COC 34: Exodus 19:1-6 Study Notes
Let’s set the context in the broadest possible sense. The Bible begins with God, because everything begins with God. And God, because of the good pleasure of His will – because He wants to – creates. A Universe, a solar system and light, this planet, water, plants, animals, and then this one thing in His own image – man. This one creature with a soul that lives forever; this one creature able to reason and make moral judgments and have a relationship with God. This one creature uniquely able to rule the earth and live for the glory of the creator.
And in Genesis 3, that creature and his wife say to God “You aren’t telling us what to do. We’re in charge. We’ll make our own decisions without you.”
The result is the cursing of creation, the cursing of mankind, and those first humans are driven out of that garden and an angel and a flaming sword ensure that they will not come back. They are separated from God forever by their rebellion. They now face death and God’s judgment.
And so Genesis 3 ends, and the stage has been set. All the rest of the Bible will tell the story of what God Himself will do to spread His own fame by rescuing mankind from the judgment and hell they deserve.
To our surprise, God chooses to single out one family to play a significant role as He uncovers how mankind is going to be brought back to God. I want to remind you again of two key words regarding Israel: the people of Israel serve as both an instrument and an illustration of what God will do to spread His fame by rescuing condemned rebels and bring them back to a relationship with Him. Instrument and illustration. They will be an instrument of salvation: primarily because Jesus will come from this nation, but in other ways as well. And they will also be an illustration. In other words, you can watch how God treats Israel, and how Israel treats God; you can listen to what God says to Israel; and as you watch that drama unfold, and listen to that revelation from God, you will learn many things about man and his relationship with His creator. Israel is an illustration.
Of course Israel’s story begins when God calls Abraham, the father of this family, this nation. Through Abraham we learn that if man is going to be restored to God, it will require faith. Man will have to believe the promises of God, even when they seem impossible. Abraham was declared righteous because of faith alone.
God did keep His promises to Abraham, and the family grew into a great nation in Egypt. When they cried out to God for help, God rescued them from Egypt by His power for His own fame. Again, this is an illustration for us and about us.
When we come to Exodus 19, they have been rescued, they have been free from the bondage of Egypt for three months. We have studied through Exodus 18. Now let’s READ Exodus 19:1-6.
v.4 “brought you to Myself.” What a beautiful illustration this is: God did not just rescue them from Egypt, then send them off on their own: He rescued them to bring them to Himself. Ironically, they are in the middle of nowhere. In the world’s eyes, God has brought them to nowhere. In reality, they are in the best place they could possibly be, because God has brought them to Himself. Far better to be in the desert of Sinai with God than in the kings’ palace without Him. He brought them to Himself.
But now, they don’t know what is going to happen next. We know the story, we know about Mt. Sinai and the ten commandments. They don’t. They just know that God has rescued them and brought them to Himself out here in the middle of nowhere.
Now I want to show you six aspects of Israel’s relationship with God that illustrate six aspects of our saving relationship with God.
First of all, this was a relationship based upon a rescue. The very first words from God to the people in verse 4 are the words “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians.” Through the Passover, God clearly indicated that Israel was never to forget their rescue from Egypt. As a matter of fact, their entire calendar would begin with this month. They were rescued through an incredible display of God’s unique authority, and God trounced the cocky Pharaoh who enslaved God’s people. No one will have a relationship with God without first being rescued. Jesus said “No one comes to the Father but by me.” That means “No one comes to the Father without first being rescued by me.” Because Jesus would be Passover lamb, who took the death we deserved that the wrath of God might pass over us. That is why, more than any other adjective, we use the word “saved” to describe a Christian.
Now this rescue resulted in a relationship. Notice the end of verse 4: I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Imagine a firefighter going into a burning building, picking up a child who is passed out on the floor, putting him on his shoulders, climbing out the window, down the ladder, and then taking that orphaned child home to be part of his family. We already saw a clue about this back in Exodus 4:22, where God said to Pharaoh “Israel is my Son, my firstborn.” God doesn’t just rescue; He brings us into His family; He brings us into His family with all the privileges of a firstborn son.
What is the first and greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God. The rescue leads to a relationship of love. We love Him because He first loved us.
Now we must understand that before we will be ready to understand the next point:
It is a relationship of obedience. READ v.5. When the creator restores condemned rebels to Himself, what will it look like? They will obey Him – it will be a relationship of obedience. I’ve often heard Scott say “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” That is not the case here: even in the Law, it is clear that this obedience is born out of love. See Exodus 20:6.
Notice that in the beginning of chapter 19 God doesn’t tell them the content of the covenant. He doesn’t tell them the terms. When God says “keep my covenant” in v.5, the people could rightly say “What covenant? There hasn’t been any covenant given yet.” But the beginning of verse 5 makes it clear that this is a covenant of obedience – the agreement will be that they will obey God. They don’t have to know what all the details will be – simply understand that they must obey.
This whole story with Israel started in Genesis 12, when God spoke to Abraham. And God’s very first word to Abraham was: Go. His first word to Abraham was a command. God has the right to command, the authority to tell people what to do. There is no such thing as a relationship with God without a corresponding submission to God’s authority. 1500 years later the promised seed of Abraham would come and say: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Peter opens his first letter by saying that he is writing to those who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:1-2).
READ v. 5. Our fourth word is the word: ownership. Rescue & relationship, obedience and ownership. The NASB has a marginal note on the words “own possession,” to make sure you know that this word suggests the idea of a special treasure. It isn’t just anything you own, but something that you own that is especially important to you.
There were many nations on the earth, yet God chose this one to be uniquely His, His prize possession. In Deut. 7:6 and 14:2, Moses tells the people The Lord you God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the people who are on the face of the earth.
How can God do that? The end of verse 5 tells us: For all the earth is Mine. If He owns everything; if He owns all the nations; then certainly if He wants to He can choose one to be his prize possession. Abraham Kuyper is famous for saying: “There is not one square inch of creation about which Jesus Christ does not say: that is mine.” This was one of the powerful phrases from God to Job: (Job 41:11) Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
And so God had the right to choose Israel to be uniquely His. And the New Testament says that God owns us as His special possession. Titus 2:14 Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession. Paul wants to make sure we don’t miss the ramification of that: if you are his, then according to I Cor. 6:19 you are not your own. You have a Lord, a master, you have been bought with a price, you are not your own. You are His prized possession.
The fifth word is service. God called Israel a “kingdom of priests.”
There is a lot to explain here, more than I fully understand myself. This seems to be referring to the entire nation, not just the priests. The entire nation would serve as a kingdom of priests.
Kingdom could mean that they would rule; or it could mean that they would be under God’s rule. We’ll talk about that more tonight.
Priests are mediators between God and other people.
So what does it mean for Israel to be a kingdom of priests?
Well, that’s a hard question. Exodus 19 doesn’t tell us, so you have to get the answer from other parts of Scripture. And so there are lots of suggested answers.
Those may well be aspects of what it meant for Israel to be a kingdom of priests. But we should not miss the more general point that God brought Israel to Himself and then put them into His service. And that is a fantastic illustration of what God does through the gospel.
Titus 2:14 gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Eph. 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
Think about it this way: in Genesis 1, God put Adam into his service. He told him to subdue the earth, and to rule. Adam rebelled. So, imagine a soldier who is put to work in an army, and then he becomes a defector, he leaves, and goes to the other side. Then the other side badly mistreats him, and his original commander puts his life on the line to rescue him. Now what happens next? That soldier is a defector, a traitor, he had to be rescued from the enemy due to his own foolish rebellion, are we going to let him go back out there on the battlefield for us? We would never do that in our armed forces.
But that is exactly what God does: he takes rebels, defectors, and He gives His life to rescue them and then He puts them into His service.
That is amazing. You see how Israel is a rich illustration for us: rescue, relationship, obedience, ownership, service – and one more:
Separation. In verse 6, God says they will be “a holy nation.” There are a lot of nations, this should be the one that is holy. This will be the nation that is set apart for God.
That holiness or separation will be a foundational principle in the law.
Ex. 22:31 You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field.
Deut. 14:21 You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the LORD your God.
Leviticus 19 is full of interesting instructions for Israel, and they are preceded with these words in Lev. 19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
God repeatedly reminded them that these laws were important because they were a holy people, set apart for Him. They were not supposed to be like the other nations, they were to be distinct. They were to be separated.
And of course I Peter 1:15 says to us: Be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.
How do you live distinctly? Does that mean that you look and act weirdly? Is a good Christian the one who sticks out like a sore thumb wherever He goes? What was it that made Israel distinct from the nations?
I’m just going to state it now, and tonight we’ll look at a passage that illustrates it:
What made Israel distinct from the nations was their obedience. Their obedience to God was supposed to set them apart as distinct from the nations.
Here’s what should set you apart as distinct from your unsaved neighbor: because you love God you obey God, and she doesn’t. Your neighbor loves other things and runs her own life her own way. But you love God and obey Him.
You don’t have to get up each morning and think “How can I be distinct today?” You get up each morning and pray “God, how can I show that I love you by my obedience today? How can I obey you today?” That will set you apart as distinct.
What an amazing amount of truth is packed into those six words.
Think about all of the Bible like this:
The Bible starts with creation and man’s rebellion. Then the rest of the Bible is the story of the rescue. That story climaxes with Christ.
Now before Christ comes, you have this great big Old Testament. As you go along through the Old Testament, you learn more and more about God’s rescue plan. We call it progressive revelation. In the middle of Genesis 3, it is total darkness, after Adam and Eve sin. Think of it like thick fog, so that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. We have no idea what God is going to do now that man has rebelled and faces the punishment of hell. But as you move on in Genesis 3 and then throughout the Old Testament, the fog gradually starts to thin out and break apart. You see more and more hints and shadows and types and prophecies about what God will do.
Then Jesus comes, and the fog is gone. The sunrise from on high comes, the climax of God’s rescue plan.
After his perfect life, death, and resurrection, Jesus ascends to heaven. But God’s revelation isn’t done: through Luke and Peter and Paul and James and John God gives us the rest of the New Testament, which takes all of that OT background, and the gospels about Jesus, and it puts it all together, and helps us look back at the progressive revelation combined with what we know about Christ, and come to a fuller understanding of God’s rescue plan. Put that all together, and you have the Bible.
We’re way back here toward the beginning, when the fog is still fairly thick. But through the covenant of Moses a lot of things become much clearer. God’s rescue plan will definitely involve a dramatic rescue that only God can do. It will bring people back into a relationship of love for God. Rebels will be changed into people who obey God out of love for Him. God will own these people that He saves, they will be His special possession, set apart from those who are not God’s people, and put to work in God’s service, living for God’s fame. There’s a huge amount of New Testament truth packed in those six words from these six verses!
Speak O Lord, How is God speaking to you through His Word this morning. Which of these six words is bringing conviction in your heart? In what areas does God need to teach you full obedience?
Questions for Application and Discussion
Read Deuteronomy 4:5-8. What characteristic(s) of Israel was supposed to attract the attention of the nations?
The primary characteristic here is definitely the possession of the Law and their obedience to the Law. But note also in v.7 the relationship. A great Law + a God what is near to them whenever they call on Him.
How do the following passages relate to Exodus 19:4-6?
What was the most important thing you learned from Exodus 19:4-6?