Meditations in Exodus: 60. Arrival & Encounter
Ex 19:1,2 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.
Modern interpreters prefer ‘third full moon’ to third month and the suggestion is that it took them something like seven weeks to get there from the time of leaving Egypt. This is one of those times that you wish there had been more detail given. Does the fact that they are confronted by a mountain make Israel have any feeling that they have ‘arrived’? Did the pillar of cloud go up on the mountainside? Was that what made Moses go up for we read, “Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain” (v.3a) The important thing, as far as what had been happening over the past seven weeks, was that Moses left Israel behind. They camped out and presumably put up their tents at the base of the mountain while Moses went off mountain climbing.
Perhaps it was a case of Moses going up on the mountain to find the place where he had previously encountered the burning bush and first met with God. Presumably when he saw the cloud was leading them to the mountain – which he recognized – he guessed that this was to be another time of encounter with the Lord.
If this is true then his expectations were fulfilled because somewhere up there the Lord spoke to him: “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. Now if you obey me fully 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.” (v.4-6) Previously the Lord has simply told Moses that He would give them the Promised Land. Now He makes a more personal declaration in respect of Israel, so let’s note what he says.
First he tells Moses to pass this on to Israel. This we might take for granted but actually it is not merely for Moses, it is for the whole people. They are to hear this from Moses and take it in and understand it in some measure at least. Second, they are to be reminded of all the Lord has done for them, delivering them from Egypt. This comes up again and again, this reminder of what the Lord has done for this people, because it is that which forms the core of their relationship with Him. He saved them and that is why they exist today. It is that simple and that profound. Third, their future is to be based on a covenant or agreement. Their part will be to obey God fully. It is that simple and that profound. Fourth, if they will do that, He will consider them His treasured possession (a possession of immense value) and will make them ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’.
Now that description bears some more thinking. The role of a priest is to bring people to God, to be the intermediary for the people. Israel’s role is to bring the world to God. As Isaiah put it, they were to be a light to the nations: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isa 49:6). Indeed, he went on to say, “Nations will come to your light,” (60:3) and “The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory.” (62:2) It can be argued that the first of those three references applied to the Messiah, but is seems, taking other references as well, that it also applied to Israel as a people.
Now this is integrated with the second thing He said of them, that He would make them a ‘holy nation’. Now the word ‘holy’ is often misunderstood. First and foremost, it is a characteristic of God and something, someone or some place is designated holy ONLY because His presence is there. But in respect of God it means utterly different, pure, complete, utterly good, love, all of these things go to make up the full meaning of the word ‘holy’. Don’t just see it in a moral way, although there is a moral dimension to it, but sum it up by ‘utterly different’. That is what this nation, Israel were to be, BECAUSE God was with them.
Today every Christian IS holy because the Holy Spirit indwells them. That is our state when we are born again of the Spirit. Sanctification is about the process that is lifelong, whereby the outer me is being changed into the likeness of the inner One who indwells me. So this nation was to be utterly different from any other nation on the planet and because of that they were to reveal the Lord to the rest of the world.
The apostle Peter declared to the Church at large, “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.” (1Pet 2:9,10) Observing the history of Israel throughout the Old Testament, I would suggest that the Sin which inhabits every human being blinded them to the reality of the wonder of this and although they were this sort of nation on occasion, mostly they failed to live up to it. The challenge must be, will we be this utterly different people today who will reveal the Lord to the world around us, not a prissy, self-righteous difference, but a difference that reveals the love and utter goodness of the Lord in us? Observing how in the West at least, the trends of society are towards godless self-centredness, one must conclude we are not doing very well so far. A challenge to pray, to think and then to do – in ways that we have not known or done so far!