“[T]he Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” (Exodus 19:10-12 – ESV)
In this prelude to the giving of the Ten Commandments, we are shown a clear picture of God’s holiness and otherness. While this way of relating to his chosen people seems unbelievably harsh, we must understand two things: God was teaching his people about His holiness. He was also protecting them.
As the passage moves into the giving of the law, particularly the Ten Commandments, it is clear that God wants his people to know how to relate to their God and how to relate to their neighbor. Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament that all the Law and Prophets are summed up in the dual great commands to love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40) summarizes this.
Many people compare a supposed capricious and wrathful God of the Old Testament to the New Testament God of love, mercy, and grace. Passages like this from Exodus can fuel this perception. While there are hard passages in the Old Testament (and in the New Testament, actually!) that can make us question, when we view the sweeping story of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, the reality of his mercy and grace is crystal clear. From the beginning – right after the Fall of men and women into sin and death – God established a rescue plan that culminated in the cross and the empty tomb.
We may balk against boundaries in our lives, but they are there to protect us. It is in staying behind God’s hard and holy boundaries that we honor him and honor others. It shows our love and fear of our God and our love and respect of others made in His image.