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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Exodus 19:10: Clean clothes

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes

Before moving on in Exodus 19, I want to highlight a couple of further things in the text at which we looked recently. First of all, this bit about the clothes wash!

Someone pointed out that clothes speak of intent. For example, if you see a woman in a bridal dress you know she intends to marry; if you see someone in a football kit you know they intend to play in a match. This theme of washing clothes is one we can follow through in the Bible, and we find it in the New Testament as well as the old. It reflects an intention to live as holy a life as possible.

The holy life does take intentionality.

John Stott writes about Ephesians 4, and Paul’s teaching about a new set of clothes:

“Then we must actively cultivate a Christian life. For holiness is not a condition into which we drift. We are not passive spectators of a sanctification God works in us. On the contrary, we have purposefully to ‘put away’ from us all conduct that is incompatible with our new life in Christ, and to ‘put on’ a lifestyle compatible with it.” (Italics mine).

PRAYER: Lord God, if holiness is to be pursued, help me to go after it with all my might, even as I lean on your strength.

Exodus 19:10-15: Pursue holiness

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”

14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”

If we leave aside the details which were specific to that historical moment and to these unique people, we nevertheless find at our passage’s beating heart an abiding principle: that call to holiness without which “no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14; see also James 4:6-9 for an important New Testament parallel to Exodus 19:10-15).

We cannot escape the Biblical emphasis that holiness matters. But it is possible for us to fall into at least two extreme responses to this call for Holiness:

  1. Super-spirituality: To delude ourselves into believing we have arrived at some sort of ‘sinless perfection’, or that we can. (I read a rather tragic story recently of someone who was regarded as a spiritual giant in the rather extreme church circles in which she moved. She was in so many ways a sincere woman, and she believed she had arrived at this rarified ‘sinless’ state. But her sons were traumatised by her parenting – deeply scarred. They experienced her as, in many ways, an abusive woman). This is not to deny, by the way, that in the Christian life you do tend to get what you go in for, and that there are people who are shining examples of closeness to God. That being the case, it makes the next extreme all the more sad;
  2. To throw in the towel altogether out of a sense of weakness and failure. Hebrews 12:14 begins in this way: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy…” God wants our holiness, and on our side holiness is to be pursued, drawing on all the grace God continually gives.

‘Exodus reflects the way biblical thinking works. The Word of God is designed to be life-changing…’ Alec Motyer, ‘The message of Exodus’, p.203.

Exodus 19:9: Anointing

The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.

We have noted previously how Moses serves as a model for preacher – leaders in the church today. He meets with God, hears His voice and passes on His Word. We know for sure that Moses was not perfect. (He had his moments!!) Nevertheless, he had about him a spiritual authenticity that might otherwise be described as ‘the anointing.’

Let’s not miss the importance of this point: a leader may or not be articulate. (Moses clearly felt that he was not). He/she may be obviously gifted, or otherwise. But if they endeavour to walk with God and bring His Word to the people of God, these same people will recognise a certain indefinable something about them, and have confidence in them. They will sense that this man/woman is ‘real’. There is no substitute for that, whatever we call it! It lies at the core of genuine ministry.

Exodus 19:9a: Living with the mystery

“The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud..”

God can come to us in any way He chooses. In the Bible we see Him manifesting His presence in numerous ways, and ultimately, of course, in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Sometimes God comes to us in a “dense” cloud. His ways are regularly mysterious, and although He is with us we may not see Him.

I was reflecting on this recently, and then I picked up Joyce Huggett’s book, ‘Listening to God.’ A very dear friend loaned it to me a little while back, and I’ve been slowly working my way through it as part of my morning devotions. Having just thought about God coming in “a dense cloud”, I found myself reading about a period in Joyce’s spiritual pilgrimage when she was going through a ‘dark night of the soul.’ Someone (who she describes as ‘a spiritual friend) said to her:

‘I feel so excited by this darkness of yours. You see, when you stand in the howling desert like this, you never know how God will next come to you. What you do know is that he will come. I believe God is encouraging you to look for him round every corner because he is coming – and he’s coming soon’ (p.155).

It is not for us to dictate how and when God should meet us. We know He ‘moves in mysterious ways’.

At the end of the chapter I’ve just finished, Joyce quotes this prayer. I believe it is appropriate for today:

‘Saint Catherine of Siena, Lord,

Said you are like the sea.

The more we know of you,

The more we find;

And the more we find of you,

The more we want.

Yet we never really understand you.

I don’t like that idea at all.

I want to know about you, Lord.

Just as I want to know about the sea

Or space or electricity.

But if it’s true that I can’t know it all

Then keep me wanting to know.’

Exodus 19:7,8: A bit rash

So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

We need to be careful what we promise in God’s presence don’t you think? There is a clear warning in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

2 Do not be quick with your mouth,

    do not be hasty in your heart

    to utter anything before God.

God is in heaven

    and you are on earth,

    so let your words be few.

3 A dream comes when there are many cares,

    and many words mark the speech of a fool.

4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfil it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfil it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.

Of course, if you have made a rash promise, it’s not too late to start to fulfil it from today – and to look for God’s help in doing so. The truth is, we are unable to do anything God requires of us except by His strength.

The Israelites said, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” But they couldn’t. It is only under the terms of the new covenant that the required obedience is made possible:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel

    after that time,” declares the Lord.

“I will put my law in their minds

    and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

    and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33

Thought: The Spirit of God will equip us to do what the Word of God tells us we ought to do.

Exodus 19:3-6: Trust and obey

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now 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, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

If verse 4 looks over its shoulder at the past, to what God did, verses 5,6 look forward to the future. In a nutshell, the Israelites were being called to trust and obey. God gave promises for their faith and commands for their obedience. When you think about it, this is the pattern of salvation we have experienced: We are delivered from a power greater than ourselves, and brought into a life of believing God’s Word and doing His will.

It is important to note that the children of Israel were not saved by obedience (works), but God saved them and called them to obey. As they did so, they would stand out as a distinctive people in the world.

‘What was true of the ‘old’ covenant is true of the ‘new’, and we enter on exactly the same basis of grace and continue in exactly the same obedience of faith.’ Alec Motyer: ‘The message of Exodus’, p.197.

Again, Motyer helpfully writes:

‘The significant if with which verse 5 opens relates not to covenant status but to covenant enjoyment. Status comes by the acts of God; enjoyment by the responsive commitment of obedience. Obedience is not our part in a two-sided bargain, but our grateful response to what the Lord has unilaterally decided and done…The hallmark of the genuineness of the people of God is that they possess, listen to and obey the word of God’ (p.200).

Exodus 19:4: Superpower-less!

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

Verses 4-6 look back to the past and forward to the future. This fourth verse is very much about what God has done, and in a few words it summarises Exodus chapters 6-19.

Unlike Jethro, about whom we have just been reading in chapter 18, the Israelites had not heard about the Lord’s deeds second-hand, but they were personal witnesses: “You yourselves have seen…”

‘The people had experienced the watchful and supportive guardianship of one so infinitely stronger and more able than themselves, and now they found that that they had been welcomed into his presence and accepted into intimacy with him, not by their own efforts or merits, but because I…brought you to myself…his divinity is expressed in sovereign control and direction of earthly events. Egypt, a superpower of the day, was utterly without power against the will and visitations of the God of Israel.” Alec Motyer: ‘The message of Exodus’, pp.197/198.

A ‘superpower’ proved super-powerless in the face of God’s saving action. This is not the only place in the Bible where we see such a reality. Let’s be encouraged that He can do it again.

Exodus 19:4: The key relationship

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

Both under the Old Covenant, between God and Israel, and in the New Covenant, between Christ and the church, the central relationship is with God Himself. We are called To Him – to be with Him, in our daily lives now, and ultimately to see His face in glory. But the relationship (“eternal life”) begins the moment someone comes to Christ:

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

This now becomes the priority relationship, and it shapes every other. For example, if believers are facing marriage problems say, a fundamental question to be addressed is: ‘What does God have to say about this?’ ‘How should my relationship with Him dictate how I act in these circumstances?’ How can (and will) my faith inform my response?’

The moral chaos Paul describes in the second half of Romans 1 (v.18ff.) has come about because of a lack of a proper relationship with God (21-23), who has been given up for other gods. It is the rejection of the true knowledge of God that lies atop the slippery downward moral slide.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote eloquently about how vital the knowledge of God is for the flourishing of society:

“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you that by your sheer grace and mercy you have brought me to yourself. Help me to pursue you passionately, prioritising this most important relationship of all. Like Paul, I want to know you (more), and I pray that many others will also come to know you. How infinitely precious is this relationship.

Exodus 19:1-3: Preacher, climb that mountain!

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on that very day – they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:

I note also, at the end of verse 6: These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’

Sadly, it has been known for a preacher to lift someone else’s sermons wholesale, from the internet, and pass them off as their own. It’s called ‘plagiarism’, and only in the last month or two, I have heard of people being fired for it. The approach obviously lacks integrity. It is a form of dishonesty, and it will also fall short on power. You can’t borrow someone else’s anointing.

I want to say, though, that I sympathise. I understand the temptation. You’re trying to do 101 things and the time for sermon prep gets squeezed out. Or maybe you’re just feeling ‘dry.’ There may be all manner of reasons/excuses a man or woman brings into play to justify their sermonic pilfering. Once, when I was new into the ministry, I heard a sermon I thought was so good, I felt I had to preach it to my congregation. So I took notes from the cassette tape I was listening to, and pretty much gave it the next Sunday, apart from the odd tweak. I have lived with the regret of that for 40 odd years, and I try to be conscientious about attributing material I may incorporate into sermons from other sources. But I can’t condemn plagiarism without confessing my own sin. The truth is, I didn’t see it as a sin at the time, although I know my conscience was not 100% happy.

Therefore, I want to say, ‘Preacher, get up that mountain and hear from God for yourself!” Your congregation would rather listen to ten simple, authentic words you heard in the presence of God, than several thousand from another preacher (who may or may not have heard from the Lord). Let God speak to your heart and the words you speak from Him are likely to move the hearts of the people.

Remember to go and talk to God about men before you talk to men about God. Bring something fresh from being with the Lord.

And churches/congregations…pitch your tent “in front of the mountain” (2). Position yourselves to meet with God.Never lose sight of how you can affect the power of the preaching in your church just by your prayers. ‘Don’t just stand there, pray something!’ (Ronald Dunn).

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