Exodus 19-21: The Sermon on the Mount

1.  The Father and the Son on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19)

2.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)

3.  Mosaic law – the Sermon on the Mount (Exodus 21)

1.  The Father and the Son on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19)

The verses in Exodus 19 suggests that Moses and Israel went up to the wilderness of Sinai (‘thorny’) on the third new moon.  Don’t be thrown off by the term ‘new moon’ – the Jewish calendar system is based on the new moon which rises at the beginning of every month; hence the Hebrew term for month “chodesh” which means new moon.  This also means that Israel went up to the wilderness of Sinai on the third month. v.3-6 summarises the events of the previous chapters:

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4(F) You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how(G) I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be(H) my treasured possession among all peoples, for(I) all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a(J) kingdom of priests and(K) a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

The real question is what is the meaning of the law?  v.3-6 seems to suggest that God has saved the Israelites from the Egyptians, and it is all provided by Him.  What now of this obedience to his voice and keeping his covenant?  Is this salvation by works?  But wasn’t the picture of the Israelites walking through the Red Sea a sign of salvation already?  We will turn back to this question in just a second.  Meanwhile, v.6 is very very important in understanding why Israel was chosen to be God’s nation – “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” – indeed, not just the Levitical line, not just the saints mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but Israel is to act as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation entirely!  For whom then?  Just for God’s pleasure?  No, not only.  But also for the pleasure of the surrounding kingdoms who also need to hear the gospel (e.g. Jonah).

Exodus 19 is an amazing chapter – nothing like it has been seen throughout the history of mankind (Deuteronomy 4:32).  But surely, it is just a meeting with God, just as it has been happening all along with Jesus Christ in the form of an Angel? (Genesis 8:1, 12:7, 17:1, 26:2, 26:2, 26:24, 35:1, 35:7-9, 48:3; Exodus 3:2, 3:16, 4:5).  But this is no mere Christophanical appearance (as amazing as that already has been!).  Deuteronomy 4:15 says:

15(A) “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since(B) you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire…

See how Mt. Sinai is referred to as Horeb here.  It suggests that the place has two names.  An interesting observation is that Sinai has been referred also to ‘Sin’, which Sinai draws its inspiration from; and Sin is a semitic lunar-deity.  Contrarily, Horeb is also known as ‘desert’, and/or ‘glowing/heat’; hence the analogy that Horeb and Sinai are respectively displaying something of the sun and the moon.  Perhaps this is fitting for the very situation happening at the mountain which even the sun and moon pointed towards, whilst there was a glowing heat in the midst of this wilderness.  Above all, the Israelites saw no form, as opposed to seeing the form of God as Angel!  Then WHY the change of approach/appearance?  Why shouldn’t he stay as an Angel?

That question would make no sense if we don’t understand the Trinity as an active doctrine from alpha to omega.  Thus, v.10-15 explain it:

10the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and(P) consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them(Q) wash their garments 11and be ready for the third day. For on the third day(R) the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.(S) Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot;[a] whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When(T) the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14So Moses(U) went down from the mountain to the people and(V) consecrated the people;(W) and they washed their garments. 15And he said to the people, “Be ready for the(X) third day;(Y) do not go near a woman.”

How odd.  Hasn’t Moses been already conversing with the Angel?  What’s this business in v. 11 about “the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai”?  Isn’t the LORD already speaking to Moses; if so, why does he refer to himself as “the LORD”… unless he is referring to someone else?  And all of this occurs on the third day, which of course is not short of its symbolism as I’ve stated in my entry on Genesis 1, day 3 of creation.  And only when the trumpet is blown can people ascend this holy hill, this holy mountain on the third day.  Notice in v. 13 – No hand shall touch him, and v. 21 – the Lord warns Moses lest the LORD (another LORD) breaks out against them.  If the Angel was already the LORD speaking (v.10), then this other LORD in v.11-13/v.21 is also someone holy – same in essence, but different only in number (a la Justin Martyr) to the LORD conversing with Moses.

Indeed, we have Jesus Christ (v.10), speaking of God the Father descending to the top of Mount Horeb/Sinai (v.11-13)!  Paul Blackham has some important things to say about this though:

“When we think about God the Father coming from heaven to earth, being located in one place rather than another, we must be careful not to overstate this.  The Living God fills the whole universe.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit live a life so infinitely beyond all created existence.  Nevertheless, within the Bible it is clear that the Father and the Son do uniquely manifest their presence in particular places.  Thus, we may speak of the Father enthroned in heaven and the Son sitting at His right hand.”

The verses given should convince you that the grammar and the language clearly point to two Lords, and that the reason Deuteronomy 4:15, 32 were written is to point out the exclusivity of this scenario!  If however you are the type who prefers extra-biblical interpretations of Scripture (as opposed to Moses himself commenting on the Exodus 19 event) then here is a bit of Philo for your pleasure, who wrote prior to Christ’s first advent on his commentary on Numbers 16:48 in his “Who is the Heir of Divine Things” (205)-(206):

“And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator.  And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immoral God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race. (206) And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, “And I stood in the midst, between the LORD and you;” neither being uncreate as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order; and to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work.  For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace.”

Mountain

I have already spoken of the Mountain of God in my posts in Genesis concerning the “Garden of God”, but it does not hurt to re-cap and give more detail concerning Mount Horeb/Sinai.  In Deuteronomy 4:36 and Nehemiah 9:13 the LORD had spoken from heaven, as if Mount Sinai was enjoined to heaven and Moses peered into third heaven!  It was on this mountain that Moses saw the heavenly realities (Hebrews 8:5) which prompted him by the LORD’s guidance to create a tabernacle to match such realities.  This mountain, covered in fire, is akin to that of the firey bush in Exodus 3, and of course pointing further back to the fire on the holy hill, guarding Adam and Eve from the garden and the tree of life in the garden.  So, the Mount was a boundary between Third Heaven and earth.

But, despite the Mountain being such a boundary and that Moses himself had reaped such wonderful privileges from the LORD which was not exclusive to him, but also given to the Israelites (v.13 – they shall come up to the mountain!), the Israelites remained at the foot of the mountain (v.17).  They trembled (v.16) at the sound of the trumpet, rather than rejoiced.  Indeed, they had treated Moses as someone special, despite Moses and Aaron both insisting that they themselves are not the Mediator gods!

2.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)

The sermon on the mount begins in Exodus 21, and prior to that is the 10 Commandments.  The unseen, invisible LORD (aka the Father – c.f. Colossians 1:15 for this valid name used by Paul referring to the Father) would not be seen in this form again until Luke 3:22,9:35; John 12:28-29 during Jesus’ incarnation.  Clearly, Jesus’ incarnation is at least of equal worth to the giving of the Ten Commandments (if not more, given the more frequent ‘appearance’ of the invisible LORD)!  Exodus 20:2 begins:

2(AQ) “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Indeed, this is past tense: He brought the Israelites out of Egypt.  He saved the Israelites.  This is similar to his statement in Exodus 19:4 about His act of salvation, and NOT their act of self-salvation.  And the Israelites’ faith stems very much on this repeated refrain of Him being the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt. It is a statement meaning to connote trust, hope, and faith.  It therefore comes naturally after such a statement of God-salvation, God himself requires of them their obedience in living as God tells them to, for their lives were ransomed by God, for God.  The Ten Commandments are not about bondaged life; it is NOT above all about works-salvation.  Rather, they are VERY much about liberation AFTER salvation; it is about living a new life under God’s command, rather than return to their old life.  There is therefore nothing about further salvation; but rather, it is all about God’s completed saving act and our response as people already saved to that wondrous act.

To do justice to Christian living, rather than seeing the Commandments as merely a “guide” or even as far as a strict moral framework:

Commandment

Scripture

1. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – this is built on the fact that the Israelites had already experienced redemption

20:2

2. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – this assumes that the LORD is their God, and that he is jealous of their love and faith

20:3-6

3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. – he is not only called the LORD or Yahweh, but they are expected to treat his Name properly and seriously!

20:7

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – thus, they set apart a day holy to the LORD, the seventh day of Rest pointing to the ultimate Rest in new creation, which Canaan merely represents.

20:8-11

5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. – note that this is limited to the land, and this is about inheriting the Promised Land and eternal life. Glen has written a good piece on why this speaks only of the land at http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/tenwordslaw.htm

20:12

6. You shall not murder.

20:13

7. You shall not commit adultery.

20:14

8. You shall not steal.

20:15

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. – commandments 6-9 are explained in Matthew 5 as well, and they are not merely civic duty, but display Kingdom living as well!

20:16

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. – Paul in the book of Romans implies this as one of the worst sins, for it is in our heart which stems the temptation to sin, whereas the previous Commandments are all outward actions, the last but not least 10th Commandment refers to the greatest sin of coveting. This displays a lack of trust and reliance on the LORD’s provision.

20:17

In the link provided for in the 5th commandment, Glen writes well concerning the oneness of the law (Deuteronomy 12:32) of Moses which I will not go into here, but which you can read from clicking on that link to his paper on the Mosaic Law and the Gospel.  Ultimately, it is unbiblical to rely on the Aquinian three-fold classification of the law (civic, moral, cultic), when Scripture speaks so clearly that God the Son is the perfect expression of the law of God, and that all laws and Scriptures point towards Jesus Christ (John 5:39).

How sad it is that the people responded so poorly to the LORD:

18Now when all the people saw(BL) the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid[e] and trembled, and they stood far off 19and said to Moses,(BM) “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20(BN) Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to(BO) test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the(BP) thick darkness where God was.

The people stood far off!  They stayed at the foot of the mountain!  They were scared of the trumpet, the silver trumpet (Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 10; Revelation 8 ) which signifies the coming of the LORD on the third day when we are taken to new, dry, sea-less land!

3.  Mosaic law:  the Sermon on the Mount (Exodus 21)

Thus, the remaining laws refer to the wonders of new Kingdom living.  God is radically changing their lives.  But the problem is – can they see Christ in all of this?  Not yet!  For they only received the firstfruit of the kingdom, and this is but a mock-up of the new creation.  The Mosaic law is not something they can do now, but it is something they live out as a firstfruit of what they shall do perfectly in new Jerusalem.  We will be obeying the law of God, the law preached in this Sermon on the Mount, perfectly when we are given not only a newly uncircumcised heart but also looking forward to the new body.  This is the lesson of the holy priesthood (Exodus 19:6), the redeemed Church of Christ living out new Kingdom livestyle before the new Kingdom actually comes.

Some things to note about the following aspects of the laws taught immediately after the 10 commandments; they are basically a further explanation of the 10 commandments!

(a)  Laws about Altars (Exodus 20:22-26) – this relates to the first three commandments

The altar is kept natural and holy, and if made of stone it must not be of hewn stones for our work will only profane it.  Rather, the stone should not be hewn (rough) – and we should not go up the steps to the altar, nor expose our nakedness to it, which are both acts of profanity (most probably because they would be touched by iron tools, commonly interpreted as instruments of war; but our LORD is teaching about the resting of Israel at Canaan, and all peace comes from the LORD).  Such is true of our Christ, who is not made of hewn stones but is himself The Stone of all stones, a stone which we need not work anything more upon; an altar given to the LORD which is made from earth and not from the handiwork of man which is undoubtedly imperfect in comparison to the LORD’s instructions.

But this does not stray from building altars altogether – altars are meant for worshipping JESUS, and not for our own adoration.  The rock will stay as it is – and not sculpted according to our view of God.  There should be no graven image of Him – but it is a symbolism of the greater Rock.  Look at Gideon, Manoah and Samuel (Judges 6:24, 13:19; 1 Samuel 7:17 respectively)

(b)  Laws about slaves (Exodus 21:1-11) – this relates to the Sabbath (commandment 4)

“He shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free” (v.2) – just as we shall serve six days, and on the seventh we shall be freed from the curse of work.  But v.5-6 is extremely prophetic: if we, as slaves of Christ, plainly say that “I love my LORD, my wife, my children; I will not go out ‘free'”, then I have identified myself with my master before the LORD God in the heavens (the Father).  My master Christ will spiritually bore through my ear with an awl, and I will be the doulos, the servant, the slave of Christ forever.

v.7-11, some may see as a result of the curse of man struggling with women in Genesis 3; but God is providing for the women.  He is essentially telling the men to take care of the women.  In a similar way, we are called to provide for our wives; a lot can be said about God here – this isn’t a struggle between two sexes.  This is a complementarian view of men and women having different roles simply because they are different genders.  What is interesting is the juxtaposition of v.7-11 after v.1-6, supposedly concerning male Hebrew slaves.  There is no favouritism between the two; God is simply stating that they are treated differently, but there is no hint of superiority or inferiority between the two sexes unless you imply such meaning into the text which is meant to display a spiritual truth about Christ and the church, about man and a woman.

(c)  Laws about striking and killing by men and animals (Exodus 21:12-32) – this relates to commandment 5 and 6, concerning honouring your parents and murder

v.13: “But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee.” – such is the prototype of the refuge cities, and indeed God is a merciful LORD.  What is interesting here is how a man should find refuge – v. 14 says: “you shall take him from my altar”.  It is implied here that if the ‘murderer’ is at the altar of worship, then he will not die.  But, as v.14 says, if you take him from God’s altar, then “he may die”.  This altar made of untempered rock is meant to display their reliance on the Rock of Salvation, Jesus Christ.  But the symbolism of taking him from Christ, is that he never found refuge in Christ.  He approached Christ without true repentance; v.14a explains: “if a man wilfully attacks another”, and then goes to the altar to proverbially ‘hide behind Jesus’ skirt’, then that is not true repentance, and neither true salvation.  It is like the Israelite, hiding behind their genealogy, but not depending on the true spiritual Rock as their righteousness.

v.15 is however more of a strict liability – whoever strikes his father/mother shall be put to death.  Nothing about refuge, nothing about the altar.  Indeed, this seems to be a weightier sin than murdering your brother or neighbour; for the father and mother figure is meant to portray the relationship between the Father and the Son.  This is striking, not murdering one’s father and mother!  Indeed, one should therefore take Ephesians 6 very seriously, as Jesus did when he obeyed Mary to return home after days of quarreling with the Jewish teachers.

v.16 then jumps to the commandment about stealing (commandment 8 ) – and this is also grave.  This is God’s proclamation of judgment on the 10 brothers of Joseph who sold him to the Ishmaelites/Midianites.  If you aren’t clear about God’s view about the 10 brothers, and whether the 10 brothers’ actions should be praised for fulfilling God’s plan or not, this verse should confirm God’s judgment on their sinful action, despite using it for His own glory.

v.17 goes back to commandment 5 – even a curse/dishonor/reviling against one’s father/mother should be punishable by death!  No doubt, the relationship between the Father/Mother and us as sons and daughters is VERY different to that of our neighbour or brother!  If the Father and the Son were to have a rift in their relationship, I can also imagine the destructive force behind it; the universe may actually implode because of the Son’s disobedience, perhaps implying his disobedience to even fulfill the plan of the cross!  Such a disobedience is not only punishable by death; rather, it will lead to death!

v.18-26 shows the meaning behind the commandment concerning murder; God speaks more about striking than murder!  This concords totally with the meaning behind the commandment.  God is of course about details, but he is painstakedly saying that there is full restitution for the damage caused (v.19, 21, 23-25, 27).  This shows a VERY important truth about Jesus’ death on the cross (as it effectively refers to this commandment of murder when the non-Christians effectively revile and despite Him, nailing Him to the cross).  Everyday we sin outside of Christ, we are effectively murdering Him as the Jews did.  But there will be a full restitution – Judgment Day is that full restitution.  If Christ is the source of our live (ex Christos), and by the Spirit can we be physically alive (let alone to be living in Him as a Christian), then us taking away his life literally means that he will take away ours.

Similarly, when Christ was on the cross, he bore all our sins and there was full restitution for those sins – there was the wrath, the punishment on Christ, which is only a type of punishment on all those who sin and not repent.  The punishment on Christ is only a foretaste of the True Punishment on the Judgment Day on all non-Christians; for Christ has already taken the brunt of the restitution of our sins as Christians on the cross… but the non-Christian has no Sacrificial Lamb to take the brunt of the restitution awaiting them.  God is shown to be fair in his punishments in these verses, and the weight of the sin is balanced by the weight of the punishment; just as the weight of our sins is balanced by the weight of the punishment on the cross… which shows how utterly disgusting our sin is in the eyes of our Triune God, that it takes the death of Jesus to be a sufficient ransom!

(d)  Laws about restitution (Exodus 21:33- Exodus 22:14) – this relates to commandment 8 (stealing) and commandment 10 (coveting)

The latter parts of Exodus 21 goes directly into Exodus 22.  Let us wrap up these laws in the context of the 10 commandments in the next post.

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Exodus 19-21: The Sermon on the Mount

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