Opening Prayer: Blessed are you, almighty and everlasting God, for you spun the worlds into existence out of nothing by the power of your word. Blessed are you, our Father in heaven, for you have given us this word which is for our health and strength and life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
As we mentioned last week, Sinai has been the destination all along because it was the promised sign of God to Moses. We also need to remember that the aim of the Exodus has been to make Israel the servants of Yahweh. This is seen from a number of angles: Israel is Yahweh’s bride coming to marry him, Israel is Yahweh’s army coming to meet the commander. All of this is summarized in the idea of covenant: love and mission. Israel has come to Sinai and will be here for nearly year (Num. 10:11).
This scene portrays this covenant renewal scene as a wedding: Moses is the “minister” going between the people and the Lord. It is important to note that this marriage is not based on some sort of mutually agreed upon contract. Yahweh is the savior, the redeemer, the lord of the covenant. This is the basis for making and renewing the covenant with them. We should also note that this is a renewal and glorification of God’s previous covenant with Abraham not something entirely new or different. The basis for the covenant relationship is the fact that Yahweh has destroyed Egypt and brought Israel to himself on eagles’ wings (19:4). Salvation is the basis for the “Therefore if …” (19:5). Not the other way around. This is the way real love works and is displayed in a wedding. No bride or groom suspects the other of legalism for taking vows. Nor does anyone think anyone is earning anything when they take or keep their vows. That’s just what love looks like. Ironically, there is a kind of legalistic heart that seizes on the fact vows by themselves don’t make marriage. There are at least two kinds of legalisms here.
Kingdom of Priests
Israel’s role as a nation is to be priestly, holy to God (19:6). We noticed that this same point was made back at Passover where God claimed all the firstborn (13:2, 11-16). But remember Israel as a nation is Yahweh’s firstborn son; if Pharaoh does not release Yahweh’s son, Yahweh will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn (4:22-23). It is this consecration of the firstborn on behalf of the entire nation which leads both to the general priesthood of Israel and the specific priesthood (Num. 3:12). It is helpful to think of priesthood in terms of the role of the firstborn son. The firstborn son was (and is) a great treasure because it ensured that the family line would continue. To the firstborn was given a double portion of the inheritance because with it he would be called upon to build and keep up the house of his father. This is precisely what is taking place with Israel: Israel, as the firstborn of Yahweh is being called upon to build and keep the house of Yahweh. But being the firstborn over the house also means that this priestly duty implies mediation, caring for and honoring the father while teaching others how to as well. Priests face both ways. This is both love and mission.
This episode seems somewhat strange in some respects. Why does Moses go up and down so many times? Who are the priests that suddenly show up (19:22, 24)? The scene itself seems so surreal: a mountain covered in a thick cloud, thunder and lightening, the threat of death to those who cross the boundaries, the long winding of a horn. It feels intense, overwhelming, even confusing. But this seems to be the point: Israel is not dealing with a distant deity in the far reaches of the universe, but neither is she dealing with a tame, rational, or simple god of sunshine and daisies. Yahweh is God Almighty, creator, redeemer, and therefore lord. It is his great compassion and love and mercy that redeem and save his people, but it is a fierce mercy, a terrifying love, a deep, black darkness of compassion. This is not to imply that God is fickle or schizophrenic. It means that God is high and lifted up. God is to be feared. God is to be loved. And God is to be obeyed. God is not to be trifled with. God is not to be trifled with by disobedience, trite worship, or hiding in the forms of liturgy or formality.
Conclusions and Applications
We are coming to the law of God in the Ten Commandments. It is always tempting to run one of two directions when such a topic comes up: Embrace despair and the “woe is me” syndrome, constantly doubting and fearing. Or, the other sinful inclination is the enthusiastic “middle school girl” syndrome, who busily scribbles down all the right answers without hearing a thing. You are called to faith: faith in the God who justifies and the God who sanctifies. This is a call to faith both with regard to yourself and your neighbor. And the writer of Hebrews reminds us to fear and obey: God is a consuming fire.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: We give you thanks, Almighty God, that you have chosen to reveal your greatness and wonder to little children. We thank you that you have purchased us with the blood of Jesus and that no one and nothing and snatch us out of your hand. At the same time we ask that you would teach us to fear you as we ought and to obey your commands. We know that you hate complacency, and therefore we pledge ourselves hate it too. Since you have made us your holy ones, make us faithful priests in our homes and community.