At First Glance – Read Exodus 19-20:21
Moses and the Israelites set up base camp at Mt. Sinai. God’s intentions are to have the Israelites close enough that they can hear Him speak to Moses. The priests are all ready for something to go down. They have been consecrated. God wants them to look but not touch. He names some very specific violent actions that are to be taken against anyone who even touches the mountain. Oh, and you better keep your lamb on a leash. For a time, I thought that God only talked to Moses but here the people can hear God or overhear Him. God’s preparing them to be a kingdom of priests, a Holy nation.
When they hear Him, He sounds like thunder and He has His own light show. The Israelites are not impressed, they are terrified. When God speaks to Moses amidst all the smoke and fire to deliver instructions to the people he was equally as terrified.
God comes down, Moses goes up, then he comes back down with another message.
Moses: Do I really have to go back down and tell them again not to touch the mountain? (He is a man in his 80’s after all.) You already told them yourself and I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to fight to get up here after you said they would be shot with arrows…
Moses: Ok, I’ll go down and tell them.
When the commands are given to Moses he is down with the people. At first, God is speaking to everyone.
Trumpets, flashing lights, and smoke – it’s the first megachurch worship service.
Moses, acting as the first worship leader, tells everyone the pyrotechnics are meant as a test. It’s working, they are afraid and request that Moses speak to them instead of God. Is this the response that God wanted?
What we discover is the Ten Commandments are spoken to the whole group and then Moses goes up to meet with God alone for an extended period of time.
A Deeper Look
Israel has consecrated themselves as priests at the base of the mountain. They are to obey the law that they are about to receive not to be saved, because God has already saved them when He brought them out of Egypt.
Peter Enns in his Exodus commentary quotes W. Dumbrell in relation to the covenant when he says, “’covenant’ in verse 5 does not refer to what is about to transpire, but what has gone on before, namely, the covenant with the patriarchs (Enns, Kindle Location 7902).
The exodus is about keeping God’s promise that he made to Abraham.
The law that was delivered to the people was probably something in which they had already become familiar.
It wasn’t the first time they heard it. “As we saw with the Sabbath law in chapter 16, the law promulgated on Sinai does not necessarily introduce a concept, but reinforces it or gives it a new definition” (Enns, Kindle Locations 7937-7938). Enns is also willing to live with the possibility that God spoke to both Moses and the Israelites at the base of the mountain. It seems pretty clear to me that this is the case.
Enns believes that it may be possible that the events in chapter nine are chronologically misplaced. Moses goes up and down the mountain on three separate occasions.
The giving of the Ten Commandments is not about instructions and rules that hold society together but instead it is God’s recreation. His brings order to chaos (Enns, Kindle Location 8406).
When the Ten Commandments are given the first four honor God and the next six honor people. Terence Fretheim suggests that the commandment to honor one’s parents is the first one of the second table because it is the most basic of human relationships. “No interhuman relationship is so basic as that between children and parents. It is the fundamental order of creation” (Fretheim, 231).
Exodus for Today
God had the Israelites consecrate themselves. We are not sure what all that entailed but we do know that God was getting them ready to be His priestly people.
Just as God told the Israelites that they belong to Him, the Apostle Peter tells followers of Jesus that we belong to God.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, 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” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
The Israelites feared God at Mount Sinai. At Mount Zion there will be no fear only joyful celebration.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18-24).
Just as the Israelites were saved by God from Egypt and not saved by obedience to the law, followers of Jesus obey God’s word because God has saved them through Jesus Christ.
What have you discovered from this section of scripture? Please share your comments below.