Title: Stand Back or Draw Near
We are walking in the light of Pentecost (Shavuot), the biblical feast that from a Jewish point of view celebrates the giving of the Torah. Interestingly, they use the word give rather than receive. Why? According to the sages of Israel, the receiving of the Law occurs every time you study the scriptures but Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at a historical moment in time.
To help us better understand the heart of our Holy Father, I want to relate the Sinai experience of Pentecost to the New Testament experience of the same.
As we look at verses in the book of Exodus, I want you to be alert to correlations in Acts 2. Specifically, we are looking for evidence of God's intent and purpose. Beyond the obvious, what was his master plan behind delivering the children of Israel from Egypt? If we discern that, it provides enormous insight into his purposes for the church—for you and for me.
The LORD called to Moses out of the mountain, saying, Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. - Exodus 19:3-4
Here is a clue that something significant is going on. More than just taking "you" (collectively) out of Egypt, it is a matter of coming to somebody—the LORD. God is indicating there is a purpose in redemption. In other words, "I have brought you to Pentecost by way of Passover because I have a purpose in your salvation. I have a meaning in your redemption."
Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. - Exodus 19:5-6
But this act of God's sovereign election was not a reward; it was not for their egos or privileges.
It was an election for his purposes that became their responsibility. The children of Israel were elected for service to the Almighty. "I have brought you out of Egypt to be set apart to me; to serve me in all the earth as my people, a kingdom of priests."
Somehow in the mind of God, he selected these people about whom he said, "I didn't choose you because you were great. I chose you because you were the least so that what is done through you will bring honor to my name, not to your name" (see Deut 7:7). He has redeemed you because he has a task for you, and that task involves being a kingdom of priests. He wants you to be kohanim.
A kohen is a priest—the basic meaning is one who can approach or draw nigh unto God. "I want you to prepare yourself for special service. You are to be the priests who draw nigh to me on behalf of all the earth because I choose to bless all the earth. I want the knowledge of my name to cover the world like the waters cover the deep.
The LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people." - Exodus 19:10-11
Notice God clearly states he is coming for a people, not a person.
Never before or since in the history of religion has there been a theophany (a manifestation of God) before a whole nation. Every religious founder claims some personal revelation, some mystical experience, and based on that, forms a religion. But this was not a private mystical encounter for Moses, it was a public revelation for the sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The moment arrives—On the morning of the third day—and according to rabbinic calculations, it was the 6th of Sivan, 2448. It was a morning when all would tremble. 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 (Ex 19:16).
You do not walk tall when you draw nigh to the presence of the holy God of heaven and earth; you tremble. Like Isaiah, you are undone. At this awesome place in the desert, God appears. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God (19:17). To meet God, what an awesome statement.
Let's turn to Exodus 20:18-19 to see the people's reaction to this manifestation of the high and holy God. Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the shofar and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die."
Every time I read that, I am reminded that the Scripture tells us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).
If you let your sight determine your relation to God, it does not work—either in the positive or the negative sense. Terrified by this manifestation of God's presence, they responded as victims of their senses rather than disciples of his faithfulness.
So, they see the thunder and lightning, they hear the sound grow louder and louder, they tremble with fear, and what do they do? They stay at a distance. What is a priest? One who draws near. Then they say to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die."
On the one hand, we must not lose the awareness that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). But on the other hand, we must also be aware that the purpose of our salvation is to serve him as priests. And so Moses encourages the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin." While the people stood back, Moses, as a priestly intercessor, drew near to the thick darkness where God was (20:21).
Redemption comes with a responsibility to serve the Lord of heaven and earth.
Salvation is a high calling, a divine commission to be a kingdom of priests unto him. So what happened when the people, standing far away in fear, sent Moses up the mountain to hear for them? They failed. They fell into the greatest sin in Israel's history—the idolatry of the golden calf.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.