The Biblical Illustrator
Wilderness of Sinai.
1. Months and days from Egyptian bondage are fit to be recorded.
2. Days are set by God for the Church’s gradual progress to their rest; it fails not (Exodus 19:1).
3. From Rephidim to Sinai, or from straits and trials to some rest and doctrine God removes His Church.
4. The Church’s camp and God’s mount are sweetly joined together (Exodus 19:2). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The wilderness of Sinai
After their long halt, exulting in their first victory, they advanced deeper into the mountain ranges, they knew not whither. They knew only that it was for some great end, for some solemn disclosure, such as they had never before witnessed. Onward they went, through winding valley, and under high cliff, and over rugged pass, and through gigantic forms, on which the marks of creation even now seem fresh and powerful; and at last, through all the different valleys, the whole body of the people were assembled. On their right hand and on their left rose long sucessions of lofty rocks, forming a vast avenue, like the approaches which they had seen leading to the Egyptian temples between colossal figures of men and of gods. At the end of this broad avenue, rising immediately out of the level plain on which they were encamped, towered the massive cliffs of Sinai, like the huge altar of some natural temple; encircled by peaks of every shape and height, the natural pyramids of the desert. In this sanctuary, secluded from all earthly things, they waited for the revelation of God. (Dean Stanley.)
In the third month from the Exodus, and on the selfsame day (which addition fixes the date precisely), the people reached the wilderness of Sinai. This answers fairly to the date of Pentecost, which was afterwards connected by tradition with the giving of the law. And therefore Pentecost was the right time for the gift of the Holy Ghost, bringing with Him the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and that freedom from servile Jewish obedience which is not attained by violating law, but by being imbued in its spirit, by the love which is the fulfilling of the law.
* * * * *
There is among the solemn solitudes of Sinai a wide amphitheatre, reached by two converging valleys, and confronted by an enormous perpendicular cliff, the Ras Sufsafeh--a "natural altar," before which the nation had room to congregate, awed by the stern magnificence of the approach, and by the intense loneliness and desolation of the surrounding scene, and thus prepared for the unparalleled revelation which awaited them.
It is the manner of God to speak through nature and the senses to the soul. We cannot imagine the youth of the Baptist spent in Nazareth, nor of Jesus in the desert. Elijah, too, was led into the wilderness to receive the vision of God, and the agony of Jesus was endured at night, and secluded by the olives from the paschal moon. It is by another application of the same principle that the settled Jewish worship was bright with music and splendid with gold and purple; and the notion that the sublime and beautiful in nature and art cannot awaken the feelings to which religion appeals, is as shallow as the notion that when these feelings are awakened all is won.
What happens next is a protest against this latter extreme. Awe is one thing: the submission of the will is another. And therefore Moses was stopped when about to ascend the mountain, there to keep the solemn appointment that was made when God said, "This shall be the token unto thee that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exodus 3:12). His own sense of the greatness of the crisis perhaps needed to be deepened. Certainly the nation had to be pledged, induced to make a deliberate choice, now first, as often again, under Joshua and Samuel, and when Elijah invoked Jehovah upon Carmel. (Joshua 24:24; 1 Samuel 12:14; 1 Kings 18:21, 1 Kings 18:39.)
It is easy to speak of pledges and formal declarations lightly, but they have their warrant in many such Scriptural analogies, nor should we easily find a church, careful to deal with souls, which has not employed them in some form, whether after the Anglican and Lutheran fashion, by confirmation, or in the less formal methods of other Protestant communions, or even by delaying baptism itself until it becomes, for the adult in Christian lands, what it is to the convert from false creeds.
Therefore the Lord called to Moses as he climbed the steep, and offered through him a formal covenant to the people.
"Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob,(33) and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself."
The appeal is to their personal experience and their gratitude: will this be enough? will they accept His yoke, as every convert must, not knowing what it may involve, not yet having His demands specified and His commandments before their eyes, content to believe that whatever is required of them will be good, because the requirement is from God? Thus did Abraham, who went forth, not knowing whither, but knowing that he was divinely guided. "Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine, and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
Thus God conveys to them, more explicitly than hitherto, the fact that He is the universal Lord, not ruling one land or nation only, nor, as the Pentateuch is charged with teaching, their tutelary deity among many others. Thus also the seeds are sown in them of a wholesome and rational self-respect, such as the Psalmist felt, who asked "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" yet realised that such mindfulness gave to man a real dignity, made him but little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honour.
Abolish religion, and mankind will divide into two classes,--one in which vanity, unchecked by any spiritual superior, will obey no restraints of law, and another of which the conscious pettiness will aspire to no dignity of holiness, and shrink from no dishonour of sin. It is only the presence of a loving God which can unite in us the sense of humility and greatness, as having nothing and yet possessing all things, and valued by God as His "peculiar treasure."(34)
And with a reasonable self-respect should come a noble and yet sober dignity--"Ye shall be a kingdom of priests," a dynasty (for such is the meaning) of persons invested with royal and also with priestly rank. This was spoken just before the law gave the priesthood into the hands of one tribe; and thus we learn that Levi and Aaron were not to supplant the nation, but to represent it.
Now, this double rank is the property of redeemed humanity: we are "a kingdom and priests unto God." Yet the laity of the Corinthian Church were rebuked for a self-asserting and mutinous enjoyment of their rank: "Ye have reigned as kings without us"; and others there were in this Christian dispensation who "perished in the gainsaying of Korah" (1 Corinthians 4:8; Jude 1:11).
If the words "He hath made us a kingdom and priests" furnish any argument against the existence of an ordained ministry now, then there should have been no Jewish priesthood, for the same words are here. And is it supposed that this assertion only began to be true when the apostles died? Certainly there is a kind of self-assertion in the ministry which they condemn. But if they are opposed to its existence, alas for the Pastoral Epistles! It was because the function belonged to all, that no man might arrogate it who was not commissioned to act on behalf of all.
But while the individual may not assert himself to the unsettling of church order, the privilege is still common property. All believers have boldness to enter into the holiest place of all. All are called upon to rule for God "over a few things," to establish a kingdom of God within, and thus to receive a crown of life, and to sit with Jesus upon His throne. The very honours by which Israel was drawn to God are offered to us all, as it is written, "We are the circumcision," "We are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (Philippians 3:3; Galatians 3:29).
To this appeal the nation responded gladly. They could feel that indeed they had been sustained by God as the eagle bears her young--not grasping them in her claws, like other birds, but as if enthroned between her wings, and sheltered by her body, which interposed between the young and any arrow of the hunter. Thus, say the Rabbinical interpreters, did the pillar of cloud intervene between Israel and the Egyptians. If the image were to be pressed so far, we could now find a much closer analogy for the eagle "preferring itself to be pierced rather than to witness the death of its young" (Kalisch). But far more tender, and very touching in its domestic homeliness, is the metaphor of Him Whose discourses teem with allusions to the Old Testament, yet Who preferred to compare Himself to a hen gathering her chickens under her wing.
With the adhesion of Israel to the covenant, Moses returned to God. And the Lord said, "Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may also believe thee for ever."
The design was to deepen their reverence for the Lawgiver Whose law they should now receive; to express by lessons, not more dreadful than the plagues of Egypt, but more vivid and sublime, the tremendous grandeur of Him Who was making a covenant with them, Who had borne them on His wings and called them His firstborn Son, Whom therefore they might be tempted to approach with undue familiarity, were it not for the mountain that burned up to heaven, the voice of the trumpet waxing louder and louder, and the Appearance so fearful that Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake" (to phantazomenon-- Hebrews 12:21).
When thus the Deity became terrible, the envoy would be honoured also.
But it is important to observe that these terrible manifestations were to cease. Like the impressions produced by sickness, by sudden deaths, by our own imminent danger, the emotion would subside, but the conviction should remain: they should believe Moses for ever. Emotions are like the swellings of the Nile: they subside again; but they ought to leave a fertilising deposit behind.
That the impression might not be altogether passive, and therefore ephemeral, the people were bidden to "sanctify themselves"; all that is common and secular must be suspended for awhile; and it is worth notice that, as when the family of Jacob put away their strange gods, so now the Israelites must wash their clothes (cf. Genesis 35:2). For one's vestment is a kind of outer self, and has been with the man in the old occupations from which he desires to purify himself. It was therefore that when Jehu was made king, and when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, men put their garments under their chief to express their own subjection (2 Kings 9:13; Matthew 21:7). Much of the philosophy of Carlyle is latent in these ancient laws and usages.
Moreover, the mountain was to be fenced from the risk of profanation by any sudden impulsive movement of the crowd, and even a beast that touched it should be slain by such weapons as men could hurl without themselves pursuing it. Only when the trumpet blew a long summons might the appointed ones come up to the mount (Exodus 19:13).
On the third day, after a soul-searching interval, there were thunders and lightnings, and a cloud, and the trumpet blast; and while all the people trembled, Moses led them forth to meet with God. Again the narrative reverts to the terrible phenomena--the fire like the smoke of a furnace (called by an Egyptian name which only occurs in the Pentateuch), and the whole mountain quaking. Then, since his commission was now to be established, Moses spake, and the Lord answered him with a voice. And when he again climbed the mountain, it became necessary to send him back with yet another warning, whether his example was in danger of emboldening others to exercise their newly given priesthood, or the very excess of terror exercised its well-known fascinating power, as men in a burning ship have been seen to leap into the flames.
And the priests also, who come near to God, should sanctify themselves. It has been asked who these were, since the Levitical institutions were still non-existent (Exodus 19:22-24). But it is certain that the heads of houses exercised priestly functions; and it is not impossible that the elders of Israel who came to eat before God with Jethro (Exodus 18:12) had begun to perform religious functions for the people. Is it supposed that the nation had gone without religious services for three months?
It has been remarked by many that the law of Moses appealed for acceptance to popular and even democratic sanctions. The covenant was ratified by a plebiscite. The tremendous evidence was offered equally to all. For, said St. Augustine, "as it was fit that the law which was given, not to one man or a few enlightened people, but to the whole of a populous nation, should be accompanied by awe-inspiring signs, great marvels were wrought ... before the people" (De Civ. Dei, x. 13).
We have also to observe the contrast between the appearance of God on Sinai and His manifestation in Jesus. And this also was strongly wrought out by an ancient father, who represented the Virgin Mary, in the act of giving Jesus into the hands of Simeon, as saying, "The blast of the trumpet does not now terrify those who approach, nor a second time does the mountain, all on fire, cause terror to those who come nigh, nor does the law punish relentlessly those who would boldly touch. What is present here speaks of love to man; what is apparent, of the Divine compassion." (Methodius De Sym. et Anna, vii.)
But we must remember that the Epistle to the Hebrews regards the second manifestation as the more solemn of the two, for this very reason: that we have not come to a burning mountain, or to mortal penalties for carnal irreverence, but to the spiritual mountain Zion, to countless angels, to God the Judge, to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus Christ. If they escaped not, when they refused Him Who warned on earth, much more we, who turn away from Him Who warneth from heaven (Hebrews 12:18-25).
There is a question, lying far behind all these, which demands attention.
It is said that legends of wonderful appearances of the gods are common to all religions; that there is no reason for giving credit to this one and rejecting all the rest; and, more than this, that God absolutely could not reveal Himself by sensuous appearances, being Himself a Spirit. In what sense and to what extent God can be said to have really revealed Himself, we shall examine hereafter. At present it is enough to ask whether human love and hatred, joy and sorrow, homage and scorn can manifest themselves by looks and tones, by the open palm and the clenched fist, by laughter and tears, by a bent neck and by a curled lip. For if what is most immaterial in our own soul can find sensuous expression, it is somewhat bold to deny that a majesty and power beyond anything human may at least be conceived as finding utterance, through a mountain burning to the summit and reeling to the base, and the blast of a trumpet which the people could not hear and live.
But when it is argued that wondrous theophanies are common to all faiths, two replies present themselves. If all the races of mankind agree in believing that there is a God, and that He manifests Himself wonderfully, does that really prove that there is no God, or even that He never manifested Himself wondrously? We should certainly be derided if we insisted that such a universal belief proved the truth of the story of Mount Sinai, and perhaps we should deserve our fate. But it is more absurd by far to pretend that this instinct, this intuition, this universal expectation that God would some day, somewhere, rend the veil which hides Him, does actually refute the narrative.
We have also to ask for the production of those other narratives, sublime in their conception and in the vast audience which they challenged, sublimely pure alike from taint of idolatrous superstition and of moral evil, profound and far-reaching in their practical effect upon humanity, which deserve to be so closely associated with the giving of the Mosaic law that in their collapse it also must be destroyed, as the fall of one tree sometimes breaks the next. But this narrative stands out so far in the open, and lifts its head so high, that no other even touches a bough of it when overturned.
Is it seriously meant to compare the alleged disappearance of Romulus, or the secret interviews of Numa with his Egeria, to a history like this? Surely one similar story should be produced, before it is asserted that such stories are everywhere.
I bare you on eagles’ wings.
Borne on eagles’ wings
God here employs a similitude denoting the speed, the security and the tender care with which they were, as it were, transported from the house of bondage, and which is expanded in fuller significancy (Deuteronomy 32:11-12). Here is a figurative illustration of an important work. We may apply it to three things in the history of the Christian.
1. To the period of conversion. Then God bears sinners on eagles’ wings and brings them to Himself. He stirs up the nest of self-righteousness and carnal security; flutters over them, excites and teaches them to fly towards heaven in their desires and affections.
2. It will also apply to the season of deliverance, and is descriptive of the speed with which God comes to the help of His people, and the security He effects; for the eagle is not only a swift, but a powerful bird.
3. It will apply to their final happiness. He will bear His people on eagles’ wings to heaven. It may be He may bear them through many a dark and trying scene, but they shall be brought to glory at last. (A. Nevin, D. D.)
There is great beauty and truth in this expression, and it well displays all that God had done for this enslaved people. The eagle is the most powerful of the birds of prey of the ancient world; it is the most rapid in its flight, the highest and most majestic in its aerial courses, and, at the same time, one of the most tender towards its young. These four qualities of the eagle admirably depict--
1. The power with which God had delivered Israel, destroying for them the most formidable nations, raising tempests in the heavens, and the waves of the sea, opening its abyss, and, as it is elsewhere expressed, saving them “through a mighty hand, and by a stretched-out arm.”
2. The astonishing quickness of this deliverance: fifty days had scarcely elapsed since this multitude were slaves on the borders of the Nile employed in making bricks, under the lash of the task-masters; and lo! they were all gathered together at the foot of the mountains of Arabia, having passed, like an eagle, over deserts and seas.
3. The majesty which God had displayed in His intervention. As the eagle which, bearing its young upon its back, flies not near the earth, nor from tree to tree like other birds, but soars majestically at the height of the clouds, see with what brilliant grandeur God had delivered Israel: the Nile is turned into blood, the sun darkened, darkness covers the land for three days, thunder and hailstones rend the heavens, the Destroying Angel passes over Egypt in the terrible night of the death of its firstborn, the pillar of the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night goes before the camp of Israel, the voice of God is heard with power from the heights of heaven.
4. The tender care of the eagle for its cherished young presents to us a touching figure of the conduct of God towards Israel. The eagle broods over its young in its nest in the crevice of some rock, it cherishes them, it nourishes them, it carries them upon its wings, it deposits them tenderly, in such places as it deems good for them, and soon teaches them to fly alone in the sky. Well, such had been the conduct of God towards His people. Read what God Himself says about it in Deuteronomy 32:7-14. (Prof. Gaussen.)
And brought you unto Myself
The Israelites had, on the one side, by the Egyptian servitude; on the other, by the Egyptian idolatry, with which they had contaminated themselves, swerved far from God, His purity and sanctity--in a word, from truth and genuine faith; now God, in graciously granting them His revelation and His pure doctrines, brings them again back to Himself; He intends to make them “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
A peculiar treasure unto Me.
God’s people His treasure
1. A treasure is something searched for. The Holy Spirit is ever diligently seeking after Christians.
2. A treasure when found is carefully guarded. As the apple of His eye God protects those who trust Him.
3. The finding of a treasure is the occasion of rejoicing. “There is joy in heaven,” etc.
4. To obtain a treasure we will make great sacrifices. “God gave His only begotten Son,” etc. (Homiletic Review.)
The problem was: How to convert a horde of demoralized slaves into a nation of virtuous freemen, paying a free obedience to law, as they had before paid a forced obedience to the lash of the taskmaster? The practical solution of the problem involved the application of three spiritual forces or living principles. We may describe them thus:--
1. The revelation of the new name of God, “Jehovah,” the Eternal, the unchangeable, the self-same.
2. The revelation of the ideal or standard, which the nation is to keep steadily before mind and conscience, as the thing to be aimed at and striven after. This revelation is given most explicitly and clearly in the words of our text: “A kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”
3. The actual legislation which is founded upon these two revelations:--of which legislation the law of the Ten Commandments is the eternal and indestructible substructure--as strong and durable now as when it was first uttered by the voice of God to Israel--as much the foundation of all legislation now as of the distinctively Mosaic legislation then. It was under the operation of these three forces that Israel became and continued to be a nation. It is under the operation of the same or analogous forces that any nation becomes and continues to be a nation. When such forces cease to operate upon a nation, it dies.
To prove and illustrate this point must form the remainder of our subject.
1. It is impossible for any of us to overlook the importance of the words which introduce the Ten Commandments. “I am the Lord.”--that is, the Eternal--“thy God.” They are not an ornamental flourish or accidental prefix. They are the living root of all that follows. Again and again, in the course of the subsequent legislation, the words recur; even in those parts of the legislation which are most minute and temporary, sanitary or ceremonial. The new name, upon which the nation is to be built, is the name “Jehovah,” the Eternal; to which is added the old name, “thy God,” as a name to be cherished and dear as ever. Now, in this name Jehovah is involved the notion of permanence, unchangeableness; and this notion lies at the root of law, whether laws of man, or laws of nature, or laws of God. But to this tremendous, this oppressive, notion of unchangeableness, there is added the tender grace of the old name, “Thy God”--One with whom every Israelite and every human being may plead, as the Psalmist does, “O God, Thou art my God.” It is the blending of the two together; it is the intertwining of the two subtle and mighty spiritual forces, implied in the two names, that made the revelation so potent for its great purpose--the creation of a nation, that should be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. And just in proportion as the hold of those names upon heart and conscience relaxed, the nation decayed and died. For, indeed, it is everlastingly true, as one of our own poets has said, that “by the soul only the nations can be great and free.” Any one can see, that a really free people must be a loyal or law-abiding people; and that laws, which are to receive the willing obedience of such a people, must be founded on the immutable principles of truth and justice and morality. Nor can any one doubt that the Mosaic legislation is founded on such principles.
2. But now I wish to speak to you about the second of those three spiritual forces, in the strength of which Israel was to be moulded into a nation. I have already described it as the revelation of the ideal which the nation was to keep steadily before mind and conscience, as the thing to be aimed at and striven after. Our text words it thus: “Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant.” The destiny--the calling and election--of the nation of Israel was higher and holier than the destiny of any other nation. It was chosen to bear witness to the kingdom of God and His righteousness, before all the nations of the earth; a kingdom of priests, a royal and priestly race, each member of it uniting in his own person the attributes of a king and a priest: a king, to rule right loyally over his own lower and baser nature; a priest, to offer himself up in willing sacrifice to God. This pattern of righteousness the most choice and elect members of the nation did exhibit. You have only to think over the long list of truly kingly and priestly characters--from Moses to John the Baptist--to be satisfied of this. The fact that the election of Israel was what it was, does not deprive all other nations of an election of their own. On the contrary, tile very words of our text, which affirm most strongly the election of Israel, do at least suggest the thought of a corresponding, though inferior, election of all other nations. At this distance of time we have not the data for determining the special calling of Egypt, for example, or of Assyria. But we can discern with very tolerable clearness the election, the manifest destiny, of Greece and of Rome; the call of Greece to catch the inspiration of beauty, and to be the nurse of freedom; the call of Rome to be the schoolmaster of the nations, with its iron rod of law and order. We can discern, also, with perfect clearness, the vast inferiority, even of such a calling and election as this, to the calling of Israel; and can therefore fully justify the language of our text: “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people.” But if this principle of a calling and election of nations holds true of the whole ancient world, why should it not hold true of the whole modern world also? So long as national distinctions and national characteristics exist at all, there must exist along with them corresponding national duties and national responsibilities. What is it, then, for England and for us? It may be said, that it is the manifest destiny of England to colonize and subdue the earth--to girdle it with rails of iron and steel, and lines of telegraph wire. It is in words like these, Duty and Justice-in the response which they awaken in our hearts--that we English people find the revelation of our national calling and election of God. As a nation, we are called, in a special sense, to be just and dutiful. And if our children are to go out into distant lands, and among subject peoples, to be models of duty and justice there, they must be nursed and trained in those principles first at home. A “kingdom of priests”:--yes--and that title belongs also to us, as well as to Israel; though to us, not as Englishmen, but as Christians. For is it not written: “Unto Him who loveth us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father: to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” I need not say that there is no discrepancy whatever between our special calling as Englishmen, and our more general calling as disciples of Christ. On the contrary, the latter must and does sustain and verify the former. Just in proportion as we learn to rule, as kings, over our lower, baser, selfish nature; and to offer ourselves up as priests, living, reasonable, and spiritual sacrifices, in the power and virtue of the one perfect Sacrifice, to God; just in this proportion shall we be enabled to do justice and judgment, and to walk dutifully and uprightly, and so to uphold the true glory of the English name, in whatever circumstances we may be placed--whether at home, or amongst strangers and foreigners in some far distant land. It was so with the heroes of England in the past. (D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
1. In covenant-making or lawgiving from God there is need of some mediator to be with God.
2. God’s call alone can qualify or authorize a mediator between Him and sinners.
3. It is incumbent on the mediator to declare fully God’s mind unto His people.
4. A due recognition of God’s gracious acts for souls against enemies is a good preparation to receive His law.
5. God’s securing providence as well as selecting a people to Himself prepare them to hear His covenant (Exodus 19:4).
6. God’s covenanted people are His peculiar treasure in the world.
7. It is God’s free grace who owneth all nations on earth to make one His peculiar above another (Exodus 19:5).
8. Royalty, near communion with God, and sanctity are the privileges of God’s peculiar ones. Kings, priests, and saints.
9. The words of duty and privilege must be spoken and made known unto the Church (Exodus 19:6). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
God’s promise to the Jews
I. The recital of His works.
II. The proposes of His love.
III. The promises of His grace. (T. Mortimer.)
“All the earth is Mine”
I. God’s assertion of universal possession in the earth
3. The animal and vegetable kingdoms.
II. God’s assertion excludes every other being from universal possession.
1. It is not man’s earth.
2. It is not the devil’s.
3. It does not belong to any created intelligence.
III. God’s assertion should awaken confidence in His saints and terror in sinners.
1. All forces are under His control.
2. Everything that is not of Him must fail.
3. His possession of the earth will be fully manifest in the end. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Explanation of the Divine preferences
Here is the explanation of the Divine preferences which have distressed so many hearts under the cruel name of sovereignty and election. There need be no torture in using those words. II we feel distressed by them, it is because we have come upon them along the wrong path. They are beautiful and noble words when set in their places according to the Divine intent. “Then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people.” Is that partiality in any exclusive sense? Not at all; it is really meant to be inclusive. God elects humanity. “And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom.” In what sense? In the ordinary sense--namely, a great aggregate of subjects ruled by one arbitrary and despotic king? In no such sense. The literal meaning is, ye shall all be kings. Now ye see the meaning of that great name, “King of kings”--not king of an individual monarch here and there, as in Britain, or Russia, or China, but of all believers. All obedient souls are lifted up unto kinghood. We are royal equals if we obey Heaven’s will, and God is King of kings--King of all. We are a royal generation. All this language is typical. Beautiful is the historical line when seized and wisely applied. Let us attempt such seizure and application. The firstborn were chosen, and the firstborn were to be priests. In what sense are the firstborn chosen? Not as relegating the afterborn to positions subordinate and inferior; but in the sense of being their pledge and seal. God has the eldest Son, and therefore--that is the sacred logic--He has all the other children. Then the laws regarding the priesthood underwent a change, and the family of Aaron was called. We proceed from an individual, namely, the firstborn, to a family, namely, the Aaronic stock. But why were they chosen? That all the children of Aaron might also be priests, in the truly spiritual and eternal sense, though not in official and formal name and status. Then the family was deposed and a tribe is chosen--the tribe of Levi. Mark how the history accumulates and grows up into a prophecy and an argument! First the individual, then the family, then the tribe, then the Son of Man--absorbing all the past, gathering up into its true and official meaning all priesthood, aH intercession. There is one Advocate with the Father, the Man Christ Jesus. A new light thus begins to dawn upon the cloud. There is nothing arbitrary in the movement of God when we can penetrate its infinite philosophy. Will God have the first-fruits of the harvest field? He claims all such. Why will He claim the first-fruits? That in having the first-fruits He might have all the field. He will not take the whole wheat acreage of the world into His heavens and devour our poor loaf of bread; but He will take the first ear of corn that we can find in all the fields, and, having taken that, He says: “In giving Me this you have given Me all.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s peculiar treasure
Exotic flowers or foreign plants, if seeded on the mountain side, or inserted in the meadow amongst the promiscuous herbage growing there, soon become choked and disappear. Those who wish to preserve the flaming glories of the Cape, or the rich fruits of the tropic, must provide a garden enclosed--must keep out the weeds and rough weather. And so God, anxious to preserve “His Holy Law,” fenced in the Hebrew nationality. He secluded them, and wailed them in, and made them, as it were, His own conservatory--a conservatory where Divine truth should survive uninjured until Messiah should come.
God’s covenant uniform
What covenant could this be, containing such promises, and by which a people should be a peculiar treasure to God, and above all others upon the earth; yea, a royal priesthood, a holy nation? This could be no other than the covenant of redemption by Christ, to the blessings of which man has no claim but in grace. The covenant of God, as the Church of God itself, under every diversity of dispensation has been the same. Whatever of a national character was peculiar to Israel, and that ceased under a better economy, was extraneous to this, and not an essential constituent or feature thereof. Uniformity of design is discoverable through the whole progress of Divine revelation, and under every form of religious ceremony. God has not at any period contradicted Himself, or set before man a covenant of grace at one time, and a covenant of works at another, for the hope of life. It would have been contrary to all that God had done, and to all that He yet promised to do, as also a break of an awful character, and the introduction of confusion into the whole system of redemption, to have here brought the nation under a covenant of works, by which they had virtually perished. True it is, that Sinai and Zion are, by the apostle, placed in contradistinction: the one as gendering to bondage; the other as free: the one as characterized by the law of condemnation; the other by the law of righteousness: but it is in certain respects only that that contrast holds good, not in the essential intention of things. The whole fabric of their ecclesiastical polity, conjoined in all its parts with exquisite wisdom, was the workmanship of mercy. By redemption it was that God claimed Israel as His own, a treasure, His best and greatest treasure, a treasure containing a treasure, His grace, His glory, the promised seed His Son. All the earth was His; yet in all the earth was nothing He so valued, nothing He held so dear. Still this treasure so great had been lost but for the security and grace of the covenant. The intrinsic value of His people was enhanced beyond all price by what this covenant embraced and required. It cost much to make them His people, and to secure them to Himself--a treasure for ever. (W. Seaton.)
The spirituality of the old covenant
The characteristic feature of the Sinai revelation is the law; but it is important to observe that it is not law as a means of salvation, but law as a sequel of salvation. If this simple and evident fact were only borne in mind in the reading of the Old Testament, endless perplexities and confusions of thought would be avoided. Observe, also, the kind of blessings which are promised. How many are there who will persist in maintaining that the old covenant offered mere temporal blessings, while it is the distinctive feature of the new to promise spiritual blessing. It is true that temporal blessings were included under the old covenant, just as they are under the new; and though they do hold a more prominent place in the old, as was indeed to be expected, yet it is a slander upon that covenant to say that these were the blessings it offered. The great blessings of the old covenant were undoubtedly spiritual, as is manifest here: “If ye will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then ye shall be to Me a peculiar treasure above all people”; “and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” Nearness to God, dearness to God, holiness--these were the characteristic blessings of the old covenant. These promises are among the richest and most deeply spiritual in the whole Bible; and it is with great reluctance that, yielding to the exigency of our plan, we refrain from entering into the wealth of meaning which each separate word conveys. Let me only notice in leaving it, that when the apostle Peter wishes to express in the very strongest terms the highest privileges of the children of God under the new dispensation, he can do nothing better than quote these old but “exceeding great and precious promises” (1 Peter 2:9). (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
A writer tells of going down with a party into a coal mine. On the side of the gangway grew a plant which was perfectly white. The visitors were astonished that there, where the coal-dust was continually flying, this little plant should be so clean. A miner who was with them took a handful of black dust and threw it on the plant, but not a particle of it adhered. There was a wonderful enamel on the plant to which no finest speck could cling. Living there, amid clouds of dust, nothing could stain its snowy whiteness. This is a picture of what every Christian life should be. Unholy influences breathe incessantly about us and upon us. But it is our mission to be pure amid all this vileness, undefiled, unspotted from the world. If God can make a little plant so wondrously that no dust can stain its whiteness, surely He can, by His grace, so transform our heart and life that sin shall not cling to us. He who can keep the plant stainless and white as snow amid clouds of dust, can guard us in purity in this world of sin.
A kingdom of priests.--
Priests to the world
They were to be the trustees, for humanity at large, of the revelations, promises, and ordinances which God communicated, and they were to keep them for the benefit of all mankind. For a time, indeed, these heavenly communications were to be reserved to themselves; only, however, that they might be the more securely preserved; but at length all restrictions would be broken down, and that which, in its ritual exclusivism, had been confined to them would, in its spiritual persuasiveness, become the heritage of every true believer who should, like them, enter into covenant with the Lord, not over a merely typical sacrifice, but over the true and real atonement which Christ would make for the sins of men. Thus, in this peculiar promise, which looks at first as if it conferred a patent of protected privilege, we see that the present protection is in order to the future diffusion; and we have an echo of the Abrahamic blessing, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” What the Levitical tribe ultimately was among the Israelites themselves, that the Israelites were to be among the nations; and the more faithfully they performed their duties, the richer would be the ultimate blessing to the Gentiles. Reading these words in the light of the history to which they form the introduction, it needs no keenness of insight to perceive the bearing of these principles upon ourselves; for we Christians are now the world’s priests, custodians of those spiritual blessings by which our fellow-men are to be benefited; and only in proportion as we maintain holiness of character shall we discharge our duties to mankind at large. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.
1. Command received from God by His ministers--they must go and call them whom they must bespeak.
2. Orderly proceeding to acquaint the people of God’s will by their heads is rational.
3. Proposition and exposition of God’s words must be made to souls that they may know them.
4. All God’s words, and no more but His, Jehovah commands His ministers to speak to His people (Exodus 19:7). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
God’s revelation of Himself, etc
The subject of this paragraph (Exodus 19:7-24) is God’s revelation of Himself,--the call to receive it, the manner in which it was made.
I. When God reveals Himself man is summoned to attend. This is uniformly God’s method. First the call, then the revelation. “Hear, O Israel,” then, “the Lord thy God is one Lord.” “This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him,” then the New Testament dispensation. Moses was a type of the ministry of the Son of Man, and an example to Christian ministers in the manner in which he summoned men to God. He spoke--
5. Moses spoke for the people to God.
So does Christ combine our poor prayers with the mighty eloquence of His intercession.
II. When God reveals Himself, man must be prepared for the revelation (verse 10-15).
1. Man must attend to the herald who proclaims God’s coming.
2. Man must be prepared by personal sanctification.
3. Man must be prepared by a ready acquiescence in all that God commands.
4. Man must be prepared at the appointed time. “Be ready against the third day.”
III. When God reveals Himself it is in a manner suited to the occasion. It was necessary that He should speak to men who for years had been surrounded by idolatrous associations, and who had become debased by years of servitude, in a most solemn, startling, and impressive form. God has other methods than those employed here. Abraham, Elijah. Bethlehem, Pentecost, Patmos, etc. So in each individual ease. Learn then--
1. To listen when God speaks. Faith has a faculty not only of sight, but of hearing.
2. When God calls obey that call, and be prepared for the public revelation which that call precedes. “God now commandeth everyman to repent” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
3. Receive God’s revelation of Himself in His own way, (J. W. Burn.)
A commendable engagement rashly made and repeatedly broken
I. Commendable engagement.
1. Because of its righteousness.
2. Because of its advantageousness.
3. Because of its unanimity. “All the people answered together.”
II. A commendable engagement rashly made.
1. Without due consideration.
2. Without earnest purpose,
3. Without hearty concurrence with the will which they promised to obey.
4. Without any realization of their need of Divine help in order that they may keep it. “How easily overween we our own abilities!”
III. A commendable engagement repeatedly and terribly broken. Their sin in violating this solemn promise was the more heinous because of
Notwithstanding the strongest obligations to fulfil their promise, they broke it upon the slightest provocation. Conclusion--
1. Let us heed well our obligation to do all that the Lord commands.
2. Let us be careful in the utterance of religious vows.
3. Let us be humbled by the recollection of the many religious vows we have made but not kept, and seek forgiveness for our failures.
4. Let, us endeavour to perform our vows, looking to God for strength to enable us to do so. (William Jones.)
The response of the people to God’s call
I. The call (Exodus 19:7).
1. The elders represented the people. In dealing with so great a multitude some such arrangement was necessary. So it is in many things--in the nation, the family, the Church.
2. God’s commands were faithfully communicated. “Laid before their faces all,” etc.: nothing was added and nothing kept back. The will of God was made known so plainly that none could plead ignorance; so particularly that none could plead excuse. The truth was communicated to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
II. The response (Exodus 19:8). “And all the people answered together,” etc.
1. Prompt. There was no hesitancy.
2. Hearty. There was no reservation.
3. Unanimous. There was no dissentient voice (Acts 2:1). How grand the spectacle! The mighty multitude aa with one heart and voice proclaimed their submission to God. But, alas! the sequel showed, that mixed with their apparent sincerity and enthusiasm there was much of ignorance, presumption, and self-conceit.
III. The report to God. “And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord” (cf. Exodus 19:9). Such report was necessary to secure the favour of God and the faith of the people. It tended to--
1. Exoneration of conscience.
2. Relief of the heart.
3. Invigoration of hope.
4. Accrediting of character.
5. Success of ministry, Nothing works more to give a man power with men than the belief that he has power with God. (William Forsyth.)
The preparation for meeting with God
Moses acted throughout according to Divine command.
I. The people were called to sanctify themselves. There must be separation from what is not of God, in order to fellowship with what is. Self-consecration required (Psalms 26:6; Isaiah 1:16-18; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20).
II. The people were charged to re ready at the appointed time (Exodus 19:11). Come into God’s presence with humility, prayer, hope.
III. The people were commanded to observe the prescribed laws and ordinances as to approach to God. Bounds fixed as to place, action, behaviour (Exodus 19:12-14; see 1 Corinthians 14:10). (William Forsyth.)
Pleasantness of obedience
The pleasantest thing in the world is to be obedient.
1. Because it is so pleasant to know what we have to do. The word “law” comes from the verb “to lay”; it means “something laid down.” The “law” is something that God has laid down quite plain for us to do.
2. Because it is a proof that God loves us. Do you remember, whets Peter was so unhappy, Christ said to him: “Peter, feed My sheep, feed My lambs”? Christ said that to show that He trusted Peter again. Therefore, if God, tells you to do anything, be sure God loves you.
3. Because it is practising for heaven. To obey the “law” is to prepare for heaven. There all will be obedience. Sir Henry Lawrence said, just before he died, “I wish this to be on my tombstone: ‘Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to, do his duty.’” Duty is preparing for heaven. Somebody perhaps will say, “Oh, but it is so difficult to do one’s duty--to love the ‘law.’” Listen to what a little girl said to her brother: “I tried with all my might to be good, and I prayed and read my Bible, but I was no better. At last I found Christ, and when I found Christ it was all easy; and from that time I have been so happy.” (Prof. Drummond.)
A boy, when he entered his first place of employment, made an engagement with his master that he was to be in his place at nine o’clock in the morning, For a while the boy was always to be found at his post at the appointed hour, but he began to notice that his master did not come in until a quarter to ten, and he thought it would not matter if he did not come in until ten minutes past nine, for his master would never know. He got on very well for a time, but at length he began to grow very miserable. He had a feeling that he was cheating his master, consequently he was unhappy; he felt he had lost his faithfulness, and made up his mind to go in at the hour appointed, and when he did so his peace and joy returned, because he was conscious that he was doing right. It is the same with Christians in their daily life. As long as they are obeying God’s commandments they are happy, but whenever they break one of them they become miserable. Want of faithfulness in the most trivial things often breaks our peace, and stops communion with God. (George Muller.)
An inconsiderate promise
A story is told of a gentleman who visited President Lincoln, and who was in the habit of making promises more freely than he kept them. In order to induce one of Mr. Lincoln’s boys, to sit on his lap, the gentleman offered to give him a charm which he wore on his watch chain. The boy climbed into his lap. Finally the gentleman arose to go, when Mr. Lincoln said to him,” Are you going to keep your promise to my boy?” “What promise?” said the visitor. “You said you would give him that charm.” “Oh, I could not,” said the visitor. “It is not only valuable, but I prize it as an heirloom.” “Give it to him,” said Mr. Lincoln, sternly. “I would not want him to know that I entertained one who had no regard for his word.” The gentleman coloured, undid the charm, and handed it to the boy, and went away with a lesson which he was not likely soon to forget, and which others may profit by learning.
The third day the Lord will come down.
1. The Mediator willingly cometh from God to impart His will to His people.
2. The true Mediator is as ready to sanctify His people as God would have Him.
3. Souls must follow their Mediator’s command for sanctification (Exodus 19:14).
4. It is the Mediator’s care to prepare a people for God at His time, to whom He is sent.
5. Lawful enjoyments in the flesh sometimes must be denied for better attendance on God.
6. Great is the fitness required in souls for receiving rightly the law from God (Exodus 19:15). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Getting ready for worship
What was the signification of this Divine command? God gets at the mind through the senses; and He doubtless intended to instruct the people by this act that their minds should be purified, and their hearts prepared for His service. And to us it points out the necessity of our hearts being cleansed from sin, from the defilement and the love of it, before we can serve the Lord acceptably; it teaches us also that we must not rush heedlessly into the presence of God, even in private prayer. This becoming reverence for the presence of the Divine Majesty will likewise show itself in our demeanour in the house of God. “Let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day.” This will bring a man in time to the house of God. He will feel with David, “I was glad when they said, Let us go to the house of the Lord”; and if by any unavoidable circumstance he is later than he ought to be, his very step will testify his concern that it should be so, and a solicitude lest he disturb the solemnity of the worship of others. In the man who fulfils the spirit of this command there will be no wandering eye, but that general decorum of manner which shows that he has put off his shoes from his feet, for the place whereon he stands is holy ground. (George Breay, B. A.)
A traveller relates that, when passing through an Austrian town, his attention was directed to a forest on a slope near the road, and he was told that death was the penalty of cutting down one of those trees. He was incredulous until he was further informed that they were the protection of the city, breaking the force of the descending avalanche which, without this natural barrier, would sweep over the homes of thousands. When a Russian army was there and began to cut away the fence for fuel, the inhabitants besought them to take their dwellings instead, which was done. Such, he well thought, are the sanctions of God’s moral law. On the integrity and support of that law depends the safety of the universe. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” is a merciful proclamation. “He that offends in one point is guilty of all,” is equally just and benevolent. To transgress once is to lay the axe at the root of the tree which represents the security and peace of every loyal soul in the wide dominions of the Almighty. (Family Treasury.)
Importance of holiness
God has no ultimate use for a man that is not holy. A rose-tree that does not blossom is of no use in a garden. A vine that bears no grapes is of no use in a vineyard. A criminal has no place in the State. In that everlasting kingdom in which the glory of God and the perfection of man will be at last revealed, there can be no place for those that have not an intense passion for holiness, and who do not themselves illustrate its dignity and beauty. (R. W. Dale.)
Purity of soul essential
“My son,” said Nushirvan, king of Persia, in the directions of his last will to his successor, “present yourself often at the gate of heaven to implore its succour in your need, but purify your soul beforehand.”
To meet with God.
1. Upon Churches preparation, and sanctification God is ready to appear to them.
2. God will keep His day, His third day of appearance to His people.
3. In God’s appearance for covenant-making He giveth the discovery of Himself as He pleaseth.
4. Terrible signals God useth sometimes to declare His majesty to men (Psalms 18:9).
5. The law given by Moses differs from Christ’s in darkness and deadliness (Hebrews 12:1-29.).
6. Suitable affections unto terrible appearances of God may be from nature and grace (Exodus 19:16). It might be a spirit of bondage in some, but of free grace in others. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. God’s terrors in the law are not to drive men from Him, but to bring them humbly to Him.
2. God hath appointed a Mediator to bring souls unto Him. They come not of themselves.
3. Upon the Mediator’s conduct souls may be bold to approach the terrors of the Lord.
4. Sinners must keep their standing appointed by the Mediator to find grace in the sight of God (Exodus 19:17). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Great is the condescension of Jehovah unto men in giving law and covenant to them.
2. In God’s humbling Himself He keeps His distance and place above men.
3. In giving His law to men God calleth the Mediator to be by Him.
4. God withholds no discovery from His Church but that which would be deadly to them (Exodus 19:21).
5. Among the congregation God hath appointed some to office for ministering to Him.
6. Such persons must be sanctified in their special place according to God’s will.
7. The more holy the persons and office are, the more deadly is their transgression.
8. Threatenings of death are primarily in grace to give life to souls (Exodus 19:22). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. God seeth need for His ministers testifying and pressing on people His will when men do not.
2. The Mediator’s descent to men hinders not His ascent to God again for their good.
3. None but mediators must come so near to God as He appoints them.
4. Such as do, though under pretence of holiness, must perish (Exodus 19:24).
5. The Mediator, as He must, so is He willing to be with God’s people at the law-giving.
6. It is Mediator’s work to teach all to souls that may fit them to a due reception of God’s covenant (Exodus 19:25). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
God on Mount Sinai
I. The greatness of God. All powers of nature under His control.
II. The nearness of God (see 4:7-12).
III. The mysteriousness of God (see Psalms 97:2).
IV. The holiness of God (see chap. 15:11; Isaiah 6:1-2; Revelation 4:8; 1 Peter 1:16).
V. The sovereignty and mercy of God (see Deuteronomy 5:24). (W. Forsyth.)
The highest ministry
(Exodus 19:17):--The essence of religion is to realize the presence of God. Therefore we should hail as our highest benefactor the man who does for us as Moses did for Israel. “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God.”
I. In the operations of nature. Poets have sung of the sublimities and beauties of nature, and philosophers explain her secrets; but he does the noblest work who brings us face to face with nature’s God.
II. The events of providence. Many writers have done well in history and fiction, and have depicted with wondrous skill the varieties of character and incident, and the strange vicissitudes of human life; but he does best who shows us that there is a providence in the affairs of men, and that the Lord our God ruleth over all in righteousness and love.
III. The ordinances of the gospel. Preachers may be learned and eloquent, but it is only as they manifest God’s law to the conscience and God’s love to the heart that they do us real good. Prayer and praise are proper duties, but unless in them we rise to God they are meaningless and vain. (W. Forsyth.)
I. It pries into secrets.
II. Breaks through boundaries.
III. Sacrifices reverence and self-respect.
IV. Recklessly rushes into danger.
V. Multiplies confusions and perils. Remember Eve, Uzziah. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
To meet with God.--
Coming to church to meet God
“The people stood at the nether part of the mount”; they listened with this very end in view: they came out of the camp to meet God, as God had commanded they should do. When you come up to the house of God keep this in view. There is, in the present day, as there was in the days of the apostle, such a thing as having “itching ears,” looking to man, instead of an humble and reverent desire to meet God. Brethren, be much in prayer; and when you leave your closets to attend public worship, say, “I am now going to meet with God.” As you enter His house, reflect, “This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven”; oh that I may meet my Saviour; oh that His love may be shed abroad in my heart; oh that I may understand more of God’s plan for the salvation of sinners; oh that I may get my heart warmed by close communion with my God, and have my soul lifted up above the cares and pleasures of this sinful world! Were all our congregations to assemble thus, oh what a savour, and unction, and blessing we should experience! (George Breay, B. A.)
Communion with God
The windows of Somerset House that face the Strand are all double-cased, so as to deaden the roar of the traffic outside. It would be impossible to do mental work unless some such system were adopted. There is but one way to be “in the world and not of it”; it is to be shut in with God, away from the din of its cares, temptations, and strifes. Outside, confusion, hurly-burly; inside, quiet, peace, under the shadow of the Almighty.
Communion with God
When we think of Moses coming so near to Jehovah in His majesty, wielding the terrific agencies of flood and storm and fire, of darkness and lightning and the voice of trumpet exceeding loud--Mount Sinai rocking beneath His feet, and Moses alone drawing near the Awful Presence and talking with God face to face there--what shall we say of the possibilities of communion between man and his Maker? Whatever speculations we may have as to the means and methods by which the thought of God was borne to the mind of Moses, and the thought of Moses to the mind of God, the great fact of communion of mind with mind--thought meeting thought--of command from the superior party, received and obeyed by the inferior--is on the outer face of the whole history and admits of no question. God can speak to man so that man shall know the voice to be His, and comprehend perfectly its significance. Relations of obedience, confidence, and love on the part of man toward his Maker, are established, and God meets them with appropriate manifestations of His favour. (H. Cowles, D. D.)
Moses and Aaron united in the mount
The association of Aaron with Moses in the mount intimates evangelical instruction. It was the design of God, not only to declare the condemnation of sin, but to point out the way of justification and life. Their ministry united, the people cannot perish. It was in the presence of both that the words of the covenant were pronounced, showing that the functions of each were concerned in that dispensation. Moses would declare the law to the people; Aaron make reconciliation for sin. Infinitely glorious the surety of the everlasting covenant, our Divine Redeemer, of whom Moses in his prophetical office, and Aaron in his priestly, were but imperfect types. In Him was every qualification to mediate, and every right, that none need despair of redemption who trust in Him. (W. Seaton.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 19". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24