Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. WHO THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE.
1. The children of the promise, "the house of Jacob," etc., the household of faith.
2. They who have experienced deliverance and known God's love: "Ye have seen what I did," etc. The law the picture of the Gospel: those only can enter into the covenant of obedience who have known that God has chosen and blessed them. "We love him because he first loved us."
II. WHAT THE LORD ASKS OF THEM.
1. True obedience: not a profession, but a life.
2. To keep his covenant: to understand his will, and make that will their law. The whole end of both taw and gospel is missed if the life is not laid hold of, if the man is not brought to wear again the image of him who created him.
III. THE GLORY GOD WILL GIVE THEM IN THE EARTH.
1. They will be God's best beloved - a peculiar treasure unto him "above all people." Note the true position of God's people. It is not that God cares for them only. He cares for all: "all the earth is mine." They are the choicest of his earthly treasures.
2. They are to be "a kingdom of priests." They will minister to the nations in the things of God - leading them into his presence, teaching them his will.
3. They will be "a holy nation," a consecrated people. The Spirit's anointing will rest upon them.
4. This threefold glory the portion of God's people to-day: the knowledge that God has chosen us; our priestly service among our brethren; the unction from on high. - U.
Exodus 19:5, 6. This subject might well be introduced by: -
1. Showing how exactly the topography of Sinai (i.e., the plain of Er Rahah, Ras Sufsafeh, and Jebel Musa) agrees with the sacred history. [For material of description see "The Desert of the Exodus."]
2. How suitable mountains were to constitute the scenery of Divine manifestation.
3. An analysis of this section -
(1) God and Moses;
(2) Moses with the people;
(3) God and Moses again;
(4) Once more Moses with the people.
In this preparation for the law, we shall see the Gospel. The Gospel antedated law (see Galatians 3.). Here we have several evangelical principles: -
I. NO COVENANT, NO LIVING OBEDIENCE. Here may be discussed and illustrated the whole question whether God's grace precedes our obedient living unto him, or vice versa.
II. NO OVERTURE FROM GOD, NO COVENANT. The initiative is ever with God (vers. 3, 4). To illustrate: - Suppose the words had run this way: "Ye know what ye did in Egypt, how ye sought me, if haply ye might find me; how all the way through the desert ye have followed hard after me, if peradventure ye might see my face, and hear lay voice in this mountain." Not one word would have been true. God ever first seeks man, not nigh God.
III. NO REDEMPTIVE ACTION, NO OVERTURE POSSIBLE. God's appeal is ever strengthened by his deeds. In the case of Israel, there had been the paschal lamb, the passing over, the passage of the Red Sea, and the constitution of a Church. Thereafter covenant, and anon law! Show the analogies in Christian times - the atonement, pardon, adoption, inclusion in the Church, the establishment of covenantal relations, the coming under the Christian rule of life.
IV. NO CONCURRENCE, NO RESULT (ver. 5). "If," etc.
1. In all God's dealing with us he has respect to our liberty.
2. The condition here is a believing obedience. The Hebrew word for "obey" seems to carry pregnantly within it all these meanings - hearing, listening, heeding, trusting, acting according to what we hear and believe. It might be welt to show that practically in Christian life the believing man is the obedient, and vice versa.
3. And keeping the covenant. Bring out the sentinel idea in the "keeping," and then show that we keep the covenant:
(1) By complying with the conditions on our side.
(2) By jealously guarding the conditions on God's side against the tamperings of error.
V. WITH CONCURRENCE, THE MOST BLESSED RESULTS. They who believe and keep the covenant become: -
1. The private and peculiar treasure of the King of kings. Amongst earthly potentates there is a distinction between the treasures which they hold in their public capacity and those which are their own private property. When a king abdicates, he leaves behind him the public treasure, but carries with him his own. In an analogous sense we become the priceless jewels of the King of kings, though "all the earth is his" (same Hebrew word in Malachi 3:17).
2. A kingly priesthood (ver. 6). "A royalty of priests," i.e., every king a priest, and every priest a king. Here we have -
(1) The royalty of religion. Religion the most powerful factor in life. Illustrate the monarchy of religion - e.g., St. Paul on board the ship.
(2) The priesthood of religion. Priestcraft is vile; priesthood a benediction. The priest receives from God for man; offers for man to God, e.g., the priesthood Aaronic, that of the Lord Jesus, that of Israel for the nations, that of the Christian believer.
3. Separate. Negatively, from the world, but also positively unto God. "A holy nation." - R.
himself to be faithful to his word. At Sinai, on the other hand, it is the people who bind themselves to be faithful to God. They take the oath of allegiance to their invisible king. They pledge themselves to be obedient. God, on his side, appears as the promiser. He will make this nation a peculiar treasure unto himself, a kingdom of priests, etc. The present passage deals with preliminaries.
I. THE DIVINE PROPOSALS (vers. 3-7). A covenant, from its nature, is an act of freedom. Prior to the formation of this covenant, it was obviously necessary that Jehovah should approach the people, should state his terms to them, and should require them to declare whether they approved of these terms, and were willing to assent to them. This is what is here done. Observe: -
1. The initiative in the covenant was taken by Jehovah. This was inevitable. "The characteristic thing about such" covenants' with God lies here, that the engagement must originate on the side of God himself, springing out of his free favour with a view to ratify some spontaneous promise on his part. Man can exact no terms from Heaven. No creature dare stipulate for conditions with his Creator. It is when the Most High, out of his own mere mercy, volunteers to bind himself by a promise for the future, and having done so, stoops still further to give a pledge for the execution of that promise, that what may fairly be deemed a 'covenant' is established" (Dr. Dykes).
2. The people are reminded of past gracious dealings of God with them (ver. 4). God reminds them, to begin with, of how he had taken them from Egypt, and had borne them on eagle's wings, and had brought them to this desert place unto himself. "Eagle's wings" signify that his help had been strong, sustaining, protecting. In Egypt, at the Red Sea, in the wilderness, they had experienced this help, and had found it all sufficient. The resources of the infinite had been placed at their disposal. The special point, however, is, that all this which had been done for them was the fruit of free, unmerited favour; of a grace which imposed no conditions, and had as yet asked for no return. This was an important point to be reminded of on the eve of a revelation of law. These past actings of God testified that his relation to Israel was fundamentally a gracious one. Law might veil grace, but it could not cancel or annul it. Like primitive rock, underlying whatever strata might subsequently be reared upon it, this gracious relation must abide. With a relation of this kind to fall back upon, the Israelite need not despair, even when he felt that his law condemned him. It was a pledge to him that, not only amidst daily error and shortcoming, but even after grievous falls - falls like David's - mercy would receive the man of contrite spirit (Psalm 51.). Thus far, we are quite in the element of the Gospel Salvation precedes obedience. Obedience follows, a result of the flee acceptance of the obligations which redemption imposes on us.
3. The condition of the fulfilment of promise is that the people obey God's voice, and keep his covenant (ver. 5). On no other terms could God consent to be their God, and on no other terms would he consent to have them for his people. Grace precedes law, grace accompanies law, grace passes beyond law; nevertheless, grace must conserve law (Romans 3:31). God can propose to man no terms of favour, which do not include the need for an obedient will. He does not do so under the Gospel any more than he did under the law (cf. Matthew 7:21; Romans 2:6, 7; Romans 6.; 1 Corinthians 7:19; 1 John 2:4, etc.). "It is exclusively Christ's righteousness which is of grace imputed to us. Yet this has to be appropriated in an upright heart (Martensen). When God took Israel out of Egypt, it was implied and intended that the redeemed people should obey his voice." The covenant but made explicit an implicit obligation.
4. The promises themselves are of the grandest possible description (vers. 5, 6).
(1) Israel would be to God "a peculiar treasure." Out of all the nations of the earth - for all the earth was his - Jehovah had chosen this one, to reveal himself to it, to give it laws and judgments, and to dwell in its midst as its king, benefactor, and defender (cf. Deuteronomy 4:33-37). What an honour was this! And yet how inferior to the spiritual privileges of believers in Christ, who enjoy a nearness to God, an interest in his love, a special place in his regard, of which, not the earth only, but the universe, affords no other example.
(2) Israel would be to God "a kingdom of priests." There is implied in this, on the one hand, royalty, dignity, rule; on the other, special consecration to God's service, the privilege of acceptable approach to him, and an intercessory and mediatorial function in relation to other nations. This promise also, has its higher counterpart in the privileges of Christians, who are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9). Grace in the soul is a kingly, a dignifying, an ennobling principle. It confers true royalty of character. And in the future form of his kingdom, God, we may be sure, has royal places for all his royal children (Luke 19:17, 19; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:21). And believers are a "priesthood." Not, indeed, in the old sense of having to offer atoning sacrifices, but priests in virtue of special consecration, of right of near approach to God, and of their calling "to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5), and to intercede for the world (1 Timothy 2:1).
(3) Israel would be to God "an holy nation." This is involved in their calling to be priests. God. being holy, those who are about him - who serve him - who worship him, or who stand in any near relation to him - must be holy also. "Be ye holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). This requirement of holiness is unchangeable. Believers have in them the principle of holiness, and are engaged in "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). Holiness is that essential qualification, "without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
5. The promise contains a hint of the catholicity of God's design in the calling of Israel. "For all the earth is mine" (ver. 5). Israel was called with a view to the ultimate benefit of the world. It was but the "first-born" of many sons whom God would lead to glory.
II. THE PEOPLE'S RESPONSE (vers. 7-10). They willingly took upon themselves the obligations indicated in the words, "Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant;" etc. (verse 5). They said at once "all that the Lord hath spoken we will do." There is a certain nobleness in this reply - a temporary rising of these long-enslaved minds to something like the dignity of their high calling as sons of God. Yet -
1. It was a reply given without much knowledge of the law. They apprehended but little of its breadth, and of the spirituality of its requirements, else they would not have engaged so readily to do all that it enjoined. One design in placing Israel under law was just that they might grow in this knowledge of the breadth of the commandment, and so might have developed in them the consciousness of sin (Romans 7:7-25).
2. It was a reply given without much knowledge of themselves. The people do not seem to have doubted their ability to keep God's word. They thought, like many more, that they had but to try, in order to do. Accordingly, a second design in placing them under law was to convince them of their mistake - to discover to them their spiritual inability. There is no way of convincing men of their inability to keep the law of God like setting them to try (Romans 7.).
3. It was a reply given, as respects the mass of the people, without heart-conversion. It was the outcome of a burst of enthusiasm, of an excited state of feeling. There was not the true "heart" in them to do what God commanded (Deuteronomy 5:29). Hence their speedy apostasy (ch. 32.) The test of true conversion is perseverance (Hebrews 3:14; 1 John 2:19). Moses, having received the reply of the people, returned it to God, who, on hearing it, declared his purpose of coming in a thick cloud, and of speaking with Moses in the audience of all the people (cf. verse 19). The design was "that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever" (verse 9). - J.O.
The mount, not because it was higher, but because there the burning bush appeared, and there the people were to serve God. Moses goes up to the mount, probably to the very spot where a while ago he had seen the burning bush and received his great commission to Pharaoh. From this scene he had been travelling in a circle, and had now come whence he had started, but not as many travellers in a circle do, returning poor and profitless as they went. Here he is, treading once again the hallowed mountain side; the people whom he has brought are below; God, he knows, is near, for he has just had most gracious experience of him in Rephidim; and now he waits for further revelations and commands. A great deal Moses has to listen to in Sinai from Jehovah; and therefore it is very interesting to notice the words with which Jehovah begins. Consider -
I. THE TERMS BY WHICH GOD INDICATES HIS PEOPLE. "The house of Jacob" - "the children of Israel." Thus Jehovah was ever sending the thoughts of his people far back into the past, and making them feel its important and glorious connection with the present. The house of Jacob was the house of him who had known many changes of circumstances, many disappointments and trials. It was the house of one who, born in Canaan, spent some of the best of his time at a distance with Laban, and died at last in Egypt. If he, the great ancestor, had thus been a man of change, what wonder that trying changes came upon the posterity! Then they were also the children of Israel. This was the name Divinely given; and if Israel forgets its purport and the privilege involved, Jehovah himself assuredly did not. Significant names, that would otherwise get hidden in the past, God takes special care to preserve.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH GOD DESCRIBES HIS RECENT DEALINGS. To the Israelites all had been very confused, tedious, and trying, in spite of all the miraculous exemptions, escapes, and provisions they had enjoyed. They had not very well known what was being done with them. But now, in the compass of a sweeping verse, the whole course of affairs is presented as one rapid and decisive action. As a bird might snatch its offspring out of captivity and bear it far on high to some safe shelter, so Jehovah has done with Israel. He puts before them, as in a vision, these three things to be considered -
1. The liberation.
2. The consequent journey.
3. The destination.
And these three things he describes in a peculiar way.
1. The liberation he indicates by this signification, "what I did unto the Egyptians." He wished the people here to ponder the extent and significance of his terrible dealings in Egypt. The Israelites had gazed on a succession of varied and penetrating calamities coming on the Egyptians. But Jehovah wishes the observers to mark that these things were of his doing. Jehovah's actions are not to be buried in oblivion when once they are past, because they are terrible actions. It is just because they are the terrible acts of a holy and just God that they are to be remembered. There was in them nothing of a tyrant's caprice; they were not wild gusts of power to be ashamed of in calmer moments. There had been due prediction and preparation; there was an orderly, gradual, impressive, instructive mounting to a climax: and if any of the people were inclined to forget the doer in the deeds, the liberator in the liberation, here is a warning that things must not be so thought on. God is ever devising to make us look at events in their connection and continuity. The plagues of Egypt were only the preliminary overturning to carry on the greater plan of God. Egypt had fast hold of Israel; wherefore Israel's God smote Egypt so that he might free his own people and bring them to himself.
2. The journey Jehovah indicates by a peculiarly beautiful and inspiring figure. "I bare you on eagles' wings." This was an appropriate figure for people dwelling in the wilderness. Moses had, doubtless, seen many eagles in his shepherd experiences; and the Israelites would become familiar with them during their wanderings. Thus the eagle's ways would be known; and after this word of Jehovah Moses would study them more and more, and one result of such observation we find in Deuteronomy 32:11. When men exalt themselves as the eagle, and set their nests among the stars, God can bring them down; but when he puts on the eagle's wings, it is to exalt himself into a place which shall be one of perfect safety for his people. One imagines the eaglet thus lying on the parent's wing. It may wriggle about uneasily, wondering at the speed with which it is taken, the shaking it has to undergo and the unfamiliar scenes through which it is passing. But these struggles count for little; they are natural enough, but they do not hinder the eagle in its progress. Patiently, calmly, strongly, it rises towards its secure destination. These unfamiliar scenes are by-and-by to be the frequent path of the now struggling, bewildered eaglet; in due time its own wings will appear in them -
Sailing with supreme dominion 3. The destination. "I brought you unto myself." Just as the eagle brings its young to a place where without distraction or fear of interruption it can attend to their nourishment and growth. How beautifully God thus turns away the thoughts of his people from the desolation of the visible scene! True it was a wilderness; emphasis is laid upon this in vers. 1, 2; but if we are brought to God, this is more than all that may be barren and cheerless in mere circumstances. The place which men do not care about and where they would not come of their own accord, is the place where God reveals himself gloriously and graciously to his own. Israel will now do well to consider, not what carnal comforts they lack, but what dangers they have escaped, and what Divine possessions they are in the way to acquire. To be brought to God in the fullest sense of the word, and to lie comfortably under his protection and nurture, what a great matter! (Romans 8:38, 39). III. So much, then, for what Jehovah has done in the past, and now he turns to the future, making A LARGE PROMISE DEPENDENT ON THE FULFILLING OF STRICT CONDITIONS. He had to bring the people to himself on eagle's wings, because they themselves were helpless to achieve the deliverance and security they needed. And now the time has come for response from them. He has brought them to himself, that being with him they may become his, fully and acceptably. They are put into external conditions such as make it possible for them to obey; therefore Jehovah has a right, and does right, to ask them for obedience. He who speaks about Jacob and Israel, cannot but also speak of the ancient covenant, with respect to which the children of Israel must labour earnestly to fulfil their part. God has already made certain requirements from the people, such as the passover regulations and those concerning the manna. But now his requirements are to flow forth in a great continuing stream. He will go on asking, as if asking were never to be at an end; and therefore it is well to start with a solemn preparatory word. As to the promise itself, we notice that it is a promise to a nation - to a whole people. As we see in the next chapter, the conditions are to be achieved by individual obedience: God comes to the individual with his commandments, and says, "Thou." But the promise is for the nation. It is a promise, too, which seems worded for appreciation in the future rather than in the present, or if in the present, only by a few who had been prepared to understand it. Perhaps it may be most fittingly described as a promise to be the stimulus and stay of truly patriotic hearts. Wherever there is a man who glories in the race from which he sprang and the land where he was born, there is one who may be expected to understand the force of an appeal like this. No nation could really be more to God than another nation, unless it were a better one. Israel had been made free from Egypt that it might then rise into all the fulness of what a nation ought to be; and therefore God sets these great possibilities before the people. All the earth, he said, was his. Be had proved his complete control over one much esteemed tract of territory by the confusions and calamities he had brought into Pharaoh's domains; and there was no nation among men that he could not treat in the same fashion. But, if only men will submit, he can make to himself a peculiar people, testifying to his power, not from among humiliations consequent on despising him, but from the heights of glory and blessedness to which he lifts those who obey him. He mingles in one glorious expression the thought of all those blessings which come from the union of true religion and right government. A kingdom of priests is one where harmony and right dealing will be found running through all relations, because each member is continually serving God with the great, loving, acceptable sacrifice of his own life. God is not really king in any society of men, unless each member of that society is fully a priest towards him. - Y.
3. The destination. "I brought you unto myself." Just as the eagle brings its young to a place where without distraction or fear of interruption it can attend to their nourishment and growth. How beautifully God thus turns away the thoughts of his people from the desolation of the visible scene! True it was a wilderness; emphasis is laid upon this in vers. 1, 2; but if we are brought to God, this is more than all that may be barren and cheerless in mere circumstances. The place which men do not care about and where they would not come of their own accord, is the place where God reveals himself gloriously and graciously to his own. Israel will now do well to consider, not what carnal comforts they lack, but what dangers they have escaped, and what Divine possessions they are in the way to acquire. To be brought to God in the fullest sense of the word, and to lie comfortably under his protection and nurture, what a great matter! (Romans 8:38, 39).
III. So much, then, for what Jehovah has done in the past, and now he turns to the future, making A LARGE PROMISE DEPENDENT ON THE FULFILLING OF STRICT CONDITIONS. He had to bring the people to himself on eagle's wings, because they themselves were helpless to achieve the deliverance and security they needed. And now the time has come for response from them. He has brought them to himself, that being with him they may become his, fully and acceptably. They are put into external conditions such as make it possible for them to obey; therefore Jehovah has a right, and does right, to ask them for obedience. He who speaks about Jacob and Israel, cannot but also speak of the ancient covenant, with respect to which the children of Israel must labour earnestly to fulfil their part. God has already made certain requirements from the people, such as the passover regulations and those concerning the manna. But now his requirements are to flow forth in a great continuing stream. He will go on asking, as if asking were never to be at an end; and therefore it is well to start with a solemn preparatory word. As to the promise itself, we notice that it is a promise to a nation - to a whole people. As we see in the next chapter, the conditions are to be achieved by individual obedience: God comes to the individual with his commandments, and says, "Thou." But the promise is for the nation. It is a promise, too, which seems worded for appreciation in the future rather than in the present, or if in the present, only by a few who had been prepared to understand it. Perhaps it may be most fittingly described as a promise to be the stimulus and stay of truly patriotic hearts. Wherever there is a man who glories in the race from which he sprang and the land where he was born, there is one who may be expected to understand the force of an appeal like this. No nation could really be more to God than another nation, unless it were a better one. Israel had been made free from Egypt that it might then rise into all the fulness of what a nation ought to be; and therefore God sets these great possibilities before the people. All the earth, he said, was his. Be had proved his complete control over one much esteemed tract of territory by the confusions and calamities he had brought into Pharaoh's domains; and there was no nation among men that he could not treat in the same fashion. But, if only men will submit, he can make to himself a peculiar people, testifying to his power, not from among humiliations consequent on despising him, but from the heights of glory and blessedness to which he lifts those who obey him. He mingles in one glorious expression the thought of all those blessings which come from the union of true religion and right government. A kingdom of priests is one where harmony and right dealing will be found running through all relations, because each member is continually serving God with the great, loving, acceptable sacrifice of his own life. God is not really king in any society of men, unless each member of that society is fully a priest towards him. - Y.
e.g., greatly misconceive its nature, if, looking only to the tender, almost caressing words of this text, we did not also take into account the manifestations of terror amidst which the law was given from Sinai (verses 16-20), with such other facts as the planting of the stones on Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:1-9; Joshua 8:30-35), and the recital of the blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 27:11-26). But we should do the covenant equal injustice if we looked only to the latter class of facts, and did not observe the former. That Israel's standing under the law was modified by grace is shown:
1. From the fact of grace preceding law;
2. From the employment of a mediator;
3. From the "blood of sprinkling" at the ratification of the covenant (ch. 24.);
4. From the propitiatory arrangements subsequently introduced;
5. From the revealed scope and design of the economy;
6. From the actual facts of Israel's history. Keeping in view this double aspect of the covenant of Sinai - that on its inner side it was one of grace, on its outer side one of law - we have to consider its relations to the covenant of the Gospel.
I. THE COVENANTS ARE, IN CERTAIN OBVIOUS RESPECTS, STRIKINGLY CONTRASTED. The contrasts in question arise from the particularistic character, the defective spirituality, and the paedagogic design, of the older covenant. That which has succeeded it is more inward and spiritual in its nature; is universal in its scope; and is made primarily with individuals. Special contrasts are these:
1. The older covenant is more preceptive in its character than the later one. "Tutors and governors" (Galatians 4:2).
2. It is more concerned with outward rites and ceremonies (Hebrews 9:10).
3. It relies more on penalty and reward as motives.
4. The blessings promised are largely temporal. In the new covenant, temporal promises hold a very subordinate place. They are overshadowed by spiritual ones.
II. THERE ARE ELEMENTS OF CONTRAST EVEN IN THE RESEMBLANCES BETWEEN THE TWO COVENANTS. The covenants of the law and of the Gospel are alike -
1. In requiring that the people of God shall be "an holy people." But the holiness of Israel was made to consist largely in the observance of outward distinctions. It was largely ceremonial. The holiness of the new covenant is purely spiritual.
2. In requiring obedience as the condition of fulfilment of promise. But
(1) under the law, life and blessing were attached to obedience in the way of legal reward. The rubric was: "Do this, and thou shalt live" (Romans 10:5). Under the Gospel, this element is wholly eliminated. The law having done its work in showing that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in (God's) sight" (Romans 3:20), the bestowal of reward is taken from this ground, and placed explicitly on that of grace. All we receive is for the sake of Christ - a fruit of his righteousness.
(2) The law, while requiring obedience, did not raise the point of man's ability to render that obedience. But power to render obedience is itself one of the blessings of the new covenant, which thus goes deeper, and includes vastly more than the older one.
(3) In general, the Gospel, while agreeing with the law in aiming at forming a people unto righteousness, takes up the individual at a riper stage in his religious development. It assumes that the taw has done its work in him - has convinced him of sin, and of his inability to attain to life through legal efforts. It supposes him to he aware of his guilt and danger as a sinner. In this condition - broken and humbled by the action of the law upon his conscience - it meets him with the tidings of redemption, and of life and blessing (including spiritual renewal) coming to him on the ground of "the righteousness of faith" (cf. Acts 13:38, 39);
3. The privileges of the older covenant foreshadowed those of the new (1 Peter 2:9). But the contrast is great here also. See above.
III. THESE CONTRASTS ALL DEPEND UPON A FUNDAMENTAL CONTRAST. The deepest contrast between the two covenants is to be sought for in the view which each takes of the direction in which the individual (formerly the nation) is to look for acceptance and happiness - for "life."
1. The law. The law appears in the covenant with Sinai in its original, unqualified severity, as, on the one hand, awarding life to the obedient, and on the other, denouncing penalties against the breakers of even the least of its commandments (Galatians 3:10-13). Doubtless, but for daily pardon of daily offences, the Israelite, under so strict a constitution, would have been totally unable to maintain his footing. These offences, however, appear as so many breaches of the covenant bond, which, in strictness, was the keeping of the whole law. A right apprehension of God's design in placing Israel under this constitution will do away with any appearance of harshness in the arrangement, as if God were purposely mocking the weakness of the people by setting them to work out a problem - the attainment of righteousness - in that way incapable of solution. The moral task given to Israel among the nations was, indeed, to aim at the realisation of righteousness, of righteousness as prescribed by the law. But God's design in this was not, certainly, to make the salvation of any Israelite depend on the fulfilment of impossible conditions, but, primarily, to conduct the seeker after righteousness by the path of honest moral endeavour, to a consciousness of his inability to keep the law, and so to awaken in him the feeling of the need of a better righteousness than the law could give him - to drive him back, in short, from law to faith, from a state of satisfaction with himself to a feeling of his need of redemption - of redemption at once from the guilt of past transgressions, and from the discord in his own nature. The law had thus an end beyond itself. It was a schoolmaster to lead to Christ. The later Jews totally misconceived its nature when they clung to it with unbending tenacity as the sole instrument of justification (Romans 10:1-4).
2. The Gospel. In this is revealed "the righteousness of faith" - the righteousness which is "unto all and upon all them that believe." This is the only righteousness which can make the sinner truly just before God" (Romans 3:21-27). But the law is not thereby made void. It remains, as before, the standard of duty - the norm of holy practice. The design of the Gospel is not to abolish it, but to establish it more firmly than ever (Romans 3:31). Faith includes the obedient will. The end of redemption is holiness.
IV. THE ISRAELITE, WHILE BOUND TO GOD BY A COVENANT OF LAW, YET ENJOYED MANY BENEFITS OF THE STATE OF GRACE. The better part of the Israelites were perfectly aware that had God been strict to mark iniquities, they could not stand before him (Psalm 130:3); that their own law would have condemned them. But they knew, too, that there was forgiveness with God, that he might be feared (ver. 4). Piously availing himself of the expiatory rites provided for the covering of his sin, the godly Jew had confidence towards God. Many in the nation grasped the truth that an obedient will is, in God's sight, the matter of chief importance, and that, where this is found, much else will be forgiven - that he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him (Acts 10:35), notwithstanding the special imperfections which may mark his daily life. This was practically to rise from the standpoint of the law, to that of the righteousness of faith. It enabled those who had attained to it, though under the law, to cherish a delight in spiritual righteousness, and even to find joy in the law itself, as the outward expression of that righteousness. It was not, however, the complete joy of salvation. The law still hovered above the consciousness of the Israelite with its unfulfilled demand; and he had not the means of perfectly pacifying his conscience in relation to it. While in those in whom the law had wrought its work most effectually, there was a deep feeling of sin, a painful conscious-hess of frustration in efforts after the highest goodness, which day by day wrung from them such cries as that of St. Paul - "O wretched man," etc. (Romans 7:24). Here, again, the Gospel reveals itself as the termination of the law of Moses (Romans 10:4). - J.O.
I. WHAT IS DEMANDED ERE THE REVELATION CAN BE IMPARTED.
1. The will must be surrendered to God, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (ver. 8).
2. The filthiness of the past must be put away; "Sanctify them" (ver. 10). There must be loathing of, and separation from, sin.
3. There must be a sense of the distance sin has put between the soul and God; "Take heed to yourselves that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it" (vers. 12, 13).
II. HOW THE REVELATION IS IMPARTED.
1. In the awful manifestation of his majesty (vers. 16-19). The first step is the recognition of the livingness and greatness and holiness of God. Hitherto he has been to the soul a name only; now the Creator, the Holy One, against whom and in whose sight all sin has been wrought, the Righteous Judge from whom there is no escape, from whose face death itself affords no covering.
2. In the glorifying of a Mediator, to whom he speaks, and who shall declare him to us. This is reflected in the Christian's experience -
(1) Sinai, the knowledge of sin;
(2) Calvary, peace through the blood of Jesus, acceptance in the Beloved. - U.
I. THE PURPOSE OF THIS MANIFESTATION. God made this purpose known beforehand; and it was that the people who saw and heard these dreadful phenomena might believe Moses for ever, might permanently acknowledge his authority as a messenger and representative of God. When Moses was at Sinai before and then entrusted with a Divine message to Israel, he urged it as one of his difficulties that Israel would not believe him. "They will say, the Lord hath not appeared unto thee" (Exodus 4:1). Now without appeal in any way from Moses, Jehovah provides a sublime demonstration of his presence, which he expressly mentions as being intended to establish the position of Moses. Testimony must always be chosen corresponding with the character and circumstances of those to whom it is presented. There is a time when it will do to change the rod into a serpent; and so there is a time when the same people before whom this was done must be confronted with all the terrors of Sinai. It was a great defect on the part of the people that they had no adequate sense - it may almost be said they had no sense at all - of the holiness of God. Upon the slightest interference with their self-indulgent desires, they broke out into reproach, almost into rebellion. Therefore, in the very midst of gracious and unfailing providences, they must be made to feel that it is a fearful thing as well as a happy thing to fall into the hands of the living God. He is ever loving and desires our good; but he is also supreme in holiness, and in all our thoughts he must be hallowed as one who, when the need appears, can make most terrible manifestations of his power. We must be alive to God's presence in the terrible and destructive phenomena of the natural world as much as in those which are gentle, attractive, and pleasing. By the terrors of Sinai he intimated to his people, once for all, that he was a God not to be trifled with, but one who demanded careful and humble attention at all times when he expressed his will.
II. THE PREPARATION FOR IT WHICH HAD TO BE MADE BY THE PEOPLE. The manifestation was not to come at once; the people had to wait for it; but waiting was not all. The waiting indeed was necessary that they might have sufficient opportunity to prepare. Even already it was being signified to them that in external things, and even in such a slight matter as the washing of the clothes, they were to be a holy people. All the defilements gathered by the way, all the dust of the conflict with Amalek had to be washed off; and short of water as they had lately been, God, we may be sure, provided an abundant supply before giving this command. He required his people through certain symbolic actions to enter into a special state of readiness for himself. Then when they were so far ready by what they did to themselves, they must take further special precautions not to enter on the holy ground. As God took from the dwellers of the earth the house of Jacob to be his holy nation, so he took these steeps of Sinai to be a holy place for himself. Evidently all these preparations being of the character they were, must have produced a state of mind full of expectation and suspense. God fixed the very day of this appearing. This is a thing he can do, sure that the reality will not fall short of the popular notion formed beforehand. But there is another great day of the Lord; and the precise point of this in time no man knoweth. It was in mercy that the date of the visitation on Sinai was made known to Israel; it is in equal mercy that the great day of the Lord yet remaining is veiled, as to its date, from us. Those who live as they ought to live, trusting in Christ and knowing the indwelling of the Spirit, are doing that which secures present profit and blessedness, makes meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, and at the same time adequate preparation for the trials of the last great day. There is no way of being ready for them except to live near to God in prayer and faith and faithfulness in little things. Believe in Christ, and show your faith by your works, and then you are ready whatever comes.
III. THE MANIFESTATION ITSELF AND ITS EFFECTS. Precisely how the manifestation was to take place does not seem to have been indicated beforehand; and even as it stands described by all those terrible terms, thunder, lightning, the smoking and the quaking mount, we feel that the reality must far have transcended the power of human speech to describe. It was truly an unspeakable visitation. The word telling us most is that which says that before this visitation all the people trembled. Evidently it had an overwhelming effect upon them. It is made perfectly plain that when God cannot draw men by love, he can hold them fast by fear. If they will not go like invited children in his way, they are shaken nolentes volentes out of their own. Whatever else men may refuse to God, love, worship, service, - this at all events is ensured, that they shall be terrified before him. They have no choice. The earth cannot but quake when he sets to work the mighty hidden powers underneath. And so the most atheistic life must acknowledge by its disturbed emotions that there is a power it cannot resist. The boasted discipline and sovereignty of human reason count for nothing then. The earthquake without gets its due result from the quaking heart within. Man may set up his will against God's will; but that only means that he refuses obedience; he cannot keep God from shaking him to the very foundations of his being. Though the people in a few months left Sinai, yet Sinai in a very important sense followed them. The fire that went out from the Lord and devoured Nadab and Abihu - the fire that burned at Taberah among the complaining people (Numbers 11:1) - the opening earth and the devouring fire at the time of the conspiracy of Korah (Numbers 16.) - what are all these but proofs of the God of Sinai travelling in all his terror and glory along with Israel and making sharp visitations in the hour of worldliness, unbelief, and negligence? Those trained in idolatry may well become sceptical and end in utter unbelief, for they never see anything in the way of subduing power save the power of knavish priests over superstitious devotees. There are great pretensions and professions, but never anything done corresponding with them. But here as Jehovah begins to specify his requirements, he first of all shows his power in the most impressive way. As an Israelite looked back on Sinai, whatever other feelings he might have, he could not deny the terrible reality that was there. And one very remarkable thing is, that through all this thunder and lightning, smoking and quaking, there was no actual destruction. If there had been such, it would certainly have been recorded. But so far from this being the case, there were special and very earnest directions in order to avert it (ver. 12,13, 21, 24.) So long as they kept outside the Divinely appointed barrier and observed the cleansing regulations, neither life nor property was lost. Sinai, with all its undescribed terrors, was not Vesuvius: the people beneath were not gathered in a doomed Herculaneum or Pompeii. The purpose of Jehovah was simply to manifest the reality, extent, and proximity of his destroying power. Men were made to feel what it could do, if they were so presumptuous or negligent as to come within its rightful exercise. - Y.
Hebrews 12:18). It is interesting to observe that, with the latter part of this chapter, we enter on an entirely new phase in the history of God's revelation of himself to Israel. Terror enough there has been in the previous portions of the book - terror and "a mighty hand" - awful manifestations of God's power and holiness; but towards Israel there has been displayed only benignity and fatherly affection. Their wants have been ungrudgingly supplied; even their murmurings, as we have seen, did not elicit from God more than a passing reproof. But now that Jehovah takes his awful seat on Sinai, and proceeds to give forth his law, he clothes himself, even towards Israel, with a majesty and terror which strike the people with dismay. The fact is obviously one of deep significance, requiring, as it will repay, our close attention. What, meanwhile, we have to note is, that God did not reveal himself in law and terror till he had given the people many practical evidences of his love for them, and so had won their confidence. Without this, the terrors of Sinai could scarcely have been borne by them.
I. THE PREPARATION (vers. 10-16). The revelation at Sinai was distinctively a revelation of the Divine holiness. From this fact, rightly apprehended, we may deduce the necessity for the preparations and precautions referred to in the text. The design of the lawgiving was to bring to light, and impress on men's minds, that holiness and justice which are essential parts of God's character, and which underlie all his dealings with them, even when most veiled by tenderness and grace. The time had come which God judged best for such a revelation being made. Made it had to be at some point or other in the history of the Divine dealings with men; and no time was so suitable for it as this of the constitution of the covenant with Israel. The instructions issued to the people accord with this design, and have as their end the impressing of their minds with a deep sense of the holiness of the Being into whose presence they are approaching, and of their own unholiness and unfitness to draw near to him. Holiness is -
1. Absolute moral purity and perfection. It is sanctity of character. It implies, whether in God or man, the steadfast bent of the will towards all that is good and true and just and pure. In God, it is an inflexible determination to uphold at all costs the interests of righteousness and truth. It is an intensity of nature, a fire of zeal or jealousy, directed to the maintenance of these interests. Hence the requirement that in preparation for their meeting with him at the mount, the people should "sanctify" themselves for two whole days (ver. 10). The sanctification enjoined was mainly external - the washing of clothes, etc.; but this, in itself a symbol of the need of heart purity, was doubtless to be attended with mental and spiritual preparations. Holiness is to be studied by us in all our approaches to God. The unholy will not be spurned by God, if they come to him in penitence, relying on his grace in Christ; but his end in receiving them is that he may make them holy, and holiness is the condition of subsequent fellowship (Romans 6.; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 6:25-27; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Titus 2:11-15; Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 1:6, 7).
2. The principle which guards the Divine honour. Thus Martensen defines it - " Holiness is the principle that guards the eternal distinction between Creator and creature, between God and man, in the union effected between them: it preserves the Divine dignity and majesty from being infringed upon." Hence the command to Moses to set bounds to the mountain, that the people might be kept back (vers. 12, 13). So stringently was this to be enforced, that if a man, or even a beast, should touch the mountain, the trespasser was to be put to death. The statement - "When the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount" (ver. 13), is probably to be read in the light of ver. 17. The lesson taught is that of reverential awe of God. Even when we have the fullest confidence in approaching God as a Father, we ought not to allow ourselves to forget the infinite distance which still exists between him and us. Our service is to be "with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
II. GOD'S DESCENT ON SINAI (vers. 16-19). God's descent on Mount Sinai was in fire (ver. 18), and with great terribleness. The scene, as described in these verses, is sufficiently awful. The adjuncts of the descent were -
1. A thick cloud upon the mount.
2. Thunders and lightnings.
3. The voice of a trumpet exceeding loud.
4. A fire "burning unto the midst of heaven" (Deuteronomy 4:11).
5. Smoke as of a furnace - the result of the action of the fire.
6. The mountain quaking.
This awfulness and terror are the more remarkable when we remember -
(1) That what we have here is not God the Judge, arraigning before him trembling and convicted sinners, to pronounce on them sentence of doom; but a God of grace, summoning to his presence a people whom he loves, and has redeemed, and has just declared to be to him a peculiar treasure, above all people.
(2) That the design of this manifestation is to give to Israel a law which shall be the bond of a covenant between him and them, and by which it is intended that they shall order their lives. The facts to be explained are -
(1) That the phenomena alluded to are all of an alarming nature, and
(2) That most of them have a symbolical significance, which enhances the impression of terror. The fire, e.g., is the symbol of holiness. The thick cloud suggests mystery. It tells also of how God must veil his glory from man, if man is not to be consumed by it. The smoke speaks of wrath (Deuteronomy 29:20). To the question thus raised, Why all this awfulness and terror? the following answers may be made: -
1. Law is the revelation of God's holiness. It is the expression of the demand of holiness. This is the one thing it has to do, to declare what are the requirements of holiness, and to enunciate these requirements in the form of commands to be obeyed. But in order that law may serve its ends, it must be given in its proper character as law with all the adjuncts of authority and majesty which rightfully belong to it, and without dilution or weakening of any kind. Time enough, after the law has been given, and the constitution is firmly settled on its bases, to say how grace is to deal with such as fall short of the standard of its requirements. And, as formerly remarked, a revelation of law, at some period or other in the history of God's dealings with mankind, was plainly necessary -
(1) That the full requirements of God's holiness should be made known. Nothing was to be gained by the establishment of a constitution in which the requirements of holiness should be glozed over, veiled, treated as non-existent, kept out of view. Sooner or later they must be brought to light. The relations of God with men could never be placed upon a satisfactory footing, till the fullest recognition had been accorded to them. If the breach between heaven and earth is to be healed - healed thoroughly - it is not to be by ignoring the claims of holiness, but by recognising them to the utmost, and then "devising means" whereby, in consistency with these claims, God's "banished" may still not be "expelled from him" (2 Samuel 14:14). The choice of this time for making the revelation was connected with God's whole design in the calling of Israel.
(2) That men might have the knowledge of sin. The law must be made known that men may understand the number and extent of their transgressions. The lawgiving at Sinai, therefore, marks a distinct stage in the progress of God's revelations. The design was to give Israel just impressions of what the law really was - this law which they were binding themselves to keep - to force upon them the conviction of its great awfulness and sanctity. Fitly, therefore, was it promulgated with every circumstance which could arouse the torpid conscience, and give impressiveness and force to the revelation.
2. Most of those to whom the law was given, while outwardly the people of God, and about to take on them the obligations of a solemn covenant, were really unregenerate. This circumstance, which lay in the truth of their relation to God as distinguished from mere profession, was fitly signified by the manner in which the law was given. The law shows by its form that it was not made for a righteous man (1 Timothy 1:9).
3. For the sin which the law brought to light, no proper expiation was as yet provided. Typical atonements might indeed be offered; but not till the great propitiator came could the guilt be actually removed. God's forgivenesses, under this first covenant, were not remission proper, but praetermission (Romans 3:25). Christ came "for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament" (Hebrews 9:15), which, therefore, were standing over unexpiated. This fact, that the law had claims against the sinner, no proper means of discharging which as yet existed, had also its recognition in the manner in which the law was promulgated.
4. The law, in the peculiar way in which it entered into the Sinaitic covenant, was not a saving and blessing power, but, on the contrary, could only condemn. The law, as it entered into the covenant with Israel, could neither justify nor sanctify. It concluded all under sin, and left them there. It proved itself unequal even to the lower task of restraining outward corruptions. Its curb was ineffectual to keep sin in check. It could give commandments written on stone, but had no power to write them on the fleshly tables of the heart (cf. 2 Corinthians 3.).
III. THE RENEWED WARNING (vers. 19-25). God, probably by a voice audible to the whole congregation (cf. ver. 6), called Moses to the top of the mount. No sooner, however, had he ascended than he was sent back again to renew the warning to the people to keep strictly within their bounds. The reason given was - "Lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish... lest the Lord break forth upon them" (vers. 21, 22). The passage teaches,
1. That the heart is naturally disobedient. Even under these most solemn circumstances the Israelites could hardly be restrained. The very prohibition was a provocative to their self-will to transgress the boundary. To gratify this impulse they were disposed to risk the consequences. Had the danger not been very real, Moses would not have been sent back so promptly as he was. Cf. what Paul says on the law - "I had not known sin but by the law," etc. (Romans 7:7-14).
2. That temerity in Divine things exposes the trangressor to severe punishment. Cf. the men of Bethshemesh and the ark (1 Samuel 6:19), Uzzah, Uzziah, etc.
3. That it is hard even for good men to credit the extent of the rebelliousness of the human heart. Moses thought it extremely unlikely that the people would do what God told him they were just on the point of doing. He relied upon his "bounds," and on the strict charges he had given them to keep them back (ver. 23). Alas! it was soon to be discovered that even stronger bounds than his would not restrain them. One design of the economy of law was to demonstrate the futility of every attempt to restrain wickedness by the system of mere "bounds." What is needed is not "bounds," but renewal.
4. God's near presence is perilous to the sinner. - J.O.
Hebrews 12:18-25). Briefly stated, what is set forth here is the contrast of legal with Gospel privilege. The writer is addressing Jews, who were in danger of apostatising from Christ. He seeks to dissuade them from going back to Judaism by showing them the vast superiority of the privileges which they enjoyed as Christians to those enjoyed under the law. We, who are Christians, and axe in no temptation to return to Judaism, approach the subject from a different side. But the verses are still of use as showing us, by contrast, the greatness of our privilege. We have,
1. the negative side of Christian privilege - what we are delivered from, "Ye are not come," etc.;
2. The positive side of Christian privilege - what we have come to, "Ye are come unto Mount Sion," etc. It will better suit our present purpose to view the contrast along different lines.
I. THE CONTRAST IS THE MOUNTAINS. Sinai and Sion.
1. Sinai. Sinai, the mountain of law, stands as the proper representative of the old economy. The Israelites, as seen above, were under a peculiar constitution. Bound to God by a covenant of law, they yet enjoyed many of the benefits of a state of grace. Sinai, however, was the proper representation of their economy. Divest that economy of all that it derived from the new and better covenant which has since superseded it, and it would have been a Sinai economy pure and simple. The law said, Do this and thou shalt live; and if the Israelite did not do it, it could award no blessing to him, could only condemn. This was the formal constitution. As placed under law, the people, in their approaches to God, were constantly coming anew to the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire.
2. Sion. The first thing which strikes us here is -
(1) That there was this contrast between Sinai and Sion within Israel itself. Sinai and Sion were, so to speak, the two poles round which the whole national and religious life of Israel revolved. As Sinai, the mountain of the law, represents their position under law, so the grace element in their economy comes to light in Mount Sion. As on Sinai, God descended in awful smoke and flame, so on Sion he dwelt in peace in the midst of Israel, giving forth his oracles, receiving his people's worship, and dispensing mercy and favour from between the cherubim, above the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. God came down for a season only on Sinai; on Sion, he was said to dwell (Psalm 132:13, 14). He appeared in terror on Mount Sinai; but Sion displayed the milder glories of his character. Sion was the place of salvation (Psalm 14:7; Isaiah 46:13, etc.). In Sion God ruled; from it he sent forth strength and help; from it was to go forth the Gospel law (Psalm 20:2; Psalm 110:2; Isaiah 2:2, 3). Yet Sion, under that economy, was only the type of something better. Grace at that time was only very imperfectly revealed; it was hidden under types and forms of law; it has now been made fully manifest, and the old covenant has been superseded by a better and enduring one.
(2) Sinai and Sion as representing the contrast between the two dispensations. Sion has not ceased to exist, it has only, so to speak, gone up higher. Its special seat is now in heaven. There is the throne of God; there, the capital or head-quarters of that great spiritual commonwealth, here denominated "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," and elsewhere, "the Jerusalem that is above," "New Jerusalem," in plain terms, the Church or kingdom of God on earth and in heaven. This heavenly Sion alone perfectly realises . rod fulfils the idea embodied in the earthly one. Do we ask why the Church or kingdom of God, as respects its state of privilege, is in this text figured as on a mountain - as a city set on Mount Sion? The answer is -
1. Because the special seat of God's holy abode in the midst of his Church is now literally in heaven, i.e., spiritually removed from, and exalted above the earth.
2. Because the kingdom of God is spiritually the highest thing on earth - founded on the highest order of ideas, on those principles of righteousness and justice which dominate all others.
3. Because it is, in point of fact, the central, commanding, controlling power in history.
4. Because entrance into it, and growth in its spirit and power, involves a spiritual rise - is a true moral ascent. These facts evince the propriety of this figurative representation.
II. THE CONTRAST IN THE ACCESSORIES. Each mountain, in the passage in Hebrews, is made the centre of a scene. We have, accordingly, two groups of attendant circumstances, the details of which are placed studiously in contrast. The series of manifestations at Sinai has already engaged our attention, and we need not dwell upon them further. In contrast to Sinai is placed the picture of the convocation at Mount Sion. The picture is ideal; but the features in it are severally real, and the whole are needed to set forth Christian privilege in its completeness.
1. The mount is represented as crowned by "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" - the city denoting that great spiritual polity into which believers are admitted, and in which they have rights of citizenship, but which, like every other polity, has an existence of its own, irrespective of the individuals who at any time compose its membership. The civitas endures, though the elves come and go. The ideas suggested are order, beauty, symmetry. God has founded this city. God defends it. It has salvation for walls and bulwarks. The capital of this great "City of God" is heaven; but believers, even on earth, are enfranchised members of it, and, spiritually, have come to it (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20).
2. Crowding the mount, thronging its sides, and hovering above, behind, around, is "an innumerable company of angels." Cf. 2 Kings 6:17, where the servant of Elisha saw the mountain "full" of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha; or Daniel 7:10, where thousand thousands minister to the Ancient of Days, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him; or Revelation 5:11, where the number of the angels round about the throne was "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." The truths figured are these two -
(1) That the angelic hosts stand in a relation of ministry to the Church and kingdom of God (Hebrews 1:14); and
3. The mount is further occupied by "the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven" - this designation including the whole body of Christian believers both those on earth and those in heaven; the Church catholic, spiritual, invisible. "The whole family in heaven and earth" - "one Church, above, below." But why called "first-born"? "They are partakers with Christ in all the privileges of that right of primogeniture, which properly and essentially belongs to him alone." (Candlish.) The truth figured here is, that in Christ we are admitted to the "communion of saints." "I believe in the holy Catholic Church... . I believe in the communion of saints." Yet how little, sometimes, does this great privilege mean to us!
4. Another part of the assembly on the mount is denoted by the words - "the spirits of just men made perfect." These are the holy and good of the former dispensation, now admitted to equality of privilege and blessedness with Christians (cf. Hebrews 11:40).
5. God himself sits enthroned in the midst - "Judge of all." The expression reminds us of the writer's design, which is not consolatory, but admonitory. It is still the holy God with whom we have to do, the Judge (cf. Romans 2:6; 1 Peter 1:17) as well as Father; one who will punish disobedience to his voice now with even greater severity than he did of old (Hebrews 12:25, 29). The God of Sinai and the God of Sion are after all the same God. What, then, makes the difference between Sinai and Sion? The answer is -
6. "Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling." It is Christ's presence in the scene which has changed all the surroundings. To all these things, if we are indeed in Christ, we come. How?
(1) By coming to Jesus himself. To come to Jesus, as has been well said, is to come to all else that is here described. We may or may not realise our privileges; but they are there. We are members of the spiritual commonwealth, enjoy the ministry of angels, are part of the invisible Church, have rights of the first-born, etc.
(2) In the realisation of spiritual privilege (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12).
(3) In the use of our rights.
(4) We shall "come" more perfectly at death. Hence -
III. THE CONTRAST IN PRIVILEGE.
1. In the character of the privilege. In Israel's case, the privilege was of so awful a kind, that the sense of privilege was well-nigh swallowed up in the terror which the scene inspired. How different with believers! Their approach to this spiritual mount is solemnising indeed, yet joyful. They have boldness in drawing nigh by the blood of Christ.
2. In the degree of the privilege. The Israelites were not permitted to ascend, or even to come near the mount. Bounds were erected to keep them back. Did they so much as touch it, they would perish. How cliff, refit the privilege of Christians, who not only ascend this spiritual Mount Sion, but are enrolled as citizens in its heavenly city, and have boldness to enter the holiest of all in their approaches to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-23). - J.O.
Isaiah 28:11, with stammering lips and a feigned tongue.] Israel had learnt to know God as a deliverer; must learn to know him further as a lawgiver and ruler.
I. THE SCENE. A long, broad valley. Rocks on each side widening out into a natural amphitheatre. Facing down the valley is a steep, precipitous mountain; grey, streaked with red. The whole scene, not unlike, on a huge scale, that presented by the avenues leading up to the Egyptian temples. It is a place where those accustomed to Egypt might expect to meet with God. "Now" probably the people may have thought, "we shall see for ourselves this mysterious Jehovah; he has brought us to his temple; he will introduce us to his shrine."
II. THE MEDIATOR AND HIS MESSAGE. Israel is encamped. Moses ascends the mountain (ver. 3). Again God meets with him and sends a message by him to the people. Notice: -
1. Reminder of what he has done for them already (ver. 4).
2. Obedience the condition of future favour (ver. 5). Fulfil the condition and the promise is secure. The earth itself is God's temple; if Israel will obey and keep his covenant they shall be "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation."
3. The answer given (ver. 8). No hesitation, no expression of doubt. The promised blessing so attractive that they are ready to promise anything, never doubting their ability to fulfil their promise. It is easy enough to say "I will" - the hard thing is to translate it into "I do."
III. THE PROMISED INTERVIEW. The people shall be conscious of the presence of their God. Jehovah will publicly attest the authority of his servant, Notice: -
1. The preparation. God requires it. It is easy for familiarity to breed irreverence; and irreverence soon leads on to low views of the Divine character. Love is degraded into mere kindliness; an easy-going people believe in an easy-going God. See here: -
(1) The people have to prepare themselves for the meeting (ver. 10).
(2) The place has to be prepared. God reveals himself to prepared people in a prepared place. Why do so few have revelations nowadays? Some come to the prepared place, but they omit the personal preparation; others, even after personal preparation, lose much through neglecting the prepared place. We need to remember Ecclesiastes 5:1, and Hebrews 10:25.
2. The revelation. The third day comes (ver. 16). Storm, sound of trumpet, assembly of people without the camp, trembling, earthquake, intense suspense. "Now surely God will show himself. Can we endure the sight and live?" At length (ver. 19) "a voice" - cf. Deuteronomy 4:12; "no similitude, only a voice." For the present it is enough; reverence is the first lesson those whom God has delivered have to learn; "Hallowed be thy Name" is the first petition they are taught to offer. For effect (cf. Exodus 20:18-22) which also teaches the object of the revelation. "That his fear may be before your faces that ye sin not." Conclusion. We have learnt many more lessons about God than the Israelites could then learn. Have we not too often slurred over or half-forgotten that first lesson?
"Let knowledge grow from more to more, But vaster. We axe fools and slight;
But vaster. We axe fools and slight;
vision, only a voice (cf. Deuteronomy 4:12). The fact was the law was not a final, only a preparatory revelation; it is related to the Gospel as John Baptist was related to Christ. "A voice crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord. Consider in this view: -
I. THE STRENGTH OF THE LAW.
1. It was a voice - a Divine voice. In spite of the confusion not unmixed with disappointment, none doubted whence it came. It gave a Divine authority to the commandment even when given through a mediator.
2. It was adapted to the condition of those who heard it. A revelation must be fitted for those to whom it is addressed. (Illust. a highly-finished picture is of small value to the half-blind; they can better appreciate a rough sketch in coarse, bold outline.) The animal, or natural man, as exemplified in the character of Israel in the wilderness, could not have understood anything more spiritual; its religion is obedience. The natural man can only be reached by such sensual methods as his nature can respond to. Through them the spiritual nature, which is cradled in the natural, may be educated and fostered, prepared to receive in due course that higher revelation which befits it.
II. THE WEAKNESS OF THE LAW.
1. It was only a voice. As the spiritual nature grows (cf. infants attaining consciousness) it craves for something more than this. It needs not a voice only, but a presence. From the first we find Israel longing after a "similitude." Even Moses (Exodus 33:18) beseeches that God will show him his glory. Later the cry grows ever more distinct through psalmists and prophets, itself a continuous preparation for the fulfilment ultimately reserved for it.
2. Evidence in the law itself (cf. second commandment). A fence to guard an empty shrine, but a shrine kept empty only in preparation for some coming inmate. A preparation for the Incarnation. The Pharisee comes to worship the fence; the idolater ignores it; both illustrate the weakness of the merely "vocal" revelation.
III. CONTRAST WITH THE GOSPEL. Christ is "the Word made Flesh;" the express image of God. Not a voice only, but a person. The more perfect revelation indicates a fuller development in those to whom it is addressed, but we must remember that a fuller development implies also a greater responsibility. [The offence which we condone in the child, is unpardonable in the man. Mistakes made by the half-blind are no longer excusable when a man can see.] If Israel fell and was rejected, must not our far greater privileges be followed, if profaned, with deeper ruin? (Cf. Hebrews 12:25, 26; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.) - G.