UNDERSTAND our PRIVILEGED ACCESS into GOD’s presence: Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.' When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain." (Exodus 19:10-13)
It was now three months that the Israelites had left Egypt. They had passed through Rephidim, and had arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai where they encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai (vv. 1-2). The Israelites were purposely brought to this place, which was the ideal location (seen both spiritually and geographically) for entering into a covenant with God. This was not a covenant that made Israel the ‘people of God’ for that had been done long before through God’s covenant with Abraham. Rather, the covenant about to be implemented was one that would give the Israelites the opportunity to be God’s own people, and be the channel by which He would communicate and transmit His redemptive program to the whole world.
After arriving at this location, the Israelites were instructed about how to prepare for the visitation of the living God. They were to consecrate themselves, that is, go through purifying rites to be ceremonially prepared for the meeting. The purifying rites included washing their clothes, and also separating themselves from those things in which they normally participated. In addition to this physical consecration was an implied spiritual preparation (v. 14). This was meant to teach them the necessity for purity in the presence of God!
The place that God would descend to talk to the Israelites - Mount Sinai - was a forbidden place. Neither mankind nor animals were to touch it on penalty of death. A transgressor was not to be followed onto the mount but was to be shot through with an arrow or stoned from a distance. Only Moses and Aaron were allowed to ascend (v. 24), and then only when the ram’s horn sounded. All this spoke of the terrors of meeting with God, especially on the basis of keeping the Old Testament laws!
We should understand why all these precautions were taken. God was holy and He demanded holiness from His people (see Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:26; 21:8; Psalm 99:5, 9). God would only draw near to people who were clean, for it was sin that separated the Creator from His creatures. We may recall that months earlier when Jehovah God had appeared to Moses at the burning bush and Moses had said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn" (3:3). God at once called to him and said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground" (3:5). It is clear that an unholy person could never enter God’s holy presence!
So, God commanded Moses to set bounds for the Israelites, and none could come near the Sinai Mountain where God descended, so that He and the Israelites could come together to make their mutual pledges (19:9–15). The holiness of God was so vastly different from the carnality of humanity that the Israelites could not even look on His resplendent glory. Moses described the divine manifestation in terms of cosmic imagery - thunder, lightning, clouds, fire, smoke, and earthquake. The whole mountain seemed ablaze with God’s presence, and it shook as He thundered forth His response to Israel’s offer to make a covenant with them. It is God who decides who can approach Him and enter His presence (Psalms 65:4).
However, our Lord Jesus Christ has paved a way for us to enter into the very presence of God today, and let us understand our privileged access into God’s presence. Today, we have unlimited access to God’s presence through Christ (Rom. 5:2; Eph. 2:18) made possible through His sufferings (1 Peter 3:18). In more specific terms, we have access through the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13; Heb. 10:19), through our faith in Christ (Eph. 3:12; Heb. 11:6) and through our hope in Christ (Heb. 7:19). Let us earnestly seek God's presence today (Psalms 27:4; 84:1-2) and enter His presence only after getting clean by confession of our sins and forsaking them altogether (1 John 1:9; Prov. 28:13).
"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).