Our reading today begins with a familiar story. Israel is complaining against Moses and God because they had no water. And God yet again provides. He tells Moses that He will personally show him where to go (17:6), and tells him what to do. The rock here prefigures Christ. He was “struck” for our sake and provides the living water that we drink (see 1 Cor 10:4).
Verse 8 tells us of the attack by the Amalekites. It is because of this incident that God has Israel wipe out the Amalekites (see v. 14, Deut 25:17-19 and 1 Sam 15:2-3). Moses raising his hands is a symbol of intercessory prayer for Israel. It is through prayer and reliance on God, not military power, that Amalek was defeated.
Chapter 18 records the encounter between Moses and his father-in-law Jethro (also known as Reuel). Based on the work God has done, Jethro believes and worships (18:10-12). We then see Jethro give advice to Moses about how he was leading. Though he was called by God to lead, Moses was trying to do everything. And we see here a principle for good leadership, within the church and without: nobody can do it all alone. Delegation according to ability is paramount for success.
Chapter 19 records Israel arriving at Mt. Sinai, three months after leaving Egypt. God again makes His promise to Israel that, if they will obey Him, He will be their God and they will be His people (v. 5). This is the promise Israel has already failed to believe multiple times. It is important to note that Israel is to be God’s treasured possession among all peoples. The Hebrew word has a wide semantic range that can mean “out of”, as in, Israel is chosen out of the world. However, that God adds in “for all the earth is mine” would seem to indicate that Israel is not taken “out of” world singularly, as in, to the exclusion of all others, but would be first in rank among all the nations of the world. And that God tells them that they are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation would also indicate that they are to be different from the world, not removed out of the world, as it were.
The point? Well, remember what we’ve already seen. God saved that “mixed multitude” from Egypt (Ex 12:38). God makes provision for those who are not physically Jews to become spiritually Jews, that is, be included in the worship of Israel even though not nationally an Israelite (Ex 12:48-49). And, as we will see, Israel, while called to be physically separated from unbelievers and live differently than them, are actually called to evangelize them with the truth of God in word and deed (see Isa 42:6). So as priests, the holy nation is to be the mediator between the world and God. This foreshadows the purpose of the church on earth (Matt 28:19-20 – see 1 Pet 2:9 and Rev 1:6).
In verse 8, the people of Israel willingly enter into covenant with God. God tells Moses that He will reveal Himself on the third day to all the people. In verse 16 we read of “thunders and lightning” and a trumpet blast, which are used here (and elsewhere in the Bible) as references to the glorious presence of God. God’s warnings about the people approaching Him shows us the utter holiness of God. There must be a mediator between God and man. Hence, Moses must “come up” to hear God and “go down” to speak to the people. In this regard, Moses is a type of Christ, Who came down and mediated the New Covenant and is now and forever the only mediator between God and man, having “gone up” to the right hand of the Father.