Book of Exodus Chapter Nineteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Are We Listening?
Verse 1: "In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai." Three months, a fourth of a year had passed since God and His miracles brought the nation Israel out of Egyptian slavery, going, as is so often the case in life, from one set of problems to another. Millions of people were walking eastward in what appeared to them as a slow-motion journey to nowhere. In that march, they had suffered hunger, thirst, then suddenly...warfare...and the journey was just beginning.
In Verse 2, "When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain." This was a troubled people, but their biggest lack was what often has often been our problem: They lacked faith to see that the Lord who led them this far would bring them safely through. To believe in the Lord is wonderful, but we also are to listen to Him, have faith in His character, understand He is good, recognize His strength, and trust He is leading us. The "mountain" of this verse is clearly Mt. Sinai, also known as Mt. Horeb.
Israel was created by God to be a nation of priests, a model for all who become willing to have faith in the Lord. Verses 3-6 describe something of the process involved and the expectations He has for His people: "Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.'" God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants—forever. In turning Israel from a family into a holy nation, He put them into a cocoon of safety, the land of Egypt, protected by their ancestor, Joseph, giving them a place and time to grow. As part of the process, He then allowed new rulers in Egypt who didn't know Joseph, turning safety into slavery—designed to make them move once more. And to be His "own possession"...is the best thing that could ever happen.
Even bad circumstances become familiar, and we don't want change because the alternative might be worse. So God performed acts, miracles actually, that forced them out of Egypt. God has a wonderful, poetic way of communicating with us, and He said about their departure: "I bore you on eagles' wings," which also describes our deliverance from sin through Christ's work on the cross, bringing us to Himself. And He does have expectations of those He saves: He says, "Obey My voice," which is reasonable —He created us, we went away from Him— He bought us back and we are twice His. A "covenant," a contract has been made, written in the blood of Jesus Christ, reaching forward and backward in time, rescuing you and me. As Moses and Peter both observed, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 1:9).
When Moses was forty years old, he decided his purpose in life was to deliver Israel from slavery. So he killed an Egyptian slave master and intervened in a dispute between two Israelis, resulting in a "wanted dead or alive" sentence on his own head. Then came forty years of wilderness existance as a lowly sheepherder. We should all look at his life and wonder about the "negative" events that have plagued you and me—God is healing our lives. In Verse 7, we find a changed Moses, who now tried to do and say everything God wanted: "So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him." He precisely gave them...the words that came from God.
Note that our response to the Lord is more than just words. Verse 8 reports, "All the people answered together and said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do!' And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord." We are to take God's Word to the people, and also bring the people and their responses to the Lord, as Moses did. And note that the people were saying what they should, but did faith fill their hearts? And does faith fill yours and mine right now?
In Verse 9, the Lord gave recognition to Moses as the human leader of this people: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.' Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord." Without human leadership, this world would be even more chaotic. And so the Lord appeared visibly in a cloud to the people, authenticating Moses as their leader. He wants us to understand His intentions also. If Israel saw and understood more of the Lord, would they believe? Will we?
God is pure and holy, without blemish of any kind, and those who come to Him must be willing to purify themselves. In Verses 10-11, "The Lord also said to Moses, 'Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; 11 and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people." What they did was an outward cleansing, not unlike baptism, intended to reflect a change deep inside the one who is cleansed. Symbols can be valid and real, if they reflect an honest trust in the Lord.
Moses, who became a man of faith, was permitted to be in the Presence of the Lord...the others were outwardly God's people, but they lacked faith and were kept back. If we feel distant from the Lord, the lack is ours. As it says in Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him." The Lord was protecting this people who lacked faith from sudden destruction by restraining them. Verse 12: "You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live. When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.'" With faith, you will see the Lord. Unbelief will keep you back.
In Verses 14-15, the instruction continued in how they should act in preparation for the Lord: "So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. 15 He said to the people, 'Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.'" Outward acts were performed...others were prohibited...revealing to each one the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity."
In Verse 16, "So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled." They were terrified. Have you felt afraid of God? Proverbs 1:7 helps us understand that, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." If you want to know Him, discovering the enormity of Who He Is, reasonably brings fear...that can lead to faith.
Try to imagine how it felt to be right at the foot of the mountain at the moment of Verses 17-19: "And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder." Thunder right next to them, thick smoke like it came from a volcano, and an earthquake...God definitely knows how to get our attention.
Notice the mercy of God in Verses 20-21: "The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 'Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.'" God is approachable through our faith in the Lord. There is no other way. Moses had faith, but the others were a faith-deficient group who could not survive a direct encounter with the Lord. If God seems far away, He is protecting you. Just keep calling out to Him and be willing to believe.
Ordained godly leaders are important for reasons that include taking our needs to the Lord and inviting us to trust in Him. The Lord spoke about them in Verse 22: "Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.'" Priests are human, too, and are reminded of that fact in Verses 23-24: "Moses said to the Lord, 'The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.' 24 Then the Lord said to him, 'Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them.'" We come to the Lord by invitation only...as Jesus said to His disciples, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you..." (John 15:16).
And so the chapter concludes in Verse 25, as Moses carefully related these instructions to the priests and the people—"So Moses went down to the people and told them." Every one of us has been touched by God in some manner...often many more times than we understand. He reveals Himself to us continually, in Scripture, through Bible teaching, by those gifted by God to declare Him to us, in dreams and through the events of this world. But are we listening? He is carefully fashioning us for His Presence in our hearts and lives, but again—are we listening to His call?
Lord, I am listening. I am afraid, but I want to know You. I am Yours. I entrust my heart to You. Please forgive my sins and bring me to You. I surrender. I love You. Thank You for loving and accepting me. In Jesus Name. Amen.