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Basic Bible: God’s Covenant with Israel

Exodus 19:16-25

In the scene before us, the children of Israel are encamped before Mount Sinai. This campsite was of God’s choosing. God had led them from Egypt to Sinai going before them by day in a pillar of a cloud and by night in a pillar of fire. The Lord pre-planned Israel’s journey to Sinai. That which is recorded in the scripture before us is not happenstance.

“It came to pass on the third day in the morning” (v. 16). “It”, in this instance, is the visible and audible presence of the Lord in the form of a thick cloud and thunders and lightnings. New Testament believers cannot help but reflect upon the fact that a very different “It” occurred upon the morning of the third day 13 or 14 centuries later when the Lord Jesus Christ arose from the grave. That which occurred at Sinai and that which occurred at the resurrection were the same in that on both occasions the Lord revealed Himself to men. The two occurrences were very different because Sinai marked the beginning of the law and the resurrection marked the fulfillment of the law.

“And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God” (v. 17). Moses did as he had been instructed to do. The Lord told Moses that He came as a thick cloud such that men might know that He spoke to him (Moses) and that they would believe him (Moses) forever (see v. 9).

Verse 18 describes that which the people beheld. They saw smoke and fire unlike any smoke and fire which they had ever seen. The entire mountain was engulfed in smoke. If an educated man of today were to observe that which the children of Israel saw, that man likely would describe the event as a volcanic eruption. It matters not if the fire and smoke of verse 18 has a natural or supernatural explanation. That which occurred on the morning of the third day was the form which God chose to manifest Himself to men.

Smoke ascended from the mount in response to the Lord’s descending upon it in fire. The smoke is described as like that of smoke from a smoking furnace. Abraham (Abram) looked upon a similar scene following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28). The image of a smoking furnace and the quaking of the mountain is an image of power and judgment.

“. . . the voice of the trumpet sounded long, . . . Moses spake, and God answered him by voice” (v. 19). The Lord had told Moses that the people were to come up close to the mount when the trumpet sounded long (v. 13).

Everything that encompasses this scene —the smoke, the quaking, the closeness of the people to the mount, the trumpet— was orchestrated by God for a singular purpose: God wanted the people to hear Him speak to Moses (v. 9). God wanted Israel to believe the future things which He would tell Moses. God produced this scene such that men might believe with absolute certainty that the words which Moses would relay to them were from Him.

All that the Lord does is done such that men may receive understanding. New Testament believers have been given the Comforter to teach us all things (John 14:26). In verse 20, the Lord called Moses to come to Him at the top of the mount. Upon arriving, Moses was told to go back down the mountain and warn the people not to break through the bounds which Moses had placed around the mount. The Lord had previously instructed Moses to establish bounds so that the people could not go upon the mountain. Why did the Lord require Moses to climb the mountain? Why didn’t the Lord instruct Moses to warn the people before He called Moses to come to Him at the top of the mountain?

Again, the answer is found in verse 9. God wanted the people to know that He spoke to them through Moses. Moses had established bounds about the mountain according to God’s instruction. If one were to break through the bounds and gaze upon the righteousness of the Lord, that one would perish (v. 21). God can only be approached through an intercessor. For the children of Israel, Moses was that intercessor. The intercessor must go to the Lord.

Israel could not look directly upon the mount because it was obscured by smoke. The children of Israel could not look directly upon the fire in which the Lord descended.

God’s covenant with Israel required obedience to the law. Anyone breaking through the bounds about the mountain would perish because they disobeyed God. In verse 22, the Lord instructed Moses to have the priests sanctify themselves lest the Lord break forth upon them.

In verse 23, Moses argued that bounds had been set up such that the people could not go upon the mountain and that the bounds had been sanctified. Moses had done as the Lord had instructed (see verses 12 and 14).

The Lord instructed Moses to go back down the mountain because He wanted the people to know that even priests who had sanctified themselves could not approach Him and live. The self-purification of the most righteous men is insufficient. Aaron alone was able to come upon the mountain because God through Moses (the appointed intercessor) made provision.

New Testament believers have a better intercessor. The Son has satisfied the law and made provision for all who believe. We, like Moses, need come down from the mountain and deliver the Father’s message

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