude.
At the place where they have now arrived, all events described from Exodus 19:1 to Numbers 10:10 take place. Here the people receive the law with its numerous directions for service to the LORD. Their stay here is slightly less than a year. They arrive “in the third month” of the first year of their exodus. They depart “in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth of the month” (Num 10:11-12).
The LORD Wants Israel as His Own People
God calls His people both by the name of Jacob and by the name of Israel. He sees them in their weakness (Jacob), but also in what He has made of them (Israel). He has a message for this people. Moses must tell the people something they already know. They have seen it themselves. Yet they must be reminded of what the LORD has done to the Egyptians, and what He has done for His people.
This should impress them with their own powerlessness against the power of the enemy and with the power of the LORD Who has defeated the enemy. It did not stop there. He did not leave them to their fate after their deliverance. If He had done that, they would have perished hopelessly in the wilderness. He has taken care of them (Acts 13:18). “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The LORD alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him” (Deu 32:11-12). Just as the eagle makes sure his young do not fall down and die, so the LORD has made sure that His people have not perished. And where did He bring them? To Himself, in His presence, here by the mountain. What care!
In this close connection and covenant with Him, they will be able to remain if they listen to Him. All blessings which the LORD connects to His covenant are made dependent on obedience (Jer 7:23; Jer 11:4; 7). He can’t connect Himself to the own will of man, of His people. Only if His people do what He says, they will be able to enjoy His covenant.
All the earth belongs to Him (Psa 24:1), but if they obey, they will be His property in a very special way. They will be the only people on earth that are allowed to approach Him as priests in His dwelling place and to represent Him as a kingdom on earth. This great privilege is the true portion of every member of the church of God (1Pet 2:5; 9; Rev 1:6).
The Answer of the People
When Moses comes back, he sets the words of God before the people. He thus places them on their conscience. Without hesitation the people agree with the conditions (Exo 19:8). They promise to do what the LORD has said. They will repeat this promise two more times (Exo 24:3; 7). We may be tempted to welcome their response. Their answer, however, bears witness to an overestimation of their own abilities. It shows that in recent months they have not yet got to know their own rebellious heart. The LORD knows that.
Therefore, from now on the tone of the book changes. What should have become the celebration of a feast of the meeting with God (Exo 5:1), becomes an event to which thunder and lightning, anxiety and fear are connected. There is a distance between God and the people. There is a reluctance to approach God. The people have said that they will do all that the LORD has commanded; therefore He will make His commandments known to them.
The LORD Descends upon the Mountain
The LORD tells Moses that He will come to him in a way that the people can see. In order to be present, the people must meet strict conditions. They must be holy, there must be nothing that does not befit the holiness of God. On the third day they shall see the LORD descending upon the mountain.
A respectful distance must be observed around the mountain. Anyone, beast or man, who touches the mountain while God appears on it, must be killed. The absolute holiness of God does not allow a living being, who is a sinner or connected to sin, to come into His presence. Only when a signal is given that is determined by Him, the mountain can be approached.
The people act in accordance with God’s precepts. Moses consecrates the people and they make their clothes suitable for the presence of God. Three days they have to live like this, looking forward to that appearance. Sexual intercourse between husband and wife is not allowed either during that time. Everything must be focused on the appearance of the LORD.
This does contain a lesson for us. Do we consecrate our lives with a view to our meeting with Him when He comes (1Jn 3:2-3)? His coming is not the only thing. If we may address God as Father, the command is to be holy, as He is holy (1Pet 1:15-17). Is it our desire to live a holy life because of our daily relationship with Him? Can we also omit the things that are lawful in themselves for a certain period of time in order to concentrate fully on Him and the search for His will during that particular period of time (cf. 1Cor 7:5)?
There is a big difference in the motive of action between a member of God’s people then and a member of God’s people now. Israel is acting out of fear of retaliation. We may act out of love for the Father.
When the LORD appears to them, this happens with the occurrence of phenomena that cause fear and tremors. To this revelation of God, the people are brought by Moses. In Hebrews 12, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews contrasts approaching God with fear and trembling, approaching on the basis of the law, with approaching God through the work of the Lord Jesus, which is now the believer's position, approaching on the basis of grace. The contrast is enormous: “For you have not come to [a mountain] that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which [sound was such that] those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, [that] Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of [the] righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than [the blood] of Abel” (Heb 12:18-24).
Approaching the LORD
Moses is the only one who may come into the presence of the LORD. It seems that he is only on his way to meet the LORD when the LORD sends him back because the people in their boldness may try to approach the LORD. He must stop them from doing so by warning them that no one should try to see anything of God. Seeing Him means death. The priests receive a separate warning. Those who are allowed to approach as the only class of the people must behave in an appropriate manner. Moses believes that sufficient precautions have been taken, but the LORD knows the heart of the people and Moses must go.
For us who are children of God, approaching Him is no longer threatening. The glory of God no longer frightens, for we see it in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor 4:6 ; Jn 1:18; 2Cor 3:18).
After Moses has passed on the warning of God to the people, Moses and Aaron may ascend to God. Together they are a picture of the Lord Jesus. Moses is a picture of Him as the One Who speaks to the people on behalf of God, and Aaron is a picture of Him as the One Who represents the people to God. The Lord Jesus is called “the Apostle [Moses] and High Priest [Aaron] of our confession” (Heb 3:1).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Exodus 19". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13