A. W. Tozer once wrote, “What you think about when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” This is true because theology shapes praxology. In other words, your belief shapes your behaviour. To state it another way, your knowledge of God will determine your knowledge of yourself, and this will colour every area of your life. Contrary to modern philosophies, you are not what you eat—you are what you think.
The children of Israel had been delivered by the loving and powerful action of God. He had borne them on eagles’ wings. He had set His love upon them, simply because He chose to love them! As Moses himself wrote, “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). And, as he points out one verse earlier, this special love from God created special obligations to Him: “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The children of Israel were chosen by God from the nations for the nations.
The nation of Israel was blessed beyond measure to have this kind of a relationship with God. Again, hear the words of Moses in this regard:
For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?
They were sinners whose lives were preserved by the sovereign grace of God. And because of this they were to live in covenant faithfulness to Him. A huge part of that was to obey the 613 laws which were soon to be revealed to them through Moses.
Exodus 19 introduces us to the place where the children of Israel would spend the next 11 months camping with God. Moses would make some seven trips up Mount Sinai to receive instruction and revelation from God for the nation. On Mount Sinai, the sovereign Lord would tell Moses exactly how the nation of Israel was to live so as to fulfil their mandate to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation unto God. We call this the Mosaic covenant.
As we come to this passage we want to grasp not only its historical details and significance but also its relevance to us today. Israel was God’s old covenant people. The church is his new covenant people. And, despite many opinions to the contrary, there is a good degree of continuity between the covenants. For example, both groups were bound to God by a covenant relationship; each covenant was established by God Himself. And just as the Old Testament church was in need of growing in her knowledge of God, so is the New Testament church.
In the passage before us the children of Israel had just pledged their allegiance to Yahweh. Even though they had no specific details regarding what He would expect from them by way of covenant obedience, they trusted Him and therefore they pledged their oath of fidelity (v. 8). Of course, this was a mark of their being God’s chosen people. God saves those whom He can command, and those who refuse to submit to His commands are simply giving evidence that they have never been saved.
In Exodus 20ff, God was going to give Israel the specifics of His covenant. But first things must come first: They needed to know with whom they were dealing. They needed to understand that Yahweh was awesome. And they would find out in what is perhaps the most dramatic scene in all of Scripture.
Because God is transcendent, because He is holy, it was necessary that the children of Israel be prepared for this meeting with God. And we need similarly to be prepared.
Is it not true that all too often we take God for granted? When (if?) we think about God it is generally in an irreverent, even idolatrous, way (cf. 1 John 5:21). We often consider what we think God is like (or ought to be like) and then we create a god of our own imagination. And, as Psalm 115:8 says of idols, “They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.”
This passage should go a long way in helping us prepare to meet God; that is, to hear from God as we meet together before Him.
Each Lord’s Day the church is called by Christ to gather together to corporately worship Him. But when we do, are we properly prepared? Gathering with the church is no mere civic duty that we must fulfil once a week. Worship is a command from Almighty God. And, like the Israelites gathered at the foot of Sinai, when we gather to worship on the Lord’s Day, we gather to hear from God. Therefore, in some ways, we should approach God the same way each Lord’s Day, much as the Israelites were to approach Him at Sinai.
My prayer is that this passage will so inform us that it will conform us to God’s prescribed mandate for how to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
The Declaration of a Covenant
We considered the opening eight verses in our previous study, but it is important for us to refresh our memories if we will have a proper understanding of the text before us.
In the opening six verses, the Lord initiated an undeserved covenant (relationship) with the children of Israel.
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 bore 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 a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
Of course, this covenant had in fact been established long before Exodus 19 through God’s relationship with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Though it may have seemed to the generations in the Egyptian captivity that God had abandoned them, He in fact remembered His covenant with Abraham (Exodus 2:23-25). He therefore saved by grace those whom He had selected by grace, and through the journey to Sinai he sustained by grace those whom He had secured by grace.
He had brought them safely through the Red Sea, protected them from their enemies, and provided them with food and water—despite their frequent complaining. He had unconditionally called them and saved them, and therefore He had a right to command them.
Meredith Kline, who produced a landmark study in the Old Testament, discovered that the covenant theme in the Old Testament follows a pattern that was frequently employed by nations in ancient times. When one nation would conquer another nation, the conquering nation would be considered sovereign, with the right to command the conquered nation. The two would enter into a covenant. If the conquered nation submitted they would be afforded protection by the conquering nation; if not, they would suffer the consequences. The covenant was always a multigenerational one.
The Old Testament is built on these principles. The major difference is that God proved His sovereignty not in defeating the Israelites, but in saving them. Because He had proved Himself sovereign, He had the right to command them. His expectations were not vague. He would make them quite explicit, and clearly state the attendant blessings and curses, which would befall them depending on their obedience to the covenant. And it was a multigenerational covenant.
In short, in these opening six verses God is establishing the basis of the covenant: He is sovereign. They are therefore to submit to the stipulations set forth. Certain sanctions were placed upon the covenant, and obedience would result in a surviving legacy. We call this the Mosaic covenant.
It is important that we not misunderstand the nature of the covenant. Many think of the covenant in terms of, “If we do these things, we will be saved by our obedience.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Let us remember that, before He stated the terms of the covenant, God had already saved the people. It was a covenant of grace, not of works. And yet the privileges of the covenant were attended by responsibilities. The proof that God had saved them would be seen in their obedience.
Now, we must pause here to note that, whilst there is continuity between the old and the new covenant (see introduction), there is also a clear sense of discontinuity. In the Old Testament, God saved a geopolitical nation from political bondage, but under the new covenant our deliverance is not from political bondage. (Just ask many of the believers who are oppressed under Muslim or Hindu regimes!) The new covenant promises deliverance from a far greater bondage: bondage to sin.
Of course, to say that the nation of Israel was delivered from political bondage is not to deny that many Israelites were also saved from their sins. And those who were thus saved would prove their salvation by striving to obey the terms of the covenant.
Sadly, Israel as a nation did not submit to the covenant. The result was the destruction of the people, Jerusalem and the temple, first at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar and then ultimately at the hand of Titus in 70 AD. The latter destruction was final and irrevocable, proof that God had finally and fully brought upon the Jewish nation the curses of the covenant. And yet, of course, those Jews who believed Christ escaped the judgement on Jerusalem because they obeyed His words.
We do not keep God’s law as a means to attaining salvation, but we do, driven by grace, obey Him as proof that we have been granted salvation. Under the new covenant, we recognise that God has unconditionally saved us from our sins and therefore submit to gladly obeying his covenant.
The Declaration of a Commitment
Having recorded the declaration of the covenant by God, Moses proceeds to record the people’s declaration of commitment to the covenant: “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD” (vv. 7-8).
As we have noted, God had not yet revealed the detailed terms of the covenant, but the people responded in unison that they would indeed submit to whatever God expected. This is a wonderful scene, and one to which perhaps everyone reading this can relate. When we are first saved we are quick to state our absolute allegiance to Christ. We are so grateful for our deliverance that we have no problem declaring our allegiance to the one who has saved us.
In Acts 2, when the Jews listening to Peter were convicted of their sin, they immediately asked what they must do to be saved. If Peter had told them to stand on their heads for ten days, thousands of people would have immediately complied. As it was, he told them to repent and 3,000 responded positively to the gospel call that day. They did not debate the conditions, did not agree only in part to submit to what God expected. They wholeheartedly agreed to do what was necessary. And that is precisely the scene we have before us in Exodus 19.
Some have complained that the commitment of the people here was rash. They didn’t even know what God required of them, and yet they committed to wholehearted obedience. I like Alec Motyer’s response to this.
The people’s impulsive response in v. 8 was totally correct—even if uninformed and unaware of their own inability to sustain a life of obedience. But what else do we want to do when we recollect the divine mercies but to pledge total loyalty, to allow gratitude to overflow in commitment, and to vow that life will be different and pleasing to God our Savior from now on?
The question remains however: How will that impulse be transformed into actual obedience? It is one thing (albeit a good thing) to impulsively profess wholehearted obedience, but what is it that will secure this obedience? Motyer offers the answer: “The Word of God transforms our best intentions into actual conduct. Holiness is obedience to revealed truth.” It is by the spoken Word of God alone that our intentions are transformed into actual obedience.
Our commitment to Christ does not end with a nebulous commitment to obey. It is to be marked by actual obedience in areas clearly marked out by the Word of God. Lord’s Day worship is not about sitting in boredom through another church service. It is about sitting obediently under the instruction of God’s revealed Word so that we can learn how to live a life that pleases God. It is a plea for God to reveal His will to us afresh and grant us the grace to live according to that revelation.
We will not be prepared to hear from God on the Lord’s Day until we are first committed to obey. We must gather on Sunday with the commitment of Samuel: “Speak; for they servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:10). We do not ask God to speak and then go home to decide whether we will obey. If that is our attitude then we will not hear God. Only as we commit beforehand to obeying whatever He commands us will we be open to hear from Him.
Why are people bored in worship? One reason is surely that some gather for worship who have in fact never experienced Christ. They have not been saved from their sins and thus God’s Word has no bearing on them.
But others may well be bored because, though they have truly been converted, they do not approach the worship of God with a commitment to obey. When the Jews marvelled at the source of Jesus’ doctrine, He replied simply, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:16-17). In other words, if they wanted to know whether Christ’s doctrine was true, they needed to be committed to obeying it.
I am convinced that one reason professing believers—even true believers—are bored during worship services is that they do not gather with a true desire to know the truth. There is no commitment on their part to hear from and obey God, and therefore they find little in the preaching that is stimulating.
With Christ, it is all or nothing. His call is straightforward: “Follow me.” We must therefore approach worship with a heartfelt commitment to learn.
The Demand of Consecration
This brings us to our text proper. We will consider vv. 9-15 now and then the remainder of the chapter in a separate study.
It was wonderful that the Israelites were committed and willing to obey God, but that was not enough. They needed to be consecrated. They needed to be true worshippers. It was important that they not approach their commitment in a flippant manner and, in order to guard them against this, the Lord instructed them on the proper manner to approach Him.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee forever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: there shall not a hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount. And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes. And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.
Perhaps the people expected to hear the stipulations of the covenant immediately following their professed commitment to obey. That was not to be the case. God was no doubt pleased with their professed commitment, but they clearly didn’t quite get just how holy He was. In vv. 9-15 the Lord helps the people to see how holy He is. When they really understood His character they would listen well.
The Revelation Preceding Consecration
First, God spoke to Moses and told him something of what to expect. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee forever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD” (v. 9).
The Transcendence of God
The phrase “thick cloud” can also be translated “clouds of darkness.” Clouds are often used in Scripture to portray God visiting His people, and the terminology shows that there is mystery about God (cf. Psalms 18:11; 77:17; 104:3; 147:8; Isaiah 14:14).
God is transcendent. The word “transcendent” speaks of God’s “otherness,” His “separateness” from His creation. Whilst He is intricately involved in that which He has created, He is not part of creation. He is completely separate, and therefore incomprehensible to the human mind, even though He has chosen to reveal much of His character to us.
The Israelites had just heard about how immanent God was, how close to them that He was. He had saved them, provided for them, and carried them on eagles’ wings. But lest they think that He was just like them, He would now appear in thick darkness. They needed to understand that whilst He was near to them He was not one of them. He was completely different. He was holy, holy, holy. This understanding would enable them to believe God and His messenger more readily. As Alan Cole puts it,
Cloud and darkness were a frequent symbol of God’s presence. The reason for the manifestation on this occasion seems to have been so that the people should believe in the reality of God’s communication to Moses and thus believe in Moses as well as in God.
As we gather on the Lord’s Day we are to gather having come prepared to meet with God. A worship service is not a time for entertainment, but a time of hearing and submitting to God’s Word. This does not mean that one cannot enjoy worship. There is a place for joy and humour in worship, but the primary goal of worship is to be reminded of the holiness and otherness of God.
The Truth of God
Why did God appear to Moses in “thick cloud”? The Lord Himself gives the answer: “That the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee forever.” In other words, God wanted the people to be convinced that, when Moses spoke, they were really hearing God. It was important that they not mistake God’s Word for Moses’ opinion.
It is important in our worship that we understand the character of God (His transcendence), but it is equally important that we approach worship with a commitment that the Word of God preached is truth. It was important that Moses be of such character that, when he spoke, people would recognise the Word of God.
J. C. Ryle, great Anglican preacher of a bygone era, once said, “My people watch me six days a week to see if they should listen to me on the seventh.” He understood that if he did not spend time consistently in the presence of God, no one would have any good reason to listen to him.
It was said that when Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne walked into a church service, there was often a palpable sense of the presence of God. M’Cheyne died at the age of 29. Why did he carry with him a sense of the presence of God? Because he spent much time in the presence of God.
Those who seek to lead others in the worship of God had better be sure that they have spent time with God. There are few things worse than listening to a preacher who is just doing what he is paid to do. Preaching is a sober task. I often find myself wrestling with God before our church services. At one level, I almost wish that I didn’t have to bear the burden of the Word of the Lord. It is a sobering and frightening responsibility for me, and one that I can only bear by God’s grace.
But the same truth applies to other spiritual leaders. Parents, seeking to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, had better be committed to spending time in the presence of God if their exhortations will be taken seriously. If we do not have about us the aura of God’s transcendence, our children will have no good reason to hear us.
It is a simple fact that people will follow more what we do than what we say. If we say one thing but do the opposite no one will take our words very seriously. Therefore, as we lead others—as parents, disciplers, teachers, pastors—there is a sense in which we must spend much time on the mountain, so that when we return to speak to the people they will be prepared to hear our words as God’s Word. We have a responsibility to adorn the gospel of Christ.
It has been the burden of my heart for many years now that Christian parents just don’t seem to take God’s Word seriously. We approach the task of parenting with the perception that it is a coin toss. Our attitude toward parenting is a hope-so one. But we have a book of promises, which we ought to take seriously. We must so live that when we speak we do so with an authority that our children will hear.
Of course, we all fail. There is no such thing as perfect parenting or perfect leadership. I have found that I do not have to plan to fail. If you were to look at my diary, you will not find planned failure sessions in it. Failure comes quite naturally. But failure presents a powerful opportunity to show the reality of our walk with God as we go to those whom we have wronged and ask their forgiveness. Suddenly, the thick cloud of darkness is brought into sharper focus.
We can apply the same principles to husbands. We love the Scriptural truth that wives are to submit to their own husbands, but we often forget that most of the same chapter is taken with commands to husbands to love their wives. Everything rises and falls on leadership, and it is certainly true that the man makes the marriage. The husband is to love his wife even if she crucifies him. After all, that is precisely what Christ’s bride did, and yet He loved her! When a husband has the aura of God’s presence it is difficult for a wife to ignore that.
And so, in whatever realm you exercise spiritual leadership, it is your responsibility to spend much time in the presence of God so that when you speak your followers can hear God’s Word coming from your mouth.
The Requirements Prescribed for Consecration
Having exposed the people to His transcendence and His truth, and having sufficiently captured their attention, God now prescribes specific rules for the consecration that must precede their worship. They were to “be ready against the third day” (v. 11). That is, they were to spend some time consecrating themselves. Worship could not be rushed. The people must be properly prepared, and this would take time. Curiosity was not enough; they must be contrite and committed. Let’s examine God’s prescribed requirements.
The first aspect of the consecration was for Moses to “sanctify” the people (v. 10; cf. v. 14). The Hebrew word is used often in the Old Testament in relation to sacrifice. For example, Exodus 29:21 speaks of a sacrifice by which Aaron and his sons would be “hallowed.” Similarly, Exodus 29:38-43 speaks of a continual burnt offering by which the tabernacle would be “sanctified.”
I would suggest that this is what is implied by the word “sanctify.” The people could only approach God in worship once there had been a remission of their sins.
We can only hear from God once we have embraced and been cleansed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness must precede worship. It is important that corporate worship begin with a corporate confession of sin. I do not mean that each worshipper must stand and list all the sins that he has committed in the last week. But surely the one leading in corporate prayer should confess sin corporately (whilst those praying with him confess their sins individually!) before we approach God in worship. We must deal with our sin as we come to worship God.
Announcements are an important part of the church service, but once those are out of the way, the call to worship takes place and we come to the mountain. An important part of that process is confession. We will never get out of the preaching of God’s Word what we can if we have a rebellious, stubborn heart that refuses to repent of sin. This may mean making a commitment to make right with someone you have wronged as soon as the service is finished, or it may entail crying out for forgiveness in your heart as you stand there. Whatever is necessary, let us deal soberly with our sin that we might enjoy a time of glorious worship.
A second element of the required consecration was renewal. God commanded the Israelites to “wash their clothes” (vv. 10, 14).
Today, when we are preparing for our worship experience, we simply pull a clean set of clothes from our closet and get dressed. In the wilderness generation, the people pretty much had the clothes they were wearing. They didn’t have the luxury of a dry cleaned suit. Part of God’s requirement was that the people wash their clothes as they came to worship Him.
Philip Graham Ryken’s comments are helpful here: “Clothing often serves as an outward symbol of someone’s true spiritual condition. Here it indicates Israel’s inward need for cleansing from sin before coming into the presence of the King.”
Let me suggest that it does matter how you are clothed for worship. Paul exhorted us to put off the old man and put on (as a garment) the new man (Ephesians 4:20-24). We are to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ before we approach God in worship. We must be committed to be renewed—reclothed—as we come to worship God. Jesus illustrated this truth in one of His parables:
And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son. And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.
Clearly, Jesus was teaching that you can only enter His kingdom if you are properly clothed. And the only acceptable clothing is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You cannot worship God apart from this, because all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
When Adam and Eve sinned they became self-conscious and ashamed. They immediately fashioned clothing of their own, but when God extended forgiveness to them, He immediately reclothed them. That is what we need if we will worship God in spirit and in truth.
Of course, this will naturally lead to another question: Does it matter how we come to church physically clothed? Is God at all concerned about our physical attire? From time to time I receive phone calls at the office from people in the community asking what time our services are and whether we have a dress code. I tell them that we have no dress code. But having said that, it must be asked why we would want to “dress down” when we come to worship.
Commenting on the washing of clothes in our text, theologian Rousas John Rushdoony writes, “This was a public function, the receiving of God’s covenant law, and all the outward forms and signs of respect were therefore commanded. To depreciate the physical marks of respect and conformity is a cheap rebellion of small minds.”
I am not quite sure what lies behind the insistence of some believers that our physical attire has no bearing on corporate worship. No one questions dress codes in the workplace. In the business world, it is understood that dress affects performance, and most companies therefore have some sort of dress code.
If it is important to be physically attired in an appropriate way when we conduct business, how much more important should it be to be suitably attired when we worship God? Scripture certainly does speak to the issue of physical dress in corporate worship, with particular emphasis on modesty (1 Timothy 2:8-10).
John MacArthur once commented that he wears a tie and jacket when he preaches because what he is doing is important. I agree. But it is not only the preacher who is doing something important in corporate worship; everyone in the service is performing a task of utmost importance.
I am not suggesting that those who do not wear ties to church have an unworshipful attitude. I am simply urging us not to get sucked into the culture of our day. Let’s think carefully through issues before we act in a particular way. Does sloppy dress foster sloppy worship? That is worth pondering.
The final requirement that God gave for consecration was that of restraint. They were expected to exercise a good degree of self-control, which would be fuelled by a proper fear and a proper focus. The restraint was in two areas.
First, they were to restrain themselves from conjugal rights. “Come not at your wives” (v. 15) means precisely what it sounds like. Though there was absolutely nothing wrong with the sexual act within the confines of marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5), God was calling the people to restrain from a legitimate pleasure for the sake of something far better. The worship of God was so important that everything else was to take a backseat.
When it comes to the worship of the Lord, particularly on the Lord’s Day, it will require us to sacrifice some legitimate things. There is nothing in the Bible that forbids the believer from playing sport on a Sunday. But surely the worship of God is far more important! The Bible nowhere commands believers to abstain from travelling home from a holiday destination on a Sunday. But surely it is far more important to be found worshipping God.
If we understand just how important worship is, we will gladly sacrifice legitimate activities that we might be found doing what is best. Sometimes self-restraint brings great glory to God!
Think about what Thomas missed that Sunday night when he wasn’t with the other disciples and the Lord appeared to them. He may have had a completely legitimate reason not to be there, but he missed out on a wonderful blessing. The corporate worship of God is potentially life-transforming, so much so that we should prioritise it above all else. You will not have a life-shattering experience with every worship service, but as you faithfully prioritise worship you will surely find God doing a great work in your life.
But secondly, the Israelites were also to restrain themselves from curiosity. This is what underlies the restriction of vv. 12-13: “And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: there shall not a hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.”
It is said that curiosity killed the cat. Curiosity certainly would have killed the curious here! “The boundary between the human and the divine was not to be taken lightly by mortals,” concludes Walter Kaiser. God set some limits, and placed the most severe penalty upon those who breached those limits.
When we approach God in worship we ought to do so on the basis of what He has revealed. There are a lot of unanswered questions in the Bible, but it is not our assignment to work out all those answers. There are “secret things” which “belong unto the LORD our God” and there are “revealed” things which “belong unto us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Let us honour God-ordained limits.
Too often we miss out on hearing from God because we are too curious about those things about which He has chosen to remain silent. Job wrestled for a long time with those things that God had chosen not to reveal, and eventually lost his joy. In the end, God never answered his questions. But when Job finally submitted to those things that God had revealed his joy was restored.
We gather on the Lord’s Day to hear from God, not from a mere man. This is one area of understanding in which we must never stop growing. But worship requires preparation. May God grant us the understanding that is necessary for us to approach Him soberly and to offer Him the worship, in spirit and truth, of which He alone is worthy.