The giving of the Law is a momentous event in Scripture and also teaches that we must approach our holy God on His terms. From Adam until this juncture, there had been no direct law of God and the rest of the book of Exodus, Leviticus and the first nine chapters of Numbers occurred here[i] where the Israelites resided for eleven months and six days (Exodus 12:2, 6 ; cf. 19:1).[ii] The Lord had redeemed His people in Exodus 1-18 and was about to claim them as His own and establish a further covenant relationship with them in Exodus 19-24, fulfilling His promise from Exodus 6:6-7.[iii]
Whilst it is difficult to ascertain the precise route of the Exodus, the location of Mount Sinai is most likely at Jebel Musa. In one sense that might be a blessing in disguise since if the exact location was identified beyond a shadow of doubt, then the surroundings may become venerated instead of the God of Moses (cf. Jude 9). Exactly three months after the Exodus, the Israelites were encamped at Mount Sinai[iv]also referred to as Horeb and that was where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and promised deliverance from the hand of the Egyptians (Exodus 3:4, 8). That is also where Moses would receive the Ten Commandments.
A Mediator was Needed
Since the Lord is holy and can only be approached Him on His terms, a mediator was needed, namely Moses. The consequences of assuming that responsibility or treating what is holy as something that is profane resulted in death for Nadab and Abihu when they offered strange fire (Leviticus 10:1-20) and when Uzzah took hold of the ark of God (2 Samuel 6:5-15). Moses would venture up Mount Sinai whilst the Israelites would wait at the foot of the mountain.
Only the Lord is absolutely holy, so how can we approach the Holy One today? We have all sinned and our sin separates us from God and the wages of sin are death. Although Moses was greatly used as a mediator between the Lord and the children of Israel, he spoke of a greater Prophet, who would be like him from the midst of their brethren (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). This Man was sinless and took our sin upon Himself through His sacrifice making atonement with God for our sin.
Ultimately, there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah (1 Timothy 2:5). But Yeshua did not come to do away with the law or the prophets but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17-18). The believer who has repented of their sins and is trusting in the Lord by faith can approach the Father, through Jesus the Son.
A Holy Nation
The Lord spoke to Moses, instructing him to speak to the people of Israel. He reminded Moses of what He did to the Egyptians and how He bore the Israelites on eagles’ wings and brought them to Himself. Some may object enquiring whether all Egyptians were evil and all Israelites were righteous? We know that other peoples and probably some Egyptians did trust in the Lord since a mixed multitude went with the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 12:37-38). We also know that some of the Israelites complained often and made life difficult for Moses. Nonetheless, the Lord established a special covenant with Israel and they were the only nation that was a theocracy-governed by God.
Much has been written in Jewish commentary concerning the term “I bore you on eagles’ wings”. Interestingly the Targum Jonathan and Targum Jerusalem extend this phrase to “I bare you upon the clouds as upon eagles’ wings”[v] and “I bare you upon the light clouds as upon eagles’ wings”[vi] respectively. Rashi emphasises the special quality of eagles that places their young upon its wings in contrast to other birds that fly above them.[vii]Ibn Ezra makes the same point though helpfully demonstrates from Deuteronomy 32:11, how the metaphor is used of the Lord like the eagle spreading out its wings, catching them and bearing them on its pinions.[viii]
If Israel were to obey the Lord and keep His covenant then they would be a treasured possession above all peoples for all the earth is Mine and they would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Since Israel was established as a theocracy, special conditions were required relating to obedience and disobedience towards the Lord (Leviticus 26:1-46; cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-68).
Chizkuni helpfully summarises that all the above “is the result of my fondness for you and My authority to do so since I own the universe.”[ix]Sforno adds, Humans are beloved because they are created in the image-still, you will be treasured among them”.[x]
Sadly, many people profess their trust in the God of the Bible though fail to recognise Israel’s unique covenant relationship with God. Yet Scripture affirms that Israel was chosen by God, not because she was more numerous, but because the Lord loves her and would keep His oath that he swore to her fathers (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Israel was chosen as a holy people unto God and a special treasure above all the peoples and kept His promises (Deuteronomy 14:2; cf. 26:18).
All that the Lord has Spoken we will do
The response of the Israelites was emphatic and should be our response too. We should carefully assess our attitude and examine our motives and intentions towards the Lord and Scripture. Many today treat Scripture as a spiritual marketplace where one can pick and choose. We cannot select what parts of the Bible we prefer or wish to adhere to, since Scripture was written by men but inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21). If we refuse the Lord we will bear the fate of the Egyptians who refused to listen to Moses and hardened their hearts. If we obey the Lord only in part or at our convenience, then we will spend a long period sojourning in the wilderness. But if we trust and obey Him, He will bear us on eagles’ wings.
The Lord would appear to Moses in a thick cloud that they may hear Him speak to Moses and believe him forever. This would enable the people to recognise that Moses did not compile the law himself and so that they might greatly respect him.[xi]If we respect Moses, how much more should we have reverence for the Lord and the Scriptures which are inspired by the Holy Spirit?
Many points of theology and questions boil down to whether we choose to believe in the Lord and His word. I know people that struggle unnecessarily in their spiritual lives since they ponder the finer points of secondary matters but refuse to believe in the Lord since they have not enjoyed the experience they are seeking, or they want to approach the Lord on their terms. We must remember that God is holy and we must approach our holy God on His terms that it may go well with us.
Writing to those in the dispersion, Peter encouraged the believers, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
[i] William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1995; Nashville), p104
[ii] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Theological Faculty (Victor, 1989; USA), p137
[iii] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary the complete Old Testament in One Volume (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p179
[iv] Walvoord & Zuck p137
[v] Targum Jonathan on Exodus 19 https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jonathan_on_Exodus.19.4?lang=bi
[vi] Targum Jerusalem on Exodus 19 https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jerusalem%2C_Exodus.19.4?lang=bi
[vii] Rashi on Exodus 19 https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Exodus.19.4.3?lang=bi
[viii] Ibn Ezra on Exodus 19 https://www.sefaria.org/Ibn_Ezra_on_Exodus.19.4.1?lang=bi
[ix] Chizkuni on Exodus 19 https://www.sefaria.org/Chizkuni%2C_Exodus.19.7.1?lang=bi
[x] Sforno on Exodus 19 https://www.sefaria.org/Sforno_on_Exodus.19.5.3?lang=bi
[xi] John MacArthur The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 2005; Nashville), p111