(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Exodus 19:2-8a – After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.”
In chapter 19 of Exodus, the Israelites are arriving at Mount Sinai. This is three months after they had left Egypt. As they were escaping from Egypt, God had miraculously divided the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could be saved from the pursuing Egyptian army. When the Israelites saw the army coming after them, they complained to Moses that he had led them out into the wilderness to be slaughtered. That was when God made a dry path through the Sea so that they would be spared. After the Israelites went through, God sent the waters crashing over the Egyptian army. The army was utterly defeated by the hand of God. God saved the Israelites.
We would think that great event would lead the Israelites to trust God with all their hearts and never question him again. However, that is not what happened. It didn’t take long before the Israelites were grumbling against Moses and God because they didn’t have enough food and water. So God provided them with water and food. He gave them special bread from heaven called Manna and he provided quail for them to eat. God kept on taking care of them even though the people repeatedly showed a lack of trust. God had showed them how faithful he was and they had every reason to have faith in him but they still doubted.
God made his covenant with this group of people. They had not earned the right to be his people through their great faith in him. Rather, out of his mercy, he chose to love them. In the next chapter God is going to give them the 10 commandments. Before he does that, he says this, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). This covenant involving the law is a two-sided covenant. God is letting them know that if they keep the covenant through obedience, then they will continue to be his nation over and above the other nations of the world.
At that time, the people were dedicated to following the Lord. They boldly declared, “We will do everything the Lord has said” (Exodus 19:8). Now, the Israelites were being genuine when they made that statement. They did want to obey the Lord. However, we know their history. We know that they did break the covenant. They did not hold up their side of the agreement. Certainly it is not possible for any human being to perfectly follow the laws of God. But that does not mean that God was setting the people up for failure. God will certainly give blessings to those who follow him. Not that we can earn rewards from him, but rather that he blesses his believers out of his love.
With the Israelites, we see a repeated history of turning away from God. It eventually got to a point that many of the Israelites didn’t truly trust in God for forgiveness. Their sins turned to unbelief. We see some examples of their sins shortly after the giving of the Ten Commandments. While they were waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai, there was the Golden Calf incident. It is rather shocking when you think about it. They are standing before a mountain where God is present and speaking to Moses. And yet, they create a false god and make the outlandish claim that the Golden Calf was the god who delivered them from Egypt. God was right to be angry with them.
Then, a little while later, they are about to enter the Promised Land and the people again doubted the promises of God. God had told them that he would give him the land but they did not believe him. Of the 12 spies who had explored the land, 10 of them claimed that it would be impossible to conquer the land. They claimed that the people who lived there were way too strong to be defeated. Only Caleb and Joshua trusted God. They tried to convince the people that God would truly give them the land that he had promised to them. But the people didn’t believe. Because of that, they had to wander in the desert for 40 years. They did not do everything the Lord had said.
There are certainly times that we act just like the Israelites. We are unfaithful to our promises to serve and obey our God. There are many times that we show our unfaithfulness to God. Truly, any sin is unfaithfulness toward God. In that moment, our sinful desire was more important to us than following God. We may even make bold declarations like the Israelites. We may think that we can boldly follow God but then our own strength fails us. We succumb to the pressure of the world. We easily waver in our faith. We find nitpicky reasons to not value our local church or our called servants. We begin to value other opinions as more important than God’s Word.
We are unfaithful to our promises to remain faithful to God. Think about the confirmation promise or the promise when a new member joins the church. We promise to be faithful to the Word of God. We promise to regularly worship our God. We promise to be faithful until death. But do we live up to our promise. Do we really keep that promise to obey? How many days or weeks go by before we start making excuses for why we don’t need to keep those promises? Or think about our day of worship. After being uplifted through scripture and music, how long is it before we fall back into the same sins that keep on ensnaring us?
We are unfaithful to our promises, but God on the other hand is always faithful to his loving promises. Think about how patient he was with the Israelites. He kept on taking care of them even though they kept on disobeying him. Verse 4 emphasizes how God sticks to his promises. It says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” God took care of them. He delivered them. He brought them to him at Mount Sinai. He promised to give them the Land of Canaan and he did so after they wandered for 40 years.
You can also see how patient he was throughout the Old Testament history. He was working throughout those years to draw them to repentance. He wanted them to see the seriousness of their sins. He would chastise them through various conquering armies. When the people realized their sinful ways and turned to God, he would deliver them. He sent them judges and kings and prophets to help them. He eventually used the Assyrian and Babylonian armies to capture them. The Babylonian captivity lasted for 70 years. The people did repent. And they returned to Israel. In spite of all that sinfulness throughout their history, there still were many believers.
God is faithful to his promises. He does carry us through this life. He keeps on drawing us to repentance in spite of the many times that we have sinned against him. Look at all the times he continued to try to draw the Israelites to repentance. He does the same for us. If any in Israel were eternally condemned, it wasn’t because God wasn’t gracious; it was because those people rejected God’s grace. The same is true today. God carries us through his Word and God carries us by sending us called servants like Moses. He draws us to himself. We could push him away but that would be a terrible mistake.
The truth that God carries us reminds me of the footsteps poem that my Grandma used to display in her home. It talked about our life as two sets of footprints in the sand on a beach. One set of footprints is ours; the other set is Jesus’. During some portions of our life there is only one set of footprints. The person in the poem mistakenly thinks that Jesus left them during those times in life. Jesus has to correct them and say that there is only one set of footprints because those were the tough times when Jesus carried them. God is delivering us in all kinds of ways that we are not even aware of.
The most important way that God delivers us is through the cross of Christ. That is where God’s faithfulness is clearly demonstrated. I love how it is stated in Romans 5:10. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Because of our sin, we were God’s enemies. We turned away from his love. But he still reconciled us to himself through the death of Jesus. He restored us into a loving relationship. We are saved through the perfect life of Jesus. His faithfulness leads us to be faithful to him.
Knowing that God carries us gives us confidence. We know that we don’t have to rely on our ability to keep the law. We are strengthened when we fail. Our guilt is removed. If our salvation depended on us even in the slightest we would always have to doubt whether or not we had heaven. Because it depends entirely on Christ, we are 100% certain of our eternal home. We are forgiven for our unfaithfulness. We gladly let God carry us. He strengthens us. He forgives us. He comforts us. With him we are confident of salvation.