In Exodus 19, the nation of Israel is encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. Here, the Lord is going to reiterate the covenant promises that He has already made to Adam, Noah, and Abraham (and to Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob).
To Adam, God had promised that life outside of the garden was going to be tough and the consequences of sin severe, but that eventually the head of the serpent would be crushed. (Genesis 3:15)
To Noah (after the flood), God had promised to restore the creation through him and his descendants and to not destroy it again by flood. (Genesis 9)
And now, at the base of the same mountain where God called Moses to deliver His people from bondage, God is reiterating and building upon this covenant with the nation that He has created through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:2-6)
Every nation needs a constitution and a law that will govern them, and the law is what the Lord is about to give them. He tells the nation that if they will obey Him and keep covenant with Him that they will be his “treasured possession among all peoples” and that they will be to Him a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
God would use the nation of Israel to represent Him and to mediate his blessing and presence to the whole world:
- to demonstrate the benefits of obedience to the Lord
- to demonstrate the consequences of sin against the Lord
- to demonstrate that man is inadequate to fully keep the law
- to provide a living illustration of God’s redemption and forgiveness through the sacrificial system that is about to be implemented, and
- ultimately to provide a once-for-all Redeemer in the person of Jesus Christ, who would be the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin.
Literally, everything in the Old Testament is an illustration of one or more of the five things listed above – benefit of obedience to God, consequence of disobedience, man’s inadequacy, God’s complete sufficiency, and foreshadowing of Christ and the cross, where God’s sufficiency finally and completely deals with our inadequacy. Given a standard of behavior that we must live up to – even one as simple and straightforward as the ten commandments – we cannot do it on our own. We desperately need redemption, and God has graciously provided a Redeemer. That is the story of Scripture.
And all of this is for the glory of God, which they could only see in part, redeemed believers can see and reflect more fully, and one day we will see completely. At Sinai, the people were not allowed to see the glory of God or to get too close, or they would die. (Exodus 19:21) In Christ, we are able to see the glory of the Lord lived out in flesh. (John 1:14, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3) The promise of the New Testament is that those who have been redeemed by Christ, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18) One day, those who have been redeemed by the blood of His Son, will see the Father face to face and know Him in full, even as He fully knows us. (1 Corinthians 13:12)