An Earthshaking Encounter
by Peter Kek
Pastor Of Grace Reformed Church
Okay welcome back and welcome to our study on the Word of God this morning. We are looking at Exodus 19. But actually, Exodus 19 should continue on through Exodus 20. You find that it doesn’t stop there. Remember the chapter divisions were not in the original, and so chapter 20 is part of this passage. And what we have here in this passage of Scripture is a most phenomenal event, one of the most awesome scenes in the Bible. And so open your Bible with me again to Exodus 19, and let’s look at this incident here in the lives of the children of Israel. Now we are told at the very beginning of this chapter (verse 1) that the children of Israel had just left Egypt. It’s now three months alright since they left. And so verse 1 says: “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt”.
So on that day, “on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.” So they were in the Wilderness of Sinai. And then they actually arrived from a place called Rephidim in verse 2: “For they had departed from Rephidim, and had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness.”. So Israel came there before the mountain. In other words, they were at the foot of the mountain, and here is Mount Sinai. And then God kind of called Moses up as it were alright. Moses probably seeing the clouds on the mountain, seeing the, you know, a signal as it were for him to go up. And so Moses went up in verse 3: “So Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel””.
And so God says I want you to tell the Israelites or the children of Israel this message. And so in verses 4 through 6 is the message that God gave to the Israelites. Verse 4: “‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Therefore, you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.’ And so these are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”.
Alright so here is a summary of what God wanted to be conveyed to the Israelites. First tell them that the proof of God’s faithfulness to His covenant to their forefathers alright, to their father Abraham is that God had delivered them from the Egyptians. And secondly, He says that the purpose of God in doing so is to make them His special people alright, a royal priesthood alright, a holy nation. And then there is a third thing mentioned here that there is a precondition, and is that they must keep the covenant as defined by the law. So He’s going to give them the law alright. So you’re going to live as My people according to My Laws. Alright, so that was the message that was conveyed to the people. And so he was supposed to convey to the people.
And so in verse 7, we are told that “Moses came and called the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD had commanded”. So he called them and conveyed these messages to them. And the people responded in verse 8: “Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And so Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.”. So that is the setting alright- that is the setting for this passage here. And then what happened next is one of the most terrifying and all inspiring scenes of all the Scripture, and we have a picture here on the screen alright, kind of gave us a visual idea of what happened that day as it is an awe-inspiring scene. And that we see in verse 10: “So then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people, consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. Let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down”.
Now notice this is the significance of this moment. God is saying to Moses go and tell these people to get ready. They are now on the foot of the mountains. He says get them ready, for in three days’ time, on the third day, something of you know something of great significance or importance is going to happen, and that is that I am going to come and meet with these people. Now that is the significance of this moment here. And so the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. I’m not sure if I were to announce to you that in seven days’ time alright when you come back next Sunday, get yourself ready alright. Be prepared, because God is going to come and meet with all of us. Now that must surely be you know something extraordinary. And that is what is going to happen.
So verse 12: “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him”, verse 13, “but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.” And so Moses went down”, verse 14, “from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.” Then”, verse 16, “it shall come to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
And Moses brought the people out to the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.”. And there I got my title for this morning’s sermon: “An Earthshaking Encounter”. Literally, the number of times mentioned here, the whole significance of this event is that God is coming to meet with His people. The Lord came down in a fire, and there was smoke, there was fire, and there was trembling. The whole earth shook and trembled. Now you see, this is indeed an earthshaking encounter. Now the question we want to ask this morning is: What is so significant about this? What is actually happening here? What is so extraordinary?
In fact, it is something that is so extraordinary that even in the New Testament, now the writer to the Hebrews picks this up and put it this way alright in Hebrews chapter 12. Hebrews 12:18-21. Hebrews 12 in verse 18, the writer to the Hebrews said: “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)”.
Now that was the reaction of the people as described here by this New Testament writer. He is writing to the people in the New Testament. You remember that location, that momentous moment, that moment where the people met with God, and how even Moses said he trembled and was so afraid? Why were they so afraid? The reason? Because of what they saw on that day. Because of what they saw on that day. I want to point out here that they saw three things on that day. Number one: on that day, on that mountain, at the foot of the mountain, they saw God. They saw the truth about God. They saw what God was really like. They saw what God was really like. In other words in Exodus chapter 19, what they saw was a visible manifestation of an invisible God. A visible manifestation of an invisible God.
In that sight, as it were, they see something of the truth about God. They saw this: They saw something of the transcendence of God. They saw something of the transcendence of God. Verse 12 of Exodus 19 where Moses says, when God says: “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base.” In other words, he says God is coming to meet with His people. But you see, God is God. Now when God says I’m coming to meet with people, or when the president or the prime minister says I’m coming to meet with you, it is not a usual event. It’s not a normal event, and it’s implied here. It is God, and the people see that God is transcendent. Transcendent in the sense that He is majestic. He is high and lifted up. He is the glorious, sovereign King who is coming to meet with His creatures, His creation.
And therefore, you don’t simply come near. You don’t simply come near God. And that’s what is implied here. So set the bounds as I come and meet with these people, for it is, I was trying to kind of think of how to put this. I think it is expressed in the hymn alright that is in our hymnal: “Our God is far greater than words can make known, exalted and holy, He sits on His throne, in infinite glory He rules over all”. Now that is our God, and that is what the children of Israel saw that day when they saw God, and that is a God revealed in the Bible. You look for example at Psalm 145:3. In fact, you can just read through many of the psalms, you see God as He’s described, as He reveals Himself in His Holy Word. And here in Psalm 145:3, we read: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.”.
Now, these are the ways the Scripture describes this great and almighty God, the God that the children of Israel saw that day on that mountain. That is God. Great is our Lord. Or as the prophet Isaiah tried to describe or tell us about Him in Isaiah chapter 40, and that is how the prophet put it. He says this is our God. This is our God. He writes in verse 9, towards the end of verse 9, he says: “Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!””. Behold your God. Verse 10, Isaiah 40: “Behold, the LORD GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him.”. And verse 15: “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, And are counted as the small dust on the scales; And behold, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.”.
Now you see, the prophet here is trying to help us picture. He says this is our God. Look at all the powerful nations of the earth. They are as nothing before God. God can put them down anytime, and in the moment look at all the great islands of the world. They are as little things to God. Look at all the greatest things in this world, but our God is greater. That is the God that the children of Israel saw that day as God came down on the mountain to meet with them. They had a glimpse of the glory and the majesty of God. I say they saw something of the transcendence of God. But they also saw as they come and meet with God that day, not only they saw the transcendence of God, but they also saw something of God’s holiness and His intolerance of sin.
So when in Exodus 19:18, where we have this description here in verse 18: “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke”. Why? “Because the LORD descended upon it in fire. And its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked (or shook) greatly.”. Now you see, with that kind of image and the picture there, the people (or children) see that God is great, God is holy, and He is intolerant of sin. Now, this is clearly seen in what happened to Aaron’s two sons in Leviticus chapter 10. Later on, you know, in the history of the nation of Israel in Leviticus 10, we have this incident to press home this point upon us that this is God.
Now all through the Scriptures, God is making sure that His people know something of who He really is. And here we have in Leviticus chapter 10, beginning in verse 1, we are told: “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So the fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.”. God killed them. Why? Verse 3: “And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’””. So you don’t want to come near Me as if I’m like you. Those who come near Me must realise they are coming before a Thrice Holy God. And every time we see that where there’s contact between God and man, that is being impressed upon the people.
You remember Moses himself in Exodus 3 and the burning bush when he approached God, He’s being manifested in the burning bush, and God in the voice told Moses step back. Whenever you come and approach Me, you must realise this: that I am holy. You are standing on holy ground. Or you might remember the prophet Isaiah when he had a vision of God on His throne, what did he hear? Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God Almighty. Do we understand something of this concerning God every time we come to God to realise that He is the Thrice Holy God? And so they saw something of the transcendence of God, that is the great and almighty God. They saw something of the holiness of God. And then thirdly, they also saw something of the justice of God. The justice of God.
Back to Exodus 19:19- “And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder”. You see, the blast of the trumpet indicates that the Israelites grasped something of the justice of God, for the trumpet called attention as it were to the Law of God, and the judgment of God to all who dare defile and break His Laws. And so they realised they’re coming into the presence of the great God who is the judge of all the earth. Now one day we are all going to come before this God, and we are told that it will be like this alright as Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 5:10, and he warns us that day will come. That day will come, he writes, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord”.
Now that is a reminder that when we come and meet with God, we are coming before the Judge of all the earth, and He will punish. He will punish everyone who dares to break His law. Remember that this whole scene here is in the context of the giving of the Ten Commandments that follow in Exodus 20. So the terror of the Holy God overwhelmed them. You can kind of almost imagine them crouching low to the ground, hiding their face, and perhaps crying out in fear as we were told by the author to the Hebrews.
They were in fear. In fact, in the following chapter (Exodus 20:18), we are told that “now all the people witnessed the thunderings”. Remember this is still part of the scene right after in this context, after giving the Ten Commandments. And then in verse 18, we are told: “All the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.”. They trembled.
I believe that the great need today is for people to get a glimpse of what these people saw on that day, a glimpse of who God is and how great, how majestic, how holy, and how fearsome is our God. You see, there are many people who claim to want to have what we call an “unmediated experience of God”. Sometimes you hear people say: “If only God will speak to me directly, or if only God would appear to me and show Himself to me. If only God.”. You don’t know what you are asking because the moment God does show Himself to you, you’ll be dead. You’ll be dead. Every time we read this of the people in the Bible who have these glimpse of God, they were crouching in fear. Secondly, on that day alright, they saw something, and that’s why they were afraid. The first thing they saw was that they saw something of who God really is.
Secondly, that day they also saw something about themselves, who they truly are. The truth about men. Now I believe that one of the reasons for the arrogance among men is a weak perception of God. That’s why we are so proud. We are so boastful, but we do not know God. It is therefore amazing to hear people boasting alright about their own righteousness, about their goodness, about how moral they are. One such person in the Bible is the rich young man, that he would tell Jesus: “And what do I still lack?”. And the other one is Paul himself before his conversion alright, he told us in his letter to the Philippians: “You know what? I thought I was a great person.” He writes in Philippians 3 these words, narrating his experience or his attitude before his conversion. He says: “Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so”.
Talk about the rich young man, or about your friend, or talk about yourself who boasts about your goodness, and Paul says: “I more so. I’ve got much more to boast about.” And then he came to realise in verse 7: “But what things were gain to me, I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish”. And he came to his senses as it were. He came to the realization of who he truly was. He said all these things that I was boasting about, they were all rubbish. Yes, indeed rubbish because God said that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags”. The Bible teaches, clearly teaches that there is none good. No, not one. All we have gone astray. We have all gone astray. We are lost.
Now you see in Exodus, the Israelites actually started off quite sure on themselves because we read in Exodus 19:8 when God told Moses to bring His Word to them, now they responded in verse 8 these words: “Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.””. No problem alright. We will do. We will live right. By the time we come to verse 18 of chapter 20 as we read earlier alright, they were now in fear when they heard the Law of God revealed to them in Exodus 20:1-17. They trembled. They trembled. They saw something about themselves, the truth that they were indeed rotten sinners. And thirdly. They saw God, they saw themselves, and thirdly they saw the need of a mediator.
Back to Exodus. They saw the need of a mediator. Now in chapter 20, God revealed His Holy Law to them, and the Law of God reveals God’s holy standard alright. The Ten Commandments reveal to us God’s holy expectation, His holy standard for us, and thereby expose alright our sin. And the Israelites were terrified. They were terrified. And so what do they do now? What should they do now? That God is so holy, and we are so sinful, and one day God is going to come back again. In fact, Spurgeon said that here in Exodus 19 is what we have in some respects, he says, a prophecy and indeed a rehearsal of the Day of Judgment. On that day, the same scenario is going to happen. God says I’m coming. I’m going to meet with people, and there will be terror. We’ll be in fear. What do we do? What did they do?
Exodus 20:19. See, verse 18 said when they saw “the thunderings and the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.”. They dare not come near God. And then verse 19: “And they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.””. They now come to the realisation that we cannot, we don’t meddle with God. God is so holy, and we are so sinful and wicked. There is no way we can come near God and not be struck dead and not be judged because God is intolerant of sin. God will judge every one of us and He will punish everyone who has defiled His Law. And so these people came to that realization, and they knew that they could not come near God. They say: “Moses, you go near on our behalf. You go near on our behalf.
Now that was what they did when they realised that they have come into trouble with the Law of God. It’s the same today in our life alright. Is it not that one of the first things that people do when they get into trouble with the law is to get a lawyer alright, get the defence attorney? And that is exactly what they did here. They come to Moses and say you represent us. You speak for us. You speak in our behalf. And then in verse 21, verse 21: “So the people” alright- “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near”. The people stood afar off. They dare not come near God. They come to the realisation they were not fit. They will be doomed. But Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. It’s amazing. You see, Moses is God’s man. Moses is God’s deliverer for His people. Moses is the mediator chosen alright for the people of God.
And so Moses drew near as the people’s representative. As I said, they were in other words asking Moses to be their advocate, someone to stand between heaven and earth, someone to stand between God and man. We need someone. We cannot approach God just by ourselves. We need someone to approach God on our behalf. Do you realise that this morning? Have you come to have a glimpse of who really God is as we look at this portion of Scripture? Have you come to see something of who you really are as we look at these portions of Scripture? Can you see the distance between us and God? Can you see that there is no way we can approach God by ourselves? We need a Moses. Indeed we have a better Moses alright. We have the Lord Jesus Christ.
First John. 1 John 2:1, and the Apostle John tells us this. 1 John 2:1, and listen to these words of Scripture. The first letter of John chapter 2. In verse 1, John writes: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”. Now we have the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the God-appointed mediator between us and God. We know that by ourselves we cannot approach God, but thank God we have Jesus who is our defence attorney. He will speak for us. But how shall He speak for us? What He is going to say on that day, on the Day of Judgment in our behalf? Verse 2, he says here: “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”. Now Jesus is able to speak for us because He has died for us. Now we are justified because of our faith in Him.
So on that day, on the Day of Judgment, Jesus will standing between us and God, and He’ll say: “not guilty”. These people are not guilty because their sins have been paid in full. It’s been paid in full. We need an advocate. I say any attempt to approach God on our own merit will condemn us. Do you realise that? Now come with me to Hebrews chapter 12 again. Hebrews chapter 12. Just now I was reading the earlier part from verses 18 through 21. We’re told that the people were terrified. Moses was afraid and was trembling when they were there on that day, witnessing this great scene, this awesome scene. And then in verse 22: “But you have come to Mount Zion to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect”.
And verse 24: “to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Now you see, we have Jesus. On the Judgment Day, we need a mediator. We need an advocate, and here the New Testament writer tells us. And Moses here points to Jesus Christ, and we have Him. And so what do you do now? What do you do now that you realise this, that you on your own cannot approach God and that you need Jesus? Verse 25: “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.”. Are you refusing Jesus? Are you still rejecting Him? Don’t you realise your great need of Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment, when we shall meet God? Let us pray.
“Our Father in heaven, we indeed thank You again for this instruction. We pray that You would help us see that indeed You are the great and the sovereign God and that we by ourselves cannot approach You, for we are sinful beings and we have broken Your laws. Lord, we want to thank You that there is a way of approach and that is through your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And we want to thank You that He came to this world to be the propitiation for our sin. He died for us and He redeemed us, and that on the Day of Judgment because of Him by trusting in Him, our sins have been forgiven and we are no longer guilty. And so we want to thank You for that great blessing that many of us this morning have received. We pray and ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.