At Mount Sinai
1-2The Israelites left Rephidim and arrived at the desert. Then two months after leaving Egypt, they arrived at the desert near Mount Sinai, where they set up camp at the foot of the mountain. This was two months after they had left Egypt.
3Moses went up the mountain to meet with the Lord God, who told him to say to the people:
4You saw what I did in Egypt, and you know how I brought you here to me, just as a mighty eagle carries its young. 5 Now if you will faithfully obey me, you will be my very own people. The whole world is mine, 6 but you will be my holy nation and serve me as priests.
Moses, that is what you must tell the Israelites.
7After Moses went back, he reported to the leaders what the Lord had said, 8and they all promised, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses told the Lord about this.
9The Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud and let the people hear me speak to you. Then they will always trust you.” Again Moses reported to the Lord what the people had said.
10Once more the Lord spoke to Moses:
Go back and tell the people that today and tomorrow they must get themselves ready to meet me. They must wash their clothes 11and be ready by the day after tomorrow, when I will come down to Mount Sinai, where all of them can see me.
12 Warn the people that they are forbidden to touch any part of the mountain. Anyone who does will be put to death, 13either with stones or arrows, and no one must touch the body of the person being put to death in this way. Even an animal that touches this mountain must be put to death. You may go up the mountain only after a signal is given on the trumpet.
14After Moses went down the mountain, he gave orders for the people to wash their clothes and make themselves acceptable to worship God. 15He told them to be ready in three days and not to have sex in the meantime.
The Lord Comes
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning. A thick cloud covered the mountain, a loud trumpet blast was heard, and everyone in camp trembled with fear. 17Moses led them out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
18Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had come down in a flaming fire. Smoke poured out of the mountain just like a furnace, and the whole mountain shook. 19The trumpet blew louder and louder. Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.
20The Lord came down to the top of Mount Sinai and told Moses to meet him there. 21Then he said, “Moses, go and warn the people not to cross the boundary that you set at the foot of the mountain. They must not cross it to come and look at me, because if they do, many of them will die. 22Only the priests may come near me, and they must obey strict rules before I let them. If they don't, they will be punished.”
23Moses replied, “The people cannot come up the mountain. You warned us to stay away because it is holy.”
24Then the Lord told Moses, “Go down and bring Aaron back here with you. But the priests and people must not try to push their way through, or I will rush at them like a flood!”
25After Moses had gone back down, he told the people what the Lord had said.
These next two chapters are central to the story of the Old Testament. God is coming down to meet and speak with his own people. They are his own because they are descended from Abraham, and he has led them back from slavery in Egypt. God has redeemed them from the might of Pharaoh. He has provided for them in the wilderness and he has been with them in the pillar of fire and cloud.
Yet, he has not made himself known to them. He had spoken to Moses but now everyone will hear his voice and sense his presence. God was coming down the Mountain of Horeb (better known to us as Sinai).
Israel was camped at the foot of the mountain. God would descend in a thick cloud and the sounds and fire were like a volcanic eruption. The people were not to touch the mountain now made holy because of the Lord’s presence. Moses and Aaron would be at the top with God and the people below. God would be with them and they would sense it. They could see and hear and taste that God was there.
The key to the chapter is in verses 5-6: “Now if you will faithfully obey me, you will be my very own people. The whole world is mine, but you will be my holy nation and serve me as priests.” These are words of love. These are promises of covenant faithfulness.
Yet, notice that these promises are contingent on hearing and obeying. The covenant was a two way promise. God knew what was in their hearts. God was on the brink of sharing his nature with the people of Israel.
They were to be his and they were to be in his likeness. Just as Adam was made in God’s likeness, (Genesis 1:27) so now Israel was to bear the likeness of God’s holy character. All they had to do was to listen and obey. It all seemed to be beginning so well.
Lord, thank you for making yourself known to us. Thank you for your covenant vow, that we are yours, if we but listen and obey. Help us to conform to your likeness. Father, we need you and we thank you for meeting our need.