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Sunday School is a vital part of any ministry. In it, one is able to experience a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. Here at “Word For Life Says,” I want to help you help others. Below you will find resources to help you prepare for your upcoming lessons and my personal summary notes that I use when teaching. May God bless you!
“God’s Covenant with Israel”
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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2013 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original tounless properly quoted/cited. I am glad you like to read my personal summary notes that I use when teaching, but as always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
Moses learned early on in His encounter with God that God cannot be approached in a haphazardly fashion (Exodus 3:2-5). One must be very serious when coming into the presence of God. The standard has to be raised from the normal, and the steps which one treads to approach Him must be done with reverence because He is God.
God would, in this chapter and the ones following, deliver unto His people what would become known as the Mosaic Covenant. This covenant spans from chapters 19-24 of Exodus and unlike the Abrahamic Covenant (discussed in last week’s lesson) that focused the responsibility of fulfillment of its promises solely on God, this covenant required obedience from the people if they wanted to receive the blessings this covenant had to offer (see Exodus 19:5). They were required to be a “holy nation,” (Exodus 19:6).
Just a few months before we reach the point of today’s lesson the people were still feeling the whips of the taskmasters in Egypt. God, through the leadership of Moses, delivered them from the hand of their enemies. These people were God’s people, and as such they were getting ready to enter into a new leg of their journey with Him both physically and spiritually. Physically, they were coming into the land of Sinai, the place where God previously told Moses, “Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain,” (Exodus 3:12). And spiritually, they were moving into a deeper relationship of faith with God through His holy covenant.
Exodus 19:16 “And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud: so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.”
Two months after God’s final blow of the last of the 10 plagues, the death of all the firstborn in Egypt, and Israel’s departure from that land, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 19:1) and are now camped at the base of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:2).
After this, Moses was called up the mount to come before God (Exodus 19:3). From there God begins to speak words of promise and instruction for Moses to relay in the hearing of the people. God wanted them to remember their deliverance and how He brought them out of that land of oppression (Exodus 19:4). Then, God lays out stipulations for being in a covenant relationship with Him. Unlike the Abrahamic Covenant (discussed in the introduction) which was unconditional, the Mosaic Covenant had guidelines, rules, and rituals for the people to follow: “If ye obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant,” God spoke, “then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people,” (Exodus 19:5).
Moses then called the elders of the people together and relayed all of this to them and their status as a “holy nation,” (Exodus 19:6-7). After the which, the people agreed to do what God commanded (Exodus 19:8).
But, now that they have met with Moses it’s time for them to prepare their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to meet with God. Moses was relaying all this pertinent information as God’s mouthpiece to them, but God wanted a one on one audience with His chosen people; His peculiar treasure.
As far as the purpose for that audience, God made it very clear: “Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee forever,” (Exodus 19:9). God wanted them to hear and experience His power up close and personal. He wanted them to hear and bear witness for themselves Him speaking with Moses, that they might believe and listen to Moses as His chosen leader who receives His words and instructions and passes them on to the people. Although the covenant is for all His people it was given to Moses, thus it is referred to as the Mosaic Covenant.
In order for this “meeting” to take off properly what the people do beforehand is of great importance. They had to consecrate themselves before approaching God. Filth had to be washed off, clothes had to be changed, and the people had to be sanctified (Exodus 19:10, 14), or “set apart.” Boundaries had to be set (Exodus 19:12-13). His sacredness was going to pervade that mountain and the people needed to respect His presence. Intimate relations with their spouses were prohibited in order to be viewed as ceremonially clean (Exodus 19:15).
Their instructions were to “be ready against the third day” (Exodus 19:11) and as we enter our lesson with the verse above, we see that the “third day in the morning” has come, upon which the power of God was being showcased.
“There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount.” What the eyes of the people were seeing was fearsome indeed. Imagine standing a ways off, not yet at the base of that mountain, and what appears to be the most horrific and awe-inspiring storm without a storm envelopes the whole of the mountain. This visible representation of God’s presence it was powerful, it was consuming, it was very real, up-close and personal. It was a sight they wouldn’t soon forget and that was the idea. The mountain was saturated with the symbol of God’s awesomeness (compare Hebrews 12:18).
And, if what they were seeing was not convincing enough, then there came the “voice of the trumpet exceeding loud” in their hearing. Audibly I don’t think we can really comprehend what that must have sounded like. When God was giving Moses the preparation instructions for this day He told him, “When the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount,” (Exodus 19:13). Out of the midst of the thick cloud covering the mountain that signal rings out. God is calling for the people to come for this holy encounter.
“So all the people that was in the camp trembled.” And, if they didn’t I would really have to question them. Who can stand before God’s presence in this manner and not be afraid? Who can approach such an encounter with the Holiest of All and not be fazed in the least bit? His presence permeating the atmosphere was not to be taken for granted. Psalm 33:8 says, “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.” He was moving and the people rightly “trembled” at the sight and sound of Him.
Exodus 19:17 “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.”
The signal has been blown and now it was time for the people to move toward where He is. Moses, as their leader and the one whom would receive and relay God’s word to the people, led their approach to come closer to God. This is a position all Christian leaders have to take into account. One of the main jobs of a leader is leading people in their approach and meeting with God. Now it is time for them to come to the “nether part of the mount” or, to its base.
Exodus 19:18-19 “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.”
Words can never really articulate the grand power and uniqueness of God as He descended upon this mountain. But, the visual description should leave one speechless.
Where there is smoke there’s fire – literally (compare Deuteronomy 4:11)! Not in the figurative sense that we have grown accustomed to using that phrase. The mountain was on fire with the manifested presence of God. As a result, “smoke” arose “as the smoke of a furnace.” Normally, this is a picturesque landmark to pass by as they travel the terrain, now it is a sight forever etched in the hearts and the history of Israel. God’s glory was physically moving to come nearer to His people. Wow!
Men struggle in our day to summit peaks such as Mount Everest and the like but when God comes down on the peaks of mountains, these mighty and seemingly unmovable formations “quaked greatly” at His presence. Do we really understand the power and holiness of the God we serve? If we didn’t before, surely after reading of this event more closely, one’s eyes and hearts should gain a new outlook; an eye-opening perspective about our wonderful God.
“When the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake.” When we see in the lesson about the LORD descended upon the mount we almost get the impression that the initial signal of the blowing of the heavenly trumpet has ceased. But, it hasn’t. As a matter of fact, it not only “sounded long” but we read it got “louder and louder.” Catch the emphasis the word is presenting here. It didn’t just get louder. Rather, it got louder and louder. It didn’t let up. It persisted even more.
I can’t imagine how the people were faring at this moment. They trembled at the initial blasting, by now, with the sound continuing and growing more intense they must be in utter terror. The Bible tells us, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man,” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). If the power of seeing those ten plagues be carried out in Egypt didn’t put the fear of God in the Israelites, then surely what they are witnessing here at Mount Sinai would, or one would hope it would.
“God answered him by a voice.” When Moses spoke, God not only heard but He “answered” him with an audible voice (compare Psalm 81:7, John 12:29). As God heard Moses, Moses clearly heard from God.
Exodus 19:20 “And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.”
Going back to our earlier reference of Moses’ previous face to face meeting with God in the episode of the burning bush, Moses knows what it’s like to be before His holy presence one on one. Yet, as a wondrous site to behold as the burning bush was, it was no mountain on fire with lightening and clouds and thunder surrounding it.
Nonetheless, God “called Moses up to the top of the mount.” What was Moses disposition at this time, I must wonder? Deeper the presence of the LORD came near as He “came down upon mount Sinai” and deeper Moses was called to walk in his relationship with God as he was called personally to come nearer. Was Moses nervous? Was he excited? Was he just plain ole overwhelmed by everything that was transpiring before him and the people?
“Moses went up.” As the people stayed, Moses rose. He scaled the side of Mount Sinai to be where God was. Moses obeyed the call of the Lord and he moved accordingly. God is glorified in our obedience! God is pleased when we do what He has asked of us; when we obey (see Duet. 28:1-13 for just one example of many on the blessings of obeying God). There are always two paths or roads of decisions one can choose to travel in life. One will lead an individual to do as God asks, and the other one will lead to them toward the path of rebellion. Moses chose to ascend the path of obedience which led him in an upward motion closer to God.
Exodus 19:21-22 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.”
When Moses arrived at the meeting destination upon the mount God sent him back down with a dire warning for the people. One must not view this as something harsh or irrational; rather it was love for His people God insisted on Moses’ descent. God doesn’t want people to “perish.” Isn’t that why He is holding off His judgment for a time right now? The Bible tells us, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9; see also Ezekiel 33:11).
The plain and simple truth, I believe, is that the people, although terrified at one point, when they saw Moses ascend the mountain must have had a genius idea that it was okay for them to do it also, or at least take a peek. They didn’t physically or else we would be reading about it. But, I think the thought must have crossed more than one mind, tempting them to disobey God and try to “break through unto the LORD to gaze;” to see if they can get a glimpse of God.
This would have, of course, ended in their demise. Just as Moses’ obedience elevated him to be near to God, disobedience can and will have the very opposite effect. Thus, I believe this was done because God didn’t want many of them to “perish.” After all, sin and disobedience often stretches out to those around the offending individual as they often try to follow in the wrong footsteps.
Thus, if the people did have a mind to disregard all they were told, God sent Moses to change their minds; to remind them to choose to take heed to the warnings that were already imposed.
Even the “priests” were not exempt from this strict “charge.” As leaders of the people, they were to be examples. They had to respect, carry out, and obey the ordinances of God. Remember, everything in the Mosaic Covenant hinged on obedience (see Exodus 19:5) and the people readily agreed to it (Exodus 19:8). So, it didn’t matter who you are or what your position was, from the least to the greatest, from the regular Joe to the “priests,” all were required to be sanctified and to obey.
Although earlier the people of Israel, in general, were referred to as a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), there are specific individuals chosen and set aside for the work of God. “Priests” later would be required to “come near the LORD” in a fashion that was not available to the common man. They, too, had to respect how they approached God, lest He “break forth upon them” (see Leviticus 10:1-2 for the example of Nadab and Abihu).
Exodus 19:23-25 “And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it. And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them. So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them”
Moses assured God, in his own human thinking, that this wasn’t going to happen. He insists that proper protocols leading up to this day and the instructions given have been ordered and followed through. Boundaries had been set around the forbidden perimeter with guards to ensure that none possibly break through.
In Moses’ eyes, everything was done right and every ordinance was carried out. But, you know as well as I do, God knows more about the workings of the human heart and its desire to see or obtain the things that it’s not supposed to have. It only took one rule in the Garden of Eden to forbid one thing and sin entered the world. How much more when people think they can actually see the one and only true living God in all of His holiness?
The temptation had to have been great for such an insistent command. Moses needed to move now! “Away, get thee down,” commanded God.
I don’t know how long it took for Moses to climb that mountain and I don’t know how exhausted he might have been, but none of that mattered with what one can assume were lives hanging in the balance. God needed him to go down now!
Before he made his descent, God told him upon his return back up to bring “Aaron with thee” (compare Exodus 24:1, 9). This would be fitting for Aaron who was closely involved in the work that God did to deliver the children of Israel from their Egyptian captors, although he’s not as close to God as Moses is. When Moses claimed his speech wasn’t good enough to be a leader and deliverer of God’s people, God instructed Aaron to take on the role as his mouthpiece (see Exodus 4:15-17). Through all of the times when Moses had to confront Pharaoh, Aaron was there in the work (Exodus 7:1-2). It was the rod of Aaron that turned into a snake and devoured the false magicians’ rods to display God’s power (Exodus 7:12). When God gave Moses the order, it was Aaron who stretched out his hand over the waters and covered the land in frogs (Exodus 8:5-6). To make a long story short, Aaron was used in many ways by God and even became the first high priest of Israel (Exodus 28).
But still the warning remained and in God’s eyes, it cannot be overemphasized: “But let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them.”
“So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.” Moses may not have understood the urgency and all the reasons for the repeated commands, but Moses understood God. And, as he followed the command to ascend the mountain to meet with God, he too followed the command to descend that same mount to speak to the people these dire warnings.
One must never approach God in a lackadaisical fashion. God is to be reverenced just because of who He is: GOD!
Standard Print PDF: God’s Covenant with Israel Sunday School Lesson Summary Standard Print
Large Print PDF: God’s Covenant with Israel Sunday School Lesson Summary Large Print
Below are activities to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
Draw the Scene: God’s Covenant with Israel Draw the Scene
Memory Verse: God’s Covenant with Israel Memory Verse
Below are Activities/Links/Resources to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
“Mount Sinai Craft Idea” (Following this pattern and make your own Moses climbing Mt. Sinai craft. Download and print pictures from the internet and substitute the verse for one from our lesson. Enjoy!)
“Stand Up Moses Craft” (Scroll down to see how to transfer a regular toilet paper roll into Moses. Enjoy!)
“Not Your Ten Suggestions” (Scroll down to the section that says, “Not Your Ten Suggestions” and there you will find a wonderful and easy printable and put together craft that goes nicely with today’s lesson. Enjoy!)
“Climb Mount Sinai File Folder Game” (An actual game board you can print out for your students to play this game in class. What a nice accompaniment to today’s lesson. It’s sure to be fun. Enjoy!)
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