Before God would give Moses the Law on Mt. Sinai, He had a very interesting request that He wanted Moses to convey to the rest of the Israelites: Set bounds around the mountain.
In Exodus 19:12, God commands Moses, “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.”
Apparently coming too close to God’s presence would kill them, so God instructed that the Israelites should build a figurative fence around the base of the mountain to make sure that no one wandered into the danger zone.
Moses relays this command, and everyone seems to obey. Then we get to Verse 21.
Exodus 19:21 says, "And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the Lord, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” But Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it.’” Then the Lord said to him, “Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them."
Now remember Moses is climbing up and down a mountain. He’s just gotten up there, and God says go back down.
How does Moses respond?
Essentially, Moses says, “God, I just got up here.”
And God says, “You need to tell the people not to come close to the mountain.”
And Moses says, “God, you already told me to say that! I set these bounds so they wouldn’t.”
And God says, “That’s not going to be enough.”
I love this back and forth, because God is foreseeing the boundaries that the Israelites would set up for themselves in the future. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were obsessed with their bounds, fences they set up around the Law.
But God is warning here that bounds aren’t enough to keep us safe. They aren’t necessarily bad (it is sometimes a good idea to set a boundary up in our life if we struggle with a specific temptation), but if we aren’t getting regular reminders of the original command, they won’t protect us.
It’s almost like He has some experience in this department. How many times already had He delivered His people and told them what to do, only to come back the next day and it’s like they forgot the whole thing? One day the Pharisees will seem to remember only the borders they set up. Jesus will rebuke them because they had forgotten the original command.
For the Israelites, this passage foreshadows how they would treat the law God is about to give. It wouldn’t be enough to carve them in stone. They were going to need regular reminders. Yes, Moses already told them to not come to close to the mountain, but God knew they needed to be told more than once.
For us, this passage tells us a lot about how we approach God’s commands too. We can try to put borders around our behavior, but unless we are daily getting into the Word, those borders that we set won’t be enough. Without rooting ourselves in the Bible, reminding ourselves of God’s commands, we will drift away from the Truth and suffer the consequences.