"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!" 2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Some of our readers are likely to be rather puzzled, if not actually surprised, by such a title as the above. Those accustomed to weigh words may regard the adjective as a strange or even incongruous one. "Forbidding Sinai," "terrifying Sinai," yes--but scarcely "glorious"! If such is the reader's concept of Sinai, then it is certainly a most inadequate one, if not erroneous.
That the solemn transactions of that mount were indeed awe-inspiring--yes, repellent to the natural man--is readily admitted; yet that is by no means all that they were. There was another side to them, a blessed and praise-inducing one, which also needs to be taken into consideration. Referring to the covenant and economy which was there established, the Holy Spirit declares that it "was glorious" (2 Corinthians 3:7)--yes, "glory" in the abstract (verse 9), and "was made glorious" (verse 10).
True, He likewise tells us in the same passage that it was a "ministry that condemnation and death" unto the guilty--yet that in no wise altered its blessed character. True also that "glory" pales before another covenant and economy which exceeded it in glory (verses 9 and 10); nevertheless it was--in itself and in its attendants--exceedingly splendid and impressive.
At Sinai, there was given a glorious manifestation of the majesty of Jehovah. At Sinai, there was given a glorious revelation of the divine will and moral perfections. At Sinai, there was a glorious inauguration of a most excellent economy--all of which contained a glorious typification of things to come. As another has well said, "No event in our world has been more magnificent in its circumstances of external majesty and splendor--than the giving of the Law on mount Sinai." Such a statement is fully warranted by the language of Holy Writ. Take a single specimen from the Psalms: "The earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel" (Psalm 68:8).
When Jehovah descended to deliver the Law, He bowed the heavens, shook the earth, and made Sinai quake to its very foundations. Even more magnificent are the strains used by the prophet: "God's brilliant splendor fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise. His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. Rays of light flash from his hands, where his awesome power is hidden!" (Hab 3:3-4). One of the greatest and grandest displays of the divine majesty, was given by the Lord at Sinai, and it is often referred to in the Sacred Volume. Far too many restrict their thoughts to Exodus chapter twenty when asked to contemplate Sinai. Not only is it impossible for us to make a right approach unto or obtain a due perspective of the Decalogue without first keeping before us all that is contained in Exodus 19--but for a true understanding of both, it is also essential to bear closely in mind the contents of the seven preceding chapters. It was no isolated event which occurred there, wholly separate--but rather one that was intimately related to foregoing ones.
Yet one influential writer began his remarks on Exodus 19 and 20 by affirming, "A new dispensation is inaugurated in those chapters"; and he has been blindly followed by many, including the Scofield Bible. Far more accurate would it be to say that a new dispensation or order of things commenced at Exodus 12, for it is from the Passover night that the national history of Israel is to be dated! Previously, they had no corporate existence, being merely a disorganized company of slaves. But on that notable night, long to be remembered, everything was changed for them. Then for the first time, they were designated the "assembly of the congregation of Israel" (Exo 12:6). That it was the Passover which marked not only the beginning of the national existence of Israel--but of the Mosaic era also, is unequivocally demonstrated by the fact that their calendar was then changed by divine orders (Exo 12:2).
That new dispensation was commenced by the establishment of a new relationship between Jehovah and His people: they then became His redeemed--"bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20), by the blood of a lamb "without blemish" (Exo 12:5-7, 13, 22). And redemption, my reader, is so far from annulling God's claims upon us as creatures, that it imposes an additional obligation to serve Him; and it supplies a further and most powerful motive for our recognition of God's claims upon us and an earnest endeavor to meet the same. "Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you! That is why I am giving you this command!" (Deu 15:15). Precisely the same is the teaching of the New Testament: "That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies [the world, the flesh, and the devil] might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74-75). "Our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works" (Ti 2:13-14).
Redemption effects a change of masters. Israel was delivered from the tyranny of Pharaoh and the bondage of Egypt--in order that they might be free to delight themselves in their God, and to worship and obey Him. That was plainly announced unto Moses at the first appearing of the Lord unto him: "When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exo 3:12--see verses 1 and 2). All that transpired between Exodus 3 and 19 was but preparatory and means unto that grand end. Previously, they had seen God's judgments upon Egypt, beheld His mighty power at the Red Sea, witnessed His guiding hand in the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, experienced His mercy in providing food from heaven and water out of the rock--and now they were to receive a manifestation of His exalted sovereignty and a revelation of His ineffable holiness. "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant--then you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me" (Exo 19:4-5).
Having brought them into a relationship so blessed, they must now be instructed how to walk worthily of the same. Not only has the Decalogue been insufficiently pondered in the light of its historical setting--but the whole transaction of Sinai has been far too often divorced from much that preceded it. In order to apprehend the outworking of the divine plan, it ever requires to be kept in mind that it proceeds along the principle of progressive development. Unless that fact be heeded, we shall not arrive at a correct understanding of either His plan as a whole, or of its characteristic features and special arrangements which have distinguished its manifestations at any one period, as compared with another.
What took place on the mount undoubtedly marked a definite stage and advance in the gradual unfolding of the divine purpose, as well as signalized a memorable epoch in the history of His chosen people; nevertheless, it was as intimately related to what preceded, as to all that followed. It was by no means an isolated action--but a progressive one. The redemption from Egypt was itself the fulfillment of a promise which Jehovah had made with Abraham; and that redemption had for its direct object the establishing with Israel of that covenant which God had made with their fathers.
An unmistakable linking up of the Mosaic economy with what had gone before appears in the symbol in which Jehovah was revealed to Moses, when he received from Him his call and commission. That symbol most definitely pointed back to the "smoking furnace" and "burning lamp" which passed in vision before the eyes of Abraham when he was informed of the future sufferings of his posterity in a land which was not theirs (Gen 15:13, 17). That "furnace" was now again made visible to Moses (Exo 3:2), yet the little thornbush--emblem of the covenant people, the tree of God's planting--stood uninjured in the midst of the flame, because the covenant God Himself was there. Any doubt as to the correctness of that interpretation should be removed by what is said in the immediate context, for there we are told, "And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them" (Exo 2:24-25)--that is the covenant (Psalm 74:20).
What we have just pointed out opens more intelligently what follows, for when Moses demurred at the mission entrusted to him and asked, What shall I say unto Israel when I tell them, "The God of your fathers has sent me unto you," and they shall inquire, "What is his name?"--God answered him, "Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel, I AM has sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses: Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob--has sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations" (Exo 3:13-15). That glorious "name" is linked equally to the past and the future. He who affirmed Himself to be the incomprehensible "I AM THAT I AM" (Exo 3:14)--as a description of His distinctive name of Jehovah--did so for the express purpose of enabling Israel to recognize Him as the God of their fathers, as the One who had in the past solemnly covenanted with them, and who now, in the immediate future, was going to make good unto their children what He had promised them.
As Jehovah, the great I AM--explained in the "He who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:4, and compare 4:8 and 16:5 for variations)--He would show unto His people that He is the God who changes not (Mal 3:6). Having made an everlasting covenant with the patriarchs, He continued to abide in the relationship which it established, for He could no more fail to fulfill its engagements than He could cease to be.
If the symbol of the burning bush was fitted to turn the thoughts of Moses unto Genesis 15, still more appropriate was the divine revelation given unto him there: not only unto the urgencies of Israel's case in their Egyptian bondage--but as a sure pledge of their coming deliverance--ratified by the significance of His peculiar covenant name.
His people were thereby assured that however conditions had changed for the worse--a temporal darkness veiling their fair prospects--nevertheless, the God of their fathers remained without variableness or shadow of turning, being the immutable God of the present and the future, as well as of the past. It was both a pledge of a grander manifestation of His faithfulness and love, and an intimation that they might expect a yet fuller revelation of His character. With such encouragement was Moses sent forth to execute in the name of God and commission given to him. It was then in pursuance of His covenant with Abraham, that God delivered his descendants from the tyranny of Pharaoh; and it is that which supplies the key to all the subsequent dealings of the Lord with his descendants. As Moses told them plainly at a later date, "The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deu 7:7-8). It was in fulfillment of that same oath, that He opened a way through the Red Sea, and that He continued to show Himself strong in their behalf.
That nothing whatever occurred at Sinai which in any way annulled or even modified the covenant with Israel's progenitors, is evidenced by the fact that whenever any serious crime was committed by the nation, those who interceded for them sought forgiveness on the ground of the promises made to Abraham: see Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 9:27-29; 2 Kings 13:23. The glorious transactions of Sinai are prefaced by this statement: "In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt--on the very day--they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain" (Exo 19:1-2). Like all the time-marks of Scripture, this one requires to be carefully noted, for it intimates to us the significance of what follows.
Three is ever the number of manifestation: as God Himself is made known to us in His three Persons, and hence, too, it is the number of resurrection (Christ rising on the third day, etc.), for it is then that life is seen emerging from death. Jehovah was now to give unto His people a further and fuller disclosure of Himself: of His majesty, His holiness, and His will concerning them; and most appropriately was that given upon the mount--the place of eminence and vision. It was a testification of His goodness unto them--as much so as were the awe-inspiring phenomena at Pentecost. As Moses subsequently reminded them, "Behold, the Lord our God has showed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire" (Deu 5:24). "And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; You have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself" (Exo 19:3-4).
First, mark the double appellation here given unto the Hebrews: the former to humble them by a reminder of their lowly origin; the latter to evoke praise for the dignity and blessing which God had conferred upon them. But there was a deeper significance thereto, and something we need to closely observe: that double appellation supplies more than a hint of the two-foldness of what follows. As the "seed" of Abraham included both an earthly and a heavenly one, and was therefore symbolized by a dual figure--"the stars of the heaven" and "the sand which is upon the sea shore" (Gen 22:17); and as the promises made to him received both a "letter" or literal--and a "spirit" or mystical fulfilment--the one in his natural descendants, and the other in his spiritual children (Gal 3:7, 29!); so the transactions of Sinai require to be viewed in their bearing upon both national Israel and the "Israel of God" (Gal 6:16).
What has just been pointed out is very far from being something which we desire to "read into" (Exo 20): it is demanded by the clear teaching of the New Testament. The fact that we are told, "For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7) obliges us to view Israel's deliverance from Egypt as a type of the Church's redemption from the dominion of sin and Satan; while their miraculous passage through the Red Sea obviously foreshadowed the Church being brought onto resurrection ground. Equally clear is it that the furnishing of them with the manna was a foreshadowing of Christ, "the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32) as the food of His people. The bringing forth of water from the smitten rock was manifestly a figure of the Holy Spirit being given to Christ's people--the mystical meaning of that incident being expressly defined for us in the "spiritual drink" and "that spiritual Rock" of 1 Corinthians 10:4.
What anointed eyes then can fail to see in Jehovah's statement regarding the national Israel, "I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself" (Exo 19:4) a declaration of His amazing grace in Christ unto the spiritual Israel, who "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God " (1 Peter 3:18).
Next, they were reminded of what the Lord had done for them: "You have seen what I did unto the Egyptians" (Exo 19:4), righting and avenging you from their cruel oppression and persecution, accepting the challenge of the haughty Pharaoh (Exo 5:2), and humbling that mighty monarch into the dust! And how I "bear you on eagles' wings"--a figure of the gracious tenderness which Jehovah had shown them (Deu 32:11-12): protecting them from His judgment-plagues upon Egypt, sheltering them from the angel of death, and interposing His pillar of cloud and fire between them and their pursuers.
"And brought you unto myself": not only into a state of liberty and honor--but into covenant and communion with the living God, that they might delight themselves in Him and serve Him. "You have seen" all this, He reminds them, appealing to their own observations and experience. They knew it was entirely of the Lord's doing, and must be marvelous in their eyes. As Matthew Henry (1662-1714) pointed out, "It was not they who reached toward God--but it was He who brought them to Himself." With what design we are about to consider: certainly not to impose upon them a harsh and tyrannical regime--but to give them further proofs of His loving-kindness.
"Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant--then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak unto the children of Israel" (Exo 19:5-6). Weigh attentively that "therefore," for it is a conclusion drawn from what is said in the previous verse, and shows that God was addressing His redeemed people as already standing in such a relation of nearness to Himself as secured for them an interest in His faithfulness and love. He appeals to the proofs which He had already given of this, as amply sufficient to remove all doubt from their minds, and to warrant them expecting whatever else might be needed to promote His glory and complete their happiness.
"Now therefore--if you will obey my voice": it was not because they had been obedient--that God had done such great things for them and unto them; but since He had done great things for them--that they might now be sensible of their privilege and duty in henceforth rendering submission to Him, and by obeying, fulfill the high destiny to which He had called them.
There was nothing in the above declaration which in any way conflicted with the Lord's dealings with Abraham himself. After He had, in sovereign grace, effectually called him, and averred, "I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward" (Gen 15:1), He appeared unto him again and said, "I am the Almighty God--walk before me, and be perfect" (Gen 17:1)--a word which was comprehensive of full subjection to Himself and of righteous behavior on the patriarch's part. Whatever there was new in form in that which was given at Sinai, there was nothing new in principle from what had been revealed long before--God has ever maintained His claims upon and required the fruits of holiness from the objects of His grace, and has dealt with them accordingly--ordering His providences in consonance with their conduct.
"For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that [in order that] the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him" (Gen 18:19). The patriarch must walk obediently, in conformity with God's revealed will--if he was to receive the fulfillment of the divine promises! When Jehovah confirmed His covenant to Abraham by oath, He expressly declared, "I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son--I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed--because you have obeyed me" (Gen 22:16-18).
It is true, blessedly true, that God dealt with Abraham in pure grace; but it is equally true that He dealt with him as a responsible creature, as subject to the divine authority. God has established an inseparable connection between holiness--and happiness; between our pleasing Him--and our enjoyment of His providential smile. So far is it from being the case that "the father [or prototype] of all those who believe" (Rom 4:11) was "never under law," when the Lord renewed the covenant with Isaac, He distinctly affirmed, "And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed [the original covenant promise]; BECAUSE Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws (Gen 26:4-5)--such a piling up of terms renders misapprehension excuseless.
Equally clear is it from Scripture that the Hebrews themselves were under Law before they reached Sinai: "If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, and will do that which is right in his sight, and will give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes--then I will put none of these diseases upon you" (Exo 15:26). Is it not strange to find men who claim to be "Bible teachers" ignoring such plain passages! Should the quibble be raised that the reference there unto God's "commandments" and "statutes" was prospective (that is anticipatory of the Law which was shortly to be given them)--it is removed by a reference to "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not" (Exo 16:4). The meaning of that is partly explained in "Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord" (Exo 16:23). Alas for their response: "Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none" (verse 27). Mark carefully God's complaint, "How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws?" (verse 28). Thus the reference in Exodus 15:26 and 16:4 was retrospective.
It has been necessary to labor the point in order that decisive evidence should be produced to show that it is a flagrant error to assert God's people were brought under the Law for the first time at Sinai. The Scriptures cited above make it abundantly clear that God introduced no change in His dealings with Abraham's descendants when He said to them, "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant--then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people" (Exo 19:5).
Let it also be carefully noted that the Lord did not now impose His Law upon the nation by mere sovereign authority--but instead proposed it as the basis of a covenant with them, as is evident from the hypothetical "if." A covenant is always a mutual contract, voluntarily entered into by two parties, and consists both of conditions or terms--and promises or bestowments.
The Lord was about to enter into a formal agreement with Israel, and He first made known:
the ground of the same--their being brought into intimate relation to Himself;
then the terms thereof--their obedience to Him;
then the advantage accruing to them--"you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me";
then its design--"you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exo 19:6).
Because the Lord had identified Himself so closely with Israel--it was but fit that they should now identify themselves with Him. Brought into near relationship and favored communion with the Holy One--it was equitable that henceforth they should conduct themselves accordingly. As God's "peculiar treasure" (Exo 19:5), they owed it to Him to conduct themselves as His separated people. If He was willing to enter into a covenant engagement with them--then surely they should respond thereto. Upon their so doing, He would make them "a kingdom of priests" (verse 6), giving communications of His will, and admitting them into His presence as accepted worshipers. They would hereby become "a holy nation" (verse 6), distinguished from all others as devoted to Jehovah's honor and service, and exemplifying the same unto the world around them.
Moses accordingly summoned the responsible heads of the tribes and made known to them this gracious overture, and we are told, "And all the people answered together, and said: All that the Lord has spoken--we will do!" (verse 8). Convinced of the benignity and propriety of such a proposal--they readily and unitedly signified their consent thereto. Moses at once reported unto the Lord, of Israel's willingness. And He, be it noted, no more regarded their promise of obedience as a carnal and presumptuous boast, than He did Joshua's when he affirmed, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Jos 24:15). So far from being displeased, "And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever" (Exo 19:9). That is, all room for thinking he might have imposed upon them, would be removed. When he first informed them of the Lord's appearing to him at the back side of the desert, and that He had looked upon their affliction, "the people believed" (Exo 4:29-31); but a little later, upon Pharaoh's increased severity--they murmured against Moses and Aaron; and when he announced that the Lord would redeem them with an outstretched arm and bring them into the land which He swore to give unto their fathers, "they hearkened not unto Moses" (Exo 6:9).
But now they would know that the Law he would deliver unto them was indeed the Lord's, since they had heard with their own ears that which He spoke unto them. That "thick cloud" intimated they were not to pry into "secret things"; and since dreadful thunderings and lightnings issued from it continually, to command an awe-inspiring adoration of that which was "revealed" (Deu 29:29). The Voice speaking out of that cloud was, as said above, also designed to put honor upon Moses, to firmly establish him in the confidence of Israel as Jehovah's viceregent, that henceforth they should believe his testimony and receive the commandments of God without question.
Our readiness to hear and heed the Lord's ministers is often rewarded by His speaking to us in power, direct from His Word. "And the Lord said unto Moses: Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 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" (Exo 19:10-11). Here again there is a double emphasis placed upon that to which we called attention in connection with the opening verse of this chapter: it was not only in the "third month," but on the third day of it that this glorious transaction took place--three being the number of manifestation, for it was here at Sinai that the person and perfections of Jehovah were so illustriously displayed (compare Deu 5:24). The demand for them to be sanctified, was a call to turn aside from their ordinary activities, and devote the intervening time to self-examination, meditation, and prayer--that their hearts and minds might be prepared for a drawing near unto the Holy One. The washing of their clothes was to teach them the Lord will only draw near unto those who are morally clean (see James 4:8)--it is sin which separates from God (Isa 59:2).
"Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them: Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death" (Exo 19:12). All of these instructions were duly carried out by Moses and the people.
"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. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 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, the whole mountain trembled violently!" (Exo 19:16-18). Everything was designed to fill them with reverence and godly fear, as they assembled to meet with their mighty Redeemer and King. The visible tokens of His presence, His tremendous appearance before them, the terrifying phenomena--were the insignia of the dignity and honor of such a magnificent Being. The manifestation of Jehovah's glory and the splendor of His majesty, demonstrated the loftiness and holiness of the One with whom they were here covenanting.
Turning now to Exodus 20, the first thing which requires to be attended to, is that the One who promulgated the Law on this memorable occasion was none other than God the Son! This is made clear from Psalm 68. First, we are told there, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place" (verse 17). "When the Law was given, for Christ was there then…which Sinai is called the holy place from the presence of God there and the Law given from it"--John Gill (1697-1771). Then, in the next verse, we are enabled to definitely identify which of the Persons of the Godhead is there specifically in view: "You [the One just mentioned, 'the Lord'] have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive: you have received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." That very passage is quoted in Ephesians 4:7-13 and is expressly appropriated unto Christ Himself! There was a vast assembly of the angels congregated at Sinai, and Christ, the great "Angel" or "Messenger" (same word) of the covenant (see Exo 23:20; Isa 63:9; Mal 3:1) was at the head of and in the midst of them.
In the above passage, Christ is pictured as a mighty Prince and Conqueror, with a retinue of the celestial beings as His attendants, coming forth to take possession of His throne in Israel's midst. How that added to the luster of glorious Sinai on this unprecedented occasion, is at once evident. Most blessed, too, was what it foreshadowed: "The glorious ascending of God from Sinai, after the giving of the Law, was a representation of His ascending up far above all heavens that He might fill all things; and as He then 'led captivity captive' in the destruction of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, who had long held His people in captivity and cruel bondage, so dealt the Lord Christ in the destruction and captivity of Satan and all his forces (Col 2:15)"--John Owen (1616-1683).
Christ, attended by the celestial hosts at Sinai, was designed to adumbrate the blessed fact that the holy angels are "all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb 1:14). As Thomas Manton (1620-1677) remarked on Psalm 68:17, "The Psalmist speaks of Christ as the Mediator and King of His Church: no kingdom has such defense, and such potent and numerous armies to fight their battles as the Church has."
Though no direct mention of this striking feature be made in Exodus, yet there are quite a few passages in Holy Writ which refer to the same. Thus, "The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of his holy ones" (Deu 33:2). "Who have received the law by the disposition of angels" (Act 7:53). "Wherefore then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator" (Gal 3:19). "For if the word spoken by angels [that is the Law] was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation"! (Heb 2:2-3), which is now proclaimed by the Gospel.
Christ was the One in their midst and the Speaker of what was said on Sinai--as is further proved by Acts 7:37-38: "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me [Moses]; him shall you hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him [Moses] in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us."
In the second place, let us attend closely to the particular aspects in which the divine Lawgiver presented Himself unto Israel on this occasion. This comes out clearly in His opening words to them. The "God spoke all these words, saying," of Exodus 20:1 is simply an introductory remark of the inspired historian; it is the next verse which records His initial declaration, namely, "I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." That personal announcement prefacing the Ten Commandments calls for our study and admiration. There God announced Himself in a threefold character.
First, "I am Jehovah," the self-existent and self-sufficient One, the Fountain of all being, and therefore having the incontestable right to command them, and all creatures. It was the great "I am" who addressed them, the eternal and immutable One--a representation infinitely elevated above all the concepts of idolatry and ancient philosophy.
Second, He was their God in covenant with them, and that, with their own free consent. Jehovah had promised unto Abraham, "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you, and to your seed after you" (Gen 17:7; and see Exo 3:6; Heb 8:10). "He had laid Himself under obligation to them by promise--and therefore, He might justly lay His obligations upon them by precept"--M. Henry (1662-1714).
Third, God here presented Himself to them as their gracious Redeemer: "Who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt," thereby pledging His faithfulness, love, and sufficiency to further deliver them from evil and bring them into His designed good. "Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places" (Deut 33:29).
It also placed them under additional obligation to Him, for they were now bound by personal gratitude to serve and render obedience to Him. Redemption always confers a right unto the redeemer. In coming forth to them in such a character to declare the Law which was henceforth to bind their conscience and regulate their conduct both toward the Lord and one another, there was embodied the all-important and beneficial principle--that redemption carries in its bosom a conformity to the divine will, and that only when the soul is so conformed is the work of deliverance from bondage complete. Such, too, is the plain teaching of the New Testament: see 1 Corinthians 6:20.
Finally, "I am the Lord your God" (Exo 6:7) was addressed singly to each one in the camp of Israel. It was not "your" collectively--but "your" individually, as though spoken directly to each one separately. Not only did that divine declaration point immediately to each one present at Sinai when the Law was delivered and the Covenant established--but it also looked forward to all succeeding generations, so that God said to each of Abraham's posterity entering this world, "I am the Lord your God" as truly as He did to those assembled at Horeb. Moreover, no sooner did one out of the nations join himself to the commonwealth of Israel, than the same was said to him, so that in this respect, a door of hope was opened unto the Gentiles.
It is deeply important that Christians today should obtain a clear and correct concept of the nature and meaning of the venerable transaction which took place at Sinai. Unless they do so, they will lack the principal key which opens much of the Old Testament and which explains the providential dealings of God with the nation of Israel--not simply in judgment--but in long-sufference and mercy also. Not only so--but they will be without that which is essential to a right apprehension of its typical import, and therefore, are sure to err when attempting to trace out the antitypical fulfillment and application of the same unto themselves.
We have already pointed out that the Lord God was not treating at Sinai with a people who were strangers to Him--but with those to whom He was intimately related; that it was not to aliens that He there revealed His glory--but to the favored seed of Abraham; that nothing occurred on that mount which to the least degree militated against His dealings with their fathers--but rather was the fulfillment of His promises to them.
It is impossible to understand aright the contents of Exodus 19 and 20, unless they be viewed in their historical setting. The promulgating of the Law from Sinai was not given independently, as though it laid the foundation of an entirely new relationship between Jehovah and Israel, for, as shown previously, the patriarchs themselves were under law (Gen 26:5). Nor should the proclamation of the Law be regarded as an isolated event: rather ought it to be contemplated as complementary of and the necessary sequel to the Lord's deliverance of Israel from their Egyptian bondage, His opening of the Red Sea for them and the destruction therein of their enemies, and His gracious provision of food from heaven and water from the smitten rock; while the Law itself needs also to be viewed in the light of what immediately followed its publication, namely, the erection of the tabernacle, the appointment of the priesthood, the assigning of sacrifices for the putting away of Israel's sins, and the Lord's taking up His abode in the midst of His people.
Moreover, as we have shown in the preceding article, though God had dealt with the Hebrews in amazing grace--yet they too were under law before they came to Sinai: Exodus 15:26; 16:4, 27-28). Nevertheless, it is obvious that a further advance was made at Sinai. As the eternal purpose of God is gradually unfolded before the eyes of men, its manifestation is seen to be according to the principle of orderly and progressive development, as in nature there is first the blade, then the ear, and later the full corn in the ear. It was thus on this memorable occasion. This appears in the very first words of Jehovah unto Israel upon the mount. After reminding them of what He had wrought on their behalf, and that He had borne them on eagles' wings and brought them unto Himself, He proposed unto them the terms of a covenant, promising that if they would abide by the same, they should be unto Him "a peculiar treasure…above all people," and that they should be unto Him "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exo 19:4-6).
Formerly, He had dealt first in sovereign grace with individuals, such as Abel and Enoch; then with households like Noah's (Gen 7:1) and Abraham's; but now He would organize and rule over Israel nationally. Moreover, an advance was made over all previous calls and appointments by the obligations which rested upon the heirs of promise being now cast into categorical and imperative form, which included the whole round of their moral and religious duty. It was not that Israel might, by their obedience to the divine Law and their keeping of the covenant--win for themselves a new and more blessed relation to God--but rather that because they had been taken into the place of privileged nearness unto Him--that they should walk worthily of the same and be filled with such fruits of righteousness as would alone evince their being the people of God or fulfill the calling which they had received from Him.
Special nearness to God involves as its necessary corollary and consequence the knowledge and reflecting of His character, entering into His mind and will, striving to be as holy as He is holy. That was the grand end unto which all was directed, the purpose for which they stood before the Lord as a separate people, and were here gathered at Sinai to hear the Law from His own mouth. If the Law had been anything else than a revelation of God's requirements from His people toward Himself and toward each other in the vital interests of righteousness and truth--then it had neither been in accord with His own unchanging character, made known to them that homage and subjection which are His due, nor have set before Israel that holy standard which it was their calling to constantly endeavor to realize in their behavior.
The particular character in which Jehovah announced Himself at Sinai is in full accord with all that has been said above: "I am the Lord ['Jehovah'] your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exo 20:2).
First, "I am the Lord ['Jehovah']" which is the essential title of Deity, and signifies the eternal and unchanging One: "Him who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:4). This Name is common to each Person in the glorious Trinity: Father (Psalm 110:1), Son (Jer 23:5), and Holy Spirit (2 Samuel 23:2) who are one God; though it was Jehovah in the Person of the Son who promulgated the Law from Sinai (Psalm 68:17-18; Act 2:37-38).
Second, "I am the Lord ['Jehovah'] your God," the latter greatly softening the former. The Jews deemed the title "Jehovah" so ineffably solemn and sacred as never to utter it. The terror and majesty of His infinite greatness is indeed sufficient to amaze and affright all mankind--but when He adds, "I am God," yes "even your [own] God." (Psalm 50:7), that renders Him delightful and desirable unto the renewed heart.
"Your God" signifies your covenant God (Exo 3:6; Heb 8:10). It was both a statement of fact, and a gracious assurance unto Israel. He had promised Abraham to be a "God" unto him and to his seed (Gen 17:7), and here He meets with his seed and declares Himself to be the same promising One.
"I am the Lord" affirmed His high sovereignty over His people; "your God," His condescending grace unto them. Such is His covenant name unto all generations (Exo 3:15-16). Christians also are to both acknowledge His scepter over them and rejoice in His gracious relation unto them--we must not render asunder those two things. If we do not--in a practical way as well as with our lips--own Him as our "Lord," then we do but deceive ourselves if we regard Him as our "God" in covenant with us. As one rightly said, "We must not reject the solemn part for the amiable part."
Third, "who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage"--therein the Lord their God presented Himself before them as their benevolent and mighty Redeemer, assuring them of His love; as well as reminding them of the additional obligation this laid upon them to glorify Him in their bodies and in their spirits which were His by ransom-price.
Nor must this be severed from the former. Those who have not surrendered themselves unto Christ as their Lord, and yet persuade themselves He is their Redeemer and Savior--are deluded! Note carefully the order in Luke 1:46-47; Act 5:31; 2 Peter 2:20, 3:18! We must take upon us His yoke--before He bestows upon us His rest (Mat 11:29). God is alike the Ruler and Redeemer of His people, as He is their Lover and Lord. While rejoicing in His tender pity and abundant mercy--we must also revere Him for His sovereign dominion and ineffable holiness; otherwise, we at once identify ourselves as belonging to the same class as the Jews of Christ's day, who welcomed Him as a Healer of the Sick--but declared, "We will not have this [One] to reign over us" (Luke 19:14).
Jehovah had not delivered the Hebrews from the land of Egypt, in order for them to remain the slaves of sin and Satan--but rather that they should be made free to serve Him--walking according to His precepts is the only true liberty (Psalm 119:45).
In the call to obedience in Exodus 19:5, the whole of the divine Law was implied, so far as was concerned the ground of Israel's obligation and the germ of its requirements; and what was actually promulgated in Exodus 20 was simply the utterances of that Voice which they had promised to heed. The Law was a revelation unto Israel of the righteousness which God required from them as His chosen people in the land of their inheritance. There, they were to be a witness unto Him before the surrounding nations, showing forth the glory of His government by exemplifying the same in their character and conduct.
But while the Law was an enforcing of Jehovah's authority over His people--let us observe in the next place that it also issued from His love unto them. Proceeding from the Lord in His character as Israel's Redeemer, it is only to be expected that it bears a gracious aspect and aims at happy results. It was on that very ground Moses extolled the condition of Israel above all other people: "For what nation is there so great, who has God so near unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?" (Deu 4:7-8). Very far indeed was he from entertaining the God-dishonoring idea that the Law was a tyrannical enactment, a cruel bondage imposed upon them, from which they might well hope to soon be delivered.
The same sentiment was echoed by the sweet singer of Israel. Among the signal acts of mercy and loving-kindness, for which he praises the Lord in Psalm 103:7, is the fact that "he made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel"; or as explained in another Psalm, "He shows…his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He has not dealt so with any nation" (Psalm 147:19-20). The Law of Sinai issued from love, enjoined naught but love, and is fulfilled by love. How could it be otherwise? Like everything else which God has given to His people, the Decalogue was alike a manifestation of His holiness, a provision of His mercy, and an expression of His love--which ever seeks the good of its objects.
Before bestowing his parting blessing upon the tribes of Israel, Moses reminded them, "the Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them. Yes, he loved the people" (Deu 33:2-3): the juxtaposition of those two statements demonstrates that Law was a proof of God's special love for them--as the giving up of a people unto lawlessness (their own evil lusts) is the surest sign of His hatred of them (Rom 1:21-28). It was designated "a fiery law" (Deu 33:2), because it was given to them out of the fire (Deu 4:33)--emblem of divine holiness, as the Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost in "cloven tongues like as of fire" (Act 2:3). Observe, Moses said, "a fiery law for them," not "unto," and still less "against"--"in favor to them"--Matthew Henry (1662-1714).
As the Law issued from divine love--so it requires naught but love from the recipients of it. This is clear from the Savior's words, for He summarized its claims thus: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mat 22:37-39).
Furthermore, its requirements are met by love: "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom 13:10). That is, as love delights in the happiness of others, it effectually prevents from injuring its objects, and consequently leads to the doing of what Law requires--for it enjoins nothing which is not to the best interests of our fellows. It is love which influences and prompts unto a compliance with God's commandments (1 John 5:2).
Then what must be the spirit of those who speak evil of God's Law, and regard it as a harsh imposition on their liberty? Very different indeed was the mind of the apostle: "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom 7:22). God's writing of His laws upon the hearts of His redeemed (Heb 8:10) is a sure evidence of His love toward them. "We must regard God's Law as one of the gifts of His grace"--M. Henry.
There can be no adequate apprehension of the revelation of Law, nor of its real nature and place in the divine economy, without perceiving its relation to the grand principle of love--alike in those who receive it as in Him who gave it. Viewed apart from that, it is but a body without a soul, a call to obedience without the least likelihood of an acceptable response. The Law aims at a conformity of moral purpose and character between a redeeming God and a redeemed people; and not one of its precepts could reach the desired end, unless the love which had been exhibited as the governing principle in the One should find in the other a corresponding love which should be stirred and guided into proper action.
To make this unmistakably plain, Moses, as soon as he rehearsed the Decalogue, declared, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart," etc. (Deu 6:4-5).
We do not now propose to enlarge upon that divine declaration: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom 7:12), by giving an exposition of the Ten Words (having done so on a previous occasion)--but will next take notice of what is recorded in Exodus 20 immediately after their publication. "When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke--they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses: Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die!" (Exo 20:18-19). That was a plain acknowledgment that they felt themselves to be utterly unfit to deal with the Lord directly on the ground of the Decalogue. They realized that some provision was required to be made for them, that a mediator was needed--Moses must treat with God on their behalf.
Very far indeed was such language from evincing a proud and self-sufficient people. It not only repudiates the view of those who insist that their agreement to Jehovah's proposal (Exo 19:5; 24:7) betrayed their carnality and presumption--but it manifested their spirituality and humility. "And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that you sin not" (Exo 20:20). In those words, Moses explained unto them the design of the glorious, yet terror-provoking, attendants of the divine majesty, which they had just witnessed. Negatively, he assured them that those convulsions of nature did not portend that Jehovah was about to destroy them as He had the Egyptians, and therefore that He had no thought of slaying them; and thus, the Law had not been given for the purpose of condemning and cursing them. Positively, he informed them that God's intention was to put them to the test, to ascertain whether they would acknowledge Him as their King and be subject to His government, and thereby give proof that they meant what they said when they declared, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exo 19:8).
Further, those awe-inspiring phenomena were designed to fill them not with a slavish fear which genders to bondage--but rather to produce a godly reverence for the Lord in their hearts, while those displays of His mighty power were to act as a deterrent upon them from displeasing One who was not to be trifled with--as we are enjoined to "stand in awe, and sin not" (Psalm 4:4).