Exodus 19 begins a block of material that stretches all the way to Numbers 10, a block dealing with the happenings at Sinai. Though combined with some narrative sections, this block contains the law of God received at the mountain.
As the chapter, and God’s law, begins to unfold, four things stand out:
First, is the conditional nature of God’s promises. God had chosen Israel to be His people, His “treasured possession.” There would be certain benefits of such a status. The status itself was not dependent on Israel’s behavior. She would always be God’s treasured possession no matter how she acted. But God’s response to her, treating her as His treasured possession, was dependent on her behavior. This remains true. Today, Christian people are God’s people, His treasured possession., no matter how we behave. We are called to make sure our behavior is consistent with our status. If it is, God will treat us according to the status He has given us. If it is not, He will not. There is no benefit to being the people of God if we don’t act like the people of God.
Second is the calling of God itself. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (19:6). Outside of Isaiah 61:6, this is the only time this statement is made in the Old Testament. The description underscores the status of God’s “treasured possession.” They (and we – 1 Peter 2:5,9) had a close relationship with and access to God that other people did not have. The purpose of this relationship was to serve as a mediator between God and mankind. Just as the Levitical priesthood served as an example to all Israel of what it meant to belong to God, so all Israel was to serve as an example to all other nations.
Third is the serious nature of approaching God. ‘Prepare to approach the mountain,’ Israel was told, ‘but don’t touch the mountain.’ The Lord, of course, is always with us, and we are always in His presence – as was Israel. But when we approach the Lord formally, serious consideration must be made. No one should do it lightly, without preparation. Saturday is a day of preparation for Sunday when we approach God as His people to worship. Sowing wild oats on Saturday and praying for crop failure on Sunday is not even close to proper preparation.
Finally, I am struck by the quickness of Israel’s response to God. She agreed to God’s laws before she ever heard them. Of course, what alternative did she have? But that’s not the point. In her quick, unthinking response, we are introduced formally to the less than serious way she took her relationship with the Lord. It won’t be the last time we see it.