Exodus 19:10-25 (A Law of Death and Condemnation)


Exodus 19:10-25
A Law of Death and Condemnation

A few months ago, a friend asked me to watch the Ancient Aliens series on the History Channel. He wanted to know specifically about the things which don’t seem to match the biblical account. I watched all of them that were available on Netflix and gave him a few short reports, but haven’t had time to completely go over them.

The thing about that show, or any like it, is that when you have a presupposition about something, it will immediately affect your perspective on everything which you view in the world you live in. In other words, our worldview will naturally lead us to make conclusions, whether they are sound or not.

For the “ancient alien theorists,” everything they see is biased by a worldview that ancient man was less, not more developed, and that he could only accomplish the great feats of the past by external help. As far as ancient religions, they want to see aliens everywhere and so they do.

Today’s passage was one they spoke of. They believe that aliens, not the Lord, descended on Mount Sinai. As with each time they quoted the Bible in their series, their analyses of it were flawed and they would insert things which are not recorded in the Bible.

If they did this with the most studied and plainly available text on earth, the Holy Bible, then they certainly did it with all the other ancient texts they cite which very few have ever looked at and which lack a large body of textual support.

Be advised today, aliens did not descend onto Mount Sinai. The account is plain, clear, and it is tied directly into the work of Jesus Christ, as is every account in Scripture.

Text Verse: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3

Paul asks us to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. That idea will come into play later in our sermon today, but it also comes into play when we evaluate the Bible. We shouldn’t think of ourselves as knowing more than God. Rather, let us take His word at face value and respect it for what it is.

Israel didn’t have a close encounter of the third kind. Rather they had a close encounter of the wondrous kind when they stood before the Lord of Creation and received His law. Today we will see the beginning of that marvelous event. It’s all to be found in His superior word. And so let’s turn to that precious word once again and… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. Be Ready for the Third Day (verses 10-13)

10 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow,

In order to be an acceptable group of people, holy to the Lord, Moses is now given instructions concerning the people. He is told to “consecrate” them. This means to sanctify or purify them. What is coming in the manifestation of the Lord upon the mountain required this above all else.

This consecration is actually a two-fold process. The more important of the two, inward purity, was to be prompted on by the external acts of purification. The external cleansing for the people is given so that those who conduct the rites would understand that these externals necessitated internal cleansing to be meaningful.

During the time they purified themselves externally, they should be working on the internal purification through prayer, contemplation of who they were in relation to the Lord, and putting away thoughts of self. Instead, they should regard what was coming as sacred and holy. All this was to be spurred on by the external rites.

In calling on Christ, we are immediately sanctified by the sealing of the Holy Spirit. However, in our natural lives, we are still not pure. In this life, as we conduct the external rituals – for example giving up on wrongdoing and replacing it with what is proper – we are inwardly renewed and purified. The external should lead naturally to the internal.

However, this isn’t always the case. Nothing external, even if commanded, can secure inward purity. Someone who is simply giving up being an alcoholic may replace that vice with something else. The idea for growing to be like Christ is to replace that which is unholy with that which is holy.

The sanctification of the people for various reasons will continue to be seen during the time of the law. In both Joshua 3 and 7 the people were instructed to sanctify themselves in preparation for certain events. In Joshua 7, when a man committed a major transgression against the Lord, all of the people were to sanctify themselves in preparation for meeting with Him for a time of inspection –

Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the Lord God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the Lord takes shall come according to families; and the family which the Lord takes shall come by households; and the household which the Lord takes shall come man by man. 15 Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.’” Joshua 7:13-15

Of the external rites which they conducted, the washing of their clothes is explicitly mentioned and it is so first…

10 (con’t) and let them wash their clothes.

The first ordinance is pronounced here. It is the rite of washing their clothes. In these words is the second use of the word kabas, or wash, in the Bible, but it is the first time used in the sense of sanctification. In total, it will be used 51 times and almost always it will be for consecration, or sanctification of the people.

In the law itself, there will be numerous references to the washing of clothes for purification. The word comes from a primitive root meaning to trample; hence, to wash specifically by stamping with the feet. The washing is then either literal which included the fuller process, or figurative such as in Psalm 51 –

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7

As alluded to already, and as David shows in the Psalm, it isn’t that the Lord regards the clothes of a man, but the inward change of the heart. However, this preparation mandated to the people by the Lord is right. If a person washes their clothes, their hearts may still be filled with wickedness. However, with the washing there would be time to think why they were doing this and how there should also be an internal cleansing that goes along with it.

Benson wisely notes that, “It becomes us to appear in clean clothes when we wait upon great men; so clean hearts are required in our attendance on the great God.” Even prior to this time of the law, the washing of clothes was already seen in the Bible. In Genesis 35, Jacob instructed his household as follows –

“And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.'” Genesis 35:2

However, if you followed the details of Jacob’s life, and that particular sermon, you would know that his words to them pictured not just external cleansing, but the internal as well. In the end, it was given as a picture of the dispensational model of history and the final cleansing of God’s people. And so ultimately, these washings picture the work of Christ. One example of this is recorded in the book of Hebrews where it says –

“…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:22, 23

The book of Revelation gives three explicit examples of this for us to consider. Remember, that the external garments are only given as emblems of the internal conversion of a person to Christ –

“You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:4, 5

The white garments in which the redeemed are clothed may be real garments, but they symbolize their sinless nature because of the work of Christ. On the last page of the Bible we read this –

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:14

This is inclusive of all of the redeemed throughout history. But before that final time comes, there are those who, after the church age, will have to go through the tribulation in order to be purified. This is seen in our final verse to consider on such purification which is first being pictured here today at the foot of Mount Sinai –

“Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’
14 And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’
So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:13, 14

In the end, the Geneva Bible sums up this concept rather well and quite succinctly –

“Teach them to be pure in heart, as they show themselves outwardly clean by washing.” Geneva

11 And let them be ready for the third day.

This requirement of being ready “for the third day” is to mark the extremely sacred nature of what was to occur. If it was just a matter of washing one’s clothes, they could appear the following day. Two days of cleansing showed it as far more than just an external rite.

Concerning this “third day,” it now becomes important to understand what was relayed in the last sermon concerning verse 1 in this chapter. At that time, I explained in detail that the first day of the 3rd month was the 47th day since their departure.

Understanding that, Moses came back down from the mountain and spoke to the people the words reviewed during the first nine verses of the chapter. What is not explicitly stated, but which is to be inferred, is that it is now the 48th day of the account.

The reason for this is that Moses had to go back down and get an answer from the people and then go back up the mountain the next day. This is assured because of the words of verse 10 which said “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow.”

If all of the events of verse 1-9 are included on the same day as this, there would be no time to consecrate for that day. Therefore, verse 10 begins the 48th day after the exodus. The importance of this is found in the next words of verse 11…

11 (con’t) For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

In the Bible, the Lord is noted as dwelling in heaven. This is seen, for example, in Psalm 123 –

“Unto You I lift up my eyes,
O You who dwell in the heavens.” Psalm 123:1

However, He is seen to not exclusively dwell there, but especially there; it is His abode. Because of this, when He appears on earth, He is said to “come down.” This is seen not just here, but numerous times in Scripture. If this is the 48th day and the Lord will come down “on the third day” then that means He will come down on the 50th day. They are to consecrate themselves on the 48th day and on the 49th day.

Thus the Lord will appear to them on the 50th day, which corresponds to the 4th day of the Hebrew month Sivan. The reason why this is important is two-fold. First it looks forward to the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, which is found in Leviticus 23. In the instructions for that feast we read this –

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16 Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.” Leviticus 23:15, 16

There is a period of fifty days which is counted off from the Feast of Firstfruits until a particular event occurs, which is the Feast of Shavuot. In Greek it is known as Pentecost. This leads to the second reason for the detail. It then corresponds to the giving of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament which is recorded in Acts 2 –

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4

In type then, the giving of the law prefigures the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost because of the 50 recorded days in each. As there was no Feast of Firstfruits at the time of the exodus, the feast is counted from the first day after the Passover rather than from the set date in Leviticus 23.

However, both events are preceded by a fifty-day period of learning from the Lord and anticipating a meeting with Him. In the end, unless a number of days are not recorded at this camp before the receiving of the law, the time here only matches the period leading up to the events – the giving of the law and the giving of the Holy Spirit – but the events don’t match by calendar day of the month. It is possible, but not explicitly stated.

It should be noted that the term Sinai is used instead of Horeb. This is the same place that the elders were brought to in Chapter 17, but then it was called Horeb. Why has the Lord used the name Sinai? It is because of what it pictures.

12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base.

Explicit instructions are given here concerning the setting of bounds using a new word introduced into the Bible. It is gabal – a verb used just five times, and two of them are in this chapter. It is the verb form of the more common noun gebul.

Both come from a root which means “to twist as a rope.” Thus it indicates to bind or make a border. This is the idea given here. Whether the border was to be a trench dug around the mountain or if it was to be a rope braided for the purpose, it was necessary because the mountain at points rises directly out of the earth.

Therefore, a person or an animal could simply walk up to it and touch it. Such specific limits then were to be set and adhered to or the most serious of consequences would result…

12 (con’t) Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

The consequences for merely touching the mountain are set. The person who does so is to be executed. The Hebrew uses the term mowt yumat – “dying he shall die.” However, it wouldn’t be possible to seize that person without also transgressing the command and so provisions for his execution were given in advance so that this wouldn’t occur. Ellicott notes that –

“Unless it had been forbidden, there might have seemed to be no reason why pious Israelites might not have ascended the height, to draw near to God in prayer. It is a praiseworthy feeling which breathes in the words, ‘Nearer, my God, to thee;’ but the nation was not fit for close approach.

In contemplating the strictness of coming near to God during this dispensation of time, we should truly feel blessed that we have, under the Dispensation of Grace, the honor of being indwelt with the Holy Spirit and the joy of being allowed to come to the very throne of God in prayer. That is recorded in Hebrews 10 –

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Unlike us today though, for one who tried to get “Nearer, my God, to thee” there was to be a penalty…

13 Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow;

The KJV completely botched this verse by saying, “There shall not a hand touch it.” This is speaking not of the mountain, but of the person who has touched the mountain who was referred to in the previous verse. It is to signify that the sin of touching the mountain by that person would then transfer to the person who touched him.

Instead of this, that person was to be stoned or shot. Thus it implied that a distance was kept between the offender and the executioners. This is now the third time stoning is mentioned in the Bible, but it is the first time it is given as a penalty from the Lord for a transgression of His law. The Hebrew says, saqowl yisaqel – “stoning you shall stone him.”

Or if someone had an arrow handy, they were to shoot him with that. The word for “shot” is yarah. It specifically means to teach because in shooting or throwing a demonstration is made. Thus one learns by example. In this case, the person would learn their lesson by being on the receiving end of the arrow.

13 (con’t) whether man or beast, he shall not live.’

Adding in that a beast was to be killed may sound unnecessary or even vindictive, but this is not the case. The holiness of God is something that is referred to throughout Scripture. The fallen nature of creation is also mentioned explicitly by Paul in Romans 8. Even animals with no sense of reason were to be killed if they violated this precept.

Secondly, if an animal were to be allowed to live after touching the mountain of the Lord, it could then be turned itself into an idol by the people who saw it. In essence, “Holy Cow! This is a holy cow because it was sanctified by the Lord atop the holy mountain.” If you don’t believe this is possible, take a peek at the millions of relics, or beasts, adored and worshipped by countless false religions.

13 (con’t) When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.”

This is the first mention of the yobel, or trumpet, in the Bible. It specifically refers to a ram’s horn, but it also means “jubilee.” It is used 27 times from Exodus through Joshua. There is no reason to assume that this isn’t a literal trumpet as so many scholars do. Throughout the Bible, and even into the NT, trumpets are recorded both from an earthly and a heavenly perspective.

When this trumpet sounds, it says “they shall come near the mountain” using the same words as verse 12 which forbids the people from coming near the mountain. Why? The answer to this is that “they” or hemmah in Hebrew is emphatic. The “they” then is not given to speak of the congregation, but it is to explain those who will be allowed to go up in verses 20-24.

In all, verses 10-13 have been given to show the absolute holiness of the Lord and the penalties for violating His standards. It is an advance picture for us of the four purposes for the giving of the law to the people of the world –

1) To show us God’s perfect standard.
2) To show us that no person could meet that standard; all are unqualified without God’s grace and mercy being bestowed on them.
3) To show us how utterly sinful sin is to God. And,
4) To show us our need for something else – that grace which can only come by Someone fulfilling that law on our behalf. And as only God can do that, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ – fully God and fully Man – into the world to do so. It is the grace which we cannot do without.

With the law there is death and condemnation
It is God’s standard, which no one can meet
Who is there from any people group or nation?
Who can claim that through the law, sin they did defeat?

Where can we go? This law stands against us
When we heard its words, death came through our door
O God! Please send the Messiah – send us Jesus
And through Him we shall live again, yes live forever more

Only He can bring us to the Holy Mountain
Only He can bring us up to the very throne of God
From Him alone can come the cleansing fountain
So that for eternal days, in Your light can we trod

II. Meeting with God (verses 14-17)

14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes.

In obedience to the word of the Lord, Moses descends and sanctifies the people. They are being prepared for the meeting which was originally promised back in Exodus 3:12 where Moses was told that when he had brought the people out, they would serve Him on this mountain. That time has now come and the necessary preparations are being made.

15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day;

This explanation is certainly given for the consecration, but it is also for the construction of whatever type of barrier would be made to keep the people from the mountain. Whether by ditch, mound, rope, or something else, the people needed to be ready for the day, just as directed by the Lord through Moses.

15 (con’t) do not come near your wives.”

This prohibition is given for at least one and possibly two reasons. The first was to avoid ritual uncleanliness. Though the law had not yet been given, it is a standard of the Lord’s law which is found in Leviticus 15:18. This is seen explicitly in the life of David in 1 Samuel 21 when David was offered the holy bread of the priests –

“And the priest answered David and said, ‘There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.'” 1 Samuel 21:4

The second reason can only be inferred. That would be so that the people’s minds would be on the Lord and on what lie ahead of them when He would appear to them. Rather than thinking about the carnal, they could reflect on the spiritual. There is a New Testament parallel to this in 1 Corinthians 7 –

“Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:5

16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain;

This verse, at least in part, is given as a parallel to the resurrection of Christ which occurred on the morning of the third day. Both events were predicted in advance to occur on that day, and though the displays are somewhat different, they were given for the people to believe –

“And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.” Matthew 28:2-4

There in the morning on the third day, the Bible describes the scene as an amazing display of splendor. It first mentions qolot, or “voices” which are translated as “thunders.” It is probably accurate because in Revelation 4 which describes the scene of the throne of God in heaven, it says that “from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices” (4:5).

Along with the voices or “thunderings” came “lightnings.” This is the first time they are mentioned in the Bible. It is the noun baraq, which comes from a verb which means “to flash forth.” Along with these two came anan kaved or “a dense cloud.” The scene would have been marvelous to behold. In what was probably a perfectly clear day otherwise, the majesty of the Lord would be highlighted there atop the mountain.

16 (con’t) and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

As another amazing display of God’s majesty, it says v’qol shophar khazaq meod – the voice of the trumpet was mighty, very. The word for trumpet here is not the same as in verse 13. There it was yobel, now a new word is introduced to the Bible, shophar.

Like the yobel, this shophar signifies a ram’s horn. It is used 72 times in the Old Testament, an opposite of the 27 times yobel is used. They are used somewhat interchangeably at times. This trumpet would be the sound of the herald calling the people’s attention to this most significant moment in redemptive history.

That same trumpet sound was blown throughout the land by the people of Israel on Yom Teruah, or the Feast of Trumpets, on the day when Christ Jesus was born. The people, while celebrating their feast day, unknowingly hailed their true King as He lay in a manger in Bethlehem.

The heavenly shophar will be blown again at the rapture of the church according to 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4. And heavenly trumpets will also sound during the tribulation period, marking out awesome events which will occur during that terrible time on earth.

17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

From this, it’s obvious that the camp was spread out in the area and not directly at the mountain’s base. When the great and awesome display began, Moses personally led them out to the base of the mountain. Measurements of the base of Mt. Sinai prove that there was enough space for even such a large congregation to gather.

Here again is a poor rendering of the Hebrew. The word ha’elohim or “the God” is used. The Israelites were not being brought out to “a god.” Instead they were being brought out to “the God.” Elohim is mentioned three times in this chapter, and all three contain the definite article.

Throughout the chapter Yehovah or “the Lord” is mentioned 18 times and so the article is given to show that “the God” is the Lord, Yehovah. The wording is specific so that we won’t miss what is being relayed.

A trumpet blast is sounded, one that brings death to all
It warns that the law is about to be heard
And with thunderings and lightnings comes the deathly pall
Soon is coming that most terrifying word

There is smoke as judgment comes down in fire
Smoke like a furnace, God’s wrath is on display
There at Calvary comes the heavenly pyre
And as the Savior dies, the sin is washed away

A trumpet blast is heard, one that brings life once more
The dead shall be raised not in condemnation, but in victory
It will raise the redeemed and carry them across to the other shore
Where we shall sing the praise of the Lord, there by the glassy sea

III. The Blast of the Trumpet (verses 18-25)

18 Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire.

The word “smoke” here is the word ashan. This is the first time it is used in the verb form in the Bible. The World English Bible gives the proper sense of what occurred – “Mount Sinai, all it, smoked.” But it’s important to understand the symbolism here. Smoke in the Bible is a metaphor for “wrath.” For example, in Psalm 74 we read this –

“O God, why have You cast us off forever?
Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” Psalm 74:1

The smoke then is not just for a majestic display, but it is seen with the giving of the law to show that God is utterly wrathful at the sins of humanity. God’s standard is revealed in this law which we continuously violated and as Paul says in the New Testament –

“For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 4:14, 15

But there is also another aspect in the majestic display. It says the LORD descended upon it in fire. Fire is given for two main reasons. The first is for judgment and condemnation; the second is for purification. The law would bring judgment on any who violated its precepts or it would purify those who perfectly adhered to it. Unfortunately, as Paul noted, the law brings about wrath as none can perfectly adhere to it.

However, in Christ who fulfilled the law, there is purification. All of this is being seen in this marvelous display, recorded for us to participate in and to understand. And to ensure that we do understand that this is exactly what is being seen, we continue…

18 (con’t) Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.

The word kibshan, or furnace, is used just four times in the Bible – once at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, twice in Exodus 9 during the plague of boils, and now here. Each of these points to wrath and judgment.

And one more time, in Revelation 9, the same terminology will be used at the blowing of the fifth trumpet judgment. The picture we are seeing here at Sinai reflects the wrath of God at the sins of man. And yet, it also shows us a picture of the grace to come.

The Lord descends upon Sinai, the Bush of the Lord, in fire and smoke which ascends like that of a great furnace. It is a picture of the cross where Christ, adorned and capped with a crown of thorns, once and for all-time judged the sins of man through fulfillment of the very law that He gave to show us our desperate need for Him.

How people have missed this symbolism is simply beyond me. Not a commentary I read equated what occurs here with the work of the Lord on Calvary. And yet, it is as plain and obvious as it can be when looking at the particular words used.

19 And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.

The word for “sounded long” here is not the same as in verse 13. This word means “to go.” Therefore, this is a series of blasts which increased in sound, probably to a frightening degree. Though it doesn’t say what Moses spoke to God, it is probably the words of Hebrews 12:21 – “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”

However, to reassure him, it says that ha’elohim or “the God” answered him by voice. If there was fear in the man, then there was tenderness from the Lord to calm him. The Lord displayed His awesome majesty to the people below while at the same time He revealed His benevolent grace to his servant through tender speech.

20 Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain.

If this occurred at the traditional location held to as Mount Sinai, then the Lord would have come down, not on the highest point of the mountain, but at the highest part visible from the plain of Er-Rahah. This would be on the peak known as Ras Sufsafeh.

20 (con’t)And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

In order to demonstrate that Moses alone was qualified to mediate for the people, the Lord calls for him to come up. It will be a quick climb for a very specific purpose and then a quick descent which will follow.

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the Lord, and many of them perish.

No sooner had Moses come to the Lord than he was immediately given instructions to go back down and warn the people. What is happening here concerns personal feelings of self-worth. Instead of speaking to Moses from the mountaintop as He did in the previous verse so that the people could hear, He called Him up to show that they were not set apart in the way they thought they were.

His first words are that the people shouldn’t break through and gaze at the Lord. First, to attempt to gaze at the Lord would inevitably result in leaving an impression in their minds of which they could then form an image. This in turn would lead to idolatry.

Secondly, it’s apparent that even though they were already told not to break through, they had the inclination that because Moses could, then so could they. This same attitude will be seen after the giving of the law as well –

“They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'” Numbers 16:3

But they were mistaken. There was a penalty for gazing upon the perfection of the Lord which is that many of them would perish. This was warned to the priests in Numbers 4:20 and a magnificent example of it is seen in 1 Samuel 6:19. This idea of the people thinking more of themselves than they ought is confirmed by the next verse…

22 Also let the priests who come near the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.”

Although the Levites have not yet been established as priests, this does not mean that the people didn’t have priests who ministered to God for them. In Exodus 24:5, which is before the assignment of the priests under the law, certain men “offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord.”

Therefore, this verse is telling us that these priests thought they were already consecrated because of their duties and so they didn’t bother purifying themselves as they were instructed. The Lord is telling them that, in fact, they had thought too highly of themselves and they were about to get rubbed out.

23 But Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it.’”

Moses, not fully comprehending either the gravity of the situation, nor yet the full holiness of the Lord, attempts to placate Him by telling him the people have already been instructed. It is as if he thinks the Lord is unaware of the circumstances around him.

The Lord is thinking on the terms of national transgression – the entire congregation breaking though, but Moses cannot comprehend this. The “You” is emphatic. “‘You’ warned us.” He cannot believe that one would transgress because the penalty was death. And so he certainly couldn’t comprehend that the whole nation would transgress.

He then mentions that bounds have been set around the mountain to consecrate it. Nothing has been said about the mountain being consecrated to this point although it is inferred in having separated the people from it. So far only the consecration of the people has been noted, but this explains what is going on.

The people were consecrated; the priests thought they were already consecrated; and the mountain is consecrated. If Moses can climb up it, then surely they could too. It is presumptuous thinking on the part of the entire nation and it is a pattern which will be seen throughout their history, even into the New Testament times and which is even seen in them in a great measure today.

Moses simply doesn’t understand, but the Lord does and His next words are words of urgency…

24 Then the Lord said to him, “Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you.

There is a rebuke in the words. Moses thought He could change the unchanging mind of the Lord. Unlike us, He does not change like shifting shadows. He understands the nature of man better than any man. And so he simply says lek, red – “Away! Get down!”

And then he follows up with the basic instructions which are actually intended for the entire congregation to understand – “Come back, just you and Aaron.” The people were ready to come up and they will learn that it isn’t in the cards. Only Moses and Aaron will ascend the mountain to meet with the Lord.

24 (con’t) But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break out against them.”

For the second time, Moses is told that the Lord will break out against the people if they violate the pre-set standards. Neither priest nor common person would be allowed to come up.

What is rather unfortunate is that in verses 21 & 24, the word for the people breaking through is haras which gives the idea of break down or tear down something. But in verses 22 & 24, the word for the Lord breaking through is parats, which gives the idea of breaking through, maybe like a ram. It is a completely different word and yet translations use the word “break” for translating both.

The idea is that if the people break down that which has been established, the Lord will break through them in judgment. Again, it is a picture of the giving of the law itself. When we break down the precepts of the law, God will break out against us. Without understanding what the words are saying, the picture that is being made is lost. Adam Clarke poetically describes the need for Moses to communicate to the people –

“God knew that they were heedless, criminally curious, and stupidly obstinate; and therefore his mercy saw it right to give them line upon line, that they might not transgress to their own destruction.” Adam Clarke

*25 So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.

These concluding words of Chapter 19 come directly before the giving of the Ten Commandments. The people had been, as it were, rebuked. They assumed that they could come forward and fellowship with this terrifying and holy God because they had been consecrated. Moses told them otherwise.

They were merely consecrated to hear the words of condemnation which would soon follow. They had not been consecrated to come near to Him in an intimate way. That would not come about for another 1500 years when those same commandments were fulfilled by the Lord when He came to dwell among us in human flesh.

The words they are about to hear will not make them holier. Instead they will only show them how utterly miserable they are in the presence of true holiness. They will show them how utterly sinful sin is to God and they will reveal the glory of the Lord alone who can meet those awesome words.

Let us never think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Instead, let us be infinitely grateful that God put us on the other side of the cross, where faith in Christ leads us not to condemnation, but to salvation. Matthew Henry understood this –

“…the Divine law is binding as a rule of life. The Son of God came down from heaven, and suffered poverty, shame, agony, and death, not only to redeem us from its curse, but to bind us more closely to keep its commands.” Matthew Henry

The law which stood opposed to us is fulfilled and nailed to His cross. And our sins are nailed to it as well, covered by the blood which ran down and removed those frightening words of condemnation. Thank God for Jesus Christ. If you have never received God’s forgiveness through His shed blood, let’s get that fixed today – even right now…

Closing Verse: “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: ‘And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.’ 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.’)
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Hebrews 12:18-24

Next Week: Exodus 20:1-12 (Ten Not So Simple Commands, Part I) (54th Exodus Sermon)

The Lord has you exactly where He wants you. He has a good plan and purpose for you. Even if a deep ocean lies ahead of You, He can part the waters and lead you through it on dry ground. So follow Him and trust Him and He will do marvelous things for you and through you.

The Lord Came Down

Then the Lord said to Moses
“Go to the people and them today and tomorrow consecrate
And let them wash their clothes
To be ready for the magnificent date

And let them be ready for the third day
For on the third day will come down the Lord
Upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people
This is according to My word

You shall set bounds for the people all around
Saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not
Go up to the mountain or touch its base
Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death on the spot

Not a hand shall touch him
But he shall surely be stoned or with an arrow shot
Whether man or beast, he shall not live
He shall die there on the spot

When the trumpet sounds long tell them not to fear
To the mountain they shall come near

So Moses went down from the mountain
To the people and he they sanctified
And they washed their clothes
This was done so that God would be glorified

And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day
Do not come near your wives, this to you I do say

Then it came to pass on the third day
In the morning, that thunderings and lightnings there were
And a thick cloud on the mountain
And the sound of the trumpet was very loud for sure

So that all the people who were in the camp trembled
The awesome sight had them all humbled

And Moses brought the people out
Of the camp to meet with God
And they stood at the foot of the mountain
Certainly trembling in the shoes with which they were shod

Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke
Because the Lord descended upon it in fire
Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace
As if there were an enormous, even heavenly pyre

And the whole mountain quaked greatly
And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long
And became louder and louder
Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice so strong

Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai
On the mountain at the top
And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain
And Moses went up

And the Lord said to Moses, heed my word
“Go down and the people warn
Lest they break through to gaze at the Lord
And many of them perish as I have sworn

Also let the priests who come near the Lord
Themselves consecrate
Lest the Lord break out against them
For them it would be a terrible fate

But Moses said to the Lord
“The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, to wit:
For You warned us, saying
“Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it

Then the Lord said to him, “Away!
Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you
But do not let the priests
And the people break through

To come up to the Lord
Lest He break out against them
According to His word

So Moses went down to the people and to them he spoke
That the words of the Lord were not just a joke

Lord, with this awesome display of who You are
It makes knowing Jesus all the more glorious
Instead of fire and smoke, judgment and wrath
You have shown grace and mercy to unworthy us

Thank You for the cross of Calvary
Thank You for the judgment which in turn has set us free
Thank You for what He did on that marvelous tree
For Your goodness we shall praise You eternally

Hallelujah and Amen…



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