The Red Sea miracle through the “water like a wall on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:29) brought a frightened and fleeing people through the drowning waters.  A hymn of thanks soon rises from their lips (Exodus 15:1-21), celebrating the God who came to free them.  In short order, they will find themselves at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

Despite being rescued, liberated, and saved, their darker inclinations still surface.  Like scattering sheep, they begin to stray from their Lord.  Don’t assume this is a physical wandering, but a spiritual one, which their grumblings unmask after their deliverance (Exodus 15:22-17:7). 

Still, God persists, to show His mercy.  An attacking enemy suffers defeat, while God provides for His own (Exodus 17:8-16; 18).  Through His shepherds, He continues to tend to His people.

Now, we begin the second part of Exodus.  The first dealt with Israel’s emancipation from Egypt and their journey to Sinai.  Where will this sacred text now take us?  The next half will focus on God being with His people and how He decides to do this. 

The approaching events in Exodus convey God’s theology.  First, God makes Himself present to these former slaves when He inaugurates His Covenant.  Next, He will give Moses the specifications for a Tabernacle since God desires to join earth to heaven in Israel’s place of worship.  To start with, God unfetters His people—to dwell with them as He chooses (Exodus 24:12-40:23).  After, He bestows life upon them, giving His gifts to His people (Exodus 29:45-46).

To understand God, we should distinguish how He works.  So, God beckons Moses up the mountain and tells him what to proclaim.  “Remind the people,” God relays to Moses.  “Let them recall what I did to save and rescue them.”  So, chapter 19, verse 4 serves as a summary of what God did for Israel in Exodus’ first 18 chapters, as both a reminder and a history lesson.

A few months before, a subjugated people witnessed God defeating the Egyptians and, through many miracles, freeing them from their overlords.  Once liberated, He didn’t abandon them, helpless in a hostile world.  No, God carried them along, bringing them to Him.  Not only did He lead them like a shepherd (Isaiah 40:11, 46:3, 63:9), but He also supported them as a father with His children (Deuteronomy 1:31).

So, who is Israel’s God?  The One who rescued them into His saving presence.  In a striking metaphor, God describes guiding His people as being carried “on the wings of eagles.”  Oh, such majestic imagery!  Though, to be honest, the Hebrew is speaking of “vultures.”  Yeah, not the prettiest picture. 

The Old Testament paints us another image, of the vulture’s ability to soar from land high into the sky (Proverbs 23:5; 30:19), and to live in the highest places (Job 39:27-30, Obadiah 4, Jeremiah 49:16).  Ah, now this makes sense, which explains why God brought His people to Mt. Sinai and into His heavenly presence. 

Only after God reminds them of what He did, will He announce His intentions for His people.  The context is clear—before they can do anything as a nation, whom God set apart, He must first bring them to Himself and be present for them.  Without God doing His part, they can’t live out their God-given distinctiveness and purpose.  So, to Himself, God delivers the Israelites, to reveal Himself, from heaven to earth, starting with Sinai. 

“Now, therefore,” God proclaims through Moses, “if you will …”  Let’s stop for now and ponder this.  Does God require them to do something for them to be His people?  Oh, how easy to think so, but they are God’s people, by His doing, before He spoke those words to them.  The words within Exodus preceding this verse establishes this. 

So, something else is taking place.  Consider God’s command, “If you will listen to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples.”  The first part of their purpose is to be the Lord’s precious possession.  Aren’t they now His possession and people?  Yes, because God made them so. 

So, this isn’t about doing something as a precondition to belong in the Covenant.  No, this is about Israel’s sanctification, functioning as a kingdom of priests.  Here, God is demanding them to be who He formed and shaped them to be.

“Be to me,” God declares, “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”  Only by adhering to His voice and following Him, can Israel fulfill its calling.  The success of Israel’s undertaking depends on their attitude toward His Word and their respect for His ways.  Through their listening and keeping, the Lord will use them to achieve His purposes. 

The country of Israel differed from other lands, serving as priests, not political functionaries.  In ancient Israel, priests served as the custodians of God’s presence, first at the Tabernacle, later in the Temple.  As go-betweens, they acted as mediators between God and their people.  The priests brought the people’s needs to God through their sacrifices and prayers.  From heaven’s throne to us, they also administered God’s judgment and mercy by His spoken Word and commanded ritual. 

In the world, Israel’s mission will ring out with a similar purpose.  With unique access to God’s gracious manifestation in His Tabernacle, Israel will obtain God’s blessing, to mediate this to others.

Unlike many in our country who live and die by politics, Israel revolved around religion.  Both their status and identity, their vocation and function, came from God, to be a priest to the other nations.  Soon, God will sanctify Israel by sprinkling blood on the people.  The same will take place with priests at their ordination, setting them apart for service (Exodus 24:3-8, 29:19-21). 

At His Tabernacle, God shared His holiness with Israel, which kept them holy (Exodus 29:38-46).  Present and forgiving them, God established and preserved His Israel to be a distinct nation.  Among the nations, God only gave Israel this singular privilege and responsibility—and they can only accomplish this mission if they attend to His voice.

The last section following of our Old-Testament reading shows Moses doing what the Lord said.  Down Sinai, he went and placed God’s offer before the elders of the people.  The elders mulled over the matter and consented.  So, God didn’t force-feed this on Israel.  No, for soon after, all the people accepted God’s charge to be a kingdom defined by its priesthood.  After doing this, Moses climbs Sinai’s peak once more, to report Israel’s acceptance of their God-given tasking.

So far, this is a historical account, but not much more.  So, let’s unfold what these events reveal to us about God.  First, Israel’s existence as God’s chosen depended on His doing.  Trapped in foreign slavery, God broke their chains, but He also stayed with them, to guide and sustain Israel. 

Only after first saving them will God tell them to heed to His voice and keep His Covenant.  Still, what’s behind this demand?  Only by Israel’s willing cooperation and active involvement will they enjoy God’s fuller privileges and blessings—intimacy with Him and receiving and sharing in His righteousness.

Is this not true for us, as well?  In today’s epistle reading, Paul reminds us of our salvation, which is all by God’s doing, all undeserved (Romans 5:6-11).  Nevertheless, the book of Romans also deals with our sanctification, those “demands” of grace.  These regard how we live, not our justification, our status as a forgiven people.  Like long ago, God rescues us, so we can also serve Him (Titus 2:14).

The purpose of God rescuing His people didn’t stop with Him becoming present at Sinai.  No, the gift of His presence within the Old Covenant reached its pinnacle in the Tabernacle (Exodus 29:42-46) and, later, the Temple.  So, worship never centered on the people performing something for God, but God being with them to bless them.

Like Israel, God also redeemed us to worship Him, but remember, worship isn’t so much about us, but God for us.  So how does God, today, take us from here, like an ascending vulture, into heaven?  Well, Jesus only referred to one thing as the “new covenant,” His Meal of blessing.  By His blood, which speaks a better message than the earlier Covenant, Jesus takes us to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the spirits of those now made perfect.  Only He, the mediator of this New Covenant, is present in both His Supper and heaven at the same moment (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Through God’s gifts for us in the Divine Service, we who are holy in Jesus, share in His holiness, here in this world.  Again, we who are holy in Jesus, share in His holiness, here in this world.  Similar to Israel, the Church of Christ Jesus is a community, a communion, constituted by God.  From our glorified Lord, who descends to us in worship, we derive our identity and receive our holy tasking. 

In Christ, we become holy because He is, brought not only into His kingdom but also His Royal Priesthood.  Now, we serve by offering our bodies as living sacrifices since Jesus’ sacrifice for us is a completed act.  Don’t forget, worship is God’s work for us.  Still, we do respond with praise and prayer, bringing others and their concerns to our Father (1 Timothy 2:1-6). 

Your holy deeds aren’t during worship but in your vocations of service to another.  By your proclamation and presence, you bring God and His grace to those in your life (1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 10:40).  Yes, this is how you serve and reign with Him on earth (Revelation 5:10).  Such is your mission while your Lord still gives you breath.  Amen.

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