DIG: As this covenant was with all the people, why do you think God wants only Moses on the mountain with Him (19:9, 19-20)? What role do the elders and Aaron play in this (19:7-8, 24)? Why did God allow only Moses to speak for Him?
REFLECT: After all was said and done, who met with God that day? Only Moses? Aaron and the priests? The people as well? Explain how each may have met God in his or her own way. The Bible teaches that the fear of ADONAI is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). In what ways do you fear God? Is this helpful or hurtful to you? Why? How?
The terror of the Israelites reached its climax as a terrible display unfolded before their very eyes. Here, once again, God became visible before the people in the form of the Shechinah glory. Being the visible manifestation of God’s presence, the Shechinah glory is seen in the form of a light, fire, smoke, cloud, or combination there of. On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightening, with a thick cloud over the mountain. And then the promised sign was given (19:13), a very loud trumpet blast announced the presence of God in the midst of His people. Everyone in the camp trembled (19:16). In fact, as the writer to the Hebrews thought back on it (Hebrews 12:18-21) he said, that Mount Sinai became a place of utter terror. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain (19:17). Never was there such a sermon preached before or since.355
The Shechinah glory became visible again when Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because ADONAI descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently but no life was lost (19:18). Amazing cosmic displays of this kind often accompanied God’s arrival (Second Thessalonians; Hebrews 12:18-19; Revelation 1, 5 and 11:19). A smoking fire pot with a blazing torch symbolized the presence of God at the institution of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:17), and in a similar way fire along with smoke like from a furnace accompanied the appearance of God on Mount Sinai at the time of the institution of the Mosaic Covenant.356
And the sound of the sophar, or trumpet, grew louder and louder. Yet despite the chaos, there was an element of peace when Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him in front of the people of Israel. The Israelites heard God’s voice speaking to Moses (19:19) out of the fire, but they did not see Him (Deuteronomy 4:15) because God is spirit (Isaiah 31:4; John 4:24).357 ADONAI descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up (19:19-20). A contrast is underscored in this passage by a pair of antonyms. Whereas the people were standing at the bottom of the mountain (19:17), God stood on top of the mountain. In addition, Moses went up Mount Sinai, but ADONAI descended upon it. The antithesis being represented by these word-contrasts is the separation that exists between a holy and pure God and an unholy people. Once again, Moses was summoned to mediate between the two.358
And once Moses reached the top of Mount Sinai, ADONAI said to him: Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see Him because many of them would perish (19:21). Even the priests, who approach Him, must consecrate themselves, or they would die a sudden violent death (19:22). We must understand that the term priests here refers to the firstborn that God had set apart for Himself, they functioned as priests (13:2 and 24:5) before the tribe of Levi was set apart for that purpose and took their place (Exodus 28, 29; Numbers 8:14).359
Moses responded to God’s repeated message by saying: The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because You Yourself warned us not to (19:23). Maybe Moses did not fully understand God’s reason for repeating what He had said earlier in 19:12-13, but the LORD did not underestimate the people’s tendency to grumble and forget His decrees. Thus, because the penalty would be so severe, He had repeated it for emphasis lest they forget! So ADONAI commanded Moses His servant: Go! Go down and tell them anyway. And the next time you come to the top of the mountain bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up, or they will die. So Moses went down to the people and told them all that God had said (19:24-25).
Like these Israelites, we know what it is to fear the Lord (Second Corinthians 5:11). In this section we have read of the people’s fear in approaching God, and we also know that the fear of ADONAI is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10a). However, at the same time every believer has been given the grace of God. We know that God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Therefore, both of these positions are true; we are to fear Him and we are to love Him. Are these two mutually exclusive? No! But then how does it work?
First, for believers and unbelievers alike, we must have a healthy regard for the judgment of the LORD. ADONAI is the God of power and justice. He is the sovereign LORD of righteousness, of creation and destruction. Jesus said it best Himself: I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:4-5). However, if you believe, trust, and have faith in the Christ you have been saved from this fate.
Secondly, as believers, our right standing before God has been dealt with on the cross and empty tomb. In that sense, there is no fear on our part. The life of a believer is not about living in fear. For us, the fear of ADONAI means that we ought to have a reverence, awe and respect for Him resulting in worship, adoration and service (Job 28:28; Psalms 19:9, 22-23, 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 8:13, 9:10).360 Jesus is the Lord of redemption and mercy. This sense of awe should keep us from thinking that God is my pal. If we fall into that trap, we develop confidence without a sense of reverence.
Exodus 19 is a clear reminder that the God we meet with regularly is the Creator of everything. He is fearful, threatening, unsettling, all-powerful and all-knowing. He is, to use the well-known expression of the beaver in C. S. Lewis’ classic children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, not safe but good. The LORD is both someone to be feared and the One who has traveled the universe to meet us where we are. He came in the form of a human being, born of a woman, who bore our sin in His own body and who desperately loves us. It is perhaps, in the end, a paradox well worth remembering: We fear Him because He is good, and we see His goodness because we fear Him.361
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2013