Exodus 19:1-6. On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
They made it!
God has brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, through the Sea, across the wilderness and settled them at the base of Mount Sinai. The same mountain where God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. The mountain that God told Moses and Moses told Pharaoh that the people had to go to to worship God.
Finally our story brings us to this holy place where now God will establish his covenant with his people. They have been brought out in order to be brought back in. Into what? Into a covenant relationship with Yahweh. Exodus 19 is the preamble to this covenant. Essentially it is God the King saying to Israel his servants “Here’s what our relationship will look like.”
Leonard and Penny’s relationship agreement. Sort of like an Old Testament covenant??
So what does God want from his people? What is the nature of their relationship to him. In Exodus 19 God says three hugely important things about Israel.
1. You will be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine – “Of all the people on all the earths I choose you. Your mine. My prized possession.” Wow.
2. you shall be to me a kingdom of priests – The purpose of humanity is re-established. Israel will be God’s representatives on earth. As priests they will connect the rest of the world to God.
3. a holy nation – As God’s representatives they will be set apart to display the righteousness and mercy of God. They will look very different from all the other nations because God is very different from every other god.
This is truly a jaw-dropping beginning to this new covenant. These statements from God to the people are powerful. They are life-giving. They renew the purpose of humanity. And they reveal the heartfelt desire of God to live in relationship to us.
But there’s a catch.
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant…
What God says to them is beautiful. You are my possession. You are my priests. You are holy. But it comes with a giant IF. If you obey. If you keep my covenant. Perfectly.
Well how hard could that be? What’s in this covenant for them to obey?
Well that’s the next couple chapters. But you’re probably somewhat familiar with the 10 commandments. They start with “have no other gods” and end with “don’t covet anything.” No problem, right?
This is a covenant that none of them could obey perfectly as God will require here. The mountain itself is foreshadowing. Exodus 19 continues to describe the scene at Mount Sinai. Thunder. Lightening. Smoke. The mountain itself is trembling. God doesn’t say, “Obey everything I say. Now come give me a hug.” He says…
Exodus 19:21-22. 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.”
He says, “Stay off my mountain so no one dies.”
Obviously this isn’t going to work. And it doesn’t ultimately work. The rest of the Old Testament recalls failure after failure of this people to live as his possession, his priests, and his holy nation. They won’t keep the covenant.
God will. Perfectly. Over and over again.
But they will fail. Over and over again.
That is until Christ.
Jesus Christ will come to earth to step in for Israel. He will substitute for them. He will hear the voice of God and obey it. Perfectly. He will be God’s possession. He will be God’s perfect priest. He will be holiness incarnate.
He will meet all the requirements of God.
Romans 8:3-4. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Why? So that that big IF can go away. Jesus turned the IF into a SINCE.
God now says “SINCE you have indeed obeyed my voice and kept my covenant.” Because you have accomplished my will now I can reclaim my possession. My priests. My holy nation.
And Christian that’s us! We are in Christ. Christ is in us. We the church are now the prized possession of God. His royal priesthood (1 Pt. 2:9-12). His holy ones.
Not by earning, but by receiving.
Not by law-keeping, but by trusting the One who kept the law for us.
And so now we no longer sit at the base of Mount Sinai hoping not to be consumed by God’s wrath. We sit on top of Mount Zion. Rejoicing in our salvation. Resting in the great grace of God that is made available to us through the life giving holiness of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 12:22. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God
“To live is Christ” is to have everything God offered his people through the law, but to have it through Christ. Now we are God’s treasured possession. We are owned by God. We are empowered by God as his priests. And we are transformed by God as his holy ones. Praise Christ!