Exodus 19: God's Mountain
May 3, 2009 Series: Exodus
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Exodus 19:1–19:25
May 3, 2009
Intro - My Wedding In just over two weeks Caylin and I will be celebrating our 14 year anniversary. And although I tell teenagers NOT to date in high school, I dated and married my high school sweetheart. Our relationship was actually christened with the first kiss on March 2, 1992. Just over two years later, Caylin was the only girl in her class to graduate with an engagement ring on. We were engaged for a year, moved our wedding up twice, and finally were married May 20, 1995. 14 years....
All relationships go through different stages where they grow deeper. Unless you are in Vegas, it's not typical to meet someone and get married the next day. Every relationship starts simple but some grow into the most incredible ones you will ever have. Who would expect that the first glance across the room would ever amount to anything, but sometimes it does. Perhaps it turns into a simple conversation where you say stupid meaningless things to avoid awkward silences. Then, maybe it evolves into a date, and maybe on that date you'll go to a movie and your legs will brush up against each other (its amazing how sensitive every nerve ending gets). Then perhaps you hold hands, refusing to let go though it is sweaty and damp. I remember each stage, the first date, the first kiss, the first anniversary, and the 2nd a month later.
With each new stage the relationship goes deeper-you learn about one another, how you behave in conflict, what secrets you have, what fears; eventually you will choose whether you will go all in or walk away from the table-the marriage proposal. And on the wedding day, everyone is beautiful, the food is fantastic, the day is amazing...but I wonder if in the moment many fail to see beyond all the glitz and glamour what is really happening in this relationship. Our culture portrays weddings and marriages as another activity, something you can try out but jettison if it doesn't work. I wonder if any of us really even remember the vows we made-to love someone forever though even though they may not love me.
God's Wedding I remember asking my high school kids if they though adultery was wrong. Every kid to the kid agreed it was. I asked why? It isn't illegal, and what if it makes me happy. Shocked, they responded, you don't do that, you made a commitment, a contract with your wife by giving your word. I pushed a little bit more boldly declaring so what!? Who says I have to keep my word? Who says commitments are important? Why is it so bad to break a contract? Where is that rule written down? I believe in contracts and promises because I believe in a covenant God who believes they are important-especially in relationships. Throughout Scripture God uses the language of marriage to describe his relationship with his people. Our God is personal; our God desires relationship with us; and our God makes formal commitments much like we do on our wedding day. AND God is a faithful, pursuing, protective groom while his people, us, are the adulterous bride who can't stop sleeping around.
Not a new, but a better relationship The Exodus is not a new story; it is simply another chapter in the story of God's relationship with his people that began in the Garden of Eden. The book of Exodus is about God keeping his promise to Abraham back in Genesis 12. When God first appeared to Moses at the burning bush, he told him, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The beginning of the Exodus, the redemption is a COURTSHIP of sorts, God's pursuit of his people Abraham's descendents. With each date, God proves himself a faithful, strong, and loving "catch". Now, God has brought him to his mountain to propose. And at the foot of His Mountain, God will invite Israel into a deeper relationship which will lead to the giving of the marriage terms-the contract governing their relationship. The giving of the law is not a NEW relationship as much as it is a NEW STAGE of relationship, a deepening of the relationship-taking it to the next level.
EX. 19.1-4 Setting - THE mountain On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God.
Away and back again It has been three months since the Exodus from Egypt. They are not camping at the bottom of Mt. Sinai, the same place where God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. This is the place where the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, charged Moses to return to Egypt to lead God's people out from slavery. When Moses heard this idea, he asked "WHO AM I that I should go." In Exodus 3.12, God responded to Moses question with a prophetic promise, 12 He said, "But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."
Let's go back to the mountain. Mt. Sinai holds a special place in the heart of the Jewish people. The last twenty-two chapters of Exodus, together with the whole of Leviticus and Num. ch. 1-11, take place at the Mountain. It is a special place like no other, a defining place, a place of beginnings. Do you have a place like that? It is the place where you had your first date, your first kiss. It is that place you proposed, the place where you had that amazing shared experience that makes you smile when you think about it. It is a monumental moment or place in your life that holds great significance because at a moment in time, at that place, something changed in the relationship or perhaps started. It is a location that, when you entered, and when you left, you were a different person. It is that place where you get your bearings, where your mind wanders when your lost, the place you go to when things get confusing, chaotic, and unsure.
THE COURTSHIP The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people 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.
God as an Eagle God speaks from the mountain. In ancient times, when covenants were made between a superior-a ruler, or king-and his people they began with a description of what the ruler has done for his people. So, when Moses arrives at the mountain, he immediately travels up the mountain and God speaks to him about their past relationship. God describes what amounts to their courtship, how when He found his future bride he cared for him like an Eagle. Moses uses the same image in Deuteronomy 32.10-11, saying: 10 "He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions,
Eagle/God as Protector and Trainer God as an Eagle immediately brings to mind ideas of protection and mothering. God's relationship with us is more than just protective. He loves us too much to let us remain unchanged and juvenile. With Israel, we see how he prepared his people, grew his people, and trained his people like an Eagle and its young:
NEST: Identifies a place very high on the cliff where no predators can reach to lay eggs.
§ Male flies to earth an picks thorns and lays them on the crevice of the cliff; Flies to earth again to collect twigs which he lays in the intended next; Flies back to earth picks thorns and lays them on top of the twigs; Flies back and picks soft grass to cover the thorns
§ It is a process of layering which happens several times. The final layer is complete when the Eagle plucks its own wings and lays them down. The thorns on the outside of the next protect from intruders.
TRAINING - But once the eggs hatch, the mother eagle brings training. She throws the eaglets out of the nest and, because they are scared, they jump into the next again.
§ Next, she throws them out and then takes off the soft layers of the next, leaving the thorns bare. When the scared eaglets jump into the next again, they are pricked by thorns.
§ Shrieking and bleeding they jump out again this time wondering why the mother and father who love them so much are torturing them.
§ Next, mother eagle pushes them off the cliff into the air and some fall.
PROTECTION: As they shriek in fear, falling, the father eagle flies out and picks them up on his back before they fall, and brings them back to the cliff. This goes on for sometime until they start flapping their wings.
God's relationship with us is one of protection, but not at the exclusion of our growth. God's training equips us and brings us into deeper relationship with him. But it hurts, and its shocking, and its unexpected, but its necessary. Ask yourself, how much have you grown since salvation?
EX. 19.5-6 THE PROPOSAL & THE PROMISE - After the courtship description, God proposes to Israel, inviting them into deeper relationship. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all 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 people of Israel."
If you obey - God says IF you will obey my voice. This "IF" is not to become God's people: they already are by sake of their redemption from Egypt. The issue is not one of status, rather, of condition of the relationship. If you accept my proposal and obey, you will be blessed, protected, and loved. If you don't, while I will be married to you, you will be my people, our relationship will suffer.
How many people do you know that are "married" but their relationship is that of two single people? They're married, but there is no joy in their relationship, no harmony, no unity. Why? I'm sure they would give a lot of reasons-some valid-but most others would speak about what their spouse has or hasn't done. They would never say, I haven't fulfilled my vows. I wonder how many couples actually REMEMBER but then actually speak about or meditate on their vows after that wedding day.
The ring is a reminder, like the rainbow of noah, or circumcision with Abraham, of a promise to act. Our relationships with God are the same way. Many of people call themselves Christian, but they don't look as if they are married to the God of the universe. Some cheat on him, others use him, and still others ignore him completely like a good wife or husband you know will be there-even if you're not. 10 times out of 10, when asked WHY-the reason will often be "God didn't do this or that...".
You shall be - With Israel here, this covenant is very much connected with their obedience. Obedience to God will result in blessing just as disobedience will result in punishment. God says they shall be a Treasured Possession; a Kingdom of Priests; and a Holy Nation. In other words, this ONE people is chosen by God from all the peoples of the world. They are not chosen because they are special or deserve to be chosen in some way-it is all by God's gracious choice. Israel would live quite differently from the rest of the world around them, but in doing so, they would bless the world around them. God will show them HOW a REDEEMED people will live-how he expects his bride to behave.
Christians live differently like married people life differently. Some people try to hold on to their "singleness" as married people but fail every time. There are things that Christians ought to do and ought not to do. Too many people spend time trying to wrongly determine lists-that leads to legalism. But to say that we are not to live differently is wrong. In contrasting the church to those in the world who disobey, Peter reminds us 1Peter 2.9 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are called to be something for God, for each other, and for the world.
EX. 19.7-14 THE ACCEPTANCE & BRIDAL PREP
7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.
9 And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever." When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and 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. 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, 'Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain." 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman."
Israel's I Do
Israel declares their commitment, they speak their "I DO" for all to hear. The words seem to fall SO easily and quickly knowing they come from the lips of a future adulterer. Oh, we love you God! We'll do everything you say? Disobedience will come all too easy...because obedience is tough, marriage is tough. I don't for one second believe that the relationship with my bride is bulletproof or untouchable-that my vows are simple to keep. I have failed too many times to know that my "I DO" and commitment to love no matter what is difficult. Marriage is not easy, that is why most people fail it (failure isn't just a divorce). A relationship with God is free, but it is not easy, and that is why most resist it, that is why most people go to hell, that is why I am a Calvinist because only God can break through that resistance and save me.
I am coming
God tells Israel that in three days, I am coming. The amazing thing about God is that he is not some Junior High kid sending his best friend with a note to go steady. Moses is the mediator, he is the wedding officiate, he is not the groom. And God says that, in preparation for my coming, you need to consecrate yourself for three days-get the bride ready. Perhaps this mirrors the time that Moses removed his sandals because of the declared holiness. God orders his future bride to separate themselves from impurity; to go through a three day purification ritual that included washing their garments and abstaining from sex. Additionally, for those three days NO ONE was to touch the mountain or they would die (don't let the groom see the bride).
Right approach to God
Some might read this and say we need to wear our Sunday best in order to come before God-I am wearing flip flops to prove what I think about that position. Others will get some kooky idea that sex is bad or sinful-that's the stupidest interpretation I've ever heard. Honestly, I don't know exactly what this all means but it one thing is clear: something has to occur before the Israelites approach their God. Two mistakes are made in our approach to God. Some FEAR God in the sense that you believe you can't do enough to be "clean". The other is a NON Fear of God, where God is your pal and your approach to the Christian life is extremely casual. We must have confidence, with reverence. We have confidence because Jesus died to make us clean. We have reverence because he killed his Son to make it so.
EX. 19.15-20 THE GROOM'S ENTRANCE
The Groom Enters
Finally, God shows up in all his wonder. The groom enters the sanctuary and he is HOT. The Lord descends on the mountain in all the glory of thunder, and lighting, and fire, and a smoke, and a great trumpet. And as Moses talks with God, God responds AND for the first
16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 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.
More than a God of Shrubbery
The last time God showed up, he asked Moses to return to Egypt. He did this through firing up a bush and turning his staff into a snake. Now, these aren't just party tricks, for most of us they'd be impressive. But, in asking Moses to go to Egypt he does something quite intimate and small. But HERE, we see God in an impressive display of his glory. As God is entering a new level of relationship with his people and he lights an entire mountain on fire. He reveals his power and pure awesomeness.
Israel immediately feels that, we partially experience at a beautiful sunset or the birth of a child, or an incredible act of nature. AWE is partly fear, partly reverence, and we are strangely drawn to it. It is partly emotional and partly intellectual combining a sense of dread, respect, and mystery and wonder. In those moments, you see and feel how small you are, you see an amazing display of power that scares you a bit, and yet, you see beauty that you want to know be close to. The God of the universe, who wants relationship: Psalm 8 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babes and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
EX. 19.20-25 WANT TO SEE THE GROOM
No sooner had Moses proceeded a little up the mount, than he was suddenly ordered to return, in order to keep the people from breaking through to gaze. Though the warnings were already given, the rules are renewed perhaps to emphasize that God WILL KILL you if you do not do it his way. 21 And the Lord said to Moses, "Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them." 23 And Moses said to the Lord, "The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, 'Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.' " 24 And the Lord said to him, "Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them." 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." 27 This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of things that are shaken-that is, things that have been made-in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.