Exodus 19

At Mount Sinai

19 On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you[a] will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, "We will do everything the Lord has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

9 The Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.

10 And the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.' Only when the ram's horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain."

14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, "Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations."

16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain[b] trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.[c]

20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them."

23 Moses said to the Lord, "The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.'"

24 The Lord replied, "Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them."

25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.


Here we arrive at the 'great pause' in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). Beginning at Exodus 19 on Mt. Sinai, Moses and Israel will remain there until Numbers 10.11. These 58 chapters establish the core of socio-religious teaching for the nation.

Exodus 19 contains various layers of text that do not follow a strict chronological order. There is a sense of disorientation in space and time.

The mountain becomes, as it were, a holy shrine for God - a precursor to the tabernacle (that we will come to later in Exodus) and then the Temple in Jerusalem. The outer courts are at the base of the mountain and the holy of holies is at the peak where only Moses may go.

Kingdom of Priests

"Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'" (5,6)

Priests are those who are charged with intercession and the maintenance of holiness in the temple among the community of God's people. ‘Holy' in Hebrew means to ‘set apart'. The idea is that something is used for a particular sacred purpose and is set aside to God as holy.

Israel, as a nation, must preserve its distinctiveness from other peoples and pursue a way of life different from the nations around them so that they might give glory to God.

In a similar manner, the Church must preserve its holiness in Christ to be salt and light among the nations.

‘Be holy therefore, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.' (Leviticus 19.2)

In the next chapter we read that God instructs the people to keep the Sabbath (day of rest) holy (Lev. 20:8), but in verse 11 God declares that the Sabbath is holy.

So how does this work out in practice? Are the Israelites already holy because God has set them apart as his people? Or are they holy by doing something particular?

I think both.

It could be said that the Sabbath laws have already been 'naturally' instated in the manna story in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and in creation (Genesis 1-2). The Sabbath is holy, but the people are to keep it holy by observing and following that which God has already done.

Israel are holy, but they are to remain holy by imitating God and what he has already done.

In the New Testament, Paul always starts his letters by saying: "To the saints in Ephesus, Rome, Philippi..."

Saints means holy ones.

This is a settled identity we as Christians have. We don't have to fight to reclaim our identities, there's no fighting because the fight has already been fought and won. It has taken place in the life and ministry of Jesus, at the cross, at his resurrection and at the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.

We don't fight to win our identities, but we do engage in a battle, and this is the battle: To live in the light of the identity that has been won for us. To live in the light of our true identities, as holy ones.

What does that look like for you today? How can you live in the light of the holy status you have received from Jesus?

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