We’ve seen how the Lord delivered his people from their captivity in Egypt and he brought them safely through the Red Sea. And we’ve seen how, through those events, the Lord was revealing the good news of the gospel, because just as the Lord delivered the Israelites from their captivity, so the Lord Jesus Christ delivers all his people from our bondage to sin and Satan and death. And just as the Israelites passed safely through the Red Sea, leaving behind their old life of misery to begin a new life of freedom, so, through faith in Christ, all of God’s people pass from spiritual death to spiritual life and they leave behind their old life of sin and misery to begin a new life of freedom with Christ.
But we’ve also seen how the Israelites were looking forward to entering the Promised Land of Canaan, where they could come into God’s holy dwelling place and enjoy his presence in their midst. And we too are looking forward to entering the Promised Land of Eternal Life where we will come into God’s holy dwelling place in the new heavens and the new earth and enjoy his presence in our midst for ever and for ever.
And then we’ve also seen how the Israelites were living in the in-between time, which is the time in between their deliverance from Egypt and their arrival in Canaan. And we’ve seen how the in-between time was a time of testing and trouble, because they were faced with a shortage of water and a shortage of food; and they were faced with enemies who wanted to attack them. But the Lord provided for them: he provided them with water to drink; and he provided them with manna to eat; and he protected them from their enemies. And, of course, we too are living in the in-between time, because while we too have been delivered from our old life of sin and misery, we haven’t yet reached our final destination which is eternal life in the presence of the Lord. We’re not there yet. We’re only pilgrims on the way.
And in this in-between time, we’re to trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ, who provides us with all we need to sustain us on the way. And he’s able to protect us from Satan who wants to destroy our faith. And so, while we go on living in the in-between time, we’re to trust in the the Lord Jesus Christ who is able to help us to continue along the narrow path that leads eventually to eternal life in his presence.
So, we’ve seen how, through all of these events which happened to the Israelites, the Lord was revealing the good news of the gospel and his great plan for the everlasting salvation of all his people. And in chapter 18, which we were studying the last time, we also saw how the Israelites needed God’s law. They were having all these disputes and they kept coming to Moses who was the only one who knew God’s will and who could judge between them. And so, chapter 18 prepared the way for chapters 19 and 20 and beyond when the Lord revealed to them, and gave to them on stone tablets his laws to show them how they were to live as his people.
But, we also thought about how the giving of the law on stone tablets was only to make do until the new covenant came into force, because in the new covenant — inaugurated at the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus — God promised to write his laws, not on stone tablets, but on our hearts which have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. And so, believers today not only know his law, but we have the Spirit to help us to obey him. And even when we go astray and when we disobey him, he re-assures us that — for the sake of Christ who died for us — he will remember our sins no more.
So that’s where we’ve got to in the book of Exodus. And so, we come to Exodus 19; and you’ll see from the opening two verses that three months after leaving Egypt the Israelites came to the Desert of Sinai and there, they camped in front of Mt Sinai. Well, that in itself is significant, because it’s the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise to Moses in chapter 3. Do you remember? The Lord appeared in Moses in the burning bush; and announced that he has heard the cry of the Israelites; and he had come now to rescue them by the hand of Moses. But Moses hesitated:
Who am I that you’re sending me to confront Pharaoh?
And the Lord said:
I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you, Moses, have brought the people out of Egypt, the Israelites will worship God on this mountain.
And the mountain the Lord was referring to was Mt Sinai. And so, we see how the Lord kept his promise and he rescued them from the Egyptians and he brought them to Mt Sinai where they will worship him. We can always count on the Lord to keep his promises and to do all that he has said he will do.
And now that they have arrived at Mt Sinai, we read in verse 3 that Moses went up to God and the Lord called to him from the mountain. Now, what’s going on in this chapter? Well, there are really three things. In verses 3 to 8 we’re given a summary of God’s covenant with the Israelites. Then, in verses 9 to 15, the people prepare to meet the Lord. And in verses 16 to 25, Moses led the people out of the camp in order to meet the Lord. And that leads into chapter 20 where the Lord gave his people who had gathered at the foot of the mountain the Ten Commandments to keep.
Verses 3 to 8
This evening we’re going to spend our time on verses 3 to 8; and we’ll come back to verses 9 to 25 next week. And verses 3 to 8 contain a summary of the covenant which God made with the Israelites at that time. In this chapter, we’re given a summary; and then the covenant is laid out in more detail in chapter 20 and beyond. A covenant, you’ll remember, is a relationship based on a promise. So, when a couple are married in church, they’re beginning a new relationship as husband and wife which begins with a promise:
I promise and covenant to be unto you a loving, faithful and dutiful wife.
I promise and covenant to be unto you a loving, faithful and dutiful husband.
A covenant is a relationship based on a promise. And on this occasion, the Lord made a promise and the people made a promise. The Lord’s promise is there in verse 5:
if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
And the people’s promise is in verse 8:
The people all responded together: ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’
Let’s think a little about the Lord’s promise, which is threefold. First of all, he promises to make them his treasured possession. Well, there’s almost a romance to this expression. Think of a man saying to the woman he loves:
Out of all the women in the world, you’re the one for me. You’re the one I love with all my heart and I will treasure you for ever.
Here’s the Lord saying to Israel:
Out of all the nations of the world, you’re the one for me. You’re the one I will love with all my heart and I will treasure you for ever.
Secondly, he promised to make them a kingdom of priests. If you were at the Midweek on Wednesday, that phrase will be familiar to you, because in Revelation 5 the 24 elders in heaven bowed down and worshiped the Lamb who was slain because with his blood he has purchased people for God from every nation and has made them to be a kingdom of priests. We also came across a similar expression in 1 Peter 2, where Peters referred to the church as a royal priesthood. Well, here in Exodus 19, the Lord is promising to make the Israelites into a kingdom. Now, a kingdom needs a king: and the Lord was going to be their King, which means he would lead them and guide them and provide for them; and also, he would defend them from their enemies. But they’re also going to be priests: some of them will be official priests, priests with a capital P, who will serve in the Temple; but all of them will be priests in the sense that they could worship and serve the Lord and pray to him.
And thirdly, he promised that they would be a holy nation. The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart’. And so, the Lord was promising to set apart the Israelites from every other nation of the world. They would be his special people.
So, there is God’s threefold promise to the Israelites: to be his treasured possession; to be a kingdom of priests; to be a holy nation. However, you’ll notice that his promise to them is conditional. His promise begins with the words ‘if you’. So, if you obey me fully, and if you keep my covenant, then I promise to do all these things for you. If you obey me, then I will do this for you; but if you do not obey me, then I won’t do this for you. And, of course, later on we’ll see how under the terms of God’s covenant with Israel, he promised his people blessings for obedience; and he warned them about curses for disobedience. So, if you obey me, then I’ll do all these good things for you; but if you disobey me, then watch out.
It’s possible to read this and to conclude that their relationship with the Lord was based entirely on their ability to obey him. It seems to be all about law: things they’re to do and things they’re to avoid. It seems to be all about law; and their obedience to the law. And so, we find ourselves asking: What about the gospel? What about God’s grace: his kindness and goodness to his people? What about faith? Are these things missing from this covenant? Is there no place for grace and faith in this covenant? In the Old Testament, was God a God of law only, and not a God of grace?
Look back to verse 4 which is vital for understanding the Lord’s covenant with them at that time. In verse 4, the Lord is instructing Moses on what he is to say to the people. And this is what he is to say to them:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
Do you see? The Lord was reminding them of what he had already done for them. What had he already done for them? Well, he’d already saved them: he had delivered them from their enemies; and he had delivered them from their slavery. They were once oppressed by the Egyptians; but the Lord overthrew the Egyptians. They were once enslaved in Egypt, but the Lord carried them out of Egypt and he brought them safely through the Red Sea and he brought them safely through the wilderness to meet with them now at Mount Sinai.
So, even before mentioning what they had to do for him, the Lord reminded them of what he had already done for them. So, before introducing them to the law, he reminded them of how he had delivered them from their misery in Egypt. And so, the One who is now commanding them to obey him, is the One who has delivered them. Before he speaks to them of his law, he reminds them of his grace. And so, to obey him should not be hard or difficult or a burden for them, because the One they’re to obey is the One who loved them and who saved them from their slavery. And that’s why the Israelites were so willing to respond in verse 8 and to promise:
We will do everything the Lord has said. Of course, we’ll do everything the Lord has said, because look what he’s already done for us.
The Covenant of Grace
This covenant is not the only covenant we read about in the Old Testament. So, let me take a few minutes to explain how this covenant fits in with all the other covenants which we read about in the Old Testament, because it’s important that we understand that all the covenants we read about in the Old Testament are connected. And they’re all connected, because they’re all reveal to us in different ways something about God’s covenant of grace.
What’s the covenant of grace? Well, this is God’s promise — which we find throughout the Bible — it’s God’s promise to deliver his people from our sin and misery and to bring us into a state of salvation by the Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ the Lord. That’s the covenant of grace in a nutshell. And in order to receive this salvation, God requires from us faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re to believe in him. But God also promises to give his people the Holy Spirit who enables us to believe. So, in the covenant of grace, God promises to deliver us by his Son; and he promises to give us the faith we need in order to receive that salvation.
So, that’s the covenant of grace. What other covenants are there in the Old Testament and how are they connected to it? That’s what we’re going to think about now. And so, very near the beginning of the Bible, we have the promise, or the covenant, which God announced to Adam and Eve and to the serpent, that someone who was descended from Eve will crush the head of the serpent. And believers have always read those words from Genesis 3 as an announcement of the coming of the Redeemer who would destroy the Devil and all his works.
Then there was the promise, or the covenant, which God made with Noah. After the flood, Noah and his family and all the animals came out of the ark. And the Lord made a promise that, even though every inclination of our hearts is evil from childhood — so even though we deserve to be destroyed because we’re sinners who sin continually — nevertheless he will not destroy every living creature as he did in the days of Noah. Instead of destroying us, he will restrain his wrath and he will preserve and keep the world so that, in due course, when the time is right, the Redeemer will come and deliver his people from the punishment we deserve for our sins.
Then there was God’s promise to Abraham. Do you remember? God promised to give him a people and a place. So, he promised him many descendants and he promised to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan to live in. And the Lord also promised that all nations of the world will be blessed through one of Abraham’s offspring. The Lord was referring to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who was descended from Abraham and who came to bless us by giving us the forgiveness of our sins and by filling us with his Spirit.
Then there was God’s promise to King David in 2 Samuel 7. God announced to David that David’s son will also be God’s son and he will reign for ever. Now, in one sense, God was talking about King Solomon, who was to succeed David as King of Israel. But, in another sense, he was talking about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, but who is also the Son of God, and who now rules for ever and for ever from his throne in heaven.
So, there was the promise announced to Adam and Eve of a Redeemer who was coming. There was the promise to Noah that God will preserve the world so that the Redeemer could come. There was the promise to Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through Abraham’s offspring. Then there was the promise to David of a coming King who will rule for ever. And then there’s this covenant, the covenant which God made with the Israelites in the days of Moses, and which is summarised in Exodus 19 and which is laid out in more detail in chapter 20 and beyond. And in this covenant, the Lord revealed to his people that there were laws for them to keep.
But in this covenant, he also revealed to them that there were sacrifices for them to offer. And all of those sacrifices which they were commanded to offer were signs to teach them about the one, true and perfect sacrifice which the Redeemer would offer to God for the complete forgiveness of all our sins. All of those Old Testament sacrifices — of bulls and goats and lambs — were designed by God to teach them to believe in the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And so, do you see? All of the covenants which we read about in the Old Testament are related to the one covenant of grace and to God’s promise to deliver his people from our sin and misery by his Son. And so, when we come to study the Ten Commandments and all the other laws and commandments which make up this covenant which God made with the Israelites in the days of Moses, we’re to understand that while this covenant contains lots of laws, and while it says lots about obeying God, it’s all related to God’s promise to save his people by his Son, Jesus Christ.
However, as we read the remainder of the Old Testament we discover that the Israelites broke this covenant. God had said to them:
If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then you will be my treasured possession; and you will be a kingdom of priests; and you will be a holy nation.
And even though the people promised, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said’, nevertheless the people turned away from the Lord and they did not do what he said and they did not obey him fully or keep his covenant. Again and again, the Lord sent prophets to rebuke them and to warn them, but they did not listen. And so, in due course, the Lord allowed their enemies to invade the land and he allowed his people to be taken away into exile. If they obeyed, they would be his treasured possession; but they didn’t obey and he gave them up to their enemies. If they obeyed, they would be a kingdom of priests; but they didn’t obey and he let other kings rule over them. If they obeyed, they would be a holy nation, set apart for him; but they didn’t obey and so he scattered among the nations. All of this happened to them, because they broke the covenant the Lord made with them at Mt Sinai.
However, the Lord remained gracious and kind; and in due course he announced a new covenant. We thought about this the last time. Because they broke the old covenant, the one he made with them in the days of Moses, he promised through the prophet Jeremiah to make a new covenant with his people. And in this new covenant, he promises to write his law on our hearts; and he promises to remember our sins no more. And through the prophet Ezekiel, he promises to give us a new heart to love him; and he promises to give them the Holy Spirit to help us to obey him.
And so, instead of remembering our sins, the Lord promises to forgive them. And instead of writing his law on tablets of stone, the Lord promises to write it on our hearts, hearts which are renewed by the Holy Spirit. And he also promises to fill us with his Spirit to help us to love the Lord and to walk in his ways.
And this new covenant — which God announced through Jeremiah and Ezekiel — was put into effect by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was put into effect by his death, because the Lord Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins in full, so that God no longer remembers them or holds them against us, but forgives them. And it was put into effect by his resurrection, because after the Lord was raised from the dead and after he ascended to heaven, he poured out his Spirit on his people. And the Holy Spirit, living inside us, is able to help us to walk in his ways and to keep his commandments and to do his will.
In Exodus 19, the Lord said to his people:
If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then you will be my treasured possession; and you will be a kingdom of priests; and you will be a holy nation.
But the people did not obey him fully, and they did not keep his covenant. However, in the New Testament, after the coming of Christ and his death and resurrection, the Lord says about his people in 1 Peter: ‘you are a chosen people’, which is another way of saying that you are God’s treasured possession. And he says about his people in 1 Peter: ‘you are a royal priesthood’ which is another way of saying that you are a kingdom of priests, called to worship and serve the Lord your King. And he says about his people in 1 Peter: and you are ‘a holy nation’, a people set apart from the world to belong to God. And notice, he did not say:
If you obey me, you will be a chosen people, and a royal priesthood, and a holy nation.
He didn’t say that. Instead, he says to all those who believe:
You are a chosen people; you are a royal priesthood; you are a holy nation.
And the Lord is able to say that about us, not because we’ve obeyed him fully — because we haven’t — but because the Lord Jesus Christ has obeyed him fully. Because the Lord Jesus Christ did everything the Lord said he should do in order to redeem us, we’re now delivered from our sin and misery through faith; and we’re brought into a state of salvation through faith; and we’ve become God’s treasured possession and we’ve become his kingdom of priests and we’ve become his holy nation through faith in Jesus Christ, our Great Redeemer.
Sometimes people tell me how they received an upgrade. You know, they were flying somewhere, and out of the blue, they were offered an upgrade to first class. Or they were checking into a hotel, and out of the blue, they were offered an upgrade and a suite of rooms to stay in. They received something they did not pay for. Well, when we think of our lives — all the things we have done wrong; all the ways we have disobeyed the Lord; all the shameful things we have done — when we think of our lives, we know we deserve nothing, but the punishment of hell. But then, out of the blue it seems, the Lord lifts us out of the condemnation we deserve and he makes us his treasured possession; and he brings us into his kingdom of priests; and he adds us to his holy nation. We didn’t deserve it. But he’s given us these privileges. And the reason he’s able to give us these privileges, is because of Jesus Christ, the Great Redeemer who delivers us from our sin and misery and gives us an everlasting salvation.
And so, we ought to trust in him, because he alone can save us. And we ought to give thanks to God, for giving us such a Great Redeemer and for promising all who believe such a great salvation. But we ought also to obey him. The covenant God made with the Israelites reveals to us God’s law which he wants us to keep. But as well as giving us his law to keep, he gives us a new heart to love him, and he gives us his Spirit; and his Spirit, living inside us, is able to help us become more and more willing and able to keep his commandments and to walk in his ways, while we continue along the narrow path that leads, eventually, to everlasting life in his presence.