Satan loves all the angry bantering about everyone being the same. He does not care that sinners wallow in their misery, but he cares very much that God’s grace is obscured under the garbage of our pride. He wants us to forget God’s redeeming grace and love, for then we shall not be careful to live for his glory in the world. The cares of the world will then choke out God’s word in our thoughts and affections, and we shall become distressed and so loaded with cares that we forget how much our Father loves us. This passage teaches us that it is a great privilege to be God’s children, for he has redeemed us at the very high cost of his Son’s precious blood. His grace has raised us so high that we are reigning with Christ and in a sense fellow-intercessors with him (Eph. 2:5-6). What God once promised to his church in the wilderness is now our constant blessing – that we are God’s holy nation, set apart to him, and dedicated to his service and glory. And since he has done so much for us, what is the gospel response we are to make? “If you love me, keep my commandments.” “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). We can see this so much more clearly than the Israelites. Our privileges are so much greater, for the promised Redeemer+ has come. Standing in awe before his great love, we must love and adore him so much more, fight against sin, and do all we can in our callings and places of influence to promote the honor of our Savior. He has made us God’s special treasure. Let us endeavor to live for his glory and in close fellowship with him!
The Foundation of God’s Covenant (vv. 1-4)
His Sovereign Grace (vv. 1-3)
Israel may not have thought they were God’s special treasure. They struggled to adjust to their new lives of freedom, and God kept them completely dependent upon him. For most of them, the security of slavery was preferable to the challenges of freedom; that generation never learned to trust God. But he continued feeding and leading them. For three months, he was leading them to this point, where they stood before him on the plains before Sinai. He called Moses up onto the mountain, the first of several ascents Christ’s faithful servant would make over the next forty days. However unthankful they were, he showed constant kindness to them. As wonderful as his constant provision of manna and water were, he now revealed that his love aimed at something much higher than full bellies. He has chosen them to be his own people and would now give them his word. Whenever God gives us his word, he condescends with amazing grace, for he gives us himself; his word and his name are so closely bound together that he has exalted his word over his name (Ps. 138:2). It is amazing that God would give this people his word, his wonderful covenant that set forth Christ to come and all his benefits! In many ways, they were worse than the Egyptians, but God reached down in mercy to undeserving sinners.
With all of the confusion today about the relationship between Moses and Christ, law and grace, we must never forget this fundamental truth about God’s covenant with them or his superior covenant with us in Christ – it was all of his grace. Personal merit or measuring up through obedience had nothing to do with his covenant. He reached down to helpless, blind sinners to raise them up to be his special treasure. Israel was no better than the Egyptians; we are no better than our unbelieving neighbors. God’s grace is what makes men to differ (1 Cor. 4:7). Thus, our boast must ever be in his undeserved kindness to us in Christ, especially revealed at the cross (Gal. 6:14). Whenever we think of ourselves as his children, amazed humility, not arrogant superiority should flood our souls. There is a sense in which all men are the same, but not as the world would like to think. We are all the same in that by nature we are children of wrath, cut off from God, and deserving of his just wrath. Only by exposing our sinful hearts with his gospel light and leading us to receive and rest upon Jesus Christ are we rescued from our depravity and made his children. When we learn this lesson, we have learned the secret of his covenant and are ready and willing to devote ourselves to his praise and obedience.
His Self-Revelation (v. 3)
Because we know the later history of Israel, we can easily forget the grace of his self-revelation to them. Their ingratitude does not in the least obscure the splendor of his grace to them. He called Moses up to Sinai in order to reveal himself, his saving work, and his perfect will for their lives. The only light Egypt received was a proclamation of judgment. The surrounding nations and the entire world lay in the most abysmal darkness and slavery to sin. To undeserving men and women, God revealed his truth. The world laughs at this, and even professing friends of the Christian faith doubt that Israel’s religion was any different than what men can discover through their reason and experience. It is astounding the degree to which naturalistic assumptions have infiltrated the church and obscured our thankful witness as God’s children of light in this dark world. We should shout from the rooftops that God has condescended to make a covenant with us. Otherwise, we could never know him. Did Egypt? The stargazers of Babylon? The later philosophers of Greece? All were passed by and left in darkness. To this poor and sinful people alone did God commit the truth of his divine nature and redeeming love. To Israel alone did God commit the truth of his covenant of grace and raised this nation up to the custodians of his gospel until Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ, should come into the world. Truly, as our Savior later said, “Salvation is of the Jews.”
Seeing their poor state on the plains of Sinai we can better understand his grace to them, and to us. Salvation is not from them because they received God’s word with meekness or fulfilled the prophetic ministry he committed to them. Salvation is not from them because they were intrinsically superior to the world’s other peoples, had more wisdom, or obeyed God faithfully. He revealed himself to them. It was a sovereign revelation, a gracious revelation, a saving revelation. And when we think that he has preserved this truth for us against all the lies of Satan, the malice of the world, and the treachery of wolves, we should stand in utter awe of his power and grace. When we think of the fuller self-revelation he has made in Jesus Christ, who came from the bosom of the Father to give us grace and truth (John 1:18), we should always praise God, seek to obey him, fight against our sins, and be the children of light he has called us to be in this dark world.
His Redeeming Love (v. 4)
To press upon our hearts that his covenant is all of grace and not based upon our worthiness or works (Tit. 3:5), his love is brought forward. It should have melted their hearts to hear Moses recount all that the Lord had done for them. Their hearts must have been harder than granite, other than a few of them. He remembered his four hundred year old promise to Abraham and brought them out of Egypt. He gave Egypt for their ransom, breaking the power of the nation through plagues and at the Red Sea. He miraculously provided for them and guided them with evident tokens of his presence. Like an eagle, he bore them up. A mother eagle flies beneath her eaglets when they first learn to fly and catches them on her back when they fall. Is there a tenderer picture of God’s care and great love for us? He brought them to himself. They did not want him, but he drew them to himself. When we consider how often they provoked the Lord by their unbelief and complaining, his enduring love must break the hardest heart.
It will and must break our hearts, for his love has been more clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. If he carried them upon eagle’s wings, he has certainly been carrying his church for the two millennia since our Savior came and obtained our redemption. Too often the church has become careless and worldly, fearful and cold toward her Redeemer. Too often we think first of our failures rather than his faithfulness. Our hearts are scarcely moved by his great love lavished upon us at the cross. We speak of it theologically and theoretically, but it is rare that we break forth into praise, deny ourselves, and devote ourselves to obedience – because he loves us. And yet, he continues to carry us. He is a faithful shepherd and will not lose one of his. His great work of redemption is not the story of the various church institutions and traditions that come and go. It is the story of his redeeming, persevering, unconquerable love for sinners. This will be all our song in heaven, and our earthly joy would be greater if each one of us applied this lesson to ourselves. Our God has carried us safely through many dangers, not the least of which is our ingratitude, careless with his grace, and indifference to his word. Like Israel, again and again we have provoked him to his face, but he has drawn us back and extended forgiveness. His heart is never cold toward us. We alter every hour; his love and grace he never takes away from us. Let us sing and rejoice!
The Enjoyment of God (v. 5)
Because I Have Redeemed You
These truths are the vital foundations of God’s covenant of grace with us, which he then renewed with the people through his servant Moses. It is true that ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic covenant were heavy burdens, as Peter later said (Acts 15:10). This covenant was added because of transgressions (Gal. 3:19), not to supersede the Abrahamic covenant or to institute a covenant of works but to reveal our sinfulness and to lead us to hunger for redemption in Christ (Gal. 3:24). The core truth and promise of this covenant was the fruit of God’s redeeming grace and love. He had delivered them, and now he revealed himself more fully to them and sealed his revelation in the form of a covenant. By this covenant of grace, he bound himself to them to be their God. He revealed the sacrifices by which they could acceptably worship him and have their sins cleansed and forgiven. He revealed laws by which they were to live in thankful obedience to him. Through all the aspects of his covenant, he set forth the Redeemer to come, Jesus Christ. We must never allow this truth to be obscured. What God did here for his church in those days of her infancy was to expose her sins and set for their remedy. He revealed the way to live in fellowship with him. They were his people; he has redeemed them. He now showed them the covenant way of life so that they would aspire to the day of redemption in the coming Messiah.
The Way You Enjoy My Fellowship
It is perhaps odd that he gave them no lengthy explanation of “covenant.” As the children of Abraham, they should have understood this. Covenants were common in those days, more so than in our day. For God to enter into covenant with them meant that he came to them as their sovereign, redeeming Lord; he made promises to them. The promises were gracious. They were monergistic, to use the old term, meaning that God came to them not as their equal but as their Maker and Redeemer. It was his right to make certain demands of them. His demands were based upon his promises. His laws were expressions of his goodness to them, so that they would understand what pleases him. This is where we often err when it comes to God’s covenant and his law. He did not give Israel his law so that they could earn righteousness or merit his favor. He gave them his law so that they could express righteous love and fidelity to their Redeemer. We have lost the sense of God’s superiority and authority over us, which are based in his redeeming grace and love. We think first in terms of our feelings about God, about Jesus, about what we should do. God says, “I have come to you in grace; here is what pleases me and expresses legitimate love for me.” What a mercy that he does not leave us to figure this out for ourselves, for we never would. Without his covenant revelation, we could have no confidence in God’s love, no satisfaction in his fellowship, and no assurance that we are truly his people.
In important ways, this dynamic remains operative in the new covenant expression of the covenant of grace, and is actually intensified. At no time has God ever said, “You can now figure out what pleases me.” Or, “Whatever you want to do is fine, provided it makes you feel good or close to me.” Obedience remains the way that we enjoy what God has done for us in Christ. In dying for us on the cross, satisfying the law’s pronounced curse against our disobedience, and bringing an end to the ceremonies, the dynamic of obedience as the way to enjoy God has not change. Our Savior taught the same truth by his repeated “If you love me.” The same “if” is present now as then. “He that has my commandments and keeps them, the same loves me” (John 14:21). “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of him” (1 John 2:29). “Here is the patience of the saints: here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). With the greater grace we enjoy in Christ, the greater clarity we have about our reconciliation to God, the greater access to the heavens now open for our constant help because Jesus Christ has passed into the heavens for us, comes a greatly heightened dynamic of obedience as the way to enjoy the presence and fellowship of our God. Obedience is the way we express our amazed thankfulness for his great mercy. Without such holiness, we shall not see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). This is not because obedience earns anything; it is because we have been redeemed by the righteous God to practice righteous and thus to glorify and enjoy him.
Our Covenant Lord
Even under the rigors of the older covenant, this element of grace was present. This is what is meant by “special treasure.” It also emphasized a certain conditional feature that was prominent. With God’s grace came personal and corporate responsibility to obey him. If they did not obey, they would receive God’s grace in vain and eventually be cut off. Thus, the Lord held out to them a great future of peace and happiness in him that would be secured by their obedience. When he added, “For all the earth is mine,” he stressed his universal dominion. However hard they would find the ceremonies to be, however difficult obedience would be before the accomplishment of redemption in Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, they must keep God’s promised destiny and his sovereignty in mind. This would lead some Israelites to long for Jesus Christ, as we see in the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel. This was rare, however, for under poor leadership and increasing narrowness, arrogance, and human traditions, God’s grace would be obscured. Most would claim the right to be thought God’s children without at the same time seeking a circumcised, renewed heart. Thus, it became evident, especially in the times of the later prophets, that a new and better covenant was coming – not a covenant without obedience and responsibility, but a covenant with better promises, a better priesthood, and a firmer assurance in drawing near to God.
Even so, we can profit from this promise of the covenant. The Jews might have profited more had they believed and humbled themselves under God’s hand. In Christ, we may claim this wondrous promise of being God’s special treasure for ourselves (Gal. 3:26-29). We may also understand that our Savior’s obedience has secured this identity for us. It is not our works of righteousness but his perfect obedience and worthy sacrifice. And with this greater gospel clarity comes a better understanding of the place of our obedience in the covenant. Because we are God’s special treasure, because Jesus Christ has brought in everlasting righteousness, because he has brought us near to God by his perfect intercession, we believe his promise and delight as our Savior did to do those things that please our Father. The terror has been removed. Yes, our sins are exposed when we look at the horrors of the cross, but when we look there, our full forgiveness and standing are also more clearly revealed. So, this is the way God views the church of his Son; it is certainly the way Jesus loves his bride, and the reason for the Spirit’s constant indwelling, sanctifying, and preserving – we are God’s special treasure. We are the apple of his eye, his own possession and inheritance (Ps. 33:12). And how should we respond to his amazing grace? We must devote ourselves to living as God’s special treasure, his inheritance, his chosen people – holy, consecrated lives, thankful for his mercy, humbled by his grace, excited that we shall soon see the Lord.
God’s Elevating Grace (v. 6)
A Kingdom of Priests
To be God’s treasure means, first, that we are a kingdom of priests. This was offered to Israel. In a sense, God invited them to reign under him as priestly kings and queens. They soon forfeited this collective blessing, and so God chose one tribe to minister to him in this fashion. The promise remained, however, and it is now ours in Christ, as Peter makes clear (1 Pet. 2:9). It is thus impossible for us to think of this promise without being led to Christ. He is the perfect priest, who has made full atonement for our sins and opened heaven by his heavenly mediation at God’s right hand. From this, we also learn the way we reign with Jesus Christ. We are not to think in terms of swords and political kingdoms but in terms of a redemptive kingdom. This does not mean we are anti-historical or unconcerned with world affairs. It means that the primary way we effect these things is through undertaking the role of intercessory kings and queens with Christ. When we devote ourselves to praying, as our Savior now does (Heb. 7:25), our supplications rise as incense to heaven. The Spirit within us greatly assists us in this endeavor, for we do not know the right way to pray (Ro. 8:25-26). Our Savior intercedes in heaven for us, and we thus have double intercessory assistance. Israel did not know this, for Christ had not yet come, but we know it, for we now have the Spirit (John 14:17). And God receives our prayers and throws them back upon the earth in the form of deliverances for his people and judgment upon his enemies (Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4). If we had any idea of the power of our praying, we should instantly devote ourselves to joining with our risen Savior in his great priestly work. The earthly effects when his church has been stirred to this work have been epoch-making. They will do so again, for we are God’s special treasure. His plans will not be thwarted. The kingdom and church of his Son will increase and progress through believing, obedient, praying kings and queens.
God’s Holy Nation
The second designation is no less glorious. God’s gracious, interposing covenant made them his holy nation. They were not personally holy, so this status had nothing to do with merit. It was a gracious elevation. It was an elevation requiring their holiness. This lay on two fronts. First, they were set apart to God. He extended this grace to them. It was a sovereign bestowal of grace. Second, they were to pursue holiness in life. Some few did, but it was a weak covenant, because of their unbelief. Thus, this promise, like the priesthood, fell ultimately to Christ, for he was God’s elect and holy Priest and King. Through faith in him, the church is now God’s holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9). This is clearly a multi-national kingdom, made up of men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation. God does not look at his church as he does the rest of the world; he treats her differently. His love and light are in her various tabernacles and vineyards. She is one by her one Lord, faith, and baptism.
This is our identity in the world. It is one way we are God’s treasure. As his holy nation, he has set us apart to himself in Christ. He chose us in Christ to be holy and without blame (Eph. 1:3) – by his redeeming work and by his sanctifying Spirit. Holiness is thus at the core of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus Christ has saved us from our sins and calls us to be his obedient disciples. When we fulfill this high calling – and this is by his grace, by wrestling and fighting with his provided armor, by dependence upon his strength, by following the wisdom of his word – the church is the light of the world. We are this light (Matt. 5:16); let us live as children of light (Eph. 5:8). It is the world’s only light and truth, Christ in us, his light purifying us, his light exposing darkness, his light rescuing men and bringing them into his light (1 Pet. 2:9).
Moses and Christ:
God’s Covenant with Us
One Covenant of Grace
We cannot speak of the wondrous promises revealed here without bringing the full light of Christ’s gospel and kingdom to bear upon them. We are in a much better position to understand God’s covenant than they were. This is not at all surprising, for Jesus Christ is the covenant (Isa. 42:6). Some of these truths were hidden until he came and brought “life and immorality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). What they should have seen, however, is that God’s covenant was all of grace. In this, they had the same main promise that we possess: life and salvation in Jesus Christ. The Mosaic covenant was part of the one covenant of grace. Nothing revealed at Sinai taught salvation by law-keeping or that they were God’s special treasure because of anything in them. He loved them. He chose them out of the world. They were his by grace and by redemption.
With Important Differences
There were important differences, however. They were a sinful people and needed their sins exposed, which was revealed by God’s blinding, terrible presence at Sinai and the ceremonies soon to be added. Distance, not nearness, was emphasized, for they did not believe in their sinfulness. They needed a harsh master, the rigors of the ceremonies and the terrible warnings, to be driven to Christ (Gal. 3:24). They had less assurance of God’s nearness than we do, for Christ had not yet come. We are not driven to him unless we are driven to despair by our sinfulness. They needed to feel wrath before they would ever seek grace (Rom. 4:15). This and other differences were due to their state at that time. They were a church in infancy, only recently delivered from Egypt, still bound to their sins and prejudices. The world would wait many centuries in darkness and expectation until the Christ came, and with him grace and truth. Thus, we should not be surprised at the terrors of Sinai, God’s enforcement of his holiness by separation, and the ceremonies he would add to teach them cultic and personal holiness. Yet, we can profit from this, for it is our history also. And why have we fled to Christ? Because we see more of God’s holiness and the certainty of judgment (Luke 3:7; Heb. 6:18). And seeing what a great salvation we have in him, all the blessings he has obtained for us so that we are God’s pure people, his special treasure, and his holy nation, they should inspire in us the desire to live thankful and obedient lives. In this, we fulfill our high destiny, enjoy our Father’s love and favor, and shine as lights in the world.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. In what 3 ways did God show the gracious nature of his covenant with Israel?
2. What is meant by sovereign grace?
3. How is an eagle mother a picture of God’s tender vigilance for his people?
4. How can cold hearts be warmed again? See Revelation 2:1-7.
5. How can it be shown that the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works?
6. Why was law emphasized to them?
7. What is the relationship between grace and obedience?
8. What is the relationship between obedience and enjoying God? See also John 14:21.
9. Define Covenant.
10. What is meant by “special treasure?”
11. How could Israel be God’s special treasure? How can we? What does this reveal about the nature of God’s covenant and salvation?
12. How does a kingdom of priests fulfill its mission, and what can it expect as it fulfills its mission?
13. How is the church the fulfillment of “holy nation?” See 1 Peter 2:9.