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May 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 13, 2018 – Exodus Chapter 19

The Main Event

Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai.
Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The LORD called to him from the mountain and said,
“Give these instructions to the family of Jacob;
announce it to the descendants of Israel:
‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians.
You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant,
you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth;
for all the earth belongs to me.
And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’
This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.
 Exodus 19:1-6

Intro: Before we jump into the story, here’s what you need to know

This is one of the most significant chapters in the Bible
– it does not reveal a whole lot about God,
• but the information it does reveal is essential
• God reveals himself–that is, his person–to Israel
◦ he also reveals who they will become
◦ Israel identity is derived from Yahweh and their relationship with him
– this chapter is a turning point
• it lays the foundation for all that will follow from this moment on
• Israel is given a new experience of Yahweh
◦ a new revelation and a new relationship
◦ the course of their lives will be sent in a new direction

1-2 The setting is described in terms of time and space

As usual, there aren’t many specific details–e.g., landscape, weather, vegetation, etc.
– in fact, there are so few details that today it is impossible to locate Mount Sinai
• the storyteller assumed his audience was familiar enough with the desert
◦ therefore he could continue on with the story
• still, the fact that this scene occurs in time and space is important
◦ both can be made sacred
“God blessed Sabbath and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3)
and “you are standing on holy ground” (Ex. 3:5)
– Mount Sinai will continue to be the (space) setting for remainder of book

The movement in the story is vertical
– God reveals his presence on the top of Sinai
• the people are present at the foot of the mountain
– Moses is busy going up and down, receiving and delivering messages
• the entire episode is enclosed in an envelope structure:
◦ it begins in verse 3 when Moses first goes up the mountain
◦ it is complete in verse 25 when he comes down from the mountain
• after that, a new section begins (the giving of the ten commandments)

Verses 3-8 are the theological and spiritual heart of the chapter

Corporations define their business, objectives and operations with
– vision statements, mission statements, and purpose statements
• these justify and explain why the company exists; its essence
• God gives Israel a rough draft of their vision statement
– there are three parts to it:
1. Recent history
2. Immediate responsibility
3. Future effect or result

Recent history: you have seen and you know
– what God did to the Egyptians was, he broke their power over Israel
• he took his people out of that oppressive system – all the way out
• my lifetime, seen lots of changes in civil rights,
◦ but we’re not all the way to equality or the end of oppression
◦ in a short span of time, God’s liberation of Israel was complete
carried you on eagles’ wings is poetic – he airlifted them to safety
brought you to myself – they were not lost in the desert
• nor were they still a long way from their destination
• they had arrived – they were now with Yahweh their God
◦ what a revelation that is!
◦ wherever I am, wherever you are, if we are “in Christ” we have arrived

Israel’s immediate responsibilityobey me
– literally, “listen to my voice” — a more personal expression
• and God reminds Israel of this personal connection many years later

When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burn offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them. [pretty soon in our study it will seem like this was what he wanted] This is what I told them: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!” (Jer. 7:23)

keep my covenant – God’s covenant is a central theme in Old Testament theology
• for now, this is the heart and the guarantee of Israel’s relationship with God
◦ covenants were key social and political agreements
◦ but being in covenant with a deity was unheard of
• if we ask, “Why did God bring Israel to Mt. Sinai?”
◦ the answer is, “So they could enter a covenant with him”

The future result: would be nothing less than their destiny
– they would be a unique people – God’s special treasure
• everyone belongs to God, but he would treat them differently
• these would be the people to whom he revealed himself
a kingdom of priests – ideally, there wouldn’t be a special class of priests
• they would all have access to God
• the nation itself would me as a mediator for the rest of the world
a holy nation – goes with being priests
• although holiness is not explicitly emphasized in this chapter,
◦ it still makes a strong impact on the story
◦ in fact, on what comes next (after Moses’ reports to the people and back to God)

9-15 God tells Moses to prepare the people for an encounter

Rudolph Otto argued that holiness cannot be reduced to rational or ethical definitions

Rather, holiness is “pre-eminently a living force” and produces feelings and a “mental state” that are unique. When a people encountered God, the impression that is holiness made on them was of their complete dependence on God for their existence.

– so Israel had to be prepared for this
• they were not, by nature, holy and therefore needed to be consecrated
◦ to consecrate or “sanctify” means “make holy” or sacred
• all of Israel’s rituals served to do this for them
◦ all of God’s laws were meant to maintain this condition
◦ this fit them for drawing close to God

You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy (Lev. 19:2)

– we are not told how Moses consecrated them
• but it included washing their clothes
• once prepared, God would descend “before their eyes”

An additional precaution, Mark off a boundary … Warn the people
– make a note of this warning
• we’re not told the mountain will be too holy to approach, but that’s the idea
• when Moses was drawn to the flame that engulfed the bush without consuming it,
◦ God’s first words were,

Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground (Ex. 3:5)

– the penalty for crossing the boundary or touching the mountain was death

16-20 The encounter

A cataclysmic spectacle
– thunder roared, lightning flashed, a thick cloud formed, and there was a loud blast
• Mount Sinai was the epicenter of an intersection between heaven and earth
◦ the contact was electric–sparks flew and the earth shook
◦ in fact, all the people trembled (v. 16) and all the mountain trembled (v. 18)
– the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) was sustained and increased in volume
• it was like announcing the arrival of a king (here, the King of kings)
• Moses spoke and God answered
◦ people witnessed their conversation (the fact of it)
◦ cf. the uniqueness of God’s communication with Moses (Nu. 12:6-8)

21-25 Two more times God gives the same warning

This seems redundant and even Moses points this out

“But LORD,” Moses protested, the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. You already warned us. You told me, ‘Mark off a boundary all around the mountain to set it apart as holy.'” (v. 23)

– perhaps the idea is that being told once might not be sufficient
• they may not have taken one warning seriously enough
– it would be good to meditate on this juxtaposition of nearness and distance
• that God’s holiness evokes fear while his mercy evokes love
◦ we may at times have a strong sense of God’s presence,
◦ but he still maintains boundaries

Linette Martin, “We may become so busy being friendly with God that we forget who he is–and that would be dangerous.”

• in God we experience both infinite love and infinite difference
◦ we are always the finite creature and he, the infinite Creator
◦ God is both person and mystery — we respond to him both in intimacy and reverence

Linette Martin, “To love what is greater than ourselves should be a fearful experience if we have a proper sense of proportion.”

Conclusion: This past week I attended a conference for worship leaders

In one of the panel discussion I joined, we were asked, “What are we missing?”
– in other words, what has been neglected, forgotten or left out of contemporary Christian worship?
• several people in the audience volunteered answers
• on person suggested that the Holy Spirit was missing
◦ perhaps that meant we’re supposed to see the irruption of Mt. Sinai every Sunday morning
– no doubt there are people who try to produce fireworks
• to work up signs and wonders – and when nothing happens, blame someone
• work up a dynamic emotional experience
◦ even if the feelings wear off before people have left the parking lot
◦ the spectacle was not the essence of Israel’s encounter

In answer to the question put to the panel, I told a story you’ve probably heard me tell many times

I was in the ocean with my body board on a day when there were no waves. Usually that’s okay, because I enjoy lying still, floating and looking at the horizon. But on this occasion I was feeling agitated for some reason. So I prayed, “Lord, what am I missing?” What I heard was, “Everything.”
Looking nearby, a wave was breaking over a rock and cascading down over the mussel shells clinging tightly to it. The way the sun hit the droplets, they shimmered like thousands of diamonds spilling into the water. The glory of the Lord is what I had been missing. And it was missing because I had not been looking.

– so I suggested that perhaps what was missing was the looking
• a woman in the audience said, “I think what we’re missing is light”
◦ I didn’t understand at first, but she explained
• in part, she was concerned about our darkened sanctuaries
◦ but she also meant something more–well, metaphysical
◦ we are not seeing everything God wants to show us
◦ in our environments, in others and even in ourselves
– her words went deep into me
• I wanted to end the session and go off and meditate on God’s “uncreated light”
◦ I wanted to go look for what I had missed

Later, when alone and passing through a campus quad, I noticed filtered sunlight streaming through tall pillars and shadows stretched long across the pavement. When I got to my car, thousands of parachute seeds were falling from nearby trees and piles of them formed drifts in the parking lot. I let myself pause to look, to listen, to open my heart, and to give thanks. It was breathtaking.

The next morning, I was meditating on three verses from Acts 22

I was blinded by the intense light (v. 11)
“Brother Saul, regain your sight” (v. 13)
I saw a vision of Jesus (v. 18)

I wrote in my notebook,

“We need God to throw his light on–everything. We miss so much that is right here, around us. We don’t see it, because light is not thrown on it for us. Light isn’t thrown on it, because we aren’t looking. We’re too busy with the sound board, monitors, chord charts, the line-up, etcetera. I read this morning Basil Hume’s reflections on Holy Saturday and its empty darkness (or dark emptiness) and our need for God to throw the light of the Spirit on all things and our need to “see things differently.”

When I returned home from the conference, I read the following by Linette Martin
(can you see a pattern?)

“To look at God means simply ‘to look’: I cannot explain it any other way. I know that may sound fanciful . . ., but it is something that must be done if prayer is ever to be more than recitation or chatter. So do not analyze what it means to look at God: just do it. The facility has been built into you by the God who created you. You can meet God where you are now, wherever that may be, by looking.”

I have tried on occasion to give simple spiritual exercises
the goal is to help build awareness in our day, any time, anywhere
One of those exercises that has helped me considerably,
is to pause and ask myself,
“What am I thinking about right now?”

Now I suggest that we remind ourselves to look
Whenever we’re forced to wait,
we do not need to wait in frustration, impatience or idleness
Instead, we can look around
asking God to let us see where he is shining his light for us
We will not be so much looking at, but looking for
hints of grace,
splashes of beauty,
hidden goodness

Ed Cyzewski says, “It is significantly easier to waste fifteen minutes or more flipping through a phone, tablet or computer than to face the emptiness of silence and solitude.”

We are cognitively aware that God is always present
Now let’s become consciously aware – lets look!

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