It might be helpful to provide copies of the pictures (Pages 2 & 3) for everyone – or print a large copy to show.
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.’
What do you understand by v4: ‘I carried you on eagles’ wings’?
And ‘brought you to myself’? This gives the impression that it was God’s intention to meet with them at Sinai in a special way in order to explain their new relationship with him.
And what does ‘treasured’ (v5) mean?
Now God himself is about to enter into a covenant relationship with the people of Israel. Even though the whole earth had been created by God, and belonged to God, he had chosen them as ‘my treasured possession’ (v5). But there was a condition attached.
What was that? ‘If you obey me fully and keep my covenant (v5).’
More than that, the plan that God had for them was that they were to be specifically ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’.
What would that mean for each individual? Everyone should be a worshipper, able to draw near to God in prayer and praise, bringing offerings and sacrifices to God who was to be their King. (See 1 Peter 2:5,9)
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.
Matthew Henry’s commentary has: ‘The covenant here mentioned was the national covenant, by which the Israelites were a people under the government of Jehovah. It was a type of the new covenant made with true believers in Christ Jesus; but, like other types, it was only a shadow of good things to come.
As a nation they broke this covenant; therefore the Lord declared that he would make a new covenant with Israel, writing his law, not upon tables of stone, but in their hearts, Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:7-
The covenant spoken of in these places as ready to vanish away, is the national covenant with Israel, which they forfeited by their sins. Unless we carefully attend to this, we shall fall into mistakes while reading the Old Testament.
We must not suppose that the nation of the Jews were under the covenant of works, which knows nothing of repentance, faith in a Mediator, forgiveness of sins, or grace; nor yet that the whole nation of Israel bore the character, and possessed the privileges of true believers, as being actually sharers in the covenant of grace.
They were all under a dispensation of mercy; they had outward privileges and advantages for salvation; but, like professing Christians, most rested therein, and went no further. Israel consented to the conditions. They answered as one man, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. Oh that there had been such a heart in them! ’
We are about to see how laws were given to the fledgling nation of Israel. We will also see that these ‘Chosen People’ of God were expected to be different to all the other nations. They were to be holy, and to this end God established a covenant with them.
God himself would be their king and all those who had faith in him would receive forgiveness and salvation. For now, their sins would be ‘covered’ by animal sacrifices, and again detailed explanations for these would be given.
Contrary to the belief of some, keeping the system of Laws and sacrifices would not provide salvation, only Jesus would do that:
John 14:6 ‘Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
The coming of Jesus was not a ‘final solution’, forced on God by a disobedient people: it had been planned from before creation, but delayed until ‘the set time had fully come’ (Galatians 4:4). An article by Larry Rich, copied at the end of this study, goes into this in more detail.
For now, those who reached out to God in faith would be accepted. But
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Faith itself is a gift of God; initiated by God, waiting for our response.
I love the painting ‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo, at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican
God’s finger is extended to Adam, but Adam seems reluctant to take the step of faith, and reach out to God.
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.
Before we are quick to criticise these people, who had witnessed such miracles, and had heard God speaking directly to Moses; people who said ‘We will do everything the Lord has said’; but people who so soon forgot and complained again – do we ever forget the cost of our own salvation, and go our own way, and sin again?
10 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Make 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.
God had from time to time visited individuals, but this was to be different. Now he would come, not as a theophany, but as almighty God – in all his majesty and splendour. To prepare themselves, the people must make themselves as clean as they knew how.
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.’
Not only must the people be personally clean, they must recognise that the very earth on which God stood was holy ground, and they must not presume that they could step on it. And personal cleanliness must reach new heights. Spiritually too, they were consecrated, presented back to God for his own use.
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.
Could someone describe the scene? Or perhaps the whole group could discuss what it would have been like to have been there. (The intention is to get people to imagine the scene for themselves!)
It was of vital importance that everyone realised that to be in the presence of Almighty God was different to anything that the people had experienced before. The word ‘awesome’ has been devalued in today’s society, its original meaning would have described the scene perfectly!
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 limits around 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.
Why does the Lord emphasise so much that the people, even the priests, should not try to approach him?
The Lord knew that in that vast crowd of people there would always be those who believed, those who were sceptical, those who would always be disobedient, those who were indifferent, even some who were opposed to God.
There was every probability that for whatever reason, someone would want to try to get a closer look. The Lord also knew what would happen to sinful man once he was exposed to his awesome purity. But it is not the will of the Father that any should perish, so he graciously provided protection in the form of dense smoke, and visible limits.
At the same time, for those he had chosen, he would make it possible for them to approach him directly: ‘bring Aaron up with you’ (v24).
First read verses 18-
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not let God speak to us or we will die.’
20 Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
The warnings had the desired effect, and the people ‘stayed at a distance’. They even thought that if God should so much as speak to them they would die. But Moses recognised a secondary reason for the people to have a fear of God. What was that (v20)?
God is about to give them his laws. The people had to understand their seriousness, and that obedience was not optional. (For many of the ‘Ten Commandments’ the punishment for breaking them would be death:
(1) Deuteronomy 13:10; (2) Exodus 32:27; (3) Leviticus 24:16; (4) Exodus 31:14,15; (5) Deuteronomy 21:18-
Read Exodus 20:1-
1 And God spoke all these words:
2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.
4 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore theLord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 ‘You shall not murder.
14 ‘You shall not commit adultery.
15 ‘You shall not steal.
16 ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
17 ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’
We will look at these in more detail in the next study.
Article by Larry Rich
On what basis could salvation be obtained in Old Testament times? Jesus was not yet born, and the New Testament affirms that there was no other way to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). What about all those Old Testament believers? Was there a way for them?
In Samuel Schultz's book, The Gospel According to Moses, it is noted that salvation has never been by works, but has always been by grace through faith. The Old Testament sacrificial system was a means of providing a temporary "covering" for sin, but not a permanent "removal" of our sin. The means of salvation, both then and now, was trusting in God's gracious provision of One who would remove sin.
As divine revelation unfolded, it became clear that the means by which salvation would come would be via the nation of Israel, God's chosen people, in the person of an individual from that nation. The Old Testament prophets portray this individual in a number of ways, including the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-
An interesting example of this development is Simeon (Luke 2:25-
One day, the Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not see death before he would see the consolation of Israel, which was understood as the revealing of the Messiah ("the Anointed One"). When Simeon came into the courts of the temple, he was led to a child brought there by his parents. At that moment Simeon realized the identity of this child, and, while holding him in his arms, declared in prayer, "My eyes have seen your salvation" (Luke 2:30). The object of his faith had not changed, but the identification of God's provision had now come.
The means of salvation had not changed. Then, as well as now, salvation is by grace through faith in God's provision (by means of the shedding of blood). For Old Testament believers (Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, etc.) salvation came through looking ahead to God's provision. For us today, it comes through looking back on God's provision. What has changed is that now we have more information and clearer identification -
It is significant that Simeon quoted Isaiah 49:6 (cf. Luke 2:32):
It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.
Simeon, like Isaiah, recognized that the Lord's promise of provision was not only for the Jewish people, but for everyone.
Some will say that there cannot be only one way to be saved. Yet, if it weren't for God's love, there would not be any way at all. If there was any other way, God would not have given His only Son (John 3:16).
Today, God's provision can be clearly seen and identified. That which Old Testament believers looked forward to, and which we in this New Testament era look back upon, is God's means of salvation -
Free small group Bible Study guides, commentary, lessons, questions and other material. For the PDF version click HERE