Immediate Pre-Law Preparations in Exodus 19 [Part 1]

INTRODUCTION

Lesson six of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, Glimpses of Our God,[1] is entitled “God the Lawgiver.”[2] The memory text is taken from the book of Isaiah: “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us” (Isa. 33:22, NKJV). The objective of the lesson is to “look at the law and, by default, the Lawgiver.” The idea behind this objective is that “the law reveals the character of the lawgiver.” Thus, you can’t take one without the other. Seventh-day Adventists have always argued that “the law is a transcript of God’s character.” This lesson falls in line with that understanding.[3]

Sunday’s lesson, “The Law at Sinai”, is an investigation of Ex. 19:18, 19; 20:18; Deut. 5:22; Heb. 12:21; and Rom. 7:8-13. The Old Testament (OT) passages are used so that students may be able to describe God’s physical manifestation at Sinai at the giving of the law, and the Israelites response. Hebrews 12:21 is also a reference to the giving of the law in the OT. Romans 7 is brought in to explain the role of the law.

“The Law at Sinai” seems ill-titled. It doesn’t investigate the law itself. Rather, it investigates the reaction of the Israelites to God’s presence prior to the giving of the law (Ex. 19:18, 19), their post-law hearing reaction (Ex. 20:18, Deut. 5:22, and Heb. 12:21), and the role of the law (Rom. 7:8-13). In other words, it skips the law altogether. At the least, it should have been titled, “Reactions to the Law at Sinai.” Although that title still doesn’t include what is being addressed by Paul in Romans 7. (Too much fuss shouldn’t be made over titles.) This article addresses what I refer to as “the pre-law preparations” in Exodus 19.

LOCATION

The giving of the law to Israel took place in the midbar sinay (“wilderness of Sinai”). Sinay means “thorny.” Some scholars believe that this is the plain of er-Raha. It is a “bush-studded,” 2 miles long and ½ mi wide area, surrounded by mountains. Of course, one particular mountain, rising from the southeast of the area, is believed to be the actual mountain on which God descended and Moses received the tablets. Three days are given for when it is believed that the Israelites made it to Sinay: (1) the first day of Sivan [name of the third month—Jewish tradition supports this], (2) the 14th day of the month, or (3) the 15th.[4]

IMMEDIATE PRE-LAW PREPARATIONS

Prior to the giving of the law preparation was necessary. Chapter 19 may be viewed as the preparation chapter. (Some may wish to argue that Israel’s experience since God began their deliverance out of the hands of Pharaoh should be viewed as, what I’m “the pre-law preparations.” I have no quarrels with that). In fact, to be more precise, we may state that chapter 19 contains “immediate pre-law preparations.” The chapter immediately following contains the audible stating of the law by God Himself. I have divided the pre-law preparations into two sections: Pre-law Prep. 1 and Pre-law Prep. 2.

Pre-Law Prep. 1

Pre-law prep. 1 refers to Exodus 19:3-8. In the selected verses, God’s first recorded communication to the people of Israel after their arrival at Sinay contains three distinct sections: (1) God’s stating of His act of deliverance [Ex. 19:4], (2) His desire for the obeying of the law (His voice) and keeping of the covenant [19:5a, b], and (3) what He will do in response to their obedience [19:5c. 6].

The first one is a declaration of what He has done for them in terms of their former status as slaves: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex. 19:4).[5] Thus, God not only calls them to recall His acts in Egypt, but also their post-Egyptian experience, which at this point, consists of their journey from Egypt to Sinay, from bondage to Himself.

The purpose of having them recall God’s deliverance and providence seems to be design to establish God’s intent to treat them as a special people prior to them promising any type of obedience. Since He is now promising them that they will be His “treasured possession,” “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” they knew that He would do it since He brought them to where they were, to Himself.

Whether one agree with this reasoning or not, it still remains that in this section we have a promise to the people of Israel concerning their obedience to the law. Where some may take issue is the fact that Exodus 19:5 doesn’t ask for obedience to the law, but to God’s “voice.” This is correct. However, since the law is audibly stated in Exodus 20, it is to be included  as what is “heard” coming from God. Thus, pre-law prep. 1 one calls for the obeying of God’s voice and the keeping of the covenant.

Response to Pre-Law Prep. 1

Exodus 19:7 states that Moses presented God’s promise to “the elders.” However, the next verse states that “the people all responded together” (19:8). How the news got from the elders to the people is not explained. Perhaps Moses called the elders first and then they helped him inform the people concerning the proposal. No matter how it happened, the important point is that the people agreed. Agreeing to this first proposal wasn’t the only thing that God needed them to do prior to the giving of the ten commandments.

 


[1] Clifford R. Goldstein, ed., “Glimpses of Our God,” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press 2012)

[2] Goldstein, 46.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Nichol, Francis D.: The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary: The Holy Bible With Exegetical and Expository Comment. Washington, D.C. : Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978 (Commentary Reference Series), S. Ex 19:2

[5] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures in this article are taken from the New International Version.

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