Exodus 19: To Myself
In Exodus 19 the Israelites finally make it to Mount Sinai. Upon arrival Moses went up the mountain to meet God. The LORD called to Moses and told him to tell Israel,
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagle's wings, and brought you to myself. Therefore, if you will listen carefully to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own treasured possession among all peoples and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Moses went down and told the people what God said and the people agreed to listen and obey.
These words from Yahweh call for a closer look. Notice the emphasis on what the Israelites have personally seen/experienced. Yahweh had liberated them from the Egyptians, from the hand of Pharaoh. They had seen the Nile turned to blood. They had heard the cries of the Egyptians in the middle of the night when Yahweh struck down all their firstborn. They had experienced the distinction that Yahweh was making on their behalf in plague after plague. They had walked through the Yahweh-parted sea on dry ground. They had celebrated when Yahweh brought the sea down upon the Egyptian army that was hard on their heels. They indeed had seen what Yahweh had done to the Egyptians to procure their freedom.
More, they had experienced the eagle-wing protection of Yahweh in the desert. They drank bitter water made sweet. They gathered and ate manna daily. They feasted on quail. They drank from a rock. And they were granted victory over the attacking Amalekites. They knew firsthand the "eagleness" of Yahweh.
And what was the purpose of this liberation and eagle-care? To bring justice to an oppressed people? Well, yes, but more. To meet Israel's needs? Well, yes, but more. To demonstrate God's awesome power? Well, yes, but more. The more is, "To bring you to Myself." Yahweh's purpose in all of this has been to bring Israel to Himself. The constant word to Pharaoh, "Let my people go, so that they may worship me." The divine Name revealed in Exodus 6:6-7, "I am Yahweh, I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians . . ., and I will take you for my people, and I will be your god. . .." The sign to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:12), "when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt you shall worship God on this mountain."
From the call of Moses at the burning bush through the plagues, sea, and desert, the purpose of God had been to bring Israel to Himself. The goal was not merely liberation from Egypt, but liberation to Yahweh. The eagle wings were not merely provision for another day, but to bring Israel to this day of meeting. Yahweh's saving purpose was to bring Israel to Sinai, to bring Israel to the place where He had met Moses, to bring Israel to Himself.
I think we have a deep and terrible tendency to stop short of Yahweh's purpose. We love the thought of liberation from, whatever the "from" might be. That is often where we want Yahweh's work to end: with our freedom to do whatever we want, to go whichever way we want. We want the liberation from the things we find binding, and we call on God to set us free. But what we don't realize, or don't want to deal with, is that God never sets free for the sake of mere freedom. Liberation is always to "bring you to myself." It is liberation to and not merely liberation from, liberation to come to and abide in God.
Likewise with provisions: we implore God to provide for us, to meet our daily needs, and many wants as well. And that's where our prayers stop. They are shopping-cart prayers. There is nothing wrong with shopping-cart prayers – Jesus taught us to pray, "give us this day our daily bread" – but God's ultimate purpose is to do more than fill our carts. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." "Forgive us, as we forgive."
God wants to bring us to Himself. The provisions are not an end in themselves, but merely to bring us to Sinai/Calvary, to bring us to a place of meeting, a place of covenant. We are to seek first the Kingdom, and trust God to supply the provisions. We tend to seek first the provisions and give little care to living as the people of God, little concern with the Kingdom/reign of Christ in our lives. In short, God has acted and Christ has called us, not merely to set us free, not merely to meet our needs, but to bring us to Himself, that we might live in covenant with Him. Don't live with a reduction of God's purpose.
Having brought Israel to Himself, Yahweh then put a "therefore, if... then..." to them. We've covered the therefore: all that Yahweh has done for them in bringing them to Sinai. The if has to do with what Israel will do given what Yahweh has done. The content of the if is carefully listening to/obeying the voice of Yahweh. Notice the relational terminology. We are not talking about obeying a set of impersonal commands posted on a wall or etched in stone. It's about heeding a voice. It's not about meeting contractual obligations, but about keeping covenant. If Israel does this listening, then Yahweh will do more. The content of the then is making Israel Yahweh's treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy people.
"Treasured possession" points to the special relationship that Israel will have with Yahweh. The whole earth belongs to Yahweh the Creator. All peoples are His. But if Israel will listen to Yahweh, Yahweh will treasure them. Yahweh will treasure that relationship with them. I don't think for a second that this means that Yahweh will love them more than other peoples. What I do think is that Yahweh will treasure the richness of the obedient relationship far more than He treasures one of disobedience. The next two aspects of the then further explain this treasuring. They are treasured not because they are better, but for the purpose that they will serve.
If Israel would listen Yahweh will make them a Kingdom of Priests. The more I consider this, the more awesome it becomes. As priests they would mediate the presence of Yahweh to the rest of the nations, as well as represent the nations to Yahweh. Rescued from slavery, if they now listen, they will become Yahweh's address on earth. The nations will meet the presence of Yahweh in the people of Israel. Notice that it is a kingdom of priests and not mystics. They are not simply to enjoy an exclusive, private relationship with Yahweh. They are not to keep Yahweh's presence to themselves. As a kingdom of priests they are to be concerned with the needs of the other nations, and especially with the need to minister the presence of Yahweh to these nations. Neither are they to be a kingdom of kings or politicians. The goal is not to rule via the presence of Yahweh, but to serve the need to know Yahweh.
Thus, Yahweh's intention is to make Israel a holy nation, a nation belonging to Him and set apart from the others. The only way anything is holy is by virtue of its relation to the Holy One. Only Yahweh makes holy. Yahweh will make Israel holy in order that His holiness might be displayed to all the nations. Yahweh will hallow His Name through the sanctification of Israel. John Durham states that Israel will be "a showcase to the world of how being in covenant with Yahweh changes a people." -1- Being made holy means that they will take on the holy character of Yahweh. Yahweh will inscribe their character with His holy, righteous ways.
In 1 Peter 2:9 we find Peter transferring this identity/purpose to the church: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you might declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." The church, and in particular the local church, is to mediate the presence of Christ in the world/neighborhood. The purpose of the church is no different than that assigned to Israel back at Sinai. Thus we pray, "Hallowed be Thy Name."
The means of fulfilling this purpose is critical to grasp. Go back to the "therefore, if... then..." structure. "You have seen what I have done." Yahweh acts/saves/liberates first. Now comes the if. How is Israel going to respond to what Yahweh has done? How are we going to respond what Christ has already done? If Israel listens, if they respond in whole-hearted surrender, then Yahweh will do far more than what He has already done. He will dwell in their midst, making them the earthly abode of His presence, his precious instrument for reaching the nations. If Israel refuses to listen, their relationship is stymied. They will have failed to respond to God's liberating salvation appropriately. They will never experience God's greatest intentions.
Israel told Moses to say yes. A "yes" answer means that salvation does not stop with liberation and provisions. They will grow in their relationship with God, even being caught up in the larger-than-self purpose of mediating God's presence to the nations. What about us? The same dynamic is at work. We face the same "if." If we listen, if we respond appropriately to what we have already seen Christ do, then Christ will do yet more. The salvation that we have experienced will grow from liberation and provision to holy character, mediation, and revelation.
You have seen what Christ has done, therefore listen carefully and remain in Him, and you will be amazed and humbled by what Christ will yet do in you.
Therefore, if. . . then. . ..