A HOLY NATION
Preparing for the Covenant With God
Key Verses 19:5,6a
“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
This passage is a pivotal point in the book of Exodus, it is a transition point for the Hebrew people. We were introduced to Moses at the beginning of Exodus, who was called by God to be God’s servant to lead the people of Israel. God worked through Moses and he led them out of Egypt, which is a representation of this earthly realm ruled by sin. Now, we have arrived to this point at the foot of the Mount Sinai, where God establishes his covenant with his chosen people. We learn the heart of God who has a plan for the nations, and has a plan for us. He is a God who makes a covenant with us, and calls us for his great work even though we are unworthy. Let’s learn more about this amazing God and his covenant in this passage.
First, God’s covenant (19:1-8).
Three months after the Israelites left Egypt they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and camped there in the desert in front of a mountain. This was the mountain where God had called Moses by showing him a great sight through a burning bush. Now, at this mountain, God is preparing to give his people the Law and instructions. God called Moses up the mountain and spoke to him. Look at verse 4, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” God delivered the people of Israel in a mighty way setting them free from captivity, as if on eagles’ wings. For millions of slaves to be free in the United States, it cost over one million casualties during the Civil War. It was four years of bloody attrition. I learned a lot about how hard this war was when I learned about my grandmother’s grandfather who fought in the Union to free the slaves from captivity. He was wounded in both the leg and shoulder. According to her he had to depend on morphine heavily because of the constant pain. In fact this nation was full of crippled veterans after the Civil War. In contrast God himself fought for the Israelites to free them from slavery, they only needed to let God work. God brought 10 plagues upon Egypt to break Pharaoh’s mighty grip on them. The Egyptians were favorably disposed to the Israelites and they took their articles of gold and silver from them. When the Israelites were leaving Egypt, God parted the Red Sea so they could cross as on dry land. They escaped the pursuing Egyptian army. When they crossed safely, the sea closed up and the Egyptian army was defeated and pursued them no more. When there was little food God provided the manna in the desert, and also quail. I’m sure quail tastes a lot like pheasant, which is really delicious. When there was no water for three days God provided water for them from a rock. Later we see they had to deal with lots of snakes, and God delivered them from snakes. Their adventures were more dramatic than an Indiana Jones movie. There were lots of tough situations where they could have easily perished, but they did not, because God carried them. God reminded Moses and the Israelites saying “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt.” God was telling them his work was only just starting. He would do many more great things. They had a tendency to forget how God helped them so many times. Sound familiar? We also must think about how God helped us in the past, so we can know he will help us in the future. It is a good prescription for discouragement. God’s work in our lives is ongoing and doesn’t stop. Do you feel like you are in a desert? God won’t leave you stranded. King David remembered God’s grace who delivered him from “distress and sorrow” and cords of death that were wrapped around him. He wrote in Psalm 116, “The Lord is gracious and righteous, our God is full of compassion.” What did David do when he realized God has been good to him? 1. He praised God. 2. He renewed his vows publicly 3. He gave a thank offering to God. 4. He dedicated himself as God’s servant. We can see that David got his spiritual life on track when he remembered what God has done for him (Psalm 116).
When God carried the Israelites on eagles’ wings he had a spectacular destination for them even better than Maui, New Zealand, or the Caribbean. In verse 4b God says “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” These endearing words show how God wants to have a relationship with us and embrace us. At times our life direction may seem uncertain but what is certain is that God is bringing us to him. He is not an impersonal God, but a personal God. In contemporary terms God wants to “hang out” with us. Jesus called twelve ordinary disciples to follow him and he spent much time with them and loved them. They fished and went boating together and ate together. They conversed and shared their lives and thoughts and goals. God wants to have fellowship with us and a personal relationship. He wants our time and our hearts. Ultimately God’s destination for us is eternal life and fellowship with him in the kingdom of God.
Now that the Israelites had been brought to God, what message did he send through Moses? Look at verses 5-6a, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God chose Israel because of his promise to Abraham, to make him into a great nation and to bless the whole world through his descendants. Here God is making a covenant with Israel as part of keeping this promise. It was his one-sided grace. They had just come out of Egypt, a sinful land full of idolatry and materialism. They were still imbued with a slave mentality and still sinful, yet God had hope for them to be a covenant people. A covenant is a life commitment. It lasts for generations and is to be kept with the highest regard. It is a word we don’t hear much today. Today, we might hear other words which involve some commitment like the word “mortgage.” Which is a French word that literally means payment until death. It may be a necessary commitment but it is not much of a meaningful one. It involves a lot of paper we need to put in the paper shredder. But the commitment we see God establishing with his people is full of meaning. It involves our families and our children, and their children. It involves our community and our nation. It is deep and broad. It uniquely comes from God, and according to these verses his covenant promises a great reward to those who obey him. In this passage God promised to make the nation of Israel a “treasured possession,” if they honored his covenant to be a chosen people.
It is interesting God wants to have a treasured possession. All people on earth belong to him, all nations, all planets, stars and galaxies, etc. No doubt he values all of his creation, but in this passage we see he wants to have something set apart that stands out. I had a large baseball card collection at one time, but my Mark McGuire rookie card was my treasured possession because he hit a lot of homeruns and set a record. It was framed and on display, in mint condition with no fingerprints on it. I was worth more than my 3,000 other baseball cards combined. I sometimes looked at it and admired it. Likewise, God wants to have many spiritual “all stars”, set apart for him fulfilling his work and who are ministers of God’s word and Bible teachers. We have spiritual all stars in our ministry, our starting line-up is Gideon, Paul and Dr. Jason who share God’s word every week as messengers performing their priestly duty. There are also missionaries Mary Bahn, Mary Kim and Anastasia who pray a lot and serve others. They are living a life set apart and forsaking the mundane life in Egypt, they are living as God’s treasured possession.
We know what priests looked like in the Bible and how they dressed. They wore tunics and a priestly sash around their waist. But what does a kingdom of priests look like? Should we be wearing garments like Old Testament priests? Thankfully no. A priest is one who intercedes between God and people. They hold a special position serving God and praying for others, so that is what we should be doing to be a kingdom of priests – praying for others. Biblically speaking a kingdom of priests is a Bible teaching nation to the whole world. In Isaiah 56, God says that foreigners will come to his holy mountain Israel, and he also says “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). Many people came to believe in the one true God through the people of Israel. Over time however, the people of Israel broke God’s covenant. Obedience alone was too difficult for them to follow. Jeremiah the prophet wrote about a new covenant God would make, Jeremiah chapter 3 verse 31 says “They days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.” God made a new covenant by sending his Son Jesus who died on the cross for all people. The first covenant from God was through obedience, the second covenant was made by faith in God’s atonement for us. God used Israel for his redemptive plan for the whole world, and this new covenant is for everyone who believes in Jesus.
God brought us to him through Jesus and he forgave us of our sins. He shows his great hope for us even though we were unworthy sinners and slaves to sin. God has hope for people no matter how sinful their past was. God wants to establish a priesthood of believers who serve him and teach the Bible to all people. He establishes a covenant with us and our family and our nation and blesses us as a treasured possession. In Jesus we are all priests. 1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Peter basically wrote part of Exodus 19 in light of the new covenant with Jesus. For those who have received God’s covenant we must ask ourselves if we are living as a priestly people and following Jesus. Without Jesus we cannot help but live like we are in a pagan land. We must live a life set apart. We must avoid holding grudges. We must avoid focusing on ourselves, and pray for the lost people around us. We should not condemn or be judgmental. We should avoid casual dating and pitfalls of immorality. There are very few committed Christians spreading God’s word today. Who can reach so many lost people when there is such a void? It is up to us. We must stand in the gap and be prayer servants for lost people. We are called to be a chosen people set apart. If you look around at your sphere of influence among classmates, family members, friends, coworkers, you will likely come to a similar conclusion that I have arrived at recently which is there are very few who can reach lost people for Jesus. So, that gives us a big responsibility. Let’s live according to God’s word and pray for our friends, neighbors and family members and pray for them to accept Jesus.
We also pray for our nation to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Although America is not mentioned in the Bible, there is plenty of evidence that America is called to be a kingdom of priests. There is much fruit from American missionaries who went out to the whole world. This nation has plenty of wealth to be a shepherd nation to support ministries around the world. However, America is not much of a missionary sending nation today. We export plenty of pop culture, gadgets, and materialism. Let’s pray for this nation to restore its spiritual identity and send many missionaries to the ends of the earth.
God sent Moses back down the mountain to relay his message to the Israelites. When Moses delivered God’s message, how did the people respond? Look at verse 8, “The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.” Moses is a good example of priest interceding for the people, going up and down a mountain three times in this passage. Moses was likely a physically fit person. God gives his priests some exercise too, if that’s what is required. Moses spoke to the people of Israel and they agreed to the covenant emphatically. God was like a groom offering a proposal of marriage to the people of Israel and they accepted it. Suppose they did not agree? Then they would not have received the covenant. To enter a covenant with God requires a willing person. It involves receiving God’s word and obeying his word fully.
Second, the Israelites prepare for the covenant (9-27)
As we will read next week in Exodus chapter 20, God will give the ten commandments to the people of Israel. Here, God prepares the people to receive them. Our God is a holy God. God’s holiness is like a consuming fire. Even the angels in heaven cover their faces before his throne. The people of Israel still had a slave mentality and were still sinful. So, God did not meet them face to face. God came to them in a dense cloud and spoke to them with his voice. Moses knew our God is holy and that he is like a consuming fire to his dirty people. So he consecrated them by baptizing and circumcising them and giving them haircuts and trimming their beards. They washed their clothes diligently so that they did not smell bad anymore. When they prepared themselves for God, they were also preparing their hearts.
After consecrating his people, Moses led them out of the camp to meet with God. They stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him (16-19). At the top of Mount Sinai, the Lord called Moses and said, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish” (21). Moses said, “I already warned them.” But God said, “Go down and put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy and bring Aaron up with you” (23-24). So Moses went down to tell the people.
Since our God is a holy God, we must consecrate ourselves to come to him. As we learned in this passage under the new covenant we are consecrated by Jesus’ blood. We can all come to God and have a relationship with him. Thank God. Under the new covenant Jesus said we can even call God our Father, in the Lord’s prayer in Luke Chapter 11.
In this passage we learned about God who wants to have a covenant relationship with us, he has hope for us to be a chosen people and wants to spend eternity with us in heaven. We learned we must both obey God and have faith in Jesus to have a covenant relationship with him. We must stand in the gap and pray for our lost friends and neighbors and teach them the Bible. Amen.