“God has come to test you, that …”
Almost two months elapsed after the people of Israel escaped from Egypt and now “they came into the wilderness of Sinai” (Exodus 19:2) and encamped “before the mountain” (verse 2) – not any mountain! Most dramatic events followed! We should take special notice of what Moses is told by the Lord to tell the people.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples … you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (verses 4-6). Note that powerful little word IF.
The reaction of the people was very good – to begin with. We read “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do’” (verse 8). The mountain before them is the holy mountain; the presence of the Lord is there. “There were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast so that all the people in the camp trembled” (verse 16).
The mountain “was wrapped in smoke because the LORD descended on it in fire” (verse 18).
What an utterly awesome experience! “The people were afraid and trembled … Moses said … do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear [awe] of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (20:20).
Today we cannot come to the mountain of God, but we can come to His word and meditate upon the many wonders it reveals and the intimacy of its personal message, as in the Psalms. But we have to do some searching, like those who search for gold. The discovery of that “gold” is seen in the affect the reading of God’s word starts to have so that human sinful attitudes will attract us less and less and we turn away from Godless behaviour, so much of TV disgusts us. What effect did the close encounter with God have on the Israelites? They should forget the ungodliness of Egypt. They did, but the affect soon faded with most of them.
The ultimate destiny of the people was to become a “kingdom of priests” to the rest of the world, with the Levites the initial role models. As we read on we will see the wide ranging duties of a priest. This could surprise us, for their role included being administrators, doctors, policemen and the like. The final book of the Bible reveals that true followers of Jesus, the ones that God accepts, will one day become a kingdom of priests!
The book of Revelation starts by telling believers that Christ has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father …” (1:6). With that prospect let us make sure we sense God’s testing in our lives – and prepare for a final testing as this world is awed by events such as it has never experienced before – may our faith endure to the end (see Matthew 10:22: “The one who endures to the end will be saved”).