Read Exodus 19
At Mount Sinai
1 On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai.2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 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: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.5 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, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
7 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. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
9 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.
10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 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. 12 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. 13 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.”
14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”
16 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. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 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. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 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. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”
23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limitsaround the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”
24 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.”
25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
In the book of Genesis, we saw God establish multiple covenants with His people. The first covenant began with Adam, then the next with Noah, and then another with Abraham in Genesis 12. With each covenant, God makes promises to His people while also setting expectations for them to uphold.
The Israelites have been through a lot over the past few months. God has delivered them, fed them, and guided them this far. Clearly God was on their side, but He decided to remind them of that and establish a whole new covenant with His people. God wants to set Israel apart again, and in verse 8 the Israelites say they’re willing to do whatever God asks of them (spoiler: they do at first, but it doesn’t last long).
This is one of those chapters where you almost need to close your eyes in order to visualize what’s going on here. Clearly, something was happening that was going to change their lives forever. The Israelites must have been terrified, excited, and bewildered all at the same time. As God rolls out these instructions over the next few chapters, we see Him lay the framework for the Israelites for essentially the rest of the Old Testament. This covenant sets Israel apart as a “kingdom of priests,” calling them to be a light in a world of darkness (the first time we see God using kingdom language).
Unsurprisingly, we’ll see the Israelites fall short of the standard God set for them time and time again. The Mosaic Covenant serves as more than just a rulebook for Israel to follow; it sets up their ultimate need for a savior. Jesus is able to do what the Israelites were ultimately unable to do: uphold the Mosaic law perfectly.
So what does this mean for us today? While we’re no longer under (bound by) the laws of Moses, they do serve as a helpful guide for us as we pursue holiness. If we’re following hard after Jesus, seeking to live as He did, our desires to covet, steal, or murder will fade and be replaced with a desire to live out the gospel instead. Just like the Israelites, we will consistently fall short of God’s standard. Through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, He fulfilled the law and, as a result, we get to enjoy a renewed relationship with God.
Why did God use covenants between Israel and Himself?
What do you remember about the other three covenants that preceded this one? How was this one similar? How was it different?
What does it mean that we’re no longer under the law? What role does (and should) the law of Moses play in our lives today?
Did You Know?
Israel stayed in the Wilderness of Sinai until Numbers 10. There are 57 chapters in Scripture devoted to what happened to the Israelites during the year they spent there.