Week Seventeen: Exodus 18–20
Most of us have received spiritual guidance from someone we have looked up to. This could be a parent, a church leader or even an in-law. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, not only took Moses in when he was lost in the wilderness but taught him the gospel and ordained him to the Melchizedek Priesthood.[i] Armed with this power, Moses climbed Mt. Sinai alone to face the burning bush and receive the direction to return to Egypt.
After freeing the children of Israel, Jethro brings Moses’s family back to him. While at the campsite of the children of Israel, Jethro observed the way his son-in-law was handling his administrative responsibilities. Jethro advised Moses to choose able men who could be rulers and judges. Then the people were given the opportunity to judge for themselves the small matters of their life.[ii] Rather than judging for them over every little matter, Moses was giving the children of Israel the opportunity to be their own agents to judge for themselves in preparation for the covenant people they were going to become.
Sister Sharon G. Larsen wrote: “Agency is the power to think, choose, and act for ourselves. It comes with endless opportunities, accompanied by responsibility and consequences. It is a blessing and a burden.”[iii] As we will see, the children of Israel did not always pick the right choice. Life might have been easier with Moses telling them what to do, but individually, each person needed to learn how to make their own righteous decisions.
The first verse of Exodus 19 makes the simple statement “…the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt.”[iv] They were finally out of the jurisdiction of Egypt entering into the wilderness of Sinai. Think about your own life. Have you ever left a worldly place like Egypt only to encounter a wilderness?
As former Egyptian slaves, the children of Israel had truly left the only world they had ever known behind. To help them find their way in the wilderness, they stopped and pitched their tents at the base of a mountain.[v] This real mountain is also a symbol of a temple. The Lord was preparing the children of Israel for a temple experience as they began their journey to become a covenant people. The temple will also help us find our way in the wilderness of life.
Elder N. Eldon Tanner said: “The dictionary describes wilderness as an empty or pathless area or region, a pathless waste of any kind, a confusing multitude or mass. And thus those who aimlessly wander through life, confused and uncertain, waste the precious time that they have been given to prove themselves in this important stage of their existence.
I suppose that at some time or other in our lives each of us has felt a little lost, somewhat uncertain as to where we were going, or in a sense, wandering in a wilderness.[vi]
But the Lord has told us how we can find our way.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”[vii]
In Exodus 19, Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called him out of the mountain.[viii] The Lord said: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians and how I bare you on eagles’ wings and brought you unto myself.”[ix]
Eagles’ wings are a symbol of God’s power and protection. An eagle is not bound as men are to the earth but soars in the heavens. The eagle is swift, strong, flies high, nests in high places, and has powerful eyesight, viewing the world below with a heavenly perspective. Symbolically, the Lord comes down from the heavens to bear His children on his wings to safety.
Then, Jehovah sets the terms of His covenant, “If ye will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”[x]
By using an IF-THEN statement, the Lord is stating the conditions of His covenantal promise. IF you will do this, THEN I will do that. If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you will be a peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests and priestesses, a holy nation.
In the Bible Dictionary, the word “peculiar is defined as “One’s very own, exclusive, or special.”[xi]
But the word peculiar can also mean odd or eccentric or something different or unusual. The people of Israel would also be seen that way, too, especially by the world. I know I have sometimes felt like the world sees me as odd or even weird because of the standards I keep and the beliefs I have which are centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than the standards of the world.
Elder William Grant Bangerter asked the question: “What’s wrong with being peculiar?”[xii] And then he bore his testimony of the importance of keeping our peculiar standards: “I know it is a blessing to stand up for the principles of truth and righteousness. People who value their character and their reputation will be honored to be of the chosen generation and to stand out as representatives of a peculiar and a noble people.”[xiii]
When the Lord used the word peculiar, He is expressing the idea of select, precious, endeared; something exceedingly prized and sedulously preserved.[xiv] He had preserved the children of Israel on eagle’s wings, protecting them from destruction. He will also preserve us today, as we deal with our own battles and wildernesses.
Pres. Nelson reminded us: “When your greatest desire is to let God prevail, to be part of Israel, so many decisions become easier. So many issues become nonissues! You know how best to groom yourself. You know what to watch and read, where to spend your time, and with whom to associate. You know what you want to accomplish. You know the kind of person you really want to become. Now, my dear brothers and sisters, it takes both faith and courage to let God prevail.”[xv]
In the New Testament, Peter wrote: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[xvi]
The Greek word used in this New Testament verse and translated into the English word “peculiar” means purchased or preserved. The Hebrew word used in Exodus 19:5 is “segullah” which means “special possession or property.”[xvii]
These scriptures help us understand that the saints, as the Lord’s peculiar treasure, have become His endeared and prized possession reserved to Him for the latter-days and all eternity.[xviii] When we acknowledge His saving power, as eagle’s wings, and follow his commandments, we become His holy nation or a kingdom of priest and priestesses. [xix] May we live every day to become a more peculiar people.
[i] Doctrine and Covenants 84:6
[ii] Exodus 18:26
[iii] Sharon G. Larsen, “Agency: A Blessing and a Burden,” GC November 1999.
[iv] Exodus 19:1
[v] Exodus 19:2
[vi] N. Eldon Tanner, “Why Is My Boy Wandering Tonight?” GC Oct. 1974.
[vii] Proverbs 3:5-6
[viii] Exodus 19:3
[ix] Exodus 19:4
[x] Exodus 19:5-6
[xi] Bible Dictionary, ,
[xii] William Grant Bangerter, “What’s Wrong with Being Peculiar,” Ensign, March 1983.
[xiii] William Grant Bangerter, “What’s Wrong with Being Peculiar,” Ensign, March 1983.
[xiv] Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “peculiar,” p. 305.
[xv] Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” GC October 2020.
[xvi] 1 Peter 2:9
[xvii] 1 Peter 2:9 Footnote f
[xviii] David J. Ridges, “Your Study of the Old Testament Made Easier, Part 2, p. 73.
[xix] Exodus 19:6