"All the words the Lord has spoken
we will do."
1 On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:
4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites."
7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 The people all answered as one: "Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do." Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.
Exodus So Far
The second book of the Pentateuch, Exodus chronicles the Israelites making their way out of slavery in Egypt—"I have come down to deliver my people from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites… (Exodus 3:8). Although the exodus spanned about forty years or two generations, it's astonishing to realize that by the time of today's scripture:
• The sea had drowned Pharaoh's minions as they pursued the Israelites who'd walked across a dry seabed (Exodus 14);
• Israel had taken time to remember, retell, rejoice, and dance (Exodus 15);
• Moses sweetened the bitter water at Marah with a tree branch (Exodus 15).
• After they left Elim with its (refreshing!) twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, in the next wilderness of Sin – a place name probably related to Sinai – God fed them with manna and quail, and they kept Shabbat (Exodus 16).
• Thirsty again at Rephidim! At God's command, Moses' staff brought water from the rock. Israel defeated Amalek's army (Exodus 17).
• At the advice of his father-in law-Jethro, Moses chose helpers to assist in resolving community disputes (Exodus 18).
Doing the Word
As our current chapter starts, they'd arrived at Sinai on the third new moon, or two lunar months to the day after they'd left Egypt. Only a couple of months, and did I mention how surprising it is to know everything they'd already experienced?
After those demonstrations of God's mercy, presence, and provision, God summoned Moses and asked Moses to remind the people what God had done to protect, save, and sustain them. God then includes a therefore: because this God is trustworthy, won't you obey me and keep covenant with me? Because if you do, then you will belong to me in a unique way out of all the people on earth.
Exodus 19:5 calls God's people a "treasured possession." The Hebrew segullah suggests extreme worth and something monetarily or emotionally precious. The King James Version calls God's people peculiar; the root of the word tells us they are distinguished, special, or select—God's wealth, God's bounty.
God's love is unconditional, but God's protection and the fulfillment of God's promises often require human obedience. Two months out from imperial slavery, this was the beginning of forty years of radically trust in God.
Israel announced they would do everything God had spoken. Later on, across three millennia, at home and in diaspora, Israel retold and reenacted the history of God's deliverance from death – the Passover – and God's annihilation of Israel's enemies, the Egyptians. Israel's testimony in words and actions grounded them in the past with hope for God's future.
In the chapter after today's we find the Ten Words or Decalogue that outline how the people can keep their freedom—what Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann calls God's Working Papers for living together in community: for Israel's, and for ours, as well. You also can find the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant in Deuteronomy 5:5-21. They clarify that keeping covenant with God also means to be there for each other.
Where We Live
Israel learned this God was worthy of obedience, so they received the commandments as a gift of grace rather than as random untethered demands. Moses announced, "these are the words" and the people agreed, "we will do the words." Because they knew God's acts of deliverance, the people knew obeying God would lead to life.
During forty years of being manna-fed in the desert, under Moses' leadership and Yahweh's Lordship, Israel experienced divine distributive justice of enough for everyone and too much for no one, as God rained "Bread from Heaven" (Exodus 16:4). Wherever they were – at home and in diaspora – Israel recited and reenacted their experiences of deliverance from death into life and vanquished enemies.
How has God shown mercy, love, and protection in our lives as individuals and in the communities we identify with? What events have lead us to trust God into the future? What's our testimony in words and actions?
Let's update Israel's to our own "we have seen – therefore – we shall do." Because we have experienced Jesus crucified, dead, risen, and ascended, we know keeping covenant with God and with one another will lead to life for all creation.
Via John 6:31-35, Jesus calls himself the real manna from heaven, and promises anyone who eats that manna, that "Bread of Heaven," never will be hungry, will have eternal life! At the table of grace we Christians retell and reenact our deliverance from death to life. In the Lord's Supper, we know living manna blessed and broken and given to us. As manna did for the Israelites in the journey to freedom and responsibility, eucharistic manna sustains us and our ministries for the world and in the world.
Jesus the living Word of God is our manna and the entire world's manna. Along with the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 30:11), Paul insists, "the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so you can do it." (Romans 10:4)