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8. A Forty-Day Meeting with God (Ex. 19:1-24)

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This point in the journey of the Israelites is the climax of the book of Exodus because here the special relationship between God and his people is established. All that came before was just a warm-up for this meeting with God at Mt. Sinai. And everything that happens after this is the report card of how they did. In general, their report card is a failure – they disobeyed God’s Law and rejected God’s leaders and prophets, which led to God’s judgement for their disobedience - 70 years of exile and domination by foreign powers.

Nonetheless, they were and remained God’s chosen people. God never abandoned them - He remained faithful to his unilateral covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18). In addition, to them were given the oracles of God - through them the Holy Scriptures were written. They were the first to believe the gospel (Eph. 1:12), which was “to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles” (Rom. 1:16). From them came the Saviour. By them and through them the gospel was preached to the world.

So, here they are – this rag-tag band of ex-slaves - united under Moses after being delivered from Egypt by God’s powerful intervention. And now they are about to meet God, not face-to-face of course, but nonetheless through a visible and verbal manifestation of God.

By now, they had been 3 months on the road from Egypt to Canaan. After leaving Rephidim (17:1) they “came to the Wilderness of Sinai” (19:1). God had told Moses at the time he called him to lead his people that after bringing “the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (3:12). The purpose for leaving Egypt was to worship God, and here it is about to take place.

That’s the subject of this message: A 40 Meeting with God. The lesson we learn from this passage is that when God’s people meet with Him they have to be prepared and ready. Before Moses ever received the 10 commandments during his 40 day meeting with God he made 7 trips up and down Mt. Sinai, receiving God’s instructions for the people’s preparation.

The first thing that happened is...

I. God Covenants With His People (19:1-8)

The covenant establishes the relationship between them. Notice that…

1. The basis of the covenant is God’s salvation (19:4). Before calling them to covenantal obedience, God reminds them of his saving deeds in the past: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself (19:4). He reminds them of what he did to the Egyptians (presumably in the plagues and the Red Sea), and how he carried them “on eagles wings,” ultimately bringing them to himself here at Mt. Sinai.

Here the “eagle” is not seen as a bird of prey but a bird of strength, soaring to heights beyond the reach of enemies. Israel had been carried up by God’s mighty power beyond the reach of the Egyptians and safely delivered into God’s presence here at Sinai. They had seen the “Eagle” snatch them out of harm’s way (1) at the Red Sea where God divided the waters, (2) at Marah (15:22ff.) where the bitter waters were made sweet, (3) at Elim (15:27) with its 12 wells of water and 70 palm trees, (4) in the Wilderness of Sin (16:1-36) where God provided manna and quail morning and evening, and (5) at Meribah (17:1-7) where God produced water from a rock.

Isn't it true in our own experiences that we need to constantly reflect on what God has done for us? We need to be constantly reminded of the goodness and power of God for us, that we serve a redeeming God who never changes in his fidelity toward us. How often have we seen God deliver us by snatching us from the enemy’s grasp in the mighty “Eagle’s” talons and by carrying us aloft beyond danger. We have seen God deliver us from sin to salvation, from death to life, from spiritual darkness to his marvelous light. We have experienced God’s strength and deliverance from temptation, rescuing us as brands from the burning.

You can probably think right now of instances in your own life when you thank God for his deliverance and you wonder where you would ever be if God had not plucked you out of spiritual and physical danger and carried you on eagles’ wings. Surely, that should cause us to want to obey him and keep his commandments. God saved you for this moment and for this purpose, to bring you to himself to worship him.

The basis of God’s covenant with his people is his salvation. And…

2. The condition of the covenant is obedience (19:5a). “If you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant…” (19:5a). In order to maintain their relationship with God, they had obligations to meet. God calls his people to obedience, to keep his covenant. This is at the root of their relationship with Him – keeping God’s Law, His commandments.

And this is true in our own relationship with God. Don’t think you can be saved and live any way you want. There are conditions to maintaining our relationship with God. He has called us to obedience.

So, the basis of the covenant was God’s salvation. The condition of the covenant was obedience. And...

3. The result of the covenant is a special relationship (19:5b-6). Based on what they had seen God do and how He had delivered them and brought them to himself (4), you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine” (19:5b). This is the climax of all that God has been doing for them – to bring them to himself out here at Mt. Sinai and to enter into a special relationship with them, a relationship distinct from all other people of the earth.

It’s a wonderful thing to know you’re special to someone, like when someone asks you to marry them, when you know you are loved by your spouse above anyone else. As God’s dear children, we have a very special relationship with Him. Do you ever stop to think whether your lifestyle and commitment to God are consistent with what He has done for you? Do you live as someone in a special relationship with God?

You may ask, “Is it right that God should select one nation to be his own special possession above all other people”? The answer is “Yes,” “because all the whole earth is mine.” As the apostle Paul says, “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20). God says. “I am sovereign. I can choose whomever I wish and no one can say, ‘Why have you done that?’” That’s the essence of sovereignty – no obligation to anyone to act or not act in a certain way. And because God sovereignly and unilaterally chose the Israelites as his “own possession,” they cannot boast of their relationship with God for it is solely God’s initiative. Indeed, as Moses told them, “The Lord set his heart on you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors” (Deut. 7:7-8).

God’s choice of them was all of his grace. “If you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my own possession out of all the peoples…and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). This is who God’s people are to be…

1. A kingdom of priests - those who stand in the gap between the people and God; those who intercede on behalf of others to God.

2. A holy nation – people separated to God, separated from Egypt, and different from the Canaanite nations around them.

So, God covenants with his people. The basis of the covenant is his salvation, the condition of the covenant is their obedience, the result of the covenant is a special relationship. And...

4. The response to the covenant is their commitment (19:7-8). “After Moses came back, he summoned the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him” (19:7). And their response was: “We will do all that the Lord has spoken” (19:8). God called them to obedience and they responded with whole-hearted commitment. Their commitment to do God’s will was only possible because God had chosen them. God did not choose them because they had been obedient – anything but - but obedience was the primary condition of their special relationship with him. For them to continue in relationship with God as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” they would have to keep “all that the Lord has spoken.”

God did not want a relationship with people who would disregard or disobey what He said. If the Israelites were obedient to the God who had powerfully and miraculously delivered them from Egypt, then, of all the people on earth, they would be God’s own special possession, a people with a unique relationship to him.

So, first, God covenants with his people. And, second...

II. God Prepares His People (19:9-15)

You can’t just meet with God any way you want – you have to be ready, prepared. God has set the standard he expects of us. Here, there are three pre-requisites for meeting with God…

1. To meet with God we must be attentive (19:9). “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear when I speak with you and will always believe you” (19:9). God himself would not be visible. He would be hidden in a thick cloud - there is a separation between God and his people. But He would be audible - the people would hear God speaking with Moses. How awesome is that! God wanted the people to be attentive, alert when He spoke. God does not reveal himself to people who are not willing to listen and obey.

To meet with God we must be attentive. And...

2. To meet with God we must be holy (19:10-14). The symbolic act of washing their clothes (19:10) indicated that they were spiritually clean internally and ceremonially clean externally.

You cannot meet with God until you are clean and pure – outside and inside. To be externally clean refers to your practice, what you do. To be internally clean refers to your heart - who you are, what you think, your desires and motives. God is holy and so must we be holy to meet with him. We cannot approach God with sin in our lives. “If we say, ‘We have fellowship with him,’ and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth” (1 Jn. 1:6).

We must be holy internally and externally to meet with God. As the Psalmist says: 3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-4; cf. Ps. 15:1-3). We seem to have lost the sense of fear in meeting with a holy God, the sense that we need to rid ourselves of all uncleanness in order to come before the One who has redeemed us from sin.

To meet with God we must be attentive, we must be holy, and...

3. To meet with God we must be reverent (19:12-13). “Put boundaries for the people all around the mountain and say: ‘Be careful that you don’t go up on the mountain or touch its base. Anyone who touches the mountain must be put to death’” (19:12). Just as the ground on which Moses stood at the burning bush was holy, so also the mountain here is holy ground.

God is to be approached in reverence, not familiarity. His presence is of such a holy nature that the people could not come too near – boundaries were to be erected to prevent them from coming too close. Only those whom God authorized were allowed to climb the mountain. All others were to stay at a stated distance. They were to have such respect for God that they weren’t even allowed to “touch” the mountain. God would allow Moses to come up and He would utter His words to Moses so that indirectly the people would hear God’s words. Anyone who breached this requirement would be put to death (19:12-13).

These three pre-requisites for meeting with God show us how utterly “other” than us God is. We must approach him in holy awe – not too near; not too far. And yet so many Christians today think they can be familiar with God, buddy-buddy. Some even irreverently call him “the man upstairs.” They come to meet God like they’re going to a backyard BBQ, with coffee in one hand and a donut in the other. Human beings always want to bring God down to our level, to make him more human, even a bit fallible and changeable just like us. They want God to be more like us and less like he really is. They cheapen God – trivialize Him, diminish His universal sovereignty.

But here we find that God insists on retaining his exalted, glorious, awesome position and keeps us within certain predetermined constraints. Make no doubt about it we are the lesser and He is the greater; we are the creature and He is the Creator; we are the sinner and He is the Saviour; we are the fallible and He is the infallible; we are the finite and He is the infinite.

Surely the same pre-requisites apply today. When we meet with God, whether in our private devotional times each day or our collective worship times as a church, we need to be attentive, holy, and reverent. We are, after all, in the presence of God! So, when we come together to worship God, let’s conduct ourselves with the reverence and awe that is due to the God of the universe. If you were ushered into the presence of some high dignitary, I don't think you would conduct yourselves the way some do when they come to worship God. We do not come to church primarily for social reasons, but we come specifically to worship God. And, when we do, God himself draws near to us.

So, let us examine ourselves before we enter His presence. Let’s ask ourselves: “Is my heart right with God? Are there thoughts and hidden motives and desires that I need to confess before God? Do I recognize and respect his awesome presence? Am I excited about meeting with God? Does this privilege fill me with wonder and awe?”

As we come to worship God, let us be focused solely on God. He is the audience, watching and listening to all that goes on. He is the purpose of our coming together – to exalt his name, express our love for him, and celebrate his mighty works on our behalf, most fully expressed in the death and resurrection of his Son, our Saviour.

This awesome reverence for God is described beautifully for us in the hymn: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise...”. It’s described in the apostle Paul’s doxology 15 He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal power. Amen.” (1 Tim. 6:15-16). This is reverence. This is dignified worship. That’s what we seem to lack so much today - dignity in our worship, a consciousness that we are in the presence of God, a sense that we fall under his all-seeing eye and are accountable to him for all that we say and do. If we try to unseat God from his lofty throne and bring him down to our level we will never have a true appreciation for the magnitude of his person or the scope of his salvation. Cheapen God and you cheapen your spiritual life. But hold God in awe and you deepen your spiritual life.

So much of Christianity seems superficial today, doesn’t it? I can certainly appreciate why unbelievers are so skeptical of church and Christianity. The reverence for God that the Puritans had is long gone. The “fear” of God is little known and practiced. Spiritual shallowness has replaced spiritual depth. Atheistic evolutionary principles are being embraced, thus reducing God to a force or process rather than the fiat Creator. Postmodern thinking is infiltrating the church, so that absolute, God-given truth is watered down to ever-changing, cultural relevance. “Thus saith the Lord” is now “perhaps the Lord said.” The 10 commandments are now the 10 suggestions. Preaching was once definitive and authoritative, marked by periods and exclamation marks, but now (as Fred Craddock puts it) those periods have curled up into commas and the exclamation marks have slumped into question marks (Fred B. Craddock, As One Having Authority, cited by R. Albert Mohler in The Master’s Seminary Journal vol. 22, no. 1, 91).

Nothing is certain anymore because the time has come when people have an itch to hear what they want to hear” ( 2 Tim. 4:3). They want to be scratched where they itch, so they turn to preachers or counsellors who do just that. So, instead of the holiness of God, they only want to hear about the love of God. Instead of hearing that the righteous will go to heaven and the unrighteous to hell, they want to hear preachers who say that somehow, in some way, God is going to eventually save everyone or that hell is only temporary.

I sometimes go to churches where people bow their heads when they sit down and in that way immediately engage with God and acknowledge that the worship of God is why they came. When Isaiah came into the presence of God and saw him high and lifted up, he said, “Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Ezekiel couldn’t express his vision of God in words and ended up just trying to describe what he saw in unearthly terms. Job repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). Peter fell at Jesus feet, crying out, “Depart from me because I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). That’s what a true vision of God ought to cause us to do – see our unworthiness in the light of his holy presence and fall on our faces before him.

Today God is reduced to a genie in Aladdin’s lamp, a wish when you blow out the candles, a servant who does our every bidding, a Disney World fictional character so that “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you. If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. When you wish upon a star as dreamers do.”

But the reality is, it’s the other way round. We bow to him; not he to us. We worship him; he does not serve us. We obey his command; he doesn't answer to us.

First, then, God covenants with his people. Second, God prepares his people. Then third...

III. God Meets with His People (19:16-25)

When God meets with his people...

1. God manifests his glory in power (19:16-20a). When the people are prepared and ready to meet God, God’s presence is announced with powerful phenomena: “thunder and lightening, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud blast from a ram’s horn, so that all the people in the camp shuddered… Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently” (19:16-18). This was the heavenly announcement that God was coming down and all the people in the camp trembled with fear, as well they might. The physical manifestation reflected the awesome power and glory of God’s presence, the like of which had never been seen before. This was the glory of God in a form that was designed to leave an indelible impression on the people as to the power of God. And the people “stood at the foot of the mountain” (19:17). The instructions that Moses had given them were followed exactly. They were not to come too close, not to touch the mountain, but to stand back in awe and wonder and fear. So terrifying was this sight that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Heb. 12:21).

So awesome was this that at the end of his life Moses was still talking about it: 33 Has a people heard God’s voice speaking from the fire as you have, and lived?... 36 He let you hear his voice from heaven to instruct you. He showed you his great fire on earth, and you heard his words from the fire” (Deut. 4:33, 36).

Well, in contrast, we “have not come to the mountain that could be touched...” (Heb. 12:18-21). No, we have “come to Mt. Zion, to the city of the living God (Heb. 12:22) into whose presence we can draw near through the blood of Christ (Heb. 12:24). What a difference the work of Christ has made. We do not tremble with fear, but we boldly approach the throne of grace because of the blood of Christ.

What an introduction to such an historic, unprecedented meeting! Moses had met with God before at the burning bush which was not consumed by the fire. At that time, Moses heard God’s call. That was historic and unprecedented. It certainly got Moses’ attention. His days of caring for sheep in the Midian desert were over. God was calling him, not to lead sheep but to lead his people, a nation. Now, Moses has done exactly that – led the people out of Egypt and God meets with him again at Mt. Sinai.

At the burning bush Moses heard God’s call. This time, at Mt. Sinai, Moses hears God’s law. God is now giving instructions to Moses about how His people were to live in relation to Him and to each other throughout their wilderness journey. This was the very first written word of God, a word that has been preserved for us!

And later Moses will hear about God’s tabernacle. This would be the place where God would dwell among them. God gave them His word for them to obey and his tabernacle for him to dwell among them. This was the very first time God would dwell among his people since the Garden of Eden.

So, when God meets with his people, He manifests his glory in power. And when God meets with his people...

2. God warns his people in grace (19:20b-25). Only when God summons him does Moses go “to the top of the mountain” (19:20b). Sometimes perhaps we are too forward with God. We think we can set the time and place and the agenda. It’s our meeting not God’s and again we expect him to respond to our bidding, our list of wants and demands. Perhaps we need to be more attentive to God’s voice inviting us to meet with him and then go up to the top of the mountain.

So, why would God immediately send Moses back down the mountain? (19:21). Because in his grace and in his thorough knowledge of the human heart, he wanted the people to be safe from judgement. Lest they be tempted to break through the boundary in order to try and “see the Lord (19:21), God sent Moses down to give them another warning. For if they broke through the boundary at the base of the mountain, they would “die” (19:21).

God knows our heart. He knows our disobedience and self-will. He knows our precociousness to do what we want not what he has commanded, to go where he has forbidden us to go, to tread on holy ground for which we are not prepared.

Moses did not know what God knew. Moses said, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, since you warned us: ‘Put a boundary around the mountain and consecrate it’” (Ex. 19:23). But God insists that Moses give them this second warning (19:24). “so Moses went down to the people and told them” (19:25). Only Aaron could come up with him - the priests and the people had to remain at a distance. God knew what would happen later in the story. What an expression of God’s grace this is, not willing that any should perish.

Final Remarks

Remember the thesis of this message and Scripture passage: When God’s people meet with Him they have to be prepared and ready. Perhaps you’re saying, “I’m ready. I know him as my Saviour. I’ve been through the ‘Red Sea’ of redemption. I’ve been separated to him in the wilderness. What more do I need?”

You need to meet with God regularly in your own personal quiet time with God every day. Some time ago my wife received a phone call from someone who wanted to contact one of my wife’s aunts, because some 40 or so years earlier in Sunday School this aunt had taught her about daily Bible reading and prayer. Ever since that time she had only missed two days and she wanted to tell her what an impact she had had on her life.

1. Your daily meeting with God needs a place and a time. A place of separation from hustle and bustle, a place of uninterrupted solitude, a place where everyone in your household knows that this is your place for meeting with God, this is the time you meet with God. You need a place and time because this is not a casual meeting. It’s not a casual chat on the sofa. This is a preplanned appointment with God every day.

2. Your daily meeting with God needs you to be prepared. You need to be aware that you are in the presence of God. You need to be prepared. This isn't a meeting where you can “wing it.” No! It’s much too important for that. You need to be prepared in the same way God instructed the Israelites – (a) Your will needs to be obedient and submissive; (b) your mind needs to be attentive, alert, listening to God as he speaks from his word; (c) your heart needs to be clean, having confessed all known sin; (d) your attitude needs to be reverent, to remember whose company you are in.

In order to be prepared, you’ll need your Bible – read it systematically, read it for your personal development not study - and your prayer journal, an organized list of prayer items. You might also use a hymn book or a devotional book with daily readings.

This takes great self-discipline but yields great rewards. It will keep you in daily touch with God. It will develop your understanding of Scripture. It will keep you from temptation and sin. It will keep your Christian life on track spiritually. If you ask Christians who fall into sin about their daily devotional life in most cases they would have to admit they don’t have one. So, determine right now to begin a daily devotional time with God and keep it up for the rest of your life.

Related Topics: Christian Life

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