EXODUS 19:1 – 21:36 and MATTHEW 19:1–30
Israel has now been three months into their journey from Egypt. They approach the wilderness of Sinai where they are about to have a profound and defining moment with God. The Lord states that if Israel obeys His voice and keeps His covenant they shall be a peculiar and special treasure above all people. (vs 5) This is similar to what is mentioned in 1 Peter.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: (1 Pet 2:9)
This is an introduction into some of the qualities of the priesthood. The Lord makes clear in verse 6 that it was His intention that all would become priests. He also mentions about being them becoming a holy nation. This is a huge step up from the level of relationship they have had with God up to this point. God was calling them to a higher standard. The opportunity to become priests of God is being afforded to all. Will it be obtained? What is the criterion to come into this high calling? Is God actually calling a people to holiness?
Initially the people responded positively as seen in verses 7-8. God lays down some guidelines in order to prepare for this encounter that he is about to have with Israel. (vs 10-15) We will see that God is a holy God and our way of approach unto Him cannot be flippant or presumptuous. This is a concern today when we see the “casualness” so common in much of Christianity. “Just as I am” is a song that pertains to those who first come to Christ but it’s not an attitude that will enable our entering into the inner chambers of God. God made clear that boundary’s had to be established and that a personal washing had to be observed in order to experience this divine encounter.
God appeared to Moses and Israel on the third day in a terrifyingly way. His voice was likened to a loud trumpet that grew louder and louder until Moses presumed to speak. (vs 19) There was smoke, fire and a quaking as the Lord descended about them. There are similarities to Psa 29 where the voice of the Lord is described. There is a season when we seek to hear the still small voice of God in contrast to those moments when His voice comes forth powerfully.
Moses is now called to ascend up the mountain (vs 20). Moses is instructed to tell the people that they are not to break through established boundaries, not even to gaze, lest they perish. Though all of Israel were called to be priests it was clear that only Aaron and Moses could come up the mount at this moment. There was no presumption evident at this time within the camp. This was an awesome display of God’s power and presence. “Hallowed be thy name” I suppose that Aaron and Moses were in the position as priests to approach God due to their previous encounters prior to the Exodus. Moses was a man who was prepared for 40 years to be Israel’s appointed leader and he was a man who experienced the presence of a holy God at the burning bush (Exo 3). The subject of holiness is offensive to many today due to its high standards and requirements. It is a subject that is separating churches. We shall understand why as we proceed forward.
The 10 commandments are given in verses 1-17. It is here where we are introduced to the LAW. How do you feel about the LAW, how would you define it? I feel it can be defined in 3 primary ways. 1) It defines who God is. The LAW helps us to understand what God likes and what He disdains while identifying that which is important to Him. 2) It defines man by indicating his willingness to either embrace or reject the LAW. The LAW helps man to see who he really is in light of a holy God. 3) It gives strength to sin. Without the giving of a LAW there can be no knowledge of sin.
(Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the LAW sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known LAW, but by the LAW: for I had not known lust, except the LAW had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Rom 7:8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the LAW sin was dead.)
It is clear that the giving of the LAW was no trivial matter as seen in the previous chapter. I feel we can apply a New Testament parallel in looking at Romans chapters 6-8. These three chapters bring into focus many of the characteristics being played out here at Sinai. The people are introduced to a holy God as the message of the CROSS becomes personal in chapter 6. The subject of SIN and the LAW is amplified in these chapters as is the message of GRACE. Finally, within these three chapters we have the question as to whom will we yield our vessels to. Will we yield them to the works of the flesh or to the Spirit (Rom 6:16, 8:1, 8:4)? In chapter 20 of Exodus we see God annunciating His LAWS. They must be understood in the context of what they represent. These laws are not a series of binding rules and regulations. We must see that God’s LAWS are good and that they are holy.
(Rom 7:12 Wherefore the LAW is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.)
How did the children of Israel respond to the giving of the LAW? In verse 18 we saw that they removed and stood afar off. This is a natural reaction after such a powerful and majestic display of God’s presence. Sadly it represents a sentiment that would govern Israel for ages to come, a sentiment shared in many of today’s churches. The LAW is offensive to many. It is here where the people determined to have Moses as a mediator between God and themselves. This is one of the primary definitions of a priest. One who knows the ways and heart of God and makes them known unto the people.
It is the LAW that qualifies us in becoming true priests before God. It is the LAW that can bring a people into holiness. We also find that there is a CHOICE involved as to whether we will seek to embrace or reject the LAW. The LAW helps to establish what is truly in our hearts. It is the LAW, being written upon our hearts that gives definition as to what the New Covenant is all about. It is the LAW that Jesus did not come to destroy but to fulfill. Israel responded by distancing themselves from the giving of the LAW, relying on Moses to be their mediator. What is our response to the LAW today? Remember, the Lord esteems HIs LAW higher than His Word and His name.
Mic 4:2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the LAW shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Psa 138:2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
It should also be remembered that the Ark of the Covenant speaks of the presence of the Lord. It dwelled in the Holy of holies. The Ark contained the two tables of stone which speaks of the working of God’s LAW. Yes, Jesus tore the veil at the time of His death that made a way for all believers to have access into the holiness of all. Still, there is a way of approach into His presence; it cannot be taken casually or presumptuously. The Book of Romans in particular helps to establish this fact, especially when you approach chapters 6-8. To appropriate the message of these chapters one must come face to face with the CROSS, the reality of SIN, the true definition and intent of the LAW, the remedy for SIN and ability to fulfill the LAW by way of GRACE (which is properly defined in these chapters) and then the position of CHOICE. Will we yield to the flesh or to the Spirit? As you can see there is so much to contemplate in examining Exo 19-20 as well as Rom 6-8. This will be elaborated upon in later chapters.
This chapter puts forth a series of laws regarding the civil state of Israel. This was required in order to have their developing community established upon a system of justice and equity. The primary laws as seen in the10 commandments have just been given. These laws helped to establish order within a camp consisting of millions of people. These series of laws will continue through the next few chapters and will be commented on further. In reading through all of these particular judgments let us call to mind the summation of LAWS as defined by the Lord Himself when He was asked as to which were the greatest commandments:
Mat 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Mat 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
If we truly come to the place of loving God with all our heart, mind and strength while learning to love our fellow man in like manner, we will come into that place of being able to fulfill all commandments. We will later see why Moses had the privilege of being given the Law and the task to make it known. He had a cry that wanted to know His ways and to know His glory (Exo 33:13, 18). The result of his cry to God was the privilege of standing in His presence and seeing the Lord pass by before Him (Exo 34:6). This is why Moses was the one entrusted with conveying God’s law and His ways. He was a true priest, the manner of priest that God is seeking out for today.
A few patterns have been developing consisting of the multitudes continually being drawn to Jesus as well as those who are jealous and envious, such as the Pharisees. The Pharisees now seek for ways to trap Jesus and they do it in a seemingly theological way. They ask two questions, one that will build upon the other. It is important to note the way the Lord responds because it establishes a precedent for us. The first question is on whether it is lawful for a man to divorce a wife for any cause. They have been observing His teaching and no doubt were taking issue with some of the things being taught. I personally feel their motive was to try and discredit Jesus, to somehow strip Him of his popularity and bring division amongst the different groups that were present. How do you feel Jesus about divorce? Is it lawful to “put away” for any reason? Jesus answered them in much the same way He responded to Satan as seen in Math 4. He answered with the Word of God. He specifically refers back to the Book of Genesis to establish His doctrine and position (Gen 1:27, 2:24). This statement alone should dissolve some of the divisive issues of our day. Jesus established His doctrine based on what was written in the Word. Let’s consider a few verses from the letter of 1 John.
1Jn 2:13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
1Jn 2:14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
Do you note the three levels of believers in the above verses? In previous commentaries we have referred to several sets of three such as Called, Chosen, Faithful, 30, 60 and 100 fold, outer court, holy place and holy of holies, remnant, woman and man-child and on it goes. Here is another set of three groups representing different levels. The Fathers, the young men and the little children. What distinguishes the Fathers from the others? They know Him who is from the beginning. In other words, fathers are those who know the God of Genesis. If you have a good grasp of the Book of Genesis (Beginnings) you will have an ability to understand the whole of scripture. Anything you see in life has its root in Genesis. A Father is one who sees a bigger picture, who has a perspective that lacks in others. The Apostle John was a father in the church. He wrote his gospel, the 3 epistles and Revelation after the age of 85.This is why his gospel is distinguished from the synoptic gospels. John had the advantage of years as a resource that can be seen in his writings. Jesus went back to the beginning to answer the Pharisees and used scripture to establish his doctrinal position.
The Pharisees push the envelope further by quoting scripture themselves as seen in verse 7. They used an Old Testament verse to validate divorce (Deut 24). This is a subject (marriage and divorce) that is causing great difficulty in the church today. Many go to great lengths to validate their position or seeking to find allowances or examples from scripture to make their case. This is what the Pharisees were attempting to do here. Jesus again uses the Word to establish His position but then elevates the standard higher. He knew their heart and what they were trying to do. Jesus did refer to Moses making allowance for divorce but notice what He says.
Mat 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
The reason Moses allowed for it was due to their hardened and unrepentant heart. Make no mistake; these last days will see God answering many in the church in a similar way. (Read Eze 14:7, 9, 20:20) God gave them what they wanted in the end. Jesus then adds that from the BEGINNING it was not so. If you truly want to know who God is, what is in His heart and to know His ways, go back to the beginning. Satan is always seeking to redefine God and His laws. The result is a gospel that has been watered down, compromised and weakened. Satan is not threatened by such a church. A breech or compromise allows him access and it is a matter of time before he gains the ascendancy. The only remedy in such cases is true repentance. This now brings us to the next statement of Jesus.
Mat 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery
This subject will be taken up again when we look at Mark 10 but it’s important to note the above verse. It means what it says. The marriage covenant serves as a type of the marriage relationship that will come together at the time of the 2nd coming. The bridegroom (Christ) coming for a Bride (Church) that has made herself ready. The institution of marriage is a type that God guards jealously. It is not to be taken lightly or foolishly. The marriage vows are taken and established until death. The enemy has gained significant strength in recent decades primarily due to the breakdown of the home. The role of the Father has been ridiculed and redefined. Husbands and wives have separated leaving children at times to fend for themselves. The result is absolute lawlessness. Do you see the need for the reemergence of true Fathers in the church? Do you see the need for restoration of God’s laws and ways as in the days of Josiah? People who do not love the truth will seek ways to undermine those who uphold a standard. When a church or minister elevates the high standards of God it puts people into the position of choosing to align with that standard or excuse himself from it. The more the standard exists the more of a threat it is to those who live by compromise. This is why the Lord was ultimately brought to the Cross. This is why there is going to be even greater division in the church in the last days. Truth will divide. Which side will we be on?
In the remaining verses of chapter 19 we see various discourses taking place. In many of the interactions we see Jesus zeroing in on heart related issues. There is the account of the man who asks what he needs to do to gain eternal life. (vs 16) Jesus eventually zeros in on a heart related matter in this young man which consisted of his possessions. This man kept the commandments and by all accounts was upright in many ways. The teachings of Jesus in this chapter truly get to the heart. Jesus is able to read the hearts of those He comes in contact with whether it is the Pharisees or this young man. Can you see how Truth reveals intent and how it divides? Through this discourse Jesus makes clear that all things are possible with God, provided we allow Him to work. (vs 26) Peter, along with some others asks the Lord what they need to do. They felt affirmed seeing that they had forsaken all. (vs 27) Jesus responds that those who have forsaken homes, family members and property are those who will receive the 100 fold inheritance. The last shall be first. To be continued.