The Altar, Sacrifice, and Worship – Exodus 20:18-26

Previously we have witnessed one of the most epic scenes in the Old Testament in Exodus 19:1–20:17. The Lord displayed his awesome presence to the people at Mt Sinai. He also spoke to them from the mountain in what we know as the Ten Commandments. Israel’s reaction was to tremble! They told Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Verse 21 concludes, “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”

In our text in Exodus chapter 20 verses 18-26, the Lord continues to speak with Moses upon the mountain. First, the Lord essentially reiterates the first two commandments concerning having no others gods and making no idols. While we may just pass over this, we must realize that when the Lord repeats something, the people of Israel (and we today) need to pay close attention! Secondly, the Lord continues with instructions for altars, sacrifice, and worship in verses 24-26. The Lord sets guidelines for making altars. While we have seen sacrifice and worship throughout Genesis and Exodus, this is the first time we read a set of rules for making an altar. Back in that time, pagan altars were quite elaborate. But God is very clear that this altar was not to demonstrate the craft of man. Whether it was to be an altar of earth or stone, it was to be constructed simply, thus directing attention to God and not to the work of man’s hand. Also in these verses we find the Lord giving guidelines for sacrifice and worship. He directs Moses to two types of sacrifices upon the altar, burnt offerings and peace offerings. In His mercy, right after giving the Law, which the Lord knows they will break, God makes a way for the people to atone for their sins.

On Sunday we will look at altars, sacrifice, and worship in the Old Testament, but we will also look at these things from a New Testament perspective and see how they even apply to our corporate worship today. It is wonderful to see how revelation progresses in Scripture from the Old to the New Testaments. We have seen it before most strikingly in the Passover in Exodus 12, and we will see it again in our text and beyond as we move forward through Exodus.

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Exodus 20:1-17 – The Ten Commandments of God to Israel

In His glorious covenant with Abraham, the Lord promised that He would make Abraham a blessing to many nations (Genesis 12) and also that Abraham would: a) have an heir, b) his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and c) they would inherit the land of Canaan (Genesis 15). Today in hindsight and with the progressive nature of revelation, we can see how all of these promises have come to pass, but the fulfillment was not as evident at the time Moses wrote Exodus. Abraham had an heir and his descendants were many, but they were bound in slavery in Egypt. The Lord miraculously set them free from their bondage and is bringing them into the Promised Land. On this journey they are called to the very mountain on which the Lord spoke to Moses in chapter 3. In what is truly an epic event within Exodus and all of the Old Testament, the Lord will again speak; this time not only to Moses, but to all the people of Israel. In our text and the verses that follow, God gives what is known as the Mosaic Law. It is a covenant that God made with Israel.

We’ll open up our text with first looking at the giver of the Law who is none other than Yahweh! Then in verses 3-17 we will see how the Law reveals certain attributes of the Lord Himself! Finally we will find Israel’s reply after receiving the law. Israel already answered Moses and said, “All that the Lord commands we will do” (Exodus 19:8) and will affirm this again in Exodus 24:3. But of course, they could not keep their word.

Why could Israel not do as they said they would? Was there a problem with the Law? No; it was with the people’s heart. They needed the Law written afresh on their hearts (Deuteronomy 30:6-8). They needed to be born again! Their failure to keep the Law points the Israelites to their sinful hearts and their need to repent and trust in the Lord. The Law also points to the sinless One who would come and fulfill the Law completely. So, the Law points forward to Jesus Christ! (See Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 4:15; and 1 John 3:5). We will close the message looking at the many tests in the New Testament about the Law and its function in the life of the believer in Christ.

 

 

 

The Aweful and Powerful Presence of the Lord – Exodus 19:16-25

From the Lord hearing the cries of His people in bondage, to Moses’ call on Mount Sinai, everything that has been spoken in the book of Exodus leads to our text in chapter 19:16-25. The Lord declared that Israel would worship Him on the very mountain where God had spoken to Moses in chapter 3. Israel has been brought to the mountain of God and has been there three days. They have been set apart for these three days to prepare to meet the Lord. Our text opens with the Lord’s presence displayed on the mountain. 16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

As the Lord descends upon the mountain, the natural is supernaturally transformed. Can we imagine what it would have been like to witness this powerful and aweful presence of the Lord on this third day on Mount Sinai? The skies begin to come alive with thunders and lightnings! A thick cloud envelops the mountain! The sound of the trumpet blows and gets louder and louder! The scene is described further in verse 18 as the mountain is likened to a great furnace with smoke billowing about as the mountain itself trembles! The Lord’s holy presence is seen by Israel as a nation, and they tremble in fear. Israel witnesses firsthand what Isaiah saw in a vision. Like Isaiah, Israel feared at the sight, and even Moses trembled as we discover in Hebrews 12. Praise the Lord, by Jesus’ sacrifice Hebrews tells us we have nothing to fear. Hebrews 12:22 contrasts what Israel witnessed and what we partake in as believers – But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. So, brethren, prepare to come to the mountain of God in Exodus 19:16-25 as we also witness, via His Word, the sights and sounds of the Holy One of Israel descending upon Mount Sinai.

 

 

 

 

 

Prepare to Meet the Lord – Exodus 19:9-15

The LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.

The LORD also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them 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. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” (Exodus 19:9-15)

The people of Israel are about to meet their God on Mount Zion. He instructs Israel on what they need to do and how they are to prepare for this event. They are to prepare to meet and hear from the Lord face to face. In three days time the Lord’s glory will be manifested on the mountain before their eyes. Please meditate on our text in Exodus 19:9-15 this week. Are you prepared to meet the Lord of all, the King of kings, the one who was, and is, and is to come? It’s a sobering thought to think the very next moment in our lives could be the last moment here in on earth and our lives in the present. The Israelites are about to meet their God, and at any moment we are all about to meet Him also. May you and I be ready for that great and awesome day.

A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation – Exodus 19:1-8

In Exodus 2 the Lord heard the groanings of His people and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While Moses was in the wilderness, he had an encounter with the Lord on the Mountain of God. There the Lord told Moses He would deliver the people from Egypt and promised Moses, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain(3:12). The Lord foretold this and it’s coming to pass in our text in chapter 19.

The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now He makes a covenant with all of the people of Israel as a nation. This is what we call the Old Covenant or the Law of Moses. Chapter 19 begins as Israel is camped at the base of the mountain of God, or Mount Sinai. We are treading on holy ground as we enter our text. All Scripture is God-breathed, but some texts are weightier than others, and this is one of the weightiest texts in Exodus and possibly all of the Old Testament. May we approach our text on bended knee as we marvel at the awesomeness and power of the Lord.

At such an important moment Moses records the very day they arrived at the mountain, in the third month. Moses, the Lord’s mediator, goes up the mountain in verse 4, and God speaks to him. First, the Lord, Yahweh, identifies that He is the one speaking. Second, the Lord reminds Israel of what He had done for them. He destroyed their enemies and brought them here as an eagle cares for her young. But third, the Lord adds a condition, sometimes referred to as a conditional covenant. The Lord says, “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.” The people reply, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

This is a continuation of the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham. Throughout the Old Testament, we see that Israel failed to keep the Mosaic covenant. This covenant will show Israel they can never keep the Law fully, and it will drive many to the Lord for salvation, as evidence of the Lord’s faithfulness to His covenant and to His elect.

 

The Ministry of the Body – Exodus 18:13-27

In next Sunday’s text we reach the second scene of two involving Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, before the epic encounter with the Lord at Mount Sinai. In the first scene we saw how Jethro heard what the Lord had done for Israel, believed the Lord, proclaimed what he believed, and ultimately worshipped the Lord. Now in this second scene, which takes place the next day, Jethro observed Moses dealing with the people of Israel around him all day long. He said in verse 14 of chapter 18: “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”  And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the decrees of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good.” You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” Jethro saw that all Moses did was not good, so he gave him godly counsel to seek help from other men who feared God. Jethro’s counsel was both for the good of Moses as well as all of the people. Moses heeded his counsel and Jethro went back to his land.

First this text teaches us that no man, not even Moses, can handle everything. We see something similar today in our churches where pastors, deacons, teachers, and evangelists are getting burned out from doing all the work of the ministry. Much wisdom comes with godly people helping those whom the Lord has ordained as under-shepherds. All of us in the body of Christ need to serve where we can. But this scene is also profound in its meaning and place just prior to Israel’s reaching Mount Sanai, where they will receive the Law of God. The people needed to know the Lord’s decrees and laws. They were having disputes without knowing how to resolve them. At Mount Sinai the Lord would formally give all of the people His law (Exodus chapters 20-23). There they will find out how to respond to one another, as the Lord reveals to each of them how they should live. But, as we’ll see as we continue in Exodus, even this will fall short; as ultimately their need is to have the law written on their hearts.

 

 

What the Lord has Done in Me – Exodus 18:1-12

The Lord has brought the Israelites out of Egypt and they are closing in on Mount Sinai where they will witness a tremendous manifestation of the Lord’s presence in the giving of the Ten Commandments. Many call this epic event the heart and center of the book of Exodus. But before they reach the mountain of the Lord, there are two scenes involving Moses’ father in-law, Jethro. In the first scene, Jethro, a priest of Midian, meets Moses again for the first time since Moses left Egypt. Although Jethro had heard all that God had done for Israel, Moses gave him a first-hand account of what the Lord had done. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them (18:8).

Hearing these words from Moses, Jethro rejoiced for all the good the Lord has done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. Jethro exclaimed, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.”  Jethro heard, rejoiced, and he believed, exulting, “Yahweh is greater than all gods!” Jethro worshiped the Lord along with Moses and Aaron, with a sacrificial offering before God.

It is an amazing scene! Although only the Lord knows if Jethro was truly converted, nevertheless it is a wonderful picture of how the Gospel of God is spread – this good news of salvation, not merely from Egypt, but from sin and its penalty that changes hearts and minds. The good news of salvation must be declared (see Psalm 96:3; Mark 16:15). We are all called to be witnesses of what the Lord has done and will do. It is done corporately and individually. Let us continually proclaim the glories of the Lord to our family, friends, neighbors, and the world, Salvation is of the LORD Jesus Christ!

Hosanna, Hosanna, to the Lamb that was slain. Hosanna, Hosanna, Jesus died and rose again.