Scripture: Exodus 19:9-15
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”
When Moses had told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people. He consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 And he said to the people, “Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.”
Theme- Preparing for God’s presence helps us become more aware of God’s presence
- What is the relationship between God coming to the mountain and trusting the leadership of Moses and can we have parallel in the Church today when it is not as likely that God will come in a cloud?
- What did consecration involve and was it a two-day process or was it to take two days because of the number of people?
- Why is there a prohibition about touching the mountain and why is a specific means of execution given for individuals who might trespass the rule?
- What was the consecration process meant to teach the people and how can we adopt and adapt this for our own spiritual journey?
Related texts: Colossians 3:5-11, 1 Peter 1:15-16
Moses was told in 17:6 that water would come out of the rock at Horeb which is related to Sinai, but it is unclear how long the community has been near the mountain. They might be just arriving, or they could have been there for a month following the events of chapter 17.
There are several parallels in language between chapter 19 and chapters 20-24 which shows there is overlap between consecrating oneself and accepting the covenant.
Chapter 19 opens with a geographic progression from Egypt to the current campsite to highlight the Israelites drawing near to the mountain but the mountain remaining a distinct element that they have not touched. And the 3 months is meant to be a symbolic number highlighting the days since Passover.
Consecration is a word for priests and highlights that in some sense the whole community is equal in holiness and priestly duties. It involved ceremonial washing, putting on new (or cleaned) clothes and abstaining from sexual intercourse for a period of time. The point is to step outside of normal daily life to understand how a person is set apart for something different.
For more background watch my video here
Israel comes to the foot of Mt. Sinai and now it is time for them to have their most intense encounter with God to date, and considering what they have seen that is saying something. God offers the people a covenant, a formalized treaty designed to protect the rights and describe the responsibilities of both God and Israel. And for this special event God will be present in a new and powerful way. Imagine being in the position of the people of Israel hearing Moses’ words to them. I imagine that there would be a great deal of conversation around the prospect of God’s arrival and I would imagine that everything every person did in the days leading up to this event would take on new significance.
In many ways, the religious obligation that Israel performs in the days leading up to God’s arrival are foreign to us. Though I see change happening, we do not often appreciate the concept of sacred spaces or sacred times in the way Israel did. Our mindset focuses on how God is equally present everywhere at all times and though this is true, it often leads to a type of complacency. Israel roped off the mountain so that it could belong to God alone for an extremely special purpose. I do not want to give anyone the impression that I think we should go back to a temple with a holy of holies, but we can learn something from how Israel approached the sacred. First, Israel’s action of setting aside a space is a tangible reminder that God is something other. Setting aside a space for God recognizes God’s greatness and that it is in honor for us to encounter God. Sacred space can help us develop humility in God’s presence. When we set aside a space for meeting God and consecrated to that purpose there is an expectation that this space is beyond normal use, our everyday world does not invade it. Creating sacred space helps remind us to step outside of the everyday above of this world to encounter the one who sustains the world. Recognizing a space is set aside to meet God comes with additional consequences for us, namely we recognize that we are entering God’s space, a place where the everyday world does not belong and is foreign. For this moment when God enters this sacred space in an exciting way Israel prepares by ceremonially cleaning themselves, removing the impurities that have contaminated their camp and making themselves ready for God. We might not believe that bathing will cleanse us from the impurities of the world the way that Israel did, but we can still use similar rituals to help us ready ourselves for God’s presence.
How often do we expect God to meet us in a powerful way? When we go to our prayer times or worship services how much confidence do we have in God’s presence? Israel anticipated God, they trusted Moses’ word that God would show up and acted in a way that anticipated this event. They believed Moses and prepared themselves accordingly. Whatever the reason might be, we rarely take multiple days to prepare ourselves for God’s presence. God told Moses, “I want to show up now take two days to prepare yourselves”. Israel was to take two days to recognize how their daily lives made them unfit for God’s presence and to take steps to make themselves ready for God’s presence. What would you do to prepare your house for an out-of-town to visit you, would this be a casual event for you, would you plan, clean, how much would your daily schedule be impacted? This is not a perfect example but it can be helpful for us to think like this when we are expecting God to meet us.
Begin by asked yourself how much your daily life reflects the world that God would want, not just whether or not you sin, but your life how often does the evil in the world touch you? Yes, in one sense this can only be cleansed by approaching God but in another we might bathe or wash our hands with the mindset, “Even though only God can truly cleanse the evil from this world, this is my act showing my desire to participate in God’s work.” We can dress to approach God, symbolically stepping outside our daily world to participate in the world and work God wants. Preparing ourselves in an expectant mindset ready to encounter the creator and sustainer of our world in even more powerful ways.
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