Exodus 19:1-8 ~ 20110612 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
06/12 Exodus 19:1-8 God's Initiative; Our Response
We are at a pivotal point in the history of Israel. The Hebrew people were in a helpless situation as slaves in Egypt. They cried out. God heard their cry, he remembered his covenant with his people, he took notice, and he took action. He brought them out of Egypt and conquered their enemies while they stood by and watched. He led them through the wilderness and provided for their every need, in spite of their grumbling and complaining. Now they are encamped at the base of Horeb, the mountain of God, Mount Sinai. This itself is fulfillment of God's promise. When Moses was wrestling before God with his call to bring them out of Egypt, God said:
This is the fulfillment of God's promise to Moses. He has led the people out of Egypt. They have successfully made it back to the mountain where God initially interrupted Moses and called him into his service. You shall serve or worship God on this mountain. Let's keep in mind, as we go forward, the purpose for which they have come - worship or service. God is about to enter into a covenant with his people, to introduce himself to his people, and to lay out for them what it means to be in a relationship with him. They had been in the service of Pharaoh. God had demanded of Pharaoh 'Let my people go that they may serve (or worship) me.' God had saved his people to bring them into relationship with himself. Now they are here.
Israel will be camped here for almost a year. This is the setting for the next 59 chapters. Mount Sinai is the setting of the remainder of Exodus, Leviticus, and the first ten chapters of Numbers. This is extremely important. Exodus chapter 19 is the introduction to this most extensive section. If we miss the significance of this passage, we will be in danger of misconstruing a substantial part of God's Torah. Let's look at the first 8 verses of this chapter together.
We are given the setting both by the time and the geography. This is the third new moon after the Exodus. This verse, by the way, is where the book gets its English name. The Greek version translates 'had gone out of' with the Greek word 'exodos' which means 'the way out.' The geographical note reminds us of Rephidim, also named Massah and Meribah because of their quarreling and grumbling, where God provided his people with water from the smitten Rock. Israel has come to the wilderness of Sinai, and they are camped before the mountain.
Moses went up to God and YHWH spoke to him. God gave Moses a message to communicate with his people. He addresses them as 'the house of Jacob' and 'the people of Israel.' Jacob, the deceitful, conniving heel-grabber, whom God renamed Israel, the one who prevails with God. God made covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – not because of any good in them, but in spite of who they were. God gives Moses a word for his people, the descendants of Jacob or Israel.
God reminds his people of three things. He reminds them of things they have personally witnessed. This isn't hand-me-down faith. Just over three months earlier, these same people were slaves in Egypt. They had no choice but to serve Pharaoh. Now they are at the foot of the mountain of God. They are here to worship or serve him. Three things God wants them to remember.
God's Gracious Initiative
1. You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians. God wants his people to remember his ten mighty acts of catastrophic judgment on the Egyptians and their gods. He wants them to remember the Red Sea, where they were trapped between the Egyptian special forces and the water, where they cried out in unbelief and fear, where they were commanded to be quiet and watch and God would fight for them, where God protected them with his presence in the pillar of cloud/fire, where God opened up a way through the great deep, where God lured their enemies to follow, where God decisively crushed them once and for all. Remember what I did to the Egyptians. They mistreated my people. They refused to acknowledge me. They were hardened against me. They were filled with cruel pride and persistent defiance and repeatedly refused to believe my words or heed my warnings. God wants his people to remember his judgment unleashed on his enemies. Remember that you did nothing. Remember, you yourselves have seen what I alone did to the Egyptians.
2. Remember how I bore you on eagles' wings. God wants his people to remember his tender care for his own people. Remember, again, you did nothing. I carried you. This is a picture of helpless inability dependent on the care of another. I swooped in when you had no hope and I brought you to safety.
3. Remember that I brought you to myself. God wants his people to remember that their being in his awesome presence is not of their own initiative. The Hebrew people did not get together and say 'let's make a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai. They were brought. They were led. They were carried. Often reluctantly so, almost against their wills. 'What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?' (14:11). 'It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians' (14:12). 'Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?' (17:3). God patiently, graciously, persistently brought them to himself.
God commanded Moses to remind the people of these three things that they had personally experienced. I acted against your enemies; I carried you to safety; I brought you to myself. Remember where you came from. Look at where you are. Remember how you got here. It was not your own doing, it was the gift of God. It was completely by undeserved grace. Remember that this is the foundation of God's relationship with his people. Their part was to be quiet and watch as God saved them. Now their part is to be reminded of how God saved them and respond in worship.
Our Grateful Response
This is what God outlines in the rest of his message through Moses to his people. Now, therefore. In response to what I have done for you, an appropriate response is expected of you. Obedience to my voice and keeping my covenant. Because I have demonstrated to you that I will do you good and not harm, that I know best, and am fully capable of doing everything necessary to care for you, you must listen listeningly to my voice. You must guard or watch or keep my covenant. With privilege comes responsibility. If, in response to my gracious action in saving you, you will obediently listen and respond to my promises, then you will hold three privileged places of responsibility before me.
First, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. Here, God's ownership of everything is declared. YHWH is not some territorial deity whose jurisdiction is limited. He claims ownership of the whole earth and everyone on it. All the peoples of the earth belong to God, and he can do with them whatever he wants. He can execute judgment on the Egyptians, because they belong to him. But out of all the peoples of the earth who belong to God, these people are precious to him. They are treasured by him. If you will listen to me, you will be treasured by me. 'You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples.'
Second, you will be a kingdom of priests to me. This language is found nowhere else all the Old Testament. The whole people, not just one tribe, will be priests to God. A priest is one who represents God to others, and brings others into the presence of God. Their privileged position as God's treasured possession among all peoples is not a place for boasting. God declares to them that he chose them not because of any deserving characteristic in them (Deut.7:6-8), but simply because he loves them. Being his treasured possession among all peoples means bringing his truth to all peoples and bringing all peoples into relationship with the only true God. This privilege is also a responsibility. This is exactly what God promised to Abram when he called him to follow.
God's intent in choosing Abraham and his descendants out of all other nations is that they would serve all other nations for their good. They would serve as priests in bringing God's word to the nations, and in bringing the nations into worship of the one true God. The whole nation was to be a kingdom of priests to God. A kingdom is made up of those over whom the King reigns. Refusing to obey the King places you outside of the kingdom. If you will obey, you will be priests to me among all peoples.
Third, you will be a holy nation. To be holy is to be distinct, set apart, different, designated for a specific function. As God's priests, as his treasured possession, they are to be different from all other nations, precisely in the fact that they listen obediently and keep God's gracious covenant with his people, and invite others to join them in that relationship with God.
A Conditional Promise?
When we understand what God is promising, we can better understand the conditional nature of the promise. This is not an if/then of reward for good behavior; 'if you jump through all the proper hoops, then I will save you.' No, God has already graciously saved them. The if/then is an if/then of the inherent nature of the position. In order to fulfill the role of God's treasured possession, missionary intermediaries between God and the nations, yet uniquely distinct from the nations, you must be listening to God's voice and remaining in proper relationship with him. You cannot be rebelling against God and treasured by him; you cannot be his ambassador and disregard what he says; you cannot invite outsiders into a relationship you do not have; you cannot be part of his kingdom and rejecting his authority; you cannot be set apart to him and while violating his commands.
Moses faithfully takes God's words to the people, all the people agree to God's terms, and Moses faithfully conveys the answer of the people to the LORD. The people are entering into a covenant relationship with the LORD. The rest of the chapter recounts the most awesomely terrifying revelation of God to his people in the whole bible.
Our Goal as Followers of Jesus
The language of Exodus 19 is clearly in Peter's mind when he writes to encourage the suffering believers in his first letter.
Peter is addressing those who believe in Jesus, those who come to Jesus as their Lord and King, those who, according to his first chapter, have been given new life by God. We are being built up to be a holy priesthood, to offer acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. He calls us who believe in Jesus a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. We who believe in Jesus are privileged with a purpose. He calls us precious, but that comes with great responsibility. Not for pride in our position. We are chosen to serve. We are ambassadors for Christ. We are called to be holy, separate, distinct. We are his. We are to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey all that Jesus commands.
Peter describes our responsibility this way:
By our words, with our attitudes, through our actions, flowing out of our transformed desires, we are to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us. All glory goes to him and him alone.
How do we do this?
First, we must acknowledge that God alone saves. God keeps his promises. God is the one who takes the initiative. God sent his only Son. Jesus has conquered sin and death and hell for us. Jesus has satisfied the just demands of a holy God in our place. He carries us on eagles' wings. He reconciles us to God through his cross and brings us to himself. And God does all this not because we somehow deserve it, but while we were his enemies.
Then we can respond to him in humble, grateful obedience, not in order to get anything, but because he has already given us everything. We have been called to a great privilege. We are treasured by him. We are set apart. We are priests to the nations. So we must listen to his voice. We must submit to him as King. We must respond to his grace with glad-hearted obedience. In this way we proclaim the excellencies of him.