Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exodus 19

1The Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sinai exactly two months after they left Egypt. 2After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the base of Mount Sinai and set up camp there.

3Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The LORD called out to him from the mountain and said, "Give these instructions to the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel: 4`You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I brought you to myself and carried you on eagle's wings. 5Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.' Give this message to the Israelites."

7Moses returned from the mountain and called together the leaders of the people and told them what the LORD had said. 8They all responded together, "We will certainly do everything the LORD asks of us." So Moses brought the people's answer back to the LORD.

9Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a thick cloud so the people themselves can hear me as I speak to you. Then they will always have confidence in you."

Moses told the LORD what the people had said. 10Then the LORD told Moses, "Go down and prepare the people for my visit. Purify them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. 11Be sure they are ready on the third day, for I will come down upon Mount Sinai as all the people watch. 12Set boundary lines that the people may not pass. Warn them, `Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Those who do will certainly die! 13Any people or animals that cross the boundary must be stoned to death or shot with arrows. They must not be touched by human hands.' The people must stay away from the mountain until they hear one long blast from the ram's horn. Then they must gather at the foot of the mountain."

14So Moses went down to the people. He purified them for worship and had them wash their clothing. 15He told them, "Get ready for an important event two days from now. And until then, abstain from having sexual intercourse."

16On the morning of the third day, there was a powerful thunder and lightning storm, and a dense cloud came down upon the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram's horn, and all the people trembled. 17Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18All Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook with a violent earthquake. 19As the horn blast grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply for all to hear. 20The LORD came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain.

21Then the LORD told Moses, "Go back down and warn the people not to cross the boundaries. They must not come up here to see the LORD, for those who do will die. 22Even the priests who regularly come near to the LORD must purify themselves, or I will destroy them."

23"But LORD, the people cannot come up on the mountain!" Moses protested. "You already told them not to. You told me to set boundaries around the mountain and to declare it off limits."
24But the LORD said, "Go down anyway and bring Aaron back with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people cross the boundaries to come up here. If they do, I will punish them."
25So Moses went down to the people and told them what the LORD had said.

Points of Interest:

· they came to the base of Mount Sinai’—just as God had predicted when he first called Moses in chapter 3, Moses now returns with the entire people of Israel to the place where he first met God. It’s an interesting twist on the hero’s journey. In the typical hero’s journey, the hero goes to the special world, and eventually returns to the ordinary world with a magic elixir to save the people. In one way of looking at the story, Moses indeed follows that pattern: he goes out into the wilderness, gains God’s power, and returns to Egypt to save the people. But, from another perspective, rather than bringing the elixir to the people, he brings the people to the elixir. He leads the whole people of Israel out of their ordinary world and to the exact place where he met God and it changed his life. This hero’s journey is not just for Moses; the whole people of God have the opportunity to join in with him.

· Give this message to the Israelites’—the hero’s journey often starts when a herald or messenger comes to the hero with an invitation to join the quest. God himself served as a herald to Moses, and now Moses does the same for the people.

· you will be to me a kingdom of priests’—of course, the priests are usually only a very small percentage of the population, but in Israel’s case, the whole nation is a priesthood. The job of a priest is to serve as a mediator between a people and their god. Just like it is the job of one person, the priest, to connect the people and God, it is the job of this one nation to connect the rest of the nations of the world with God. Perhaps this is what God meant when he told Abraham, ‘Through you, all the nations of the world will be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3). This is Israel’s heroic journey: they are meant to be the priestly nation that leads the whole world toward God, just like Moses led them here.

· All Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire’—this is a re-enactment of the burning bush, but on a scale large enough for thousands of people to see. Similar to Moses removing his shoes on holy ground, the people show their respect for the holiness of the event by cleaning themselves, putting on nice clothes, and avoiding touching the mountain. When God called Moses, it was from a burning bush. Now, he calls the people from a burning mountain.

· Go back down and warn the people not to cross the boundaries’—it seems that the people respond to God’s presence with equal doses of fear and attraction. On the one hand, they are literally shaking with fear, but on the other hand God is afraid that they will come too close to this fiery manifestation of his presence.

Taking it home:

· For you: In this passage, Moses experiences a promise of God being fulfilled. Despite the odds, it turns out exactly as God had predicted. Have you ever had that experience? What was it, and how did it feel?

· For your six: The Israelites directly experience God’s presence for the first time in this passage. They find the experience powerful, almost overwhelming, but also undeniably attractive. Ask God to give your six the same privilege of directly sensing his presence.

· For our church: Ask that God would make us a church full of priests, ushering everyone around us into a deeper connection with God.