By initiating the covenant, Yahweh is able to outline what he expects from the Israelites and what they can expect from Him. By making this promise, God is ensuring their continuation on their path to holiness (Glenny 1992). He is additionally making it possible for His relationship with the Israelites to grow from simple followers to "a kingdom of priests," in which they will play a crucial role in leading other people to the truth of God (Ex. 19:6).
There are a number of individual sections within Exodus 19:5-6. The first is the opening, where Yahweh asks the Israelites to enter the covenant. In the second section, Yahweh establishes the Israelites as his possession. Third, Yahweh declares that the entire earth belongs to Him. The next section, which opens verse 6, explains the Israelites' future as a kingdom of priest and a holy nation. Finally, Yahweh instructs Moses to share these words with the sons of Israel. Each of these passages must be discussed in turn.
The passage begins: "Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep my covenant" (Ex. 19:5). Again, this section's importance lies in the choice posed to the Israelites by Yahweh. The use of the wording "if" implies that the Israelites must enter willingly. The word "indeed" implies that a preexisting relationship exists between Yahweh and the Israelites, since it seems that He expects an affirmation. We, of course, know that He has developed a relationship with the Israelites through Moses, who he sent to deliver them. Knowing this allows up to easily associate this passage with a continuation of a relationship rather than the creation of a new relationship. In fact, Glenny (1992) suggests that this passage is relevant to the overall book of Exodus specifically because it is part of a larger collection -- a remembrance -- of the covenants that Yahweh made with the forefathers of the Israelites in Exodus 2:24 and 6:2-8.
In the second section Yahweh has already established that he wishes to enter into a covenant with the Israelites. He then follows with the statement: "then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples" (Ex. 19:5). Here, Yahweh is establishing his election of the Israelites, elevating them to a holy status by claiming them as his own. Glenny (1992) reports that this is one of a number of passages that establish Israelites as "people of God." He is offering them a unique and amazing gift in return for simply following the moral guidelines that he establishes in the commandments. This section of the passage allows for the offer to be made in that God has now told them that they will be elevated to be His chosen people out of all others should the accept.
This passage additionally raised the question, "Why did God choose the Israelites out of all of the earth's peoples?" Again, Glenny (1992) suggests that he is rewarding them as a nation for the past covenants made with their fathers. Additionally, the struggles and hardship endured by the Israelites may imply that they have earned a place in His grace through trial and endurance. Alternatively, God may recognize that the Israelites are strong enough to carry the burden of holiness, knowing that they have and will have additional hardship. To this end, Bruggemann (2005) offers that Yahweh's choice to endow this gift on the Israelites may be due to His willing that the world should be brought to blessing, even through the roots of Israel's suffering. Despite their being chosen as a priestly nation, possessed by God, Ellison (2006) is quick to point out that God's choice does not reject others. In choosing the Israelites, Yahweh has established a nation of men who will champion our Lord and teach others how to live through Him. Rather than rejecting any individual or nation, God has instead created a special place for the Israelites while keeping the door open to all others who seek Him.
Having claimed the Israelites as his possession, God moves on to say: "All the earth is mine" (Ex. 19:5). The simplest explanation of this section is that Yahweh, having established that he is the owner of Israel, wishes to remind Moses that He is also the owner of all (Newsome 1998). As creator, Yahweh has no need to bestow gifts like the covenant on men. Yet, men need Yahweh and depend on him for all creation, including their lives. This knowledge shows the great wisdom of God, as well as his mercy in continuing to find a place for man in his design.
God's declaration may additionally be a strong reminder that the Israelites have much to gain by agreeing to the covenant, or much to lose by denying entry. Showing his power as creator and owner of the earth, the Israelites would be foolish to disregard Yahweh's covenant and laws. This strength may be persuasive in convincing the Israelites that the following tasks -- becoming a kingdom of priests -- are the best choice.
The next section opens Exodus 19:6. It reads: "and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." More than any other section of this passage, the words used here carry the most important weight and connotation. First, the passage incorporates the wording "you shall," as it did in Exodus 19:5. Again, this may be taken as a directive (an order) or a choice based on the interpretation of the opening lines. Second, God says that the Israelites shall be "to Me," implying that they will serve him through the actions he is asking of them. Those actions are to become a "kingdom of priests" and to become a holy nation. Both of these terms mean a great deal when compared with other Biblical literature and in terms of the covenant.
BY saying "you shall be to me a kingdom of priests," Yahweh is explaining why he has chosen an individual nation. This helps to explain His design by allowing to know what plans he has for the Israelites. Without his intentions, we are left to wonder why Yahweh needs or desires to choose one nation. What purpose would it play? What role will it have in shaping the world? Israel's role, it seems, is to serve as a nation or individuals devoted to sharing Yahweh's saving love (Newsome 1998).
There is also significance to the term "kingdom" used in this section. By calling the Israelites a:
kingdom of priests" [Yahweh] emphasizes God's kingship over the covenant nation, the holiness of the nation as priests, and the nation's access to God and the collectivity of the nation in its relationship with God through this covenant (Glenny 2002).
Establishing Yahweh as king works in clear cooperation with the other statements of power made in this passage: "you shall be my own possession" and "all the earth is mine" (Ex. 19:5).
Charging the Israelites with this task is like a kingdom in many ways. First, Yahweh intends for them to become religious teachers and leaders so that all men can be enlightened and aware of God's love. The process of reaching out and converting others is not dissimilar to the political expansion of a kingdom through conquering or marriage. As such, just as a king may marry a queen to consolidate their empires, God has created this covenant with the Israelites in order to secure an expanding awareness in men.
Loyalty is also a trait commonly associated with kingdoms. Those loyal to their nation or king will go to battle, defend, and die in order to preserve that which is important to its preservation. In the same way, God's kingdom requires loyalty. In comparing their task to a kingdom, Yahweh invokes loyalty and strength to preserve and continue the ideals inherent in their task.
Additional connotations can be made from the use of "priests" rather than leaders or other roles. Priests are associated with holiness. Additionally, many identify the role of a priest as being the connection between men and God. In the same way that Moses is the conduit between the Israelites and Yahweh, Yahweh intends for the men of Israel to become to conduit between all other men on earth and the embracing of God. Later in the Bible, in 1 Peter, these ideas specifically contribute to the training of priests, showing a clear progression from God's intention to action (Rees 2006). From these many associations, it is clear that the phrase "kingdom of priests" was not chosen arbitrarily, but specifically in order to impart great meaning to those who would hear it.
In unison with the establishment of a kingdom of priests, Yahweh speaks: "and you shall be to Me... A holy nation" (Ex. 19:6). Like the term kingdom before it, this phrase holds incredible meaning in the individual words. To be a "holy nation" implies…