God’s laws are not just rules. They reveal God’s nature and character. In other words, God’s law reveals to us who God is.
A. Connect to My Experience
Musician and Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan, released the song Gotta Serve Somebody in 1979. The message of the song focused on the premise that regardless of who you are, we all serve somebody (or something) in one way or another.
In what ways does the message of Dylan’s song—we all serve somebody—ring true? Are we really all servants of something or someone? If so, how? If not, why?
What does it look like for us to serve someone or something? What impact does that have upon our lives and those around us?
In world today, to what, or to whom, do we give ourselves in service? Do we find our lives enriched by what we serve? Why or why not?
In today’s passage, we are going to look at an encounter between God, Moses, and the people—an encounter that would forever shape their lives. It’s in this setting that we’ll explore the purpose behind God’s laws and what it means to serve and worship God.
The Israelites, having traveled a three-month’s journey from Egypt to the Desert of Sinai, camped there in the desert close to Mount Sinai. God called Moses to come up the mountain to discuss establishing a covenant with the people; they were to be His people and He would be their God (Ex. 19:3-8). The next step was to have Moses prepare the people to meet God at the mountain. The people were permitted to come close to the mountain, but not to touch it on penalty of death. Moses went down the mountain and explained to them God’s requirements, and to prepare them to meet God (Ex. 19:9-13).
B. Preparing to Meet God (Read Ex.19:14-15)
It had only been three months since the Israelites had left Egypt, where their daily lives consisted of serving Pharaoh. They had grown accustomed to the ways of Egypt and were barely removed from that way of life.
From what you know of the Israelites, what are some ways of thinking and living that had shaped the Israelites while living in Egypt? In our terminology, what kind of “baggage” would they have brought with them from their time in Egypt? (Their identity was in producing something; their value was found in serving the empire; they existed to please Pharaoh; life for some might have felt meaningless, and so on.)
How might this help us understand why Moses was instructed to consecrate the people? (Moses explained to the people that they were to be set apart—consecrated, or made holy. It was a common practice for people to purify themselves by washing their clothes (cf. Gen. 35:2; Num. 8:7; 19:19).
The third day was when the people were to assemble at the foot of the mountain. Abstaining from sexual relations (literally, “do not approach a wife”†) was often observed during times of spiritual significance (cf. 1 Sam. 21:4-5; 2 Sam. 11:11; 1 Cor. 7:5).
In what ways do we prepare ourselves for an encounter with God? In what ways does God prepare us for an encounter with Him?
C. On the Mountain (Read Ex.19:16-19)
Most people don’t mind the occasional thunderstorm. People who encounter these storms on a regular basis are used to them; at the same time, these people do have a healthy fear of what these storms could produce—-wind, rain, lightening, and hail.
What effect, besides trembling, do you think the thunder, lightning, a thick cloud, and a very loud trumpet blast had upon the people? If you had been present, how would you have reacted to these events?
How would this begin to shape their understanding of who God is?
It must have been a terrifying experience for the people to follow Moses out of the camp to the foot of the mountain. It seems obvious who is ordering this encounter between God, Moses, and the people. God, holy and transcendent, initiates this meeting and sets the course for how everything will transpire.
Remembering that it is God who initiates and orders, how does this correct any common misperceptions of worship today?
The smoke and fire coming from the mountain is reminiscent of the forces of a volcano. The forces God used simply exhibited His fearsome power. These forces—storm, thunder, and lightning, along with the smoke and fire, the violent trembling of the whole mountain, and the growing volume of sound from the trumpet (v. 19) indicated a divine appearance. The Lord was descending down onto the mountaintop to be with His people. Such a meeting would have instilled fear in the hearts of all.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was Yahweh. It was His mighty miracles that forced the Egyptians to release the enslaved Israelites (chaps. 7—14). Previously, God had only spoken to and through Moses. Now, the people were meeting their God for the first time. The thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, smoke, fire, and shaking of the mountain—all of these were signs of the power of their God.
Read Acts 2:1-4. What connections do you see between the Sinai experience and Pentecost?
D. God and Moses (Read Ex.19:20-25)
The people were led by Moses to the foot of the mountain. Now, God called Moses to the top of the mountain, only to tell Moses to go back down to warn the people not to forcefully try to see the Lord. If the people trespassed the boundaries and ventured onto the mountain, they would be destroyed. There is a reason the people should respect Yahweh. Yahweh is a holy God and no human can see the face of God and live, not even Moses (Ex.33:20).
Having just been warned by God for the second time about the people approaching the mountain and the need for the priests to consecrate themselves, Moses tells God that the people know the rules and will abide by them.
Why would God repeat the warning about coming up Mount Sinai when Moses has insisted that they know what they’re supposed to do and not supposed to do? (God was setting boundaries.)
Moses obeyed God and went down to the people and told them what God had explained to him.
We have the unique position of knowing that the next words spoken will be the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Knowing the central role these commandments would have in the life of God’s people, how might that highlight the importance of the people not ascending Mount Sinai? (God wanted all of the people to know God’s character revealed in the ensuing commandments. In preparation for the study of the 10 Commandments, read Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21)
E. Connect to My Life and the World
A fundamental truth of our faith is that God reveals God’s character to us. We don’t have to guess what God is like; rather, in many ways God is revealed to us. The interesting part of that is God often shows up in ways that are surprising to us. Whether it’s in the midst of thunder and lightning, out of the whirlwind, through a still, small voice, or as a helpless baby, God shows up in ways and places that confound, yet reveal, God’s character to us.
How do we ensure that we are correctly interpreting God’s revelation in our lives? (God’s Spirit, His Word, and the guidance and wisdom of mature believers.)
We all serve someone or something in some way. The Israelites had for too long served Pharaoh and his empire. God had delivered them from that bondage and desired a relationship with them. The wonderful part about this relationship is that the people didn’t have to guess what God was like, for God took the initiative and showed them His character.
Ask God to continue to reveal himself to you. As God does that, pray that you would faithfully reveal God’s character to your world.