Go back in time and imagine you are one of the Israelites traveling to the land God has promised. Moses, your leader, tells you to prepare yourself to be in the presence of God. Picture a smoky cloud over a quaking mountain and actually hearing the voice of God. What would your reaction be? Awe? Fear? Reverence? Listen to this lesson to learn about these events and their significance as the people were being chosen to be a kingdom of priests to proclaim God’s message to the world. Learn what sanctification meant then and the importance of being set apart to serve God in our own lives. Find out what the opposite of holy is and how we can prepare ourselves to worship God.
Dr. Dean referenced several books during his discussion on universities, including: The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi, How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmidt, How the West Was Won by Rodney Stark, and The Rise of Universities by Charles Homer Haskins.
The Kingdom of Priests
Exodus 5; 19–24
Samuel Lesson #150
October 16, 2018
“Father, it’s a tremendous privilege that we have that You are a God who has condescended to send His Son to die on the Cross for our sins. You have entered into human history through the Second Person of the Trinity in order to provide redemption and to bring us to Yourself.
“Father, we’re thankful that this is a plan that’s not based on who we are or what we do. It’s based on what You are. We need to understand more fully who You are in Your plan and who our Lord Jesus Christ is, all of His work of redemption for us and the Holy Spirit.
“This, then, helps us to understand Your greatness, Your magnificence, Your majesty, Your splendor, and how extraordinary it is that You desire a relationship with us and have done so much to secure it. That is the essence and foundation of worship.
“As we study more tonight about worship, help us to understand its significance in our lives and that we need to think about that as part of our week and part of our daily life that we are to worship You. You are to be the center of our thinking. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We are studying worship as part of a subseries in our ongoing series on 1 & 2 Samuel. As such, it is important because there’s so much confusion about worship today. Truly worship has been so diluted in modern evangelicalism that it has diminished the understanding of who God is. It’s diminished and diluted our understanding of salvation and the Christian life.
That impacts how we think about our purpose in life. This is one of the ways in which Satan has truly attacked the American church and destroyed its real power. The bottom line is that the Christians in America are becoming less and less biblically literate. They are no longer theologically knowledgeable. This doesn’t mean everyone. It’s a trend, though.
As a result they are spiritually impoverished. They really don’t understand what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to worship God or to have a life that is focused on a different and a higher plane.
Our worship of God at its very center, as I’ve pointed out the last few weeks, has to focus on just who God is. That’s why that illustration of the “essence box” is so important, because this is our view of ultimate reality.
Ultimate reality is that there is a holy, triune God, who is a Creator God of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. I could talk from now until five decades from now and we wouldn’t even do more than scratch the surface of His essence.
God is infinite. He’s all-powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is beyond our vaguest notion in terms of comprehension. Yet we can know certain things and God expects us to probe those things. We know things about God.
God is a God of knowledge and He has created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. Think about what that means. That means that goes all the way down to the tiniest sub-atomic, -sub-molecular particle and below that, all the way up to the expanse of the heavens. It includes all of the macro systems we can think of in terms of the galaxies and the universe.
Even when God makes certain promises in the Scripture that relate to the earth, for example in the Noahic Covenant, saying He will never again destroy the earth by water, we can trust Him. For Him to be able to make that promise means that He is in complete control of every aspect of meteorology.
The meteorology of the earth is not simply affected by things going on in the earth. It’s also affected by things going on in the solar system and in the universe. Even though these covenants relate to what God is going to do on the earth, we have prophecies that specifically involve the solar system. These will come true in the Tribulation period.
This means God has to be able to control all of these processes. If it were purely random, then we might be like a lot of people today and get all upset and skittish about the fact that some asteroid might hit the earth. We do know from Revelation that something like that will happen during the Tribulation period but it won’t happen until then.
No one is going to stop God’s plan and purpose for the human race. All of this means we worship a rational God. It is that idea that comes out of the Old Testament, that the God that we worship is a knowledgeable, rational God, that transformed western civilization, along with a number of other things.
I made the comment in talking about this last week that universities began in the early Middle Ages in the west. They were not the product of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. They did not develop universities and so I got a question on that.
This is not what’s being taught today and I think for a couple of different reasons. One of which is what do we mean by university? University is a term that did not come into use until western civilization and it defined a specific kind of education.
The way we use it today is as a synonym for higher education and it’s not, actually. It’s something more than higher education, which has been around in many different cultures and many different places since 2000 or 3000 BC. There have been people pursuing a greater level of knowledge.
What happened in the West was due to unique features that developed something called a university. To call things that were present in perhaps China or India or even in Greece and Rome, a university is something of an anachronism, if that’s the right term. It’s where we’re taking a modern concept and reading it back into an ancient civilization without necessarily fully understanding that. I make a point here that the basis for making this claim is that Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, and we can add Greco-Roman cultures, did not develop universities because their metaphysical beliefs, that is, their belief about ultimate reality and the gods that they worship or the lack of gods that they worship, prevented the development of an epistemology that would have produced a university in the way it’s developed in the West.
If you don’t have a personal, infinite God who is omniscient and creates every detail in the universe so that everything logically fits together, then you don’t have a basis for investigating and understanding everything in the universe. That’s the basic claim; but there have been others who made that claim.
One of the reasons I’m going through this is because, as the person who questioned me said, that there are times when pastors make statements that need to be backed up a little more academically because, I know I do and others do as well have a lot of college and university students and others who are pursuing academic degrees who hear a statement like that and wonder about the details to back it up.
If you go into a secular, multi-cultural campus where they teach that all cultures have produced universities, they’re playing games with words and word definitions. One of the books I recommend is by Vishal Mangalwadi. He is Indian and has been stated in Christianity Today to be the foremost Christian intellectual in India. He served in the Indian parliament. He was educated in Hindu ashrams and secular universities and he has written a book called The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.
It is an excellent book to understand this issue. There are others who have written on a similar theme. One is a book by Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. It has the same theme. Then there’s another book by Rodney Stark, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. It came out in 2014. Mangalwadi’s book came out in 2011. Schmidt’s book came out in 2007.
These are scholarly works with a huge number of footnotes going to many other advanced technical studies which teach these principles and make these same kinds of statements.
Mangalwadi says, “Why did my university in Allahabad have a church, but not a Hindu temple or a Muslim mosque?” His answer is because the university was invented and established by Christians.
Charles Haskins, who was a professor at Harvard in the early part of the twentieth century, wrote a classic work on The Rise of Universities which came out in 1923. He said, “Universities, like cathedrals and parliaments, are a product of the Middle Ages. The Greeks and the Romans, strange as it may seem, had no universities in the sense in which the word has been used for the past seven or eight centuries. They had higher education but the terms are not synonymous. Much of their instruction in law, rhetoric, and philosophy would be hard to surpass, but it was not organized into the form of permanent institutions of learning.”
That’s one of the features that distinguished the Greco-Roman advanced learning or Far-Eastern advanced learning was the way in which it is organized and the establishment of a long-term institution. There’s more to it, though, than simply that.
Mangalwadi makes the statement that education was specifically a Christian missionary enterprise. Remember, he’s coming from India and his whole background is Hinduism, Buddhism, and what’s going on in India. He says, “An astute observation is that merchants and military were not concerned with establishing education. When the British army went out into the world, they took missionaries with them who were concerned with education.” They wanted to establish schools, reduce the language to a written language if there was not one, so modern education is a fruit of the Bible because Christians wanted people to read the Word of God.
It doesn’t mean other people were not educated, but that that specifically drove Christianity in a distinctive way. Mangalwadi states that the annual festivals at the Hindu shrines, quote, “Drew every important Hindu religious, political, economic, and intellectual leader to this confluence in the last two millennia. The money pilgrims donated is incalculable, yet the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim civilizations did not establish a single significant institution of learning in this center of Gangetic [that refers to the River Ganges] civilization.”
Why? This is because of their ultimate worldview, their view of what is ultimate in reality, their metaphysics. He makes the statement, “Some holy men near Allahabad’s confluence were at least as brilliant and dedicated as the friars who founded Oxford and Cambridge.” We are not making statements that they weren’t smart, brilliant or that they didn’t make incredible inventions that never got developed or went anywhere because the worldview prevented it. It’s like trying to plant a rosebush out in the desert where there’s no water. Nothing’s going to happen. He says, “They failed to establish a university because of their religious quest to ‘kill’ their minds.” In Buddhism you want to do away with your mind. You want to empty your mind. You want to vacate it because ultimate reality is nothingness, so if you want to reach your highest level then you have to empty your mind. It’s anti-intellectual. Its core is mysticism. Mysticism is ultimately anti-intellectual.
He continues, “They lay on nails, buried themselves, or sat covered only with ashes and cow dung, smoking drugs, and seeking enlightenment. Their path to enlightenment was Jnana Marg—the path of knowledge of Self, God, or oneness of everything. Yet they had no interest in the material world for they thought it maya or illusion.”
Why would you develop science if everything you see in the physical world is just illusion? There’s no foundation there for developing any kind of scientific thought culturally. There were exceptions. There were inventions that were made. There were developments that were made but, again, they didn’t go anywhere.
This is not too much different from Plato’s idealism. If you’ve ever studied philosophy one of the great images is Plato’s cave coming out of his discussion in The Republic. There he talks about knowledge and how we see reality.
Remember in Plato’s thought, ultimate reality is in the realm of the ideal or the ideas. It’s not in the physical or material world, which is somehow tainted. He uses the illustration of a man in a cave. The man in a cave is looking at a wall and there’s a light somewhere behind him and what he sees are shadow figures on the wall.
You remember when you were a kid, you’d turn off all the lights in your bedroom and shine a light up against the wall and you’d use your fingers to make shadow figures of dogs or rabbits or whatever. For Plato, that’s all we see. We never see the rabbit or the dog or the cow. All we see is the shadow on the wall.
We never see things as they are. We only see this shadow, this reflection. Since we can’t ever see reality as it is, that doesn’t stimulate us to investigate things as they are. For one thing, natural science, the study of Creation and developing the laws of science has no way to establish any roots in that kind of a soil.
In the Far East there were a lot of inventions. The Chinese invented movable type printers somewhere around AD 1000. The movable type metal printer was invented in Korea in 1345 and they printed an enormous number of books, most of which were religious books and they were collected into enormous libraries.
Mangalwadi talks about how these libraries in China were so large they had to invent mechanical rotating book cases by the ninth century AD. According to one monk at Soochow, they had invented a brake to stop the rotation and another scholar, Lynn White, who is a scholar in these areas, said they didn’t rotate these bookcases for research. Instead, they rotated them continuously 24/7 because they would meditate on the sound, because that’s how they emptied their minds in meditation.
Meditation, Mangalwadi says, is a means of escaping thinking by focusing your attention on a sacred or meaningless sound like “om”. Thinking must be stopped and the mind must be silent because the root of existence is not “logos”, the rational word, but “avidya,” ignorance.”
The belief is best summed up in the Buddhist doctrine of creation summarized in Pratītyasamutpāda, or chain of dependent origination. He goes on to establish this. But Schmidt in his work, How Christianity Changed the World, states after reciting the numerous philosophers, poets, advanced thinkers, and learned men of the Greco-Roman heritage, identified them as contributing to a much higher level of education, but it did not develop into permanent institutions or what came to be known as universities.
Schmidt said, “They had no libraries, they had no guild of scholars or students, and they certified no one. Even more important, it can be argued, they tested no theories and engaged in no research; in fact, they ignored and even spurned the inductive method. The best evidence indicates that universities grew out of the Christian monasteries.”
That points out another thing. There was a presence in the Far East of libraries; where they were researching what the religious traditions were. They weren’t going into the libraries to study and research to develop new ideas. There’s no innovation. It was just passing on the heritage because this gets into another area where in both Greco-Roman thought and in Hindu thought, life is cyclical.
They believe history isn’t moving anywhere. The fact that history is starting here and moving and progressing to an ultimate finishing point is a Judean-Christian idea. Pagan cultures just had this ongoing cycle all the time. So there’s no reason to try to innovate and break the cycle because you can’t, so why try?
This whole idea of a linear view of history is also foundational to our understanding of knowledge. We’re moving somewhere. We’re progressing in knowledge. There’s a reason and purpose to learn more and to study more and to advance our study.
In the Middle Ages this began in some sense with the Benedictine monks. A part of the Benedictine vow was that the Benedictine monks were required to read books daily, not just Scripture, not just theology, but everything. They read Latin classics and Greek classics and they studied logic and other things that they would take and apply. As a result, they began to develop new ideas.
One of the features that developed was in a proto-university which hadn’t come together yet when Emperor Theodosius II of the Eastern Empire in the year AD 425 had a law school that had thirty-one professors who taught Latin, Greek, and philosophy.
There was a specific curriculum that culminated in a degree or certification of something of that nature. You had a starting point and an ending point. That becomes a major feature in the Western idea of a university.
The first clear university was the University of Verona in AD 1158. It specialized in the study of canon law and then came the University of Paris in AD 1200 where Abelard, and later Thomas Aquinas, studied and taught. It specialized in theology and then added medicine in AD 1270.
It’s interesting because neither Islam nor Buddhism did empirical studies on the body. Now Aristotle wrote a lot about the circulatory system and the organs of the body, but he never actually opened a corpse. They just didn’t do that. They just came up with their theories and that was good enough so they didn’t go out and have practical empiricism.
That comes along because Christians believe there’s a distinction between the body and soul and the soul leaves at death, so now that means the body is no longer significant so we can cut it open and learn about the prevention of disease as we go along.
Other things that developed out of this was innovation. That was important. You had the idea of research. In the work by Rodney Stark, he points out that there’s no theology done until you had Christians. Because theology is where you’re taking principles of reason and logic and you’re applying them to revelation in order to understand things.
Moving from what the Scripture says to a definition of the Trinity at the Nicene Conference in AD 325 is doing theology. Other traditions don’t do that. They stick with what the received knowledge is.
These are just some of the ideas. You can research this in any number of these books I’ve mentioned plus a number of others that come along and focus our attention on that. The point is that what makes Western Civilization unique is it’s grounded on this Judea-Christian concept of a rational God who has created everything.
One of the implications of that is that if you’re in a polytheistic culture (Hinduism, Buddhism—technically some people argue that Buddhism is nothingness and so it’s not really polytheistic, but that’s another debate. And other systems where you have a couple of hundred gods and goddesses who control the rivers or the rain, thunder, and lightning, fertility, and prosperity) where everything is controlled by whimsical deities then you can’t figure out any kind of standards.
You can’t figure out any kinds of laws or things that are universal because it’s all done by the whimsy of these gods and goddesses. So it isn’t really until this is removed from the thinking that you can recognize that everything is created orderly by a rational, logical God that you can develop a systematic, coherent view of creation.
That’s why in polytheistic cultures, as we’ve studied with Ephesus on Sunday morning, there was such a popularity of magic because you can’t know what the creation is like. You just have to believe in superstition and magic in order to somehow manipulate the gods and goddesses to make them do what you want them to do.
As Mangalwadi concludes, “It’s not that Chinese monks and Hindu sages lacked ability. They lacked philosophical motivation. They looked for a psychological paradise, for blessing within their consciousness. Until the 16th century the Western Christian mind also looked for a psychological or spiritual salvation. It’s only when a major portion of Christendom could read the Bible and take it at face value that it began to understand the loss of Eden as the loss of an earthly paradise.”
It’s got to be that complete rejection of Platonism and idealism, in the diagrams and verbiage of Francis Schaffer, where you now give equal weight to nature as well as to grace.
That probably gives most of you more information than you want but someone out there is going to listen to this and understand that there’s a reason that we have the institutions that we have in Western Civilization.
With that we’re going to shift gears and go to our main topic tonight, which has to do with our study of worship. We’re going to continue what we’ve been studying in Exodus where we’ve been for the last couple of weeks. Tonight we’re looking at why God called Israel as a kingdom of priests.
This had never happened before. This is why this begins a new dispensation, the dispensation of the Law. One of the features of the dispensation of the Law is that Israel now has a unique position as a nation. Before they were a distinct race called out by God, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and now they are to have a new purpose.
They will have a land. In order to have a nation you need to have three things. You need to have a people. You need to have a territory or land, and you have to have a constitution. You have to have law. So the Jewish people have been growing in number for the last four hundred years. The land has been sitting there as those who have been living there have become more and more perverted and reprobate, and now they are ripe for judgment. God is going to take their traditional land away from them and give it to Israel.
After delivering them from slavery in Egypt, He’s going to lead them to Mount Sinai where He is going to give them the Law, the Mosaic Law. There are those that say they had law before this. Sure, there was law before this, such as Hammurabi’s law and other things because this reflected the basic ethics God had revealed earlier in creation, sort of a creation code.
Those laws mirror some of the same realities, but there are distinctives in the way the Mosaic Law worked. Our focus isn’t on that. Our focus is on understanding worship. Worship is a response to God’s revelation. What does that mean?
That means that if we’re going to worship, that’s a response or it must be preceded by the proclamation of God’s Word. That can happen in a lot of ways. In the Old Testament it could happen as a result of special revelation when a prophet proclaimed something. It could happen simply through the reading of Scripture. There were times when people read Scripture.
One example of this is when Josiah was king and Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered the Mosaic Law, the Torah, in the temple. It had been hidden away and everyone had forgotten about it. When Josiah read it, he immediately put it into effect.
That means he repented—he turned towards God—and he implemented all of the rituals and everything that was required. He had the temple completely cleansed. All kind of idols had been put into the temple and basically it had been turned into a very idolatrous, perverted place. So he cleanses the temple and the priesthood and he restores biblical worship—the worship described in Torah as a result of the reading of God’s Word.
Today we have the proclamation of God’s Word from pulpits. We have the proclamation of God’s Word in written works. As we read these written works we are moved to respond to God in worship. That is what worship is.
One of the ways Satan attacks the church is to pervert the meaning of good biblical words. We lost the word “holy” back with the holiness movement, the Pentecostal movement, back in the mid-20th century. We lost other words along the way and now we are losing worship because we have two generations who have grown up thinking that the worship leader is the song leader and that worship is music.
The worship leader is the pastor and worship involves everything that goes on in a service like the giving, the reading of Scripture, the proclamation of the Word, and singing is only one of the ways we respond to that proclamation.
Let’s turn to Exodus 19. We’ll start there and we’re going to draw a contrast between what happens in Exodus 19 and what will happen in Exodus 24. In both scenarios, although Exodus 19 isn’t technically a worship service, it sets the stage.
In Exodus 19:1 we have God reminding them of who He is and all of the gracious acts He has done for them. “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.”
Notice this locks it down in a special location and a specific place, the Wilderness of Sinai.
Exodus 19:2 “For they had departed from Rephidim—you can go to this location today although there are different options for the mountain of Sinai, we know where the Wilderness of Sinai is,—and had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.” That’s the setting.
Then we have as it were a call to worship. God calls to Moses and Moses goes up to the mountain. This is like a call to worship God. Exodus 19:3–4, “And Moses went up to God and the Lord called to him from the mountain saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.’ ”
What’s going on here? When we think about the things, we observe about worship, we know we have a call to worship. You also have a proclamation. This is God making a proclamation. In this proclamation, He reminds them of who He is and the gracious acts He has done for them. He has delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
Then He’s going to charge them to obey Him. We see that in the Mosaic Law as well as what Jesus lays down and teaches in John 14 and 15 that if you love Him [God], we obey him. In Deuteronomy it says that if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and you love your neighbor as yourself, this summarizes all the Law.
This is a map of the Sinai Peninsula. Israel is up here at the top right. Over here you have these two forks of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. Coming down between them is the Sinai Peninsula. The traditional location is at Jebel Musa down here at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. There are problems and there are other suggested locations for Sinai, but I’m not going to get into that. This is the three-month route [in red] that the Israelites followed to get down to Mount Sinai.
God lays down this charge to them in Exodus 19:5, “Now therefore if you will indeed obey My voice …”—now that’s the condition. . Are you willing to make a commitment to obey My voice and keep My covenant?
Are they already God’s chosen, covenant people? Yes, that came with the Abrahamic Covenant. He asks this question, “if you will do this, if you will obey My voice, and keep My covenant, “then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” Exodus 19:6, “And you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
This is a calling for Israel now as a nation to follow in the footsteps of Abraham who called upon the name of the Lord. When Abraham goes to Haran, from Ur of the Chaldees he called on the name of the Lord. He called on the name of the Lord when he comes down into the land in Shechem and Beersheba. We saw that he was making a proclamation about who God is and what God had done.
Remember we went to Exodus 24 and 25 where God Himself says He will call upon the name of the Lord. That’s not prayer. God is going to be talking about who He is and what He has done and He goes immediately into doing that.
This call for Israel to be a kingdom of priests was a call for them to follow in the footsteps of Abraham, the patriarch, and to proclaim who God is and what He has done. They are to be witnesses to the world of God and His grace. This is a part of worship.
Second, they are to be what the priests were to be as teachers of the nations. So, in Israel, you had the twelve tribes and one tribe which was set apart and distinct, separated to God to serve as priests, the tribe of Levi. We need to look and understand what the tribe of Levi did. This is laid out in Deuteronomy 33:10. I’ve just broken it down. All the words come out of Deuteronomy 33.
Referring to the responsibilities of the Levites, Moses said what God said, “They shall teach Jacob Your judgments and Israel Your Law.” Jacob and Israel are synonyms for the twelve tribes for the nation Israel. So, the priests were to teach the judgments and the Law to the people. They were supposed to be the educators of the nation on the Law.
Second, they were to “put incense before You.” They were going to serve in the temple. Part of what they were to do was bring incense into the holy place and they would put the incense on the altar of incense. As the incense burned and the smoke went up, it was a picture of intercessory prayer. Our prayers are to continually go up before the Lord.
There’s a picture of this in terms of the heavenly sanctuary in Revelation 8:3, “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar—this is the altar in heaven before the Throne of God. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.”
One thing we should remember when we’re talking about the tabernacle or the temple is that there’s a heavenly prototype. God revealed the pattern to Moses and He revealed the pattern for the temple to David. When Solomon built the temple and expanded it and developed some of the features in it, he’s not just making that up as he goes along. It was revealed to David so that he is following that heavenly prototype, that heavenly pattern that exists in Heaven. That’s alluded to several times, not only in Revelation, but also in the Book of Hebrews.
They are to teach Jacob God’s judgments and His Law. They are to put incense before God and to pray continuously leading the nation in prayer. And they are to put a whole burnt sacrifice on God’s altar. Now the reason for the burnt offering is that it is a picture of complete dedication to God. They are dedicated to God and in the burnt offering everything went up in smoke to God. It is a picture of complete surrender to God, to totally dedicating yourself to God, and that everything you have belongs to God.
It is a picture of obedience. It was one of the offerings that you always brought when you went to the temple. Now think about that. Every time you go to the temple, you go for the feast days, three times a year you were required to do that, you had to bring a bullock or a sheep, or for the poor you had to bring a bird offering to the burnt offering. You also had to always bring a second offering and that’s the peace offering.
If you had done anything to render yourself ritually unclean in the last year, then you had to bring a trespass offering. You didn’t get away with a “freebie” going to the temple. It is going to cost you a lot in order to go there.
They do these three things. They teach, they pray, and they offer the offerings—the burnt sacrifice that is on the altar.
So Moses comes down and Moses goes to the people and calls for the elders and lays out all that the Lord had told him. What he is basically telling them that if they’re going to be a nation of priests, then they have to be set apart to the Lord as a nation. That means you’re going to a holy nation and you can’t serve the Lord without being holy. Something has to happen that sanctifies us, or sets us apart, to the service of God. This is what will happen in Exodus 19 and we’ll see it fulfilled in Exodus 24.
In Exodus 19:9, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.’ ” God is saying that the manifestation will be in a thick cloud. I want you to pay attention to the audio visuals taking place here.
God is going to appear in a thick cloud. He will speak in such a way that the people can hear Him. This is going to play out for generations. God is beginning something new and He’s going to have a dramatic entry. If you had been there with a video camera you could have recorded the whole thing including the voice of God and no one would have debated the existence of God anymore.
Moses is telling the people about this and God tells him that he is to go to the people to sanctify them, to consecrate them. Exodus 19:10–11, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, And let them be ready for the third day. …” So there’s going to be three days of cleansing. Interesting.
The word “consecrate” is a translation of the Hebrew verb qadash. It’s usually translated holy, sanctify, make holy, consecrate, and all these different terms. In the English word consecrate, part of it is “secrate,” which is from the Latin word sacra, meaning holy. So consecrate is just the Latin translation of the Hebrew word qadash, meaning to set apart something for the use of God.
It doesn’t mean it’s morally perfect or morally pure. It doesn’t mean it’s other worldly. It does mean it’s set apart and distinct for the service of God. So the people have to be consecrated before they can come before God. This is the same thing that Jesus is teaching.
They have to wash their clothes. That’s the ritual cleansing. They’ve been traveling in the wilderness. They’ve got to clean everything. They’ve got to clean themselves and go through the ritual purity. All of that so that they can come before God. They have to prepare themselves spiritually. This is the starting point of worship.
This is what Jesus is teaching the disciples when He is washing their feet in the Upper Room. He tells them that some of you are completely clean. That means they are saved. They have positional righteousness, but He says not all of you, referring to one who was not saved and that was Judas.
Then Jesus tells them He needs to wash their feet and hands because even though they’re positionally cleansed they still go through life and sin. You do things that are wrong so you wash your hands. You go places that are wrong so you wash your feet. That’s what the symbolism is.
They have to be ready and prepared for the third day. When Moses calls the elders together and tells them what God commanded them, then the people said in Exodus 19:8, “ ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.”
The people made a commitment. They said this was a great deal. They agreed to it. It was a contractual relationship called a covenant. They said, “all that the Lord has spoken we will do.” This is the starting point of worship that is then developed through the need to be set apart corporately to God. God appears to them in this thick cloud in Exodus 19:9, so they see the presence of God and they hear the sounds and are thus convinced that the covenant does indeed come from God, from a supernatural being who has actually entered into space and time. In the Passover you have the death of the lamb and the blood applied to the household as a picture of redemption. Then you have the crossing and freedom that occurs when they cross the Red Sea—God’s deliverance there. Now you come to the Law. The issue is how is a redeemed people going to live before God. There is a distinction between justification and redemption and sanctification, or the spiritual life.
The Passover and the Red Sea deliverance picture redemption. What happens here at Sinai in Exodus 19 and 24 pictures their positional sanctification. They’re going to be positionally set apart to God. They need to be consecrated. They need to be cleansed and set apart to God.
What is the opposite of holy? Is it impure? Is it sin? No, the opposite of holy is common or profane. Something that is used for everyday tasks. For example, if you go into a Jewish household during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they have a specific set of dishes they use for that. These dishes are set apart. They are holy.
Now a dish cannot be morally pure. The dishes, the furniture in the tabernacle can’t be morally pure. They have no morality or ethics. It is set apart for the service of God. The incense they burn is a special incense with a special recipe that is holy, it is set apart for the service of God.
This is the problem with Nadab and Abihu. They go off and buy some incense from some Bedouins who just went by and burned that in the tabernacle. It is called “strange fire” which is profane and common, everyday incense. God said “No, this is My dwelling place. You will not bring everyday things here.”
This is a principle for worship. When we come together as worshippers, this is still true. What happens in worship, when the church comes together in worship, is not to be like what goes on anywhere else in life. The music is going to be different because it has been thought through to reflect in both the music and the words the essence, the person, and the glory of God, and to bring our attention on Him and away from ourselves.
Today we have lowered everything to the lowest common denominator. People come in to church dressed in shorts, in tee shirts, and dressed rather sloppily sometimes. The question is if you had an audience with Queen Elizabeth II, how would you dress? What would you think about before you went into her presence?
Would you think about what you were going to say and how you were going to say it? Would you dress appropriately? You might not have thousands of dollars to spend on an expensive wardrobe, but you wouldn’t just go in and dress like you’re going on a tour of Israel. Those of you who have been with me to Israel know Israel is extremely casual and we pretty much dress down as much as we can.
That’s not appropriate for worship. Why? It goes back to this principle that worship is something totally and radically different from everything else in life. It is sacred in that sense. That means it’s time that is set apart to focus on God. So the people had to be consecrated. This is the positional consecration of the nation.
They’re going to be ready on the third day. Exodus 19:12 says, “ ‘You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, “Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base …” ’ ” That is really holy ground.
When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, what did He say? “Take off your shoes. You are on holy ground.” We’ve moved a little beyond that. It’s not just simply taking off your shoes. Now it’s washing all of your clothes and being spiritually prepared in order to come and worship God.
There was a lot more involved in this. They can’t touch the mountain or there’s an instant death penalty. Exodus 19:13, “ ‘ “Not a hand shall touch him,—he’s unclean now. He’s defiled the sanctuary if he touches the mountain so he has to be shot with an arrow or you throw stones at him, but you don’t touch him or you’ll be defiled—but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.” When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.’ ”
Exodus 19:14, “So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes.” There it’s translated sanctified but it’s the exact same word in Hebrew that you have earlier that’s translated consecrated. It means to be set apart to the service of God. “And he said to the people, ‘Be ready for the third day, do not come near your wives.’ ”
This showed up in the Mosaic Law, too. You were not supposed to have any sort of intimate relations before you go to worship. Why? It’s a distraction. You have to be prepared for worship. It is not something you do at the last minute and say we’ll go to church. The biblical way to do this is to start thinking about this the night before.
You wake up in the morning thinking that today is the day we focus on the Lord. You take time to read, maybe as a family, pray together, read the Scriptures, and prepare yourself to go to worship. It’s not some last-minute activity we’re plugging into for a day. It’s something we are thinking about because it’s spiritually significant.
Exodus 19:16, “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings …” This is the audio part. There’s thunder. The visual is they see the lightning. “… and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.”
Mount Sinai was completely covered in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire. All of this is going on. Exodus 19:18, “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.”
There’s an earthquake. God is giving them sensory overload here in terms of His presence so they won’t ever forget this.
They do forget it because that’s the way we are as fallen sinners. Moses reminded the next generation of this in Deuteronomy 4:12–13 “The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.”
Literally it’s the Ten Words and that’s important because in a moment we’re going to see just that word show up and it’s talking about the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 19:19–20, “And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”
This is when God is going to give Moses the Ten Commandments. Now something happens. We’ll have to come back to this next time but this is the contrast. God is going to give them the Law and they are going to gather around the mountain again. When they do, they are going to see part of God’s Throne Room.
In Exodus 24:10 we read, “And they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.”
Did they see that before? What did they see before? Everything shrouded in thick clouds and all this lightning and thundering. But now they see a clear blue day. Why? Because they’ve been sanctified. It’s a shift. They have moved from being an unconsecrated people. They had been given the Law and now they’re positionally sanctified and consecrated as a nation so there is going to be a true worship and celebration here.
The sacrifices that are mentioned here are only the first two, the sacrifice of the burnt offering, which is our total and complete dedication to God and two, the fellowship offering when we have peace with God. They’re going to eat a meal to indicate they now have peace with God and their sins are forgiven.
There’s no trespass or sin offering because they are now a sanctified, consecrated people. This is a great pattern for us to understand in terms of how this relates to the breakdown and understanding of the Christian life.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to get together this evening and read Your Word, and trust in what You have given us. We see the remarkable impact Your Word has and has had to the generations and the response we should have of not taking this lightly but realizing how significant this is, how profoundly life changing it is to have the words of the living God in our hands.
“Let us take this with the significance intended. This is not something that is just ordinary or every day, but something that is profoundly different. As a result of that, it should shape our lives. We pray that we would come to understand this more clearly and that God, the Holy Spirit, would use this as He experientially sanctifies us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”