Today’s reading is about the famous giving of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps as you’ve read through you’ve noticed that different from the general notion that the Ten Commandments were first known as Moses came down the mountain with the stone tablets, God actually spoke in the hearing of the people His commands to them. How truly awesome that must have been!
Although there are a lot of important details to be found in these chapter, I’d like to focus today on the three broad messages that we see here. That God shows Himself to be holy, real, and fair.
Chapter 19 emphasizes the holiness of God. The people were to consecrate themselves; boundaries were to be placed around the mountain so that no one would trespass and “break through” to the Lord to gaze; God descends onto Sinai in a cloud with fire and smoke and lightning and thunder; heavenly trumpets and thunder fill the air with sound; and touching the mountain (whether you’re an animal or a human) is to be punishable by swift death. God is different than anything that we know and it is emphasized over and again that He must be treated as holy in attitude, deed, and word. Different than any monarch or president, different than men’s pagan notions of the gods, God is holy. And how should that translate to our worship? And how blessed should we feel that He calls us, invites us to pray, to give our burdens to Him, and that we should be rescued from our own sins against Him by Him.
God is also real. The Lord could have merely allowed His commandments to be carried down the mountain by Moses; after all, could there really be any doubt about God’s reality after the show of power in Egypt? But God wanted the people to know, really know, that He was real; so, He speaks to them directly. By doing so, God short circuits any foolish notions that Moses was pulling all these commands out of his own back pocket — God really did say this stuff. But the direct speaking of the commands terrified the people — so much so that they ask Moses to tell God to please never do it again; speak through Moses or someone else! Our God is real, let there be no doubt! He’s spoken through His creation; He’s spoken through His miracles; He’s spoken through His prophets; He’s spoken through the Scripture; He’s spoken through His Son, and He’s spoken through His answers to prayer and His providential care for us. The question is whether we’re listening — as we’ll see later, Israel wasn’t listening too carefully even at this amazing (and that’s really too tame a word) event!
And God is fair. Every time I read through the law God gave — starting with the Ten Commands and running through the rest of them in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy — I’m struck by God’s fairness to mankind. Some folks take issue with the slavery laws, but it’s important to remember that slavery was not the same thing as American slavery of the 17th through 19th centuries; in a world without a social safety net, it was a matter of survival in many cases. And the same could be said for other things that 21st century western minds sometimes wrestle with. But the laws are eminently