Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”…On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled…Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder… Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 19:5-6; 16; 18-19; 20:18-19 ESV)
When GOD gave the Torah at Sinai, He displayed untold marvels to Israel with his voice. What happened? GOD spoke and the Voice reverberated throughout the world…It says: And all the people perceived the thundering; wherefore R. Johanan said that GOD’s voice, as it was uttered, was distributed into seventy voices, in seventy tongues, so that all the nations should understand. When each nation heard the Voice in their own dialect their souls departed, save Israel who heard… (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)
The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were finally free. After hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, the God of their Fathers had moved mightily to bring them out. And now, He was offering them a new life.
Part of the problem that we have due to our familiarity with the story, is that we sometimes glaze over the details. Like the phrase “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This is a phrase that most Christians have heard numerous times. Both John (Revelation 1:6) and Peter (1 Peter 2:9) mention it. But what exactly does that phrase mean?
An entire kingdom of priests is a nation or people where each individual has direct access to God. That’s what a priest does. He goes before God on behalf of others. And the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai were being given a unique role in the world: to be God’s priests. But something went terribly wrong.
They rejected God. Yes, they agreed to honor the covenant and obey everything that God commanded them to do. But the unique opportunity to individually go before God – to be in personal, one-on-one relationship with the Creator – was more than they could handle. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
The giving of the Law – the Torah – at Mount Sinai is the pivotal event in Jewish religious history. It is the moment that Israel agreed to be God’s people. And the legends that grew up around the events of Exodus 19 and 20 are simply amazing. Here’s the background.
According to the ancient Jewish sages, Shavuot is more than just a feast to commemorate the beginning of the wheat harvest. It was the anniversary of God coming down in fire and thunder and smoke to the top of Mount Sinai. It was then that He shouted down what is known as the Ten Commandments – the summary of the entire Torah – to the people. The people agreed to obey everything that God commanded. It was the moment that Israel ceased being a roving family, and became a nation.
And over the centuries following this seminal moment, many stories arose about what exactly happened.
As we saw before, the Hebraic mind seeks to answer the question “why”. And one question in particular was asked: Why does it say in Exodus 20 that all of Israel saw the thunder when God came down on the mountain? Thunder can’t be seen; it’s a sound.
By the time that Jesus and His disciples walked the Earth, consensus had arisen among the sages. This is how the Jewish historian, Philo described it:
Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see them rather than hear them. (De Decalogo. IX-XI)
The sages believed that the voice of God was so loud and powerful, that it manifested itself into fire that spoke to all listening in their own native language. Stop and read that again.
Now back to the “kingdom of priests” thing. The people feared what they saw. In the core of their beings, they knew there was no way they could stand as priests before this God who so powerfully was manifesting before them. They may have been freed from physical slavery, but their souls were still in bondage. And they asked Moses to be the one to intercede for them.
Things went downhill from there. When we put a person between us and God, we lose our sense of accountability to Him. The priest; the rabbi; the preacher; they are the ones that have to answer to God, not us. And that’s the way Israel reacted. As Moses went to the top of the mountain to be their advocate, the people quickly turned from their worship of the One True God. They wanted a god they were familiar with and that they could see and touch. They compelled Aaron to make them the gods they had worshipped in Egypt.
And when Moses returned, his anger was justified. He called on those from the tribe of Levi to slaughter all who refused to repent.
And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. Exodus 32:18 ESV
So we need to stop and think about the pictures these stories paint. Fire. Thunder. Lightning. The Voice of God. The fire dividing into tongues that declare God’s covenant opportunity to every nation of the world. 3,000 lives being lost in judgement.
Now fast forward around 1,500 years. These pictures make another appearance.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:1-6 ESV
Every picture of the giving of the Covenant to Israel at Sinai are seen at the Feast of Shavuot that took place just ten days following the ascension of Jesus back to Heaven. As all of Israel gathered together in the Temple to commemorate the Covenant at Sinai, the pictures from their legends about what happened 1,500 years earlier manifested themselves once again: the mighty wind; the presence of God; the tongues of fire; the languages of the nations; all of them.
Only the reaction of the people is different this time. Rather than fearing the presence of God, they embraced it. Rather than rejecting the personal relationship with the Creator, they accepted it. Rather than fleeing from God’s presence, they welcomed it.
You see, things were different because their hearts were different. Jesus had already become their eternal Passover Lamb, freeing them from the spiritual bondage that overwhelmed Israel at Mount Sinai. Rather than receiving the Covenant on tablets of stone, the Spirit of God was able to write it upon their hearts.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD : I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV
The Hebrew word translated above as “new” is “chadesh.” While it is most often translated as “new” like in this passage, that misses the nuance of the word. It’s the same word that is used to describe the lunar cycle, and the appearance of the “new” moon. It is more accurately translated “renewed.” This covenant wasn’t a new covenant. It was the same covenant that God offered His people at Mount Sinai. But because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, the people this time were free – in their hearts – to accept that covenant. The covenant was renewed.
Oh, there’s one more picture that I forgot to point out. Do you remember how Moses charged the Levites to slaughter those who refused to repent for worshipping the golden calf? How many were killed on that Shavuot? 3,000.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:31 ESV
You may believe in coincidence, but I don’t. That wasn’t an accident. Every detail was ordained by God before the creation of the world.
So let’s regroup here. Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven feasts of Israel in every possible detail during His first coming: Passover; Unleavened Bread; First Fruits; and Shavuot.
The Hebrew word for “feast” used in Leviticus 23 is “moedim.” It is more clearly translated “appointed time.” It’s God’s appointments with us. He planned seven times each year when we would commemorate when He has chosen to move in time on His people’s behalf.
So if Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven “appointments” of God during His first coming, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that He will fulfill the remaining three during His second coming?