Exodus 19 describes Israel arriving at Sinai. This chapter is important for understanding the events at Sinai, where Israel spent over two years (Numbers 10:11). God addressed the people as “the house of Jacob. . . the people of Israel . . .” (Exodus 19:3) as a way to remind them that they were the people of the covenant, the descendants of Abraham. What was about to happen at Sinai was not a new covenant with the people but an extension of the covenant God made with Abraham.

All of the events before and after this moment at the foot of the mountain assume that God is the Creator. The whole earth belongs to him, yet he made Israel his “treasured possession” (19:5). The LORD would not be the God of the priest, or the king alone, but the God of Israel. The whole nation would become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:6).

A powerful manifestation of God, a theophany, dominates this passage. God does not always appear in such a fearsome manner. In fact, in 1 Kings 19:11-13, the LORD appeared to Elijah in a gentle way. Yet, in Exodus 19, the powerful theophany had a purpose: “so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you” (19:9). God was validating Moses’ leadership.

The theophany produced a state of awe, almost like terror (19:16). Although the Israelites were in a covenant relationship, one in which God treated Abraham as a friend (Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23), God made it clear to them that the LORD was God and they were his creatures. In this context of his power and authority, God revealed to the Israelites the Ten Commandments.

The commandments were the way for people to live in this covenant relationship with God. It was what made it possible for sinful people to live with a holy, powerful God in their midst.

EXODUS 19:1-6 – 19 In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.

And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

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