Exodus 19


‘On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.’ Exodus 19:1-2

At Mount Sinai

It took them 24 days to travel 304 miles to the Red Sea and they spent 8 days camped there until Pharaoh’s armies arrived and they crossed the Red Sea.

It took them another 20 days to travel 161 miles to Sinai after crossing the Red Sea, including 7 days camping in the wilderness of Sin and 2 days battling the Amalekites at Rephidim.

Therefore they left Goshen on Passover, on the 14th day of the first month, arrived at the Wilderness of Sin on the 15th day of the second month and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai on the 1st day of the third month.

So all in all the Bible tells us that it was a 44-day journey, covering around 465 miles in distance from Goshen to Sinai which is roughly the same distance from London to Scotland.

It has taken them three months of trusting God to get to this place, but they are finally here. They have seen God’s deliverance from Egypt, received His guidance on the way to go, seen His glorious victory at the Red Sea, seen God provide food and water miraculously, and have seen a prayerful victory won over the Amalekites.

Israel will stay here until Numbers 10, more than fifty-seven chapters of Scripture are devoted to what happened to Israel in the year they camped out at Mount Sinai.

In one sense, all that has gone before has meant to bring them to this place, God said this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain, Exodus 3:12.

Sinai was the place where Moses had his ‘burning bush’, experience with God, now the people will experience some of what Moses had before. If the people are going to meet God at this mountain, it can only happen because Moses had already been there. The people can’t go farther than their leader.

If Mount Sinai looks like anything, it looks like a huge pulpit, a sudden, steep outcropping of mountains out in the wilderness. Here, God would preach the most dramatic sermon ever heard!

‘Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’ Exodus 19:3-6

God declares His great plan for the nation of Israel. Notice the terms and conditions are laid down with a choice, the word ‘if’ tells us it’s a choice. If they fully obey God, if they keep His covenant. And so if they meet this requirement then God will choose them to be His treasured possession, His kingdom of priests and His holy nation.

Moses, led by God, goes up on the mountain to meet with God as he had before, and the Lord speaks to Moses again. God associates the nation with the weakest and most carnal of the patriarchs, they are more like Jacob than Abraham or Isaac.

God gave a message to the people through Moses, a message regarding the purpose and destiny He had for Israel, a destiny based on what God had already done for them.

God’s love and care were shown for Israel already, as He bore you on eagle’s wings. It is said that an eagle does not carry her young in her claws like other birds, the young eagles attach themselves to the back of the mother eagle and are protected as they are carried. An arrow from a hunter must pass through the mother eagle before it could touch the young eagle on her back.

The deliverance, ‘I bore you on eagles’ wings’, was for fellowship, brought you to Myself, God didn’t deliver Israel so they could ‘do their own thing,’ but so they could be God’s people.

God intended for Israel to be a special treasure unto Him, a people with a unique place in God’s great plan, a people of great value and concern to God.

Paul longed for Christians to know how great a treasure they were to God, he prayed they would know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, Ephesians 1:18. God intended for Israel to be a kingdom of priests, where every believer could come before God themselves, and everyone could represent God to the nations.

Peter reminds us we are a royal priesthood, those who serve God as both kings and priests, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, Revelation 1:6.

God’s original plan was for all of the Israelites to be these things, not just a selected few. And their task was to reconcile the world back to God, and that task still applies to Christians today.

In contrast to those who did not believe, as the Israel of the Old Testament, Peter says that Christians are four things, 1 Peter 2:9.

1. All Christians are a chosen people or a chosen generation as some translations have it.

We didn’t choose God, God chose us, Ephesians 1:4. All Christians are a part of the family of God with whom God has established a covenant relationship according to Matthew 26:26-29.

2. All Christians are a part of a royal priesthood.

All Christians are now the priests of God and we all offer up spiritual sacrifices and the service of our lives in service to the world according to Romans 12:1. And so the church is God’s royal priesthood to minister to the world of unbelievers.

3. All Christians are part of a holy nation.

The church of God’s people has been separated from the world because we voluntarily submit to our King Jesus. And as John 17:14-17 reminds us, Christians are in the world, but not of the world.

4. All Christians are God’s special possession.

Now if we were around during New Testament times the chances are you would have encountered someone who was demon-possessed. And how would you know that they were demon-possessed? Because of their behaviour and the way they live and talk.

How is the world going to know we belong to God? Well to put it simply, the world should know we belong to God because we should be people who are possessed by God. And that possession is shown in the way we act, the way we think, live and talk, Galatians 5:22-23.

And so God’s plan for Israel here at Sinai was that every single one of them should be His treasured possession, a part of His kingdom of priests and His holy nation. And their task was the same as our task today, to proclaim that good news, we call the Gospel.

God intended for Israel to be a holy nation, a nation and people set apart from the rest of the world, the particular possession of God, fit for His purposes. As God’s people, we must be set apart, thinking and doing differently than others in this world.

All this could only be fulfilled if Israel would stay in God’s word, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then. Apart from knowing and doing God’s word, God’s destiny for the nation would never be fulfilled.

Keep my covenant, the covenant was greater than the law itself, the covenant God would make with Israel involved law, sacrifice, and the choice to obey and be blessed or disobey and be cursed.

‘So, Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said.’ So, Moses brought their answer back to the LORD. The LORD said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’ Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.’ Exodus 19:7-9

The people agree to obey the covenant. The people will later be challenged to receive the covenant again, after they have heard its terms, and they do, Exodus 24:1-8. Yet, before God lays out His covenant with Israel, He desires to know their state of heart, will they accept it or reject it?

God may refuse to speak to the resisting heart, if there is not an initial openness to the things of God, God may honour that person’s hardness and refuse to bring His life-giving Word. Are we playing games and resisting God’s word?

Moses here is acting as a true priest, as an intermedium between God and the people, yet, God spoke audibly to Moses, that the people may hear when I speak with you, so, everyone world know that it was really God speaking.

‘And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.’ Exodus 19:10-13

God commands that His holy presence on Sinai be respected. God was going to appear to Israel in a spectacular fashion, and before this could happen, the people had to prepare themselves, Hebrews 4:16.

The coming of God to Mount Sinai did not mean the people were free to go to the mountain and fellowship with God, they had to keep their distance behind a barrier, and the penalty for failing to keep their distance was death.

Any person or animal killed for getting too close would be regarded as so unholy they could not even be touched, they had to be executed with stones or arrows.

If there is anything basic to human nature, it is that we need boundaries. In setting these boundaries and providing the death penalty for breaching them, God is showing Israel that obedience is more important than their feelings. We don’t doubt that some bold Israelites felt like going beyond the boundaries, but they were to submit their feelings to obedience.

The people could only come near at God’s invitation when the trumpet sounds long. When the signal was given, Moses, with the priests and elders, could come up the mountain, but only Moses was to approach God, Exodus 24:1-2.

‘After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, ‘Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.’ Exodus 19:14-15

Commands for ceremonial purity and cleanliness. The people had to demonstrate their desire for purity by putting on clean clothes and restraining their flesh, do not come near their wives.

The meeting with God could only come on the third day, anyone who tried to meet with God before this would be coming before God had opened the way.

‘On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and 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, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.’ Exodus 19:16-19

When God comes down, Mount Sinai is completely enveloped in smoke. There was thunder, lightning, and thick smoke, and the entire mountain was shaken. God then descends upon Mount Sinai in fire, the smoke was like the smoke of a furnace because of the way it was ascending off of the mountain.

Try and imagine being there, imagine that God the Father Himself is descending from His throne in heaven to visit these people with His manifest presence. What a sight and sound this must have been and so God calls Moses to come to the top of the mountain to meet and talk with Him, no one else was allowed to go up.

The presence of God was signalled by signs of His power and glory, the thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud must have seemed terrifying to the people, Hebrews 12:21.

Beyond all one could see, hear, and feel there, then came along a loud blast of a trumpet, a trumpet coming not from the camp but from heaven itself, no wonder all the people who were in the camp trembled!

Then, Moses could lead the people right up to the barrier, to the very foot of Mount Sinai, where they could see, smell, hear, and virtually taste the fire which engulfed the mountain, as well as feel the earth shake under their feet when the whole mountain quaked greatly.

In the midst of all this, the sound of the trumpet blast becomes longer and louder and longer and louder, until Moses speaks to God, perhaps asking Him to stop!

What Israel heard from the cloud was a sound that they recognized was from God, Exodus 20:1 / Deuteronomy 4:11-12. They did not actually hear the audible words that Moses heard.

‘The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So, Moses went up’ Exodus 19:20

Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to the immediate presence of God. As the people trembled in terror at the foot of the mountain, Moses needed the courage to go to the top and meet with God.

We can imagine all the people of Israel thinking Moses was crazy for going up there! Yet, of all people, Moses could have such courage, because he knew God not only in terms of this awesome power but also in terms of His gracious kindness.

‘And the LORD said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.’ Moses said to the LORD, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’ The LORD replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.’ So, Moses went down to the people and told them’ Exodus 19:21-25

God tells Moses to go back down and warn the people again about respecting the holiness of His presence on Sinai. Those who through rebellion, curiosity, or raw daring who would presume to go up on the mountain would perish; the glory and greatness of God weren’t to be a matter subjected to scientific inquiry or a way to prove one’s own manhood.

Just because God called Moses and Aaron up did not mean there was an open invitation for the whole nation to meet with God on Mount Sinai, the barrier was still to stand.

Exodus 19 gives a powerful picture of the awesome fear each Israelite must have felt at Mount Sinai, surely this would have inspired them to a holy walk! In fact, many today feel we need to get more of the thunder and fire and trembling of Mount Sinai into people as a way of keeping them from sin.

Yet, not forty days from this, the whole nation will be practising an orgy around a golden calf, praising it as the god which brought them out of Egypt! Israel had awe, but little submission of their will.

Chadwick says, ‘Awe is one thing: the submission of the will is another.’

Hebrews 12 tells us loud and clear that we have come to a different mountain, that our salvation and relationship with God is centred at Mount Zion, not Mount Sinai, Hebrews 12:18-24.

Sinai speaks of fear and terror, Zion speaks of love and forgiveness. Sinai is in a dry desert, but Zion is the city of the Living God. Sinai, with all its tear and power, is earthly, but the Mount Zion we come to is heavenly and spiritual.

At Sinai, only Moses could come and meet God, at Zion, there is an innumerable company, a general assembly. Sinai had guilty men in fear, but Zion has just men made perfect. At Sinai, Moses is the mediator, but at Zion, Jesus is the mediator.

Sinai put forth an old covenant, ratified by the blood of animals. Zion has a New Covenant, ratified by the blood of God’s precious Son. Sinai was about barriers and exclusion, Zion is all about the invitation. Sinai is Law, Zion is grace.

Therefore, we shouldn’t come to Zion as if we were coming to Sinai, put away your hesitation and get bold in corning to God! However, there is much for us to learn at Mount Sinai, we learn of God’s holy requirements, and what we must do before we can come to Him.

We must be willing to receive God’s word, we must be set apart, we must be cleansed. we can only come after the third day, we must respect God’s boundary; we must restrain the flesh, and we must know we come to a holy God.

Go To Exodus 20


"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."