When you grew up, what was your church like? The church I grew up in would probably seem a bit stiff to some today. Everyone dressed up and the services were designed for reverent worship of the Lord. Most everyone brought their Bible with them to follow along as the pastor preached what God said from a specific passage.
I have heard that some churches today have a different way of doing things. They darken the auditorium and use stage lights, smoke, and emotional music to set the mood. Following the worship time, the preacher gives a message designed to meet the felt needs of the people.
While change, emotions, and felt needs are not necessarily wrong, what we do in our services should accomplish God’s purposes as they are revealed in the Bible. So what does the Bible say about our worship? How should we approach God during our services? What does God desire from us? Today’s passage, Exodus 19, may help us to answer these questions.
Note that this is the chapter just before Exodus 20 where the Ten Commands are given to Moses by God. Exodus 19 shows how the Lord prepared the Israelites to recognize His power and to properly respect Him. As we look through the chapter, we will see two main thoughts. (1) The Lord wanted them to be His special people (19:1-9), and (2) The Lord wanted them prepared to meet Him (19:10-25).
- The Lord wanted them to be His special people (Ex. 19:1-9).
[Read Exodus 19:1-9.]
After traveling from Rephidim to Sinai, the Lord spoke to Moses on the mountain. This was the place to which the Lord had promised to bring back Moses. While there, the Lord told Moses of his plan to make the Israelites His special people.
a. He brought them to Himself (3-4).
The Lord reminded the Israelites of what He had done in Egypt. Just months ago, they had seen His unstoppable power poured out against Pharaoh and his nation. But why did the Lord do this? Why did he rescue them?
The Lord’s purpose for rescuing them was to bring them to Himself. He wanted them for Himself. Isn’t that amazing! He wanted them as His own and wanted them to know Him.
Christians have a similar experience with the Lord. “This is the ultimate aim of all the gracious method’s of God’s providence and grace, to bring us back to himself, to reinstate us in his lost favor, to restore us to that relation in which alone we can be happy. Christ has died ‘the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God'” (Bush 237-38).
b. He required them to obey Him (5a).
Notice that the Lord used an “if” clause. If they would obey what he said and keep their part of the covenant, the Lord would give them great benefits. On the other hand, if they would not obey what He said and did not keep their part of the covenant, they would not receive those benefits.
If you are familiar with the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic Law, you know that obeying God’s commands would involve a lot of effort. But those who willingly obeyed the Lord would be rewarded with a privileged position and a God blessed life. What exactly was the Lord promising to do for them?
c. He promised to make them His special people (5b-6).
They would be a treasure to Him.
“If they accepted and obeyed the covenant stipulations, God promised to make them His treasured possession” (Hannah 138). “The leading sense is that of select, precious, endeared; something exceedingly prized… (Bush 238).
Have you ever had something that was especially precious to you? Maybe it was a letter from someone, or a trinket that reminded you of a happy moment in your life. Whatever the case, that item was precious to you and made you feel good to have it.
The Lord considers those who obey Him to be a special treasure. Of the entire population of the world, He chose to make the Israelites his own particular treasure to love and value. This relationship that began in Exodus continue through the last book of the Old Testament.
Malachi 3:16-17 — “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. ‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ ”
The Lord values those who love and obey Him.
They would be holy for Him.
The Lord’s plan was to make of them a kingdom of priests who were holy for Him. As priests, they would represent Him to the world. As a nation, they would stand out as an example of what the Lord desires and does for those who follow Him.
Christians are given the same position of influence for the Lord. As we live according to God’s ways in the Bible, we may often stand out as very different from the people around us. We may be looked at as odd, but the world will see in our obedient lives what it means to follow Jesus and they may also see the benefits.
Summary: The Lord wanted the Israelite people to be His special people. And from the response recorded in verses 7-8, it appears that the Israelites wanted this as well. Does their response surprise you? It should as they had complained and resisted Moses so many times. But this time, they saw the benefits of being God’s favored nation especially after all He had done for them in Egypt and along their journey so far.
APPLIC. This reminds me of what often happens when someone sees the benefits offered by God. They hear that God loves them, offers heaven, gives peace, and answers prayer. Who wouldn’t want all of that? So they “accept Jesus” to gain the benefits. But is that the whole picture? No, God is not just a benevolent Giver, He is also the holy and righteous Lord who expects His children to obey Him.
- The Lord wanted them prepared to meet Him (Ex. 19:10-25).
[Read Exodus 19:10-15.]
As you read these verses, you probably noticed the requirement for the people to wash their clothes and to keep away from the mountain. It definitely gives you the idea that this visit with the Lord was not something to be taken lightly.
a. He expected them to consecrate themselves (10-11).
“In anticipation of the covenant God ordered the people to separate themselves from impurity and to consecrate themselves to God. The three-day purification ritual included washing their garments and abstaining from sexual intercourse” (Hannah 138).
What does it mean to consecrate yourself?
“In the Bible the word consecration means ‘the separation of oneself from things that are unclean, especially anything that would contaminate one’s relationship with a perfect God’ ” (GotQuestions)
The Lord wanted them to be clean in body and consecrated to Him in their thinking. Having clean clothes would remind them of God’s holiness and their sinfulness compared to Him. They would be more apt to think rightly after doing those things.
Think about it. When someone is coming over to visit, we clean the house and make sure everything looks as best as possible. “How much more, when the visitor is to be none other than the King of Kings himself!” (Bush 241).
b. He setup certain boundaries (12-13).
“Also during the three days no person or animal was to contact the mountain or he or it would be put to death” (Hannah 138).
This seemed like a big deal to God and perhaps not something we would have thought of. But maybe we need to think a little deeper.
“While Jehovah makes himself known as Father, a Protector, a Guide, a Portion, he still would have his servants remember that he is ‘the great and terrible God.’ He therefore requires that they should worship him as a respectful and reverential distance” (Bush 242).
“Such careful preparation underscored the significance of the event that was about to transpire. The God of the heavens was about to make a covenant with His people” (Hannah 138).
c. He caused them to tremble (16-18).
[Read Exodus 19:16-18.]
“The people heard crashing thunder and a very loud trumpet blast (cf. 19:13); they saw flashing lightning … fire, and dense billowing smoke as from a smelting furnace; and they felt the mountain trembling in a violent earthquake. The black cloud of smoke brought darkness to the sky. …little wonder that the people trembled, standing at the foot of the mountain” (Hannah 138).
Today’s movies are filled wtih special effects that diminish our reaction to this section of Scripture. We are used to explosions, earthquakes, and powerful events on television. However, those who were at this event were trembling at what they experienced.
Being in the presence of God has often had this effect on believers. Think of Isaiah’s response to seeing God in a vision (Isaiah 6:5). Think of John’s response to seeing Jesus in his vision (Rev. 1:17). Our response would be similar if we were in the same situation.
Someday the unbelieving world will tremble in fear when Jesus comes to judge those who do not know or obey Him.
2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9 — “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
Being in God’s presence should have an effect on our lives.
d. He expected some to disobey his commands (21-25).
[Read Exodus 19:21-25.]
The Lord seems to be repeating Himself here. He had already told Moses to warn the people about touching the mountain, but He tells Moses to warn them again. This didn’t make sense to Moses as he had already warned the people and setup boundary fences (see Ex. 19:12).
“Moses seems to have thought that by reason of the unutterable terror and glory of the scene, it was morally impossible that the people … be so presumptuous as to transgress an order which he had once so expressly delivered to them, and which he had guarded by setting bounds according to divine direction” (Bush 248-49).
However, the Lord, who knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts, knew better than Moses. He sent Moses back down to warn the priests and people from breaking through the boundaries. Otherwise, they would be killed.
APPLIC. “The good and the charitable are sometimes prone to entertain a more favorable opinion of human nature that the truth will warrant. God often sees a necessity of uttering cautions and repeating commands of which his right-minded servants are but little aware” (Bush 249).
Summary: The Lord wanted the people to prepare themselves to meet Him. This involved washing their clothes and keeping their distance from the mountain. On the third day, the Lord descended on the mountain and two things happened. First, the people trembled as what they saw and felt. Second, some of the people became curious and had to be reminded that their actions could have serious implications.
APPLIC. It may be that we needed to consider this today. While the Lord is our Father, Friend, and Helper, we must remember that He is the terrible and all powerful God who controls everything. Yes, we can have a close conversation with God while lying in bed at night. Yes, we can worship the Lord while driving to work in the morning. But we must never forget that He is holy and deserving of not only our love but also our reverence.
At the beginning of this message, we thought about the type of worship practiced in the past and currently being practiced in churches. Did this chapter help us to answer those questions?
In the first section, we found that the Lord wanted Israel to be his special people. That should have humbled the people and caused them to be in awe of their privileged relationship to the Lord. Christians today should have the same reaction. Our worship should be filled with great happiness and thankfulness for the privileged relationship we have with God.
In the second section, we found that the Lord expected the Israelites to prepare themselves to meet Him. They were to wear clean clothes, abstain from certain activities, and keep a respectful distance. These stipulations reminded them that they were meeting a very special person who deserved their reverence. Christians today should have a similar reaction. While we do have a close relationship with the Lord, we must never forget that He is Almighty God and that should affect the way that we worship and speak about Him.
Bush, George, Notes on Exodus, Minneapolis: James & Klock, reprint 1976, orig. 1852, 237-49.
Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, 137-38.
“What does the Bible say about consecration?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=2758 on 6/25/22.