Daily Archives: January 25, 2018

January 25 Understanding Your Calling

“I pray that … you may know what is the hope of [God’s] calling” (Eph. 1:18).


The hope of your calling is grounded in God’s promises and in Christ’s accomplishments.

In Ephesians 1:3–14 Paul proclaims the blessings of our salvation. In verse 18 he prays that we will comprehend those great truths, which he summarizes in the phrase, “the hope of His calling.”

“Calling” here refers to God’s effectual calling—the calling that redeems the soul. Scripture speaks of two kinds of callings: the gospel or general call, and the effectual or specific call. The gospel call is given by men and is a universal call to repent and trust Christ for salvation (see, e.g., Matt. 28:19; Acts 17:30–31). It goes out to all sinners, but not all who hear it respond in faith.

The effectual call is given by God only to the elect. By it He speaks to the soul, grants saving faith, and ushers elect sinners into salvation (John 6:37–44, 65; Acts 2:39). All who receive it respond in faith.

The hope that your effectual calling instills is grounded in God’s promises and in Christ’s accomplishments (1 Peter 1:3), and is characterized by confidently expecting and yet patiently waiting for those promises to be fulfilled. It is your hope of final glorification and of sharing God’s glory when Christ returns (Col. 3:4). It is a source of strength and stability amid the trials of life (1 Peter 3:14–15). Consequently it should fill you with joy (Rom. 5:2) and motivate you to godly living (1 John 3:3).

As you face this new day, do so with the confidence that you are one of God’s elect. He called you to Himself and will hold you there, no matter what circumstances you face. Nothing can separate you from His love (Rom. 8:38–39)!


Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the security of your salvation. ✧ Ask Him to impress on your heart the blessings and responsibilities of your calling. ✧ Live today in anticipation of Christ’s imminent return.

For Further Study: Joshua’s call to lead Israel was not a call to salvation, but it illustrates some important principles for spiritual leadership. You might not see yourself as a spiritual leader, but you are important to those who look to you as an example of Christian character.

Read Joshua 1:1–9 and then answer these questions: ✧ What were the circumstances of Joshua’s call (vv. 1–2)? ✧ What promises did God make to him (vv. 3–6)? ✧ What did God require of him (vv. 7–9)?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 37). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.


The Christian who has dedicated his life to God and has shouldered his cross need not be surprised at the conflict in which he at once finds himself engaged. Such conflict is logical; it results from the nature of God and of man and of Christianity!

He will, for instance, discover that the ways of God and the ways of men are not equal. He will find that the skills he learned in Adam’s world are of very little use to him in the spiritual realm. His tried and proven methods for getting things done will fail him when he attempts to apply them to the work of the Spirit. The new Adam will not surrender to the old Adam nor gear His new creation to the methods of the world. God will not share His glory with another!

The true Church of God, the company of the forgiven and regenerated, is a marvel and an astonishment in the eyes of the old creation, a perpetual sign of the supernatural in the midst of natural things.

The Church is a sheet let down from heaven, an interposition of something unlike and dissimilar, a wonder and a perplexity which cannot be understood nor explained nor gotten rid of. That about her which yields itself to analysis by the historian or the psychologist is the very thing that does not signify, the earthen vessel in which the precious treasure is contained.

The treasure itself transcends the art of man to comprehend! Those who follow on to know the Lord discover that old things will pass away and all things will become new![1]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

Sanctification: A Supernatural Work (Hodge)

The Reformed Reader

Systematic Theology (3 vols.) Charles Hodge did a nice job explaining from Scripture how sanctification is a supernatural work of God.  Here’s an edited summary of his explanation:

That sanctification is a supernatural work…is proved:

  1. From the fact that it is constantly referred to God as its author (1 Thes. 5:23, Heb. 13:20-21, Titus 2:14, Eph. 5:25, etc.)….
  2. This reference of sanctification to God as its author is special.  “Every such prayer, every thanksgiving for grace imparted, every recognition of the Christian virtues as fruits of the Spirit, and gifts of God, are so many recognitions of the great truth that the restoration of man to the image of God is not a work of nature, either originated or carried on by the efficiency of second causes, but is truly and properly supernatural, as due to the immediate power of the Spirit producing effects for which second causes are inadequate.”
  3. We find in Scripture…

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How Legalism Betrays Christ, Violates the Gospel, and Destroys People

Historians tell us the Pharisees started off well, as revivalists in a way, calling the nation back to faithfulness. Eventually, however, their insistence on righteousness settled down into a code of laws and rules. They went from being encouragers to harassers, from lovers of God to bullies and legalists.

Shepherd My Sheep: How to Lead Biblically

 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” — John 21:16

Scripture calls everyone to lead in one way or another. Mankind was created to have dominion over, subdue, and take charge of God’s creation (Gen 1). Parents are to lead their children (Deut 6), husbands are to lead their wives (1 Peter 3), older women are to counsel and lead younger women (Titus 2), and pastors are to lead their churches (1 Tim 3; Titus 1). Whether you are a seminary student or a stay-at-home mom, everyone is exhorted to lead biblically, to fulfill their God-ordained responsibility of leadership.

In secular society, highly-regarded leaders are generally zealous, passionate, and ambitious. They are visionaries with the ability to inspire and motivate others. They have clear, well-defined goals, and they know how to make those goals a reality. Such qualities are all useful, but these descriptions leave out the most crucial component of biblical leadership—service.Whether you are a seminary student or a stay-at-home mom, everyone is exhorted to lead biblically

Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to appreciate “those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and to esteem them highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess 5:12–13). Elsewhere, Paul adds that the Corinthians were to be in subjection to those who “have devoted themselves for service to the saints” (1 Cor 16:15-16).

Notice the theme here: work, labor, service. It’s because of their service that they are to be followed. The idea of a leader being a servant is more of a gloss in our modern vocabulary. We do lip service to the concept by using terms like public and civil servants without fully exemplifying the underlying meaning. In the gospels, Jesus constantly highlights this issue: leadership is humility displayed through service. On three different occasions, He repeats that, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9, 10; Luke 22). Good leaders must first become good servants! That’s the point Jesus is making when He says to Peter, “Shepherd My sheep.”

In this scene, Jesus gives three qualifications for leadership:

Love God
Jesus is not talking about a love for others in this passage. Love for people in general is undeniably important for ministry leadership, but that is not His focus here. In His conversation with Peter, Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love Me?” The motive and foundation of biblical leadership is a love for God. It must be first and foremost in a leader’s life. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”(Matt 22:37). Everything flows out of an over-arching love for God. It is the driving force of service for God and His Kingdom. Relationships with people can bring trials, struggles, and unfulfilled expectations. But love for God blunts the sting of the disappointments.

Be an Example
If love for God is the heart and soul of biblical leadership, then example is the conduit. Each time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” He immediately exhorts Peter to prove it. “If you love Me, shepherd My sheep.” Peter would have to earn the right to be followed by being an example. And, remarkably, that he does!

  • He took the initiative in gathering believers and selecting a replacement for Judas (Acts 1)
  • He reiterated the gospel boldly in the face of certain persecution, and called others to obey God rather than men (Acts 2–5)
  • He left his comfort zone to evangelize cross-culturally (Acts 10), fully aware that criticism would inevitably follow (Acts 11)
  • He defended God’s holiness (Acts 5, 15)
  • He accepted correction when confronted by Paul (Gal 2; 2 Peter 3:15-16)

Holiness is a powerful and crucial partner in the proclamation of the gospel.Peter was a model of servant leadership. He proved his love for Christ by obeying His commandments (John 14:15). His life not only declared the gospel but also exemplified the gospel. As it was with Peter, so it is with us. Holiness is a powerful and crucial partner in the proclamation of the gospel. A life of holiness makes the gospel visible, not just audible. An old Puritan saying puts it this way: “Your preaching can pound nails into the boards of men’s hearts, but it is your life that will pound them deep.”

Die to Self
The mentality of a servant leader must be dying to self. Jesus continues His conversation with Peter by saying, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ Now this He said signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18–19). Beginning with “truly, truly,” Jesus emphatically announces Peter’s new ministry trajectory—unexpected dangers, far-reaching responsibilities, and certain martyrdom. Peter would need to sacrifice himself to God’s plan.

True leadership in ministry requires dying to self, doing what God has ordained. The command is a present imperative. “Keep on following Me.” In other words, “if you truly love Me, you must keep on following Me.” When Jesus began His ministry, He called Peter to follow Him, to “become a fisher of men” (Mark 1:17). Here, Jesus expands that summons—a call to sacrifice, self-denial, and unreserved faithfulness and loyalty. About a century ago, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson aptly noted, “Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” That is what Jesus asks of anyone who would follow Him, to humbly say yes to God’s sovereign providence.

Biblical leadership hinges on a servanthood that is motivated by love for God, lived out through humble example, and saturated with a mentality of self-sacrifice. The question this text calls us to answer is, “What kind of leader will you be?”

The post Shepherd My Sheep: How to Lead Biblically appeared first on The Master’s Seminary.

Where Can I Go With My Shame?

Video Transcript:

Where can I go with my shame? That is the question. The answer does not lie in a new story of loving yourself. The answer lies in the great story of the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. There is a love outside of yourself. The Son welcomes you, receives you, holds you, and he will never let you go—irrespective of the cost, even if it means laying down his life for you.

Jesus Christ came into the world so that your life could be part of a better story, so that the worst thing that happened to you would not become the defining thing in your life, so that there could be a seventh chapter for Tamar and for you—a new and better story of hope.

Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He lives, so that in him you may be able to despise your shame and rise above it. He lives so that no shame will have the last word in your life.

Think of Tamar with the ashes in her hair. She put them on her head to convey her sense of shame: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… To give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:1, 3).

The headdress is a sign of dignity and honor. Christ can take the ashes of your shame and crown you with his steadfast love (Psalm 103:4), and he will pour that into your soul, so that over time, it will become a means of healing.

Picture Tamar in her royal robe. She tore it because she no longer felt worthy to wear it. But Christ clothes his people in a new robe of righteousness.

In the book of Revelation, we get scene seven—a great company of redeemed people. They are clothed in white robes, and they are not crying out in agony, they are shouting in triumph: “Salvation belongs to our God… and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10).

Scene seven in Tamar’s story is that right now she is part of that great company. Christ came into the world so that the outrage of Amnon’s sin should not have the last word in Tamar’s life. He came into the world so that neither your sins nor the sins committed against you would be the defining story of your life. He came so that your life could be part of a great story of Christ’s marvelous redemption.


The post Where Can I Go With My Shame? appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

The Mechanistic Church

Many wrongly view the local church as a social society that exists to meet their needs or desires. On the contrary, the church exists to bring glory to God, to spread and defend the Gospel, to build up and equip the saints unto mutual edification in love and to carry out the good works for which Christ has redeemed a people (Eph. 2:10; 4:11-16). To this end, the Christian life and Christian ministry requires personal commitment, sacrifice and diligence. There is always a real danger that believers will grow weary in well doing (Gal. 6:9). When church members cease “giving all diligence” to living out the Christian life (2 Peter 1:5-7), they sometimes start looking for the local church to live the Christian life for them. They adopt a mechanistic view of the role of the church in their lives. When they do not feel as though the church is “working” for them, they grow discontent. Discontentment then often fosters and fuels division. Likewise, when pastors or elders grow discontent in waiting on the Lord to bless His appointed means of grace, they can slide into mechanistic ministry mode–trusting in programs or external accommodations to do the work of ministry for them. This is one of the most difficult issues to expose, since those who begin to do these things are usually not aware that they have begun to do so. It is a subtle and deceitfully sinful mode of operation.

To be sure, we should all have the deepest love for the local church, because the local church is God’s sphere of special, redemptive blessings (Eph. 3:10). We should long to see believers give the better part of their lives to the growth, provision and nourishment of the local church. That being said, God never meant for the church–in its organization, leadership and structure–to live the Christian life for its members. Likewise, God never intended for programs and ministry accommodations to do the work of ministry for its leadership.

Burk Parsons has made the important observation that often “the local church programs its people with so many activities that people have no time left to spend with their families and friends to enjoy life together and rest together—let alone take care of widows and orphans.” It is also sadly the case that the local church has programmed its people with so many activities that many of the congregants have convinced themselves that they are serving the Lord, when in fact they are merely living as ecclesiastical consumers. Whether it is singing in the choir, volunteering in a church food bank, participating in a home fellowship group or serving on a ministry team, individuals can convince themselves that they are living a faithful Christian life because they are participating in one of these or similar programs. It is altogether possible to be involved in activities in a local church without “making every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

I am certainly not against church programs. However, when members of a local church grow discontent because the local church to which they belong is not large enough to have a size-specific or context-specific programs, it often reveals a defect in their own hearts more than it reveals a defect in that particular local church or its leadership. When members of a local church begin to complain because they want some provision or program that God has not commanded in His word, they are manifesting spiritual unhealthiness in their own hearts. Leadership can also fall prey to this pernicious phenomenon in the realm of ministry. Instead of relying on the Holy Spirit and God’s ordained means of grace to convert and sanctify the people of God, the ordained and staff leadership of a local church can begin to look to music, programs, facility accommodations, etc. to do the work of ministry. Here the old adage holds true: “What you win them with you win them to.” If you win people to the crucified and risen Christ, who reveals Himself through the means of grace (i.e. the word, sacraments and prayer), you win them to the Lord Jesus. If you win them with music, programs, advertisement or buildings, you will always have to do better music, have better programs and develop better buildings. God never intended for these things (which in and of themselves are not unlawful or unuseful) to work in the hearts and lives of individuals. They have their place in a local church, but they must never be in the driver’s seat of the Christian life or Christian ministry.

The New Testament gives us more than enough commands to carry out among the members of whatever congregation we have committed ourselves. For instance, we are called to “bear with the failings of the weak” (Rom. 15:1), to “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12:10), to “lay something aside, on the first day of the week, as we may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:1), to “serve one another through love” (Gal. 5:13), to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), to “share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6), to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), to “bear with one another in love, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering” (Eph. 4:2), to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32), to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16), to “increase and abound in love to one another and to all” (1 Thess. 3:12), to “exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13), to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), to “obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb. 13:7), to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27), to “confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16), to “love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22), to “have compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Pet. 3:8), to “be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9), to “minister to one another, as each one has received a gift” (1 Peter 4:10), and to “love one another” (1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 1:5). These are merely a few of the hundreds of apostolic imperatives that God has given to the members of His church. All of them require prayerful and purposeful pursuit. They involve personal commitment, sacrifice and diligence.

If you are a member of a congregation that is faithful to the sound preaching of the Gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, prayer, the singing of God’s truth and the faithful practice of church discipline, you have every reason to be thankful and to give yourself diligently to developing your Christian life. God has appointed the means of grace for the growth of His people. They will not, in and of themselves, live the Christian life for us either. We must be diligent to “make our calling and election sure” by working out what God is working in (Phil 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:10). We must not grow weary in well doing. We must resist the urge to look to either practices or programs, procedures and policies, to live the Christian life for us or to do the work of ministry for us. Our God has given us the enormous privilege and responsibility of diligently living out, on a daily basis, the spiritual life that He has given to us in Christ.

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A Guided Tour to 2017’s Bestselling Christian Books

Blogger, author and book reviewer Tim Challies urges us to keep in mind that just because a book is published under a Christian label and sold in a Christian bookstore doesn’t mean the book is filled with truth. A large number of so-called Christian books are stuffed full of error. “At a time where truth is easier than ever to access and book reviews abound,” says Challies, “there’s no reason to be taken in by the junk.”

Now listen as Tim Challies offers his view of  some of the bestselling “Christian” books of 2017. He writes:

There are lots of ways to qualify what constitutes a “good” Christian book. We might consider the quality of the author’s writing, the originality of the author’s approach, or, most importantly, the faithfulness of the author’s use of Scripture. By those measures, we who speak English and read Christian books here in the twenty-first century are much blessed. We have countless thousands of books to turn to when we want to read something that will shape our lives and strengthen our faith. But, I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about it if that was the end of the story, would I?

Sadly, the qualities that make up good Christian books have little bearing on the quantities of Christian books sold. Just this week the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association released a list of the bestselling Christian books of 2017. Let’s give it a brief gander, shall we?

The number one bestselling book of 2017 was The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is remarkable in that the book has just arrived at its 25th anniversary. It has been hanging around the top-10 list for many years and has achieved the rare distinction of receiving the ECPA’s Diamond Book Award for topping 10 million sales, one of only seven books to ever earn this distinction. The Five Love Languages is certainly not a terrible book and, in fact, offers some helpful guidance in understanding how different people give and receive love in different ways. Still, the entire premise is troublesome and merits some interpretation, for Chapman fails to distinguish the very nature of our desires and how satisfying our deepest desires may not be the path to last personal or relational joy.

In the second spot we have Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and, right behind it, the sequel Jesus Always. (And that’s not all: Jesus Calling Deluxe Edition is at spot 26, Jesus Calling Adult Coloring Book at 42, Jesus Calling Devotions for Kids at 56, Jesus Calling Large Print Deluxe Edition at 65, Jesus Always Large Print Deluxe Edition at 72, and then Jesus Calling Deluxe Edition again at 83). Jesus Calling has now surpassed 10 million sales while Jesus Always has surpassed one million. Concerns with Young’s books have been well-documented on this site and many others, but essentially come down to this: Young claims to be doctrinally-sound and within the Reformed theological tradition, yet she also considers herself a “Listener” who hears and writes down messages from Jesus. She never explains how this is consistent with the precious Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (Scripture alone). There’s also the matter of the Jesus of her book speaking in a voice decidedly different from that of the Jesus of the New Testament.

In the fourth spot we have The Magnolia Story by HGTV superstars Chip and Joanna Gaines. Chip’s book Capital Gaines, released late in 2017, comes in at number 8. Capital Gaines is part biography, part business book while The Magnolia Story is a joint biography that recounts their life, marriage, and rise to fame. While the book is full of fun anecdotes, its spirituality never rises higher than this: “We both hope, with all of our hearts, that the people who read this book and watch our show and come to see what we’re working on in Waco will take a chance to go after their dreams too. Because the key to everything Chip and I have learned in our life together so far seems to be pretty simple: Go and find what it is that inspires you, go and find what it is that you love, and go do that until it hurts. Don’t quit, and don’t give up. The reward is just around the corner. And in times of doubt or times of joy, listen for that still, small voice. Know that God has been there fore the beginning—and he will be there until … The End.” It may be a book that describes the lives of two Christians (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but it is not a source to learn much Christian truth. View article →

Source: A Guided Tour to 2017’s Bestselling Christian Books

January 25, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

3 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves 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 will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ex 19:3–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

3–6 The “sign” given to Moses in 3:12 is fulfilled here (v. 3): he has returned to the “mountain of God” (3:1). When Moses “goes up” (see Notes) the mountain, Yahweh delivers his “eagles’ wings speech.” A twofold title is used for God’s people (v. 3): “house of Jacob” (a reminder of their humble beginnings; cf. Ge 28:13; 35:11; 49:7) and “the people of Israel” (a statement as to what they have become: a nation).

While it is difficult to determine for certain, it seems that Moses makes three trips up the mountain of God in this chapter (19:3–7, 8–14, and 20–25).

The metaphor of the eagles’ wings could refer to one of the eight species of eagles (nešārim) found in Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. But most likely it is the Palestinian vulture. This metaphor is developed most extensively in Deuteronomy 32:9–11, where the loving compassion, protection, strength, and watchfulness of God are compared to the majestic bird’s attributes. As the young eagles are carried on the adult wings and brought out of their nests and taught to fly, so Yahweh has lovingly carried and safely delivered Israel. Moses writes in Deuteronomy:

For the Lord’s portion is his people,

Jacob his allotted inheritance.

In a desert land he found him,

in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest

and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

and carries them on its pinions. [emphasis mine]

This same imagery of God as swooping down like an eagle is used in Isaiah 40:30–31, where “even youths … and young men … will soar on wings like eagles.”

This covenant (first given to the patriarchs), however, while unconditional in its transmission and bestowal, was indeed conditioned with regard to its enjoyment and personal participation (see Kaiser, 93–94, 111, 130, 156–57). The presence of the “if” (ʾim) in v. 5 does not pave the way for Israel’s declension from grace into law anymore than an alleged presence of a condition paved an identical fall for the patriarchs (Ge 22:16–18; 26:5) or for David (2 Sa 7:14–15; 1 Ki 2:4; 8:25; 9:4–5; Pss 89:30–37; 132:11–12).

The six verses (vv. 3–8) of this eagles’ wings speech and its response are cast in the familiar Near Eastern suzerain treaty form. Mendenhall (“Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition,” BA 17 [1954]: 50–76) has demonstrated that the Hittites in the middle second millennium used a literary pattern to write their treaties imposed by strong kings on their vassals that is similar to the literary pattern found in these six verses and in Exodus 20. This pattern is as follows (see Richard J. Sklba, “The Redeemer of Israel,” CBQ 34 [1972]: 3–4):

Preamble: v. 3b, a summons by God

Historical prologue: v. 4

Stipulations: v. 5a

Blessings: vv. 5b–6a

Acceptance in a solemn assembly: vv. 7–8

Three titles summarize the divine blessings that an obedient and covenant-keeping Israel will experience: they will be a “treasured possession” (v. 5), “a kingdom of priests,” and “a holy nation” (v. 6; see Notes). “Treasured possession” signifies that Israel will be God’s valuable property and distinct treasure (Dt 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4; Mal 3:17; cf. Tit 2:14; 1 Pe 2:9) set aside for a marked purpose (see Notes). Unlike real estate, this type of property is moveable, and like everything on earth, it too is owned by God (Ex 19:5). Israel is royal property, God’s special possession marked out for special purposes!

As a whole, the people of Israel are being called to be a national priesthood, “royal priests,” but unfortunately the people decline the privilege. The title “kingdom of priests” occurs nowhere else in the OT, but the call for all to minister in a priestly way is unmistakable. Interpreters have debated why a priesthood should be talked about so early when God has not yet designated one in Israel, but that misses the point that all are at first called for this task. Therefore the original purpose of God is delayed (not scrapped or forever dismissed) until in NT times the priesthood of all believers is once again proclaimed (1 Pe 2:9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; see Kaiser, 103–13).

This is why they are to be at once priest-kings and royal-priests (Isa 61:6; cf. 1 Pe 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6)—everyone in the whole nation. This expression is not a parallel phrase or a synonym for a “holy nation”; it is a separate entity. The whole nation is to act as a mediator of God’s grace to the nations of the earth, even as Abraham was promised that through him and his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Ge 12:3).

“Holy nation” designates Israel as a separate and distinct nation because her God is holy, separate, and distinct, as are God’s purposes and plans (Dt 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:19; Isa 62:12; cf. 1 Pe 2:9).

This whole synopsis of God’s suzerain treaty with his vassal Israel is remarkably personal. It begins in v. 3 addressed “to the sons of Israel” (libenê yiśrāʾēl) and concludes with an inclusion in v. 6 “to the sons of Israel” (ʾel-benê yiśrāʾēl). Its first and last clauses are introduced by an emphatic plural “you” (ʾattem, vv. 4, 6) along with two other references to a plural “you” in v. 4 (ʾetkem).[1]

19:3–6 / Godthe Lord called to him from the mountain. The Lord’s first words to Moses upon his return to Sinai contain the formality of poetic parallelism: say to the house of Jacob / tell the people of Israel. The short but powerful speech that follows this introduction contains the primary themes and the structure of Mosaic faith (Muilenburg, “Form and Structure”). Brueggemann called it “the most programmatic for Israelite faith that we have in the entire tradition of Moses” (Brueggemann, “Exodus,” p. 834). Rabbinic tradition notes the inclusivity of the parallel address, with “house of Jacob” specifically referring to the households of women and children.

The Lord’s intentions with regards to this redeemed people are immediately clear. God asks them to declare their intentions. Verse 4 describes the three stages of their journey and the Lord’s provision in it. The second part of God’s speech (vv. 5–6) presents an invitation to a special vocation in the world. God attaches a conditional promise to this offer to serve the Lord as intermediary between God and the other nations of the earth. God called Israel to be his holy nation and a kingdom of priests to the world.

This call begins with a description of God’s grace in three stages: bringing Israel out of bondage, providing for them in the wilderness, and guiding them to an encounter with God that would continue to transform their lives. The Lord reminds them that they had indeed been witnesses to these gifts. They had seen “what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” The Lord spoke very personally, saying: “I did,” “I carried you,” and “I brought you to myself.” The point is that it was the Lord who brought them out of bondage, who carried them through their fears in the wilderness, and who brought them beyond those external and internal forms of oppression to worship God. They did not seek God before God sought them. They did not begin by keeping laws or making sacrifices. They simply cried out for help. Their relationship with God began with God’s own unexpected mercy and provision. Moses expands the reference to the Lord carrying Israel on “eagles’ wings” in his song at the end of the wilderness sojourn in Deuteronomy 32:10b–11.

The second part of the Lord’s first message for the people at Sinai was an invitation for a reciprocal relationship. It begins with the conditional statement, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant.” The most obvious reference is to the covenant that was about to be given: the book of the covenant (21:1–23:19). The people’s agreement to this condition in verse 8 could be read as a declaration of their intent to receive that covenant. On the other hand, the Abrahamic covenant was also clearly on the table in Exodus, both before and after the meeting at Sinai. The reference to the Lord’s covenant need not be read exclusively. God’s work in the world extended through the exodus and at Sinai, but this did not supersede the earlier covenants. Sinai’s grounding in the promises made to the cultures of the world through Abraham would become dramatically evident in 32:13–16. During the golden calf crisis, the appeal to the Abrahamic covenant was enough for the Lord to preserve Israel and the Sinai covenant. Moses had also previously imparted case law from the Lord (18:15–16), the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread and firstborn statutes (12:1–11, 21–27, 43–50; 13:1–16), and the Sabbath commands (16:16–30).

The result of their acceptance of the covenant was not, as is sometimes assumed, simply their salvation. Rather, it indicated something larger that encompassed the Lord’s mission for the whole earth and all the peoples.

“out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.

Although the whole earth is mine,

you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The meaning of “treasured possession” is found in the parallel line that further defines it, “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This is something new. For the first time in Scripture since the mention that God would bless all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:3; 22:18), the Lord adds a dimension to the relationship between God and other peoples. Israel would be a treasured possession among all nations as a holy nation in as much as it was a kingdom of priests. The phrase “kingdom of priests” provides an interpretive key to the Lord’s offer. Priests mediate God’s law and grace. If they were all priests, then their calling was to mediate, through all that they were and communicated (e.g., written Scripture), the word and life of God to the world. The context for Israel’s mediating work would be the kingdom of Israel, the political reality in which some in each generation lived faithfully, preserving God’s social vision for the world and God’s written word.

A second interpretive key is found in the phrase “Although the whole earth is mine” (v. 5). In the Exodus context, that the “whole earth” belonged to the Lord meant the reversal of the domination of chaos and the proclamation of the Lord’s reputation, that the Lord might be known “in all the earth” (9:16)

Another, better, translation is: “because the whole earth is mine, I choose you to be a kingdom of priests in order to bring it blessing.” This reading uses the immediate and the broader Genesis-Exodus context. Israel is thus not seen over against less honored nations, but as a nation chosen in order to bring the blessing (Fretheim, “Whole Earth,” p. 237).

The transformation or restoration of the nonhuman creation often accompanies the transformation of God’s people in Scripture. Because the whole earth belongs to the Lord, the wilderness that the people initially experienced as an inhospitable place was made hospitable. God transformed undrinkable water at Marah. Bread rained down from heaven and quail abounded in the Sin wilderness. A waterless place burst forth with abundant water at Horeb. Isaiah described a similar transformation in the promise of the people’s return from Babylon (Isa. 35:6–7; 41:17–18; 43:19–21; 48:21). Paul described the transformation of the nonhuman creation as bound up with human transformation in the new creation (Rom. 8:21–23). The whole creation was thus at stake and involved in the Israelites’ decision at Sinai.

“These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” The Lord wanted Moses to repeat these words immediately to the Israelites. God wanted them to declare their intentions regarding this offer for them to enter into a partnership for the world’s sake. This served as Israel’s call narrative, mirroring Moses’ own call (3:10–12).[2]

19:3 from the mountain. The sign which the Lord had given particularly to Moses when he was still in Midian (3:12), that God had indeed sent him, was now fulfilled; he was with the people before the mountain of God. house of Jacob … sons of Israel. In employing this dual designation for the nation, the Lord reminded them of their humble beginnings as descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, who had been with them in Egypt, and of their status now as a nation (children = people).

19:4 bore you on eagles’ wings. With a most appropriate metaphor, God described the Exodus and the journey to Sinai. Eagles were known to have carried their young out of the nests on their wings and taught them to fly, catching them when necessary on their outspread wings. Moses, in his final song, employed this metaphor of God’s care for Israel and especially noted that there was only one Lord who did this (Dt 32:11–12).

19:5, 6 Three titles for Israel, “My own possession,” “a kingdom of priests,” and “a holy nation,” were given by the Lord to the nation, contingent upon their being an obedient and covenant-keeping nation. These titles summarized the divine blessings which such a nation would experience: belonging especially to the Lord, representing Him in the earth and being set apart unto Him for His purposes. These expanded ethnically and morally what it meant to have brought them to Himself. “For all the earth is Mine,”in the midst of the titles, laid stress upon the uniqueness and sovereignty of the Lord and had to be understood as dismissing all other claims by so-called other gods of the nations. It was more than the power of one god over another in Israel’s situation; it was the choice and power of the only Lord! See 1Pe 2:9, where Peter uses these terms in the sense of God’s spiritual kingdom of the redeemed.[3]

19:4–6 The Lord calls Israel to be faithful to his covenant even before he has revealed all of its particulars (v. 5). What they have seen in Egypt (v. 4) reminds them that God’s covenant relationship with them is prior to and essential for their living as his people.

19:6 When the Lord calls Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, he is not referring exclusively to the role that Aaron and his sons will fill as priests (28:1) but also to what Israel’s life as a whole is to represent among the nations. By keeping the covenant (19:5), the people of Israel would continue both to set themselves apart from, and also to mediate the presence and blessing of the Lord to, the nations around them (see Gen. 12:3; Deut. 4:6; note on Isa. 61:5–7). When Peter applies these terms to the church (see 1 Pet. 2:5, 9), he is explaining that the mixed body of Jewish and Gentile believers inherit the privileges of Israel, and he is calling the believers to persevere in faithfulness so that those around them “may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12).

19:6 The privileges of Israel prefigure the higher privileges of the NT church (1 Pet. 2:9–10), won through Christ’s redemption (Heb. 10:10).[4]

19:4 brought you to myself. God’s deliverance from slavery was not just liberation, but adoption. He brought them out and carried them through the wilderness to bring them to Himself, to make them His (Gen. 17:7 note).

19:5 obey my voice and keep my covenant. Terms summarizing the proper human response to God’s gracious covenant (Gen. 17:2 note). The latter phrase (Gen. 17:9, 10; 1 Kin. 11:11; Ps. 78:10; 103:18; 132:12; Ezek. 17:14) always refers to fidelity to a previously revealed covenant. Since 6:4 has referred to the Exodus as the fulfillment of the patriarchal covenant, the revelation at Sinai must also be seen as an extension of the Abrahamic covenant.

treasured possession. As the following clause shows, God means that Israel will be His personal treasure within what is more generally owned (1 Chr. 29:3). Israel is separated by God’s election from the world that belongs to Him.

19:6 kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Israel is to be a priestly royalty, a holy nation set apart from the world as a priest was set apart in ancient society. The emphasis here falls on Israel’s relation to God rather than on any priestly ministry to the nations, yet Israel’s relation to the Lord also bears witness to the world. Verses 4–6a reflect the Abrahamic covenant of Gen. 12:1–3. What this passage prescribes for Israel, the new covenant makes a reality for believers (1 Pet. 2:9–10; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).[5]

[1] Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (2008). Exodus. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, pp. 471–473). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Bruckner, J. K. (2012). Exodus. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 171–174). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ex 19:3–5). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 174). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 120). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.