Gleanings In Exodus
27. Israel at Sinai
"In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount" (vv. 1, 2). Thus was fulfilled God’s promise to Moses. When he appeared to him at the burning bush He had declared. "Certainly I will he with thee: and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (3:12). Many difficulties had stood in the way, but they had disappeared before the irresistible execution of God’s counsels like the dew before the morning sun. Israel had been made willing to depart from Egypt, and their masters had been glad to let them go. The waters of the Red Sea had parted asunder so that the covenant-people went through dry-shod. The wilderness of Etham had been crossed so too had the Wilderness of Sin, and though two whole months had passed since they left the land of Pharaoh, not an Israelite had perished with hunger or died through sickness. "Ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (3:12), and they did. No word of God can fail. No matter how the enemy may rage, "the counsel of the Lord shall stand" (Prov. 19:21).
"In the third month... the selfsame day . . . Israel camped before the mount." The time-mark here is important. It supplies a key to what follows. Three is ever the number of manifestation. Jehovah was now to give His people a wondrous manifestation of Himself. Previously, they had seen His judgments upon Egypt; they had beheld His power displayed at the Red Sea, they had witnessed His guiding-hand in the pillar of Cloud and Fire; they had experienced His mercies in the providing of the manna and the giving of water from the smitten rock: but they were now to behold His exalted majesty as suitably was this displayed from the mount.
"And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto Him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you unto Myself. Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people, for all the earth is Mine" (vv. 3-5). These verses have suffered much from the hands of certain commentators. Most erroneous conclusions have been drawn from them. Men well versed in the Scriptures have strangely overlooked other passages in the previous chapters which plainly contradict their assertions. One respected expositor begins his remarks on Exodus 19 and 20 as follows:—"A new dispensation is inaugurated in these chapters. Up to the close of chapter 18, as before indicated, grace reigned, and hence characterized all God’s dealing with His people, but from this point they were put, with their own consent, under the rigid requirements of law." In this he is followed by others of the school to which he belongs. A wide influence has been exerted by this school, and today thousands blindly accept the dicta of its leaders as though they were infallible. Indeed, one will at once court suspicion of his orthodoxy if he dares to challenge their ex cathedra utterances. Nevertheless, it is our bounden duty to test by the Word all that men have to say upon it.
So far as our own light goes, we know of nothing in Scripture which warrants the assertion that "a new dispensation" began when the children of Israel reached Sinai. John 1:17 is often appealed to in proof:—"The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." But this verse is far from proving what is assumed. The Lord does not here say that a "new dispensation began" with the giving of the law: that is what men have read into it. If "the law was given by Moses" signifies that the Jewish dispensation began at that point, then the second clause—"but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ"—must mean that the Christian dispensation began with the coming of Jesus Christ. But it did not. The Christian dispensation did not begin, and could not, till after the death of our Savior. John 1:17 contrasts the ministries of Moses and Jesus Christ.
When, then, did the Mosaic dispensation begin? If not when Israel reached Sinai, at what other point in their history? Without any hesitation we answer, on the Passover night; it was front that night their national history is to be dated, and that the Mosaic dispensation commenced. Previous to that night they had no existence as a nation, no corporate existence; they were a disorganized crowd of slaves. But that night everything was changed for them. Then, for the first time. were they termed an "assembly" (Ex. 12:6). That the Passover marked not only the beginning of their national existence but also the commencement of the Mosaic dispensation, is abundantly clear from the fact that their calendar was then changed by Divine order (Ex. 12:2)!
The new dispensation (the Mosaic) began by the establishment of a new relationship between Jehovah and His people. They were now His redeemed. As we have shown in a previous paper, redemption is two-fold—by purchase and by power. Israel were purchased to God by the blood of the "lamb," they were delivered from their enemies by His power at the Red Sea. If, as some able expositors contend, the crossing of the Red Sea was three days after the Passover night, then the analogy between the beginning of the Mosaic dispensation and the beginning of the Christian dispensation is perfect. In one sense the Christ-dispensation began at the death of Christ, with the "rending of the veil"; in another sense, it began three days later, at His resurrection from the dead.
The leaders of the "school" referred to above teach that, prior to Sinai, God dealt with Israel in pure grace, but that at Sinai they, for the first time, came under law. Such a mistake is even more excuseless than the statement that a "new dispensation" began then. Israel were under law before they reached the Mount of God. Listen to the testimony of Exodus 15:25-26, "And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet; there He made for them a statute and an ordinance and there He proved them. And He said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians." Surely this is plain enough; reference is made to both God’s "commandments" and His "statutes." But lest the quibble be raised that this was prospective, i. e., in view of the Law which He was shortly to give them, we beg the reader to weigh carefully our next reference. In Exodus 16:4 we read that God said, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My law, or no." The meaning of this is explained in v. 23, "This is that which the Lord had said, Tomorrow is the rest of the Holy Sabbath unto the Lord; bake that which ye will bake today and seethe that ye wilt seethe: and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning." Israel’s response to this is given in v. 27 "And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none." Now mark attentively the next verse, "And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws?" Certainly this was not "prospective." It was retrospective. It furnishes indubitable proof that Israel were under law before they reached Sinai.
That there was a marked change in Jehovah’s dealings with Israel after Sinai cannot be denied, and we suppose it is from this premise that the erroneous conclusion has been drawn that a new dispensation then began. Before Sinai was reached, when Israel "murmured," God bore with them in greatest long-sufferance, but after Sinai their murmurings were visited with summary chastisements. How then, is this to be explained? If it was not the giving of commandments and statutes which introduced the change in God’s dealings with His people, what was it? We answer, it was because of the covenant which Israel there solemnly entered into. Prior to Sinai, God dealt with Israel on the ground of the Abrahamic covenant; but from Sinai onwards, He dealt with them nationally, according to the terms of the Sinaiatic covenant. As this is of vital importance to the understanding of the later Scriptures we must dwell upon it in a little more detail.
Genesis 15 records the covenant which God made with Abraham, confirmed later to Isaac and Jacob We cannot now attempt an exposition of the second half of Genesis 15, though it is of deep importance. Briefly the facts are these In verse 6 we read for the first time of Abraham’s justification. Following this, the Lord bids Abraham prepare Him a sacrifice. This Abraham does, dividing each animal "in the midst" Then a deep sleep fell upon Abraham, and while asleep, God promised to bring His descendants, of the fourth generation, into Canaan. Then we read of the Shekinah-glory passing between the pieces of Abraham’s sacrifices—an action which symbolically signified the making of a covenant, see Jeremiah 34:18, 19. Following which, we are told, "In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land" (Gen. 15:18).
Three things should be carefully noted. First, there was only one party to this covenant—Jehovah himself. Abraham was asleep. Its fulfillment therefore, turned alone on the Divine faithfulness. There were no conditions attached to it which man had to meet. Second, it was based upon a sacrifice. Third, it was a covenant of pure grace. Mark "unto thy seed have I given this land." Contrast from this Genesis 13:15. "For all the land which thou seest to thee will I give it!" But now a sacrifice had been offered, blood had been shed, the purchase-price had been paid, a solemn covenant had been made; hence the change from "I will" to "I have."
Now it is of the very first moment to observe that God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt was on the ground of His covenant with Abraham. Proof of this is furnished in Exodus 2:24 where we read "And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob." Again, in 6:3, 4, we find God reminding Moses of this: "And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name Jehovah was I not known to them, And I have also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage wherein they were strangers." It was on the ground of this covenant that the Lord dealt with Israel up to the time they reached Sinai! The last thing recorded before Israel reached Sinai was the giving of water from the smitten rock, and mark how the Psalmist refers to this, "He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out: they ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy promise to Abraham His servant" (Ps. 105:41,42).But at Sinai Jehovah’s relationship to Israel was placed upon a different basis.
In Exodus 19:5 we find God, from the Mount, bidding Moses say unto His people, "Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." There has been much confusion upon this and much consequent error. The Lord was not here referring to His covenant with Abraham (that patriarch is not mentioned at all in the chapter). This is made unmistakably clear from His words, "If ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant." There was nothing about God’s covenant with Abraham that Israel could "keep." There were no conditions attached to it, no stipulations, no provisos. It was unconditional so far as Abraham and his descendants were concerned. But here at Sinai, God proposed to make another covenant, a covenant, to which there should be two parties—Himself and Israel; a covenant of works, a covenant which Israel must "keep" if they were to enjoy the conditional blessings attached to it.
What were the terms of the Siniatic covenant, and what were the conditions and blessings attached to it? The answer to these questions is plainly stated in the Scriptures. In Exodus 34:27, 28, we read, "And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there (on the Mount) with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, The Ten Commandments." Forty years later, Moses reminded Israel, "And He declared unto you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, ten commandments; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone" (Deut. 4:13).
Returning to Exodus 19, we learn there that in response to Jehovah’s proposal to enter into a legal covenant with them, Israel unanimously and heartily accepted the same: "All the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (v. 8). These words were repeated by the people after Moses had made known to them the details of the covenant, "And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do" (24:3). Then the covenant was solemnly ratified by blood. See Exodus 24:4-8.
Now it was on the ground of this Siniatic covenant, not on the ground of the Abrahamic, that Israel entered Canaan in the days of Joshua; and it was on the ground of this Siniatic covenant that God dealt with Israel during their occupancy of the land. This was made apparent right from the beginning. As soon as it became evident that there was an Israelite who had broken the eighth commandment, the Lord declared, "Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them; for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff... And it shall be that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath; because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought wickedness in Israel" (Josh. 7:11, 15). Accordingly we find that Achan and all his family were stoned to death. At a later date, we read, "And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn ways. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, Because that this people hath transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto My voice; I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died" (Judg. 2:19, 21). The rending of the kingdom was because Solomon failed to keep this covenant (1 Kings 11:11). Throughout Israel’s occultation of Canaan, God dealt with them on the ground of the Siniatic covenant. See Jeremiah 11.
A few words upon the circumstances attending the Siniatic covenant must suffice. In verses 10 and 11 we read, "And the Lord said unto Moses, "Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day; for the third day the Lord will come down in the night of all the people upon Mount Sinai." Here we have emphasized what was noted upon the opening verse of the chapter. It was in the third month when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt that they arrived at Sinai; and it was on the third day of this month (twice repeated) that the Lord declared He would "come down in the sight of His people." Clearly, then, what we have here is a manifestation of the Lord Himself. cf. Deuteronomy 5:24. And everything that followed was in perfect keeping with that fact bearing in mind the typical character of that Dispensation.
The people were to "sanctify" themselves, even to the point of washing their clothes. How plainly this intimated that God would draw nigh only to a people who were clean—that it is sin which separates the Creator from His creatures.
"And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death" (v. 12). Much has been made of this in the endeavor to prove that a "new dispensation" had begun, that God was no longer dealing with Israel in grace. But it is only another example of men reading their own pre-conceived ideas into Scripture. Moreover, it is, in this instance, to ignore what has gone before. Months earlier when Jehovah had appeared to Moses at the burning bush and Moses had said, "I will now turn aside, and see this great sight." God at once called to him and said, "draw not nigh hither put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (3:5)!
"And it came to pass on the third day in the morning that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud settled upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled" (v. 16). This, too, has been twisted to mean something quite different from its obvious import. These were the awe-inspiring attendants of the awful majesty of Jehovah, upon whose face none could look and live. Were these phenomena intended to show that Israel had done wrong in entering into this covenant? Or were they designed to manifest the dignity, the holiness, the greatness of the One with whom they were making the covenant? Surely the latter. If proof of this be required it is furnished in 20:20. "And Moses said unto the people, "Fear not, for God has come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces that ye sin not" and cf. Deuteronomy 5:24. Let it not be forgotten that in heaven itself the apocalyptic seer is given to behold a Throne out of which "proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices" (Rev. 4:5)—the identical things witnessed on Sinai!
There is a passage in Deuteronomy which should forever settle the question as to whether or not Israel acted wisely in entering into the Siniatic covenant, as to whether they did right or wrong in promising to do all that the lord had said, and as to whether God was pleased or displeased with them. This passage is found in the fifth chapter of that book. Moses is there reviewing what took place at Sinai. He declares,
"These words, the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me" (v. 22). He then reminds Israel of the response which they made, "And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire), that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders: and ye said, Behold, the lord our God hath showed us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now therefore, why should we die? Per this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the lord our God any more, then shall we die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire as we have, and live? Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it" (vv. 23, 27). And then in verse 28 we are told, "And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto you; they have well said all that they have spoken." Nothing could be plainer than this. God was not displeased with Israel for their avowal of allegiance, any more than he was displeased with Joshua when he said, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).
Finally, it must not be forgotten that Exodus 24 completes what is before us in Exodus 19. There we read of the ratification, of the covenant. There we are told, "And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people, and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (24:7). Now what is of special importance to note is the words which immediately follow, "And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words." The application of the blood to the people plainly signified that God would deal graciously with them. What, then, was the outstanding lesson which Jehovah taught Israel at Sinai? This, that His grace towards them would henceforth "reign through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21).
In closing, let us make practical application of what has been before us. Such a view of God’s majesty as Israel were favored with at Sinai is the crying need of our day. The eye of faith needs to see Him not only as our "Father," as "The God of all grace," but also as the "High and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" (Isa. 57:15), as the "Great and Dreadful God" (Dan. 9:4), as the One who has said, "Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance; behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing . . . all nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity" (Isa. 40:15, 17), read the whole of Isaiah 40. If we beheld Him thus, then should we work out our own salvation with "fear and trembling." Let it not be forgotten that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament is one and the same; He is a God into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall. May His Holy Spirit so reveal Him to us, as the One to be reverenced, obeyed and worshipped.