Exodus 19:12 (AV) — And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:
Highways have lines that guide us into the proper lane and any new driver soon finds out that driving can be hazardous if we are not careful to stay within the lines provided. Along with those painted white and yellow lines, many times rumble strips – or warning strips if you will – are placed just off to the side of the road. We tend to wake up a bit and pay closer attention when we hit those rumble strips. They jolt us to awareness when we drift, and help us to straighten up and get back on the right path again. In life we are given the freedom to move as we please, but without true guidance we can end up being destructive in other peoples’ lives as well as endangering our own. Freedom comes at the price of responsibility. We must accept our responsibility to use our freedom wisely and to the good of others. This is the case on the literal roadways, as well as in life’s ever winding metaphorical roads.
When God chose Israel as His special people He made sure they understood their purpose by setting certain spiritual guidelines to keep them moving in the right direction. God used Moses to set these guidelines and you would think that his connection with God would cause the people to accept him. But their rebellion proved otherwise and instead of recognizing his leadership as a blessing they chose to make life difficult for him every step of the journey. When we ignore the rumble strips that indicate we are moving in the wrong direction, we open the door for great tragedy; we grieve the heart of God and become dysfunctional and destructive in our behavior. This impacts our own lives and the lives of the people around us.
What are our spiritual “guidelines” that keep us going on the right track? Exodus 19 reveals three important guidelines that we must learn to follow.
Change your Identity
To prepare for the appearance of God, Israel was instructed to change their clothes and wash (Exodus 19:10-11, 14-15). Today we are accustomed to having soap and water readily available and extra clothes hanging in our closets, but people in Bible days didn’t enjoy such luxuries. They couldn’t take showers daily, and only the wealthy had stores of extra garments. That’s why bathing and changing clothes often marked a new beginning. Washing and changing clothes is the Old Testament equivalent of 1 John 1:9; If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and 2 Corinthians 7:1; Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. By repenting of our sins and walking not in the flesh but in the spirit, our identity is effectively changed and we are being led by the presence and the will of God.
Keep Your Wonder
Moses gave Israel strict instructions to keep a distance between them and God (Exodus 19:12–13, 20–25). Staying away from Mount Sinai was a matter of life or death, for the presence of God sanctified the mountain. Moses put up barriers to keep the people at a distance. He also posted guards with authority to kill from a distance anybody who broke through the barriers, and nobody was to touch the dead body. When the trumpet sounded, Moses ascended the mountain to meet God, but even then, God sent him back to warn the people not to get too close to Mount Sinai. In a dramatic way, God was teaching the people the distance between a holy God and sinful men and women, as well as the danger of presumptuously rushing into the presence of the Lord.
Later, Nadab and Abihu would forget this principle, and God would kill them, (Leviticus 10). This shows just how important it is to heed the warnings of God’s boundaries. The structure of Old Testament worship emphasized man’s sinfulness and God’s “otherness”: the fence around the tabernacle; the veil before the holy of holies; the fact that only the priests could minister in the tabernacle and only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, and that but once a year. The emphasis was always “Keep your distance!” But the New Testament emphasizes the nearness of God, for the Son of God became flesh and came to dwell on earth (John 1:14), and His name is “Immanuel—God with us” (Matthew 1:23). By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened a new and living way into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:1–25). The New Testament emphasis reads, “Let us draw near!” This doesn’t mean that we should get “chummy” with God and act like we’re His equals, but He is our Father and He welcomes our love. (See Hebrews 12:18–29.) He established a new set of boundaries, guiding us in closer relationship with Him.
Understand Your Storms
A storm was created when God appeared on the mountain (Exodus 19:16–19; 20:18–20). Sometimes when storms enter our life it is not the work of the enemy but the presence of the Lord. In Scripture, a storm can be a symbol of awesome presence and power of God (Psalm 18:1–15; 29; Habakkuk 3:1–16). The cloud and darkness, the thunder and lightning, and the earthquake and fire, all manifested the greatness of God (Deuteronomy 5:22–23, 27) and produced a holy fear in the hearts of the people. Even Moses trembled with fear and admitted it! (Hebrews 12:21; Deuteronomy 9:19) God was about to teach His people His law, and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). The combination of washing themselves and changing their clothes, witnessing the storm, and keeping their distance from Sinai, couldn’t help but impress the people with their need to be changed in order to enter the presence of God.
Today, we are losing the need to be changed. Quint Studer, in a recent newspaper article said, “It’s time to change how we think about change.” Only as Israel obeyed God could they truly enjoy the privileges of being a kingdom of priests, God’s special treasure and His holy nation. Just as the people in the Old Testament needed to have a healthy dose of reverence to God’s greatness, resulting in obeying and listening to His commands and warnings, we need that same reverence today. We must recognize the warnings (convictions), and use every tool God has given us as a guide in our lives (His Word, His Spirit) in order to keep on the right path. As long as we remain obedient to His guidance, we are able to continue on in the will of God. Learn to realize the boundaries God has set before us, allow the awareness of the rumble strips to provide correction, and in doing so, may you stay in God’s lane.