An important and staggering moment is about to happen to the people of Israel that will change everything about their relationship with God. The people have been rescued from Egyptian slavery and God has brought them to the mountain in the wilderness, Mount Sinai. God is entering into a covenant with the people (19:4-6). Obey the voice of the Lord and keep his covenant and you will be God’s treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. Moses reported this news to the people and the people responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8). With the concept of the covenant declared, the people are going to meet God. I want you to think about this for a moment. The people are going to get to know God in a very special way. In Exodus 19:11 God says he is coming down and in verse 17 we see that the people are gathered to meet God. What we are reading in Exodus 19 is the preparation of the people to meet God. Get the people ready because God is coming down and you are going to meet God. Notice God’s purpose in verse 9. The Lord is coming down in this way so that the people will hear God speak with Moses and the people will believe in Moses forever. The goal of these events as the people come to meet God is that the people will trust, believe, and listen to Moses from this point on. In this lesson we are going to look at what God is doing, what is required of the people to meet God, and what these things mean for us as Christians under Christ’s covenant.
Preparing To Meet God (19:10-15)
The people are to be ready for the Lord by becoming consecrated. Consecration in the scriptures means being dedicated, set apart, and made holy. The people needed to separate themselves, showing a ritual purity, making them ready for the presence of God. Thus, their clothes needed to be washed. They needed to put boundaries around the mountain. No one was to up the mountain or touch the mountain. They were to abstain from sexual relations. They are preparing for God’s arrival by focusing on God, not the flesh. These are the preparations the people were to make. Finally, when they heard the trumpet blasts, then the people were to approach the mountain to meet God. The message is simple but extremely important. You do not just walk up and meet God. Nor can you meet God in your current condition. You need to be made holy if you are going to stand in the presence of God. Isaiah reflects this truth as he sees a vision of the presence of God. He recognizes that he is undone because he is unclean and as seen the holiness of the Lord. The New Testament continues to uphold this truth.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)
This is why the scriptures are constantly declaring that we need to be ready to meet God. If God is coming, then you have to make yourself ready to meet him. You have to make preparations. This is not a casual affair. God is coming and you need to be consecrated to meet him or else be destroyed.
God Comes Down (19:16-20)
Now listen to verses 16-17.
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. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 19:16–17 ESV)
It is the morning of the third day. I want you to visualize in your mind all that is happening. Imagine a frightening storm. There are thunders and lightnings. There is a thick cloud on the mountain. Have you seen a mountain where you can’t see the top because of a thick cloud? Perhaps you have been on a mountain when that happens and you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Not only this, but there is a very loud trumpet blast so that all the people in the camp are trembling. Remember what the people were to do when the trumpet blasted. The people were to come to the mountain and meet God. This is what happens in verse 17. In fear and trembling the people approach the mountain and take their stand. The closer the people came to the mountain, the more clearly they saw the vast distance that separated them from God. We are not fit to meet God. There is nothing casual about the arrival of God.
But that is not all that is happening. Look at verse 18. The mountain was smoking because when God came down, he descended on it in fire. Smoke is coming off of the mountain like a burning furnace and the whole mountain is trembling along with the people. The people are shaking as they stand before God and the mountain is shaking because God has descended on it. In verse 19 the trumpet is just getting louder and louder. As the trumpet is blaring, the mountain is smoking and shaking, and the thunder is clapping and the lightning is striking all around, Moses spoke and God answered Moses in thunder. Imagine this scene. Then the Lord called Moses to come up to the top of the mountain where God had descended.
The Warning (19:21-25)
Now Moses goes back up and God tells Moses to warn the people again. The priests who come near must be consecrated. The people cannot come up the mountain. God wants to make sure that his presence does not kill his people. He does not want them to die but if they approach that is what is going to happen. So warn them again! Notice what Moses says in verse 23. The people cannot come up because you warned us to put a boundary around the mountain and consecrate it. But God tells Moses to go down and make sure that no one crosses the boundary. Go and tell them again because God knows humans will break his law. So warn them again to keep their distance. We are so evil and God knows that. The holiness of God is being expressed to the people again. Make sure no one comes near because you are going to die if you do and I don’t want that to happen. The boundary is set but tell them again that they better have consecrated themselves and they better not come near or they will die. Just because Moses told them already and just because the boundary was set up does not mean that the people are not going to disobey. Warn them again! So Moses goes down to the people and tells them. Now we can read all of this and wonder what these things have to do with us. But the New Testament reveals that this scene has everything to do with us.
Christ In The Exodus
The pictures of Christ loom large in Exodus 19. We have noted many times through Exodus that we are seeing Moses acting as a mediator between God and the people. This is a role that Jesus would fulfill when he came. The apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 declared that there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
But there was another phrase that is used here in Exodus that makes this connection plain. The picture is clearly seen in verse 16, “On the morning of the third day.” This event of God coming down and meeting his people happens on the morning of the third day. The third day possesses significance in the scriptures. The third day is a day when God’s glory is revealed. The third day is when the hand of God is revealed. For example, King Hezekiah is told that his illness is going to kill him and he will not recover. Hezekiah fervently prays to the Lord and Isaiah tells him that God heard his prayer. Hezekiah will be healed and on the third day go up to the house of the Lord (2 Kings 20:5-8). Further, in the book Esther it is on the third day when Esther begins her actions to rescue the Jews from the decree of destruction (Esther 5:1). Listen to what the prophet Hosea proclaimed regarding the restoration of Israel.
Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. (Hosea 6:1–2 ESV)
The third day is the day when the glory of God is displayed. Thus, on the third day God comes down to the mountain and displays his glory before the people such that they trembled. On the morning of the third day, the greatest display of God’s glory occurred in the person of Jesus as he was raised from the dead. The third day is rescue day and on the third day God rescued us from our sins when Jesus rose from the dead.
Now recall the purpose of this third day event in the Exodus. Exodus 19:9 reveals that God is coming on the third so that the people may hear when I speak to you and also may believe you forever. This event was to cause the people to always listen to Moses. Moses is God’s authorized representative, declaring the very words of God. Moses was to never be ignored or rejected. This is what God does on the third day with the resurrection of Jesus. This glorious act of the resurrection shows the world that we are to believe Jesus forever and listen to him forever. As Hebrews 1:1-2 declares that God has spoken now through his Son, Jesus, and we are to listen to him.
The connection is made even stronger in the New Testament at the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus goes up on a high mountain and then Moses and Elijah appears (Matthew 17:1). Listen to what happens next:
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5 ESV)
Notice the mountain and the cloud that overshadows them. What was the meaning of the transfiguration? Listen to Jesus, just as the people were to listen to Moses in the Exodus. But the connection to the resurrection of Jesus and the third day is made even stronger in the New Testament. Listen to Paul’s sermon in Acts 13.
30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ 34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:30–39 ESV)
Notice the resurrection is the proof put forward that Jesus is God’s Son. Then look at verses 38-39 to see that the point is that everyone who believes in him is freed from sins and the law. Notice the Exodus language of being set free, just as Israel was set free from Egypt. The third day revealed the glory of God, showing that Jesus is the Son of God who must be listened to forever so that you can be set free. Jesus is to be listened to forever.
What The Exodus Means For Us
This scene in Exodus means much for us. The writer of Hebrews assumes knowledge of this scene in Exodus when he teaches Christians what we must do. Turn to Hebrews 12:18-29. Before we read verse 18 please notice that context is the need for holiness for without which no one can see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). The writer uses Esau as an example of the need to not be defiled, immoral, or unholy (Hebrews 12:15-17). The expectation of consecration is declared, just as God declared the need for consecration in Exodus 19. But read Hebrews 12:18-29 and see the point the writer draws.
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. (Hebrews 12:18–29 ESV)
The writer of Hebrews recalls Exodus 19. You have not come to the physical like they did. This was a terrifying sight, so terrifying that even Moses said, “I tremble with fear” (12:21). God coming down on that mountain made everyone and everything tremble. This is how intense the holiness of God is. But the writer wants to make sure we understand that we have not come to that mountain. But that does not mean we have not come to a mountain. We have come to a mountain, but not one that was physical like Sinai. We have come to a spiritual mountain called Zion, which was spoken about by the prophets. We have come to a mountain of greater significance. At this mountain you have come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, innumerable angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant and to sprinkled blood. Now, is the writer of Hebrews say that God was intense with his holiness at Sinai, but you haven’t come to Sinai so now you do not need to worry or fear? Read on to verses 25-29 to see the answer.
The writer continues that if they did not escape when God warned them on earth (as he did at Sinai), how much less will we escape if we reject Jesus who speaks from heaven? We have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken. So we must now worship with fear and awe because our God is a consuming fire. Notice the point is not to alleviate the holiness of God or the mountain we have come to but to intensify it!
Until we have trembled at the mountain, we will never melt before God’s mercy at Golgotha! You have to see that you also have come to a mountain that requires fear and awe because God is a consuming fire. Remember the intention of God at Sinai was grace. The people could not approach the mountain because the holiness of God was not immense that it would kill them to come near. We have come to Zion and the holiness of God is the same. God has not changed. We are having our Exodus moment as we approach the mountain of the Lord. We must approach with holiness and fear as well. But God does not want us to be terrified. Look at Exodus 20:20.
Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20 ESV)
In the same way, we are not to be terrified of God. But we are to understand the importance of who we are approaching. God comes down to teach us and show us who he is. We see the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus. We are to see what is being offered to us on this mountain.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6–9 ESV)
And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:13 ESV)
This means we do not approach our God in any fashion we like. We approach with joy that we can come to him, maintain reverence and awe for what we are doing in being able to belong to Zion as God’s people. The coming of God means we need to be holy in our all our conduct (1 Peter 1:15). By God’s grace we have come to Zion. Be holy before your God.