Consecration Today; Blessing Tomorrow (Exodus 19).
We are the now generation. We want it now, and we want it all. We don’t like to wait. The business models of the biggest companies are based around ensuring that we don’t have to wait. The speed of modern communications and technology just keeps lowering delivery times and raising expectations. It all runs completely against the grain of conventional wisdom. “Good things come to those who wait,” our parents told us. Waiting builds patience and character, anticipation heightens the pleasure. And waiting is, of course, a very Biblical teaching. “Wait for the Lord” is a regular command in the Psalms, a concept echoed in Proverbs, in Isaiah, throughout the minor prophets and also in the New Testament. Waiting can be good.
The Israelites are about to do a lot of waiting around. With chapter 19 of the book of Exodus we arrive at Mt. Sinai, where we’ll be staying put until Numbers chapter 10. That’s 59 chapters – longer than any of the books of the Bible bar two. That’s a long time to be waiting. They were waiting to meet with God, to hear His commands, to enter into His covenant, to learn about His way of doing things. Waiting, also, until they were ready to approach the Promised Land. Time well spent – true, but easy to say in hindsight. It must have dragged by at the time though.
But what strikes me about this section of the story is not so much the amount of time spent waiting or even the general reasons for it, but how the sequence of events happens. The Israelites wait, then God speaks. The Israelites wait, then they get to enter the Promised Land. The Israelites wait, then they are blessed. With God very rarely does the payoff come before the waiting. Nowadays, if you don’t sit still and wait for God, you won’t often hear Him speak. If you don’t wait, you won’t receive what He’s got for you.
After arriving at the foot of the mountain, things didn’t happen straight away. First God summons Moses up the mountain (the first of many ascents for him!) There he tells him: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (vv. 10-11). The people had to wait. It would all happen on the third day. In the Bible significant things usually happen on the third day: on the third day Jonah was released from the belly of the fish, and on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. In all these cases, the blessing didn’t come straightaway. Things had to be done, preparations made, hearts made ready.
The people didn’t just have to wait. They had to consecrate themselves. We’re only told about the washing of clothes, but I think there was also a washing of hair and bodies, meticulous preparations to look your best, like you would ahead of a hot date. They had to be clean if they were going to meet God. (Back then you had to clean yourself; now Jesus has done the ultimate cleansing for us.) I think they also washed inside – preparing their hearts to meet with God – and that part still applies. This wasn’t something to be rushed into or undertaken lightly, it required reverence as well as anticipation.
They had to consecrate themselves today for the blessing tomorrow (or the third day, or whichever day it might be). The point is, the consecration comes first. Something similar happened in Joshua. When about to enter into the Promised Land, the people were commanded: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5). It’s the same sequence: consecrate first, blessing follows. But in Joshua we also see a bit more of the reason why. “Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.” (Joshua 7:13).
Get rid of the idols (devoted things). Deal with the sin. This includes anything that could be a barrier between you and God. If the Israelites in Joshua had refused and not consecrated themselves, they wouldn’t have been able to cross the Jordan, or, if they did, they would have got very wet, had a hard time of it and then been defeated outside Jericho. As it was, having consecrated themselves, they witnessed a miracle and crossed the river with dry feet (Joshua 3:15-17). Later, having dealt with the idols that God highlighted, they went on to crush their enemies and conquer Canaan. Great blessings happened, but they had to do their part first.
Likewise, in Exodus the people would never have seen God if they hadn’t consecrated themselves. They wouldn’t have heard His voice nor entered into His covenant. They would have forfeited so many blessings. How many blessings are we forfeiting in our lives by a failure to consecrate ourselves?
Now, let me be clear. I’m not talking about earning your salvation. You can’t earn your salvation; nor can you lose it. Salvation is unconditional, but blessing isn’t. Blessing is conditional – it’s linked to obedience. The more we obey, the more we’re blessed. Sometimes God in His grace blesses even the disobedient, but generally speaking you’ll see more of God’s blessing in your life if you do things His way. You could be saved and go to heaven yet live a thoroughly unblessed life because you walked in disobedience.
So we can apply this to ourselves. We too, like the Israelites in Exodus and Joshua, can and should consecrate ourselves. It’s partly the work of the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus, but it’s partly our responsibility to say no to temptation, to break bad habits and to get rid of things that make us stumble. Like the Israelites, we might forfeit tomorrow’s blessing by not getting ready today. Do you want tomorrow’s blessing? Do you want to see God do ‘amazing things’? Then consecrate yourself. Pray and work out what that means for you. Don’t put it off.
To take away:
What blessing do you want to see tomorrow? And what consecration do you need to do first?