In Exodus 19, God uses three different titles for Israel: “My own possession,” “a kingdom of priests,” and “a holy nation,” provided that they obey. A relationship specific to the covenant, Israel was God’s possession—a special treasure. As a kingdom of priests, the nation is to be an intermediary between foreign peoples and God, and as a holy nation, to be separate from evil unto a holy God. To His people, God gives the Ten Commandments, found on the walls of Sunday school rooms for the very youngest to memorize. These ten are only the start of several laws laid out in the following chapters (teachings on sorceresses and when to free servants don’t merit equal time in children’s lessons), but let’s look now at what happens in between—Israel’s response to God’s presence.
For a people accustomed to “god” being merely a statue on a shelf, encountering the real deal is terrifying. Their nation witnessed plagues, crossed a seabed on dry ground, drank water pouring from a rock, and even had their food fall from the sky every morning, but as Jehovah makes Himself undeniable through thunder and trumpet blasts and a shroud of dark smoke, instead of singing renewed praise to their Rescuer, His people fear for their lives.
Moses explains that God has appeared in order replace their physical fear with a reverential fear meant to keep them from sinning. The gospel of Jesus strikes a similar chord. Jesus was called Emmanuel — “God with us” —who died on our behalf and rose again, sparing us the fear of death. These gracious acts fill His people with awe, and reverence for Him ought to keep us from sinning. Pray for wisdom to identify and humility to eliminate some sin in your life, believer, and take heart that this same awesome God pledges His love those who love Him and keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).