Exodus 19


The children of Israel, having departed from Rephidim, come to the

wilderness of Sinai in the third month, 1, 2.

Moses goes up into the mount to God, and receives a message which

he is to deliver to the people, 3-6.

He returns and delivers it to the people before the elders, 7.

The people promise obedience, 8.

The Lord proposes to meet Moses in the cloud, 9.

He commands him to sanctify the people, and promises to come down

visibly on Mount Sinai on the third day, 10, 11.

He commands him also to set bounds, to prevent the people or any

of the cattle from touching the mount, on pain of being stoned or

shot through with a dart, 12, 13.

Moses goes down and delivers this message, 14, 15.

The third day is ushered in with the appearance of the thick cloud

upon the mount, and with thunders, lightning, and the sound of a

trumpet! at which the people are greatly terrified, 16


Verse 1. In the third month] This was called Sivan, and

answers to our May. For the Jewish months, years, &c., see the

tables at the end of Deuteronomy.

The same day] There are three opinions concerning the meaning

of this place, which are supported by respectable arguments. 1.

The same day means the same day of the third month with that,

viz., the 15th, on which the Israelites had left Egypt. 2. The

same day signifies here a day of the same number with the month

to which it is applied, viz., the third day of the third month. 3.

By the same day, the first day of the month is intended. The Jews

celebrate the feast of pentecost fifty days after the passover:

from the departure out of Egypt to the coming to Sinai were

forty-five days; for they came out the fifteenth day of the

first month, from which day to the first of the third month

forty-five days are numbered. On the 2d day of this third month

Moses went up into the mountain, when three days were given to the

people to purify themselves; this gives the fourth day of the

third month, or the forty-ninth from the departure out of Egypt.

On the next day, which was the fiftieth from the celebration of

the passover, the glory of God appeared on the mount; in

commemoration of which the Jews celebrate the feast of pentecost.

This is the opinion of St. Augustine and of several moderns, and

is defended at large by Houbigant. As the word chodesh, month,

is put for new moon, which is with the Jews the first day of the

month, this may be considered an additional confirmation of the

above opinion.

The wilderness of Sinai.] Mount Sinai is called by the Arabs

Jibel Mousa or the Mount of Moses, or, by way of eminence, El

Tor, THE Mount. It is one hill, with two peaks or summits; one is

called Horeb, the other Sinai. Horeb was probably its most

ancient name, and might designate the whole mountain; but as the

Lord had appeared to Moses on this mountain in a bush seneh,

Ex 3:2, from this circumstance it might have received the name

of Sinai or har Sinai, the mount of the bush or

the mount of bushes; for it is possible that it was not in a

single bush, but in a thicket of bushes, that the Angel of God

made his appearance. The word bush is often used for woods or


Verse 3. Moses went up unto God] It is likely that the cloud

which had conducted the Israelitish camp had now removed to the

top of Sinai; and as this was the symbol of the Divine presence,

Moses went up to the place, there to meet the Lord.

The Lord called unto him] This, according to St. Stephen, was

the Angel of the Lord, Ac 7:38. And from several scriptures we

have seen that the Lord Jesus was the person intended;

See Clarke on Ge 16:7; "Ge 18:13"; "Ex 3:2".

Verse 4. How I bare you on eagles' wings] Mr. Bruce contends

that the word nesher does not mean the bird we term eagle;

but a bird which the Arabs, from its kind and merciful

disposition, call rachama, which is noted for its care of its

young, and its carrying them upon its back. See his Travels, vol.

vii., pl. 33. It is not unlikely that from this part of the

sacred history the heathens borrowed their fable of the eagle

being a bird sacred to Jupiter, and which was employed to carry

the souls of departed heroes, kings, &c., into the celestial

regions. The Romans have struck several medals with this device,

which may be seen in different cabinets, among which are the

following: one of Faustina, daughter of Antoninus Pius, on the

reverse of which she is represented ascending to heaven on the

back of an eagle; and another of Salonia, daughter of the

Emperor Galienus, on the reverse of which she is represented on

the back of an eagle, with a scepter in her hand, ascending to

heaven. Jupiter himself is sometimes represented on the back of

an eagle also, with his thunder in his hand, as on a medal of

Licinus. This brings us nearer to the letter of the text, where

it appears that the heathens confounded the figure made use of by

the sacred penman, I bare you on eagles' wings, with the

manifestation of God in thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai. And

it might be in reference to all this that the Romans took the

eagle for their ensign. See Scheuchzer, Fusellius, &c.

Brought you unto myself.] In this and the two following verses,

we see the design of God in selecting a people for himself. 1.

They were to obey his voice, Ex 19:5, to receive a

revelation from him, and to act according to that revelation,

and not according to their reason or fancy, in opposition to his

declarations. 2. They were to obey his voice indeed,

shamoa tishmeu, in hearing they should hear; they should consult

his testimonies, hear them whenever read or proclaimed, and obey

them as soon as heard, affectionately and steadily. 3. They must

keep his covenant-not only copy in their lives the ten

commandments, but they must receive and preserve the grand

agreement made between God and man by sacrifice, in reference to

the incarnation and death of Christ; for from the foundation of

the world the covenant of God ratified by sacrifices referred to

this, and now the sacrificial system was to be more fully opened

by the giving of the law. 4. They should then be God's peculiar

treasure, segullah, his own patrimony, a people in whom he

should have all right, and over whom he should have exclusive

authority above all the people of the earth; for though all the

inhabitants of the world were his by his right of creation and

providence, yet these should be peculiarly his, as receiving his

revelation and entering into his covenant. 5. They should be a

kingdom of priests, Ex 19:6. Their state should be a

theocracy; and as God should be the sole governor, being king in

Jeshurun, so all his subjects should be priests, all worshippers,

all sacrificers, every individual offering up the victim for

himself. A beautiful representation of the Gospel dispensation,

to which the Apostles Peter and John apply it,

1Pe 2:5, 9; Re 1:6; Re 5:10, and Re 20:6; under which

dispensation every believing soul offers up for himself that Lamb

of God which was slain for and which takes away the sin of the

world, and through which alone a man can have access to God.

Verse 6. And a holy nation.] They should be a nation, one

people; firmly united among themselves, living under their own

laws; and powerful, because united, and acting under the direction

and blessing of God. They should be a holy nation, saved from

their sins, righteous in their conduct, holy in their hearts;

every external rite being not only a significant ceremony, but

also a means of conveying light and life, grace and peace, to

every person who conscientiously used it. Thus they should be

both a kingdom, having God for their governor; and a nation, a

multitude of peoples connected together; not a scattered,

disordered, and disorganized people, but a royal nation, using

their own rites, living under their own laws, subject in religious

matters only to God, and in things civil, to every ordinance of

man for God's sake.

This was the spirit and design of this wonderful institution,

which could not receive its perfection but under the Gospel, and

has its full accomplishment in every member of the mystical body

of Christ.

Verse 7. The elders of the people] The head of each tribe, and

the chief of each family, by whose ministry this gracious purpose

of God was speedily communicated to the whole camp.

Verse 8. And all the people answered, &c.] The people, having

such gracious advantages laid before them, most cheerfully

consented to take God for their portion; as he had graciously

promised to take them for his people. Thus a covenant was made,

the parties being mutually bound to each other.

Moses returned the words] When the people had on their part

consented to the covenant, Moses appears to have gone immediately

up to the mountain and related to God the success of his mission;

for he was now on the mount, as appears from Ex 19:14.

Verse 9. A thick cloud] This is interpreted by Ex 19:18:

And Mount Sinai was altogether on a SMOKE-and the SMOKE thereof

ascended as the SMOKE of a furnace; his usual appearance was in

the cloudy pillar, which we may suppose was generally clear and


That the people may hear] See Clarke on Ex 15:9. The

Jews consider this as the fullest evidence their fathers had of

the Divine mission of Moses; themselves were permitted to see this

awfully glorious sight, and to hear God himself speak out of the

thick darkness: for before this, as Rabbi Maymon remarks, they

might have thought that Moses wrought his miracles by sorcery or

enchantment; but now, hearing the voice of God himself, they

could no longer disbelieve nor even doubt.

Verse 10. Sanctify them] See the meaning of this term,

Ex 13:2.

Let them wash their clothes] And consequently bathe their

bodies; for, according to the testimony of the Jews, these always

went together.

It was necessary that, as they were about to appear in the

presence of God, every thing should be clean and pure about them;

that they might be admonished by this of the necessity of inward

purity, of which the outward washing was the emblem.

From these institutions the heathens appear to have borrowed

their precepts relative to washings and purifications previously

to their offering sacrifice to their gods, examples of which

abound in the Greek and Latin writers. They washed their hands

and clothes, and bathed their bodies in pure water, before they

performed any act of religious worship; and in a variety of cases,

abstinence from all matrimonial connections was positively

required, before a person was permitted to perform any religious

rite, or assist at the performance.

Verse 12. Thou shalt set bounds] Whether this was a line marked

out on the ground, beyond which they were not to go, or whether a

fence was actually made to keep them off, we cannot tell; or

whether this fence was made all round the mountain, or only at

that part to which one wing of the camp extended, is not evident.

This verse strictly forbids the people from coming near and

touching Mount Sinai, which was burning with FIRE. The words

therefore in Ex 19:15,

al tiggeshu el ishshah, come not at your wives, seem rather to

mean, come not near unto the FIRE; especially as the other phrase

is not at all probable: but the fire is, on this occasion, spoken

of so emphatically (see De 5:4, 5, 22-25) that we are naturally

led to consider ishshah here as ha-esh transposed, or

to say, with Simon in his Lexicon, faem, idem quod masc.

ignis. So among other instances, we have and a

wing; and light; and strength;

and and a speech.-Burt. See KENNICOTT'S Remarks.

Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death] The

place was awfully sacred, because the dreadful majesty of God was

displayed on it. And this taught them that God is a consuming

fire, and that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the

living God.

Verse 13. There shall not a hand touch it] bo, HIM, not the

mountain, but the man who had presumed to touch the mountain. He

should be considered altogether as an unclean and accursed thing,

not to be touched for fear of conveying defilement; but should be

immediately stoned or pierced through with a dart, Heb 12:20.

Verse 16. Thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud-and the

voice of the trumpet] The thunders, lightnings, &c., announced

the coming, as they proclaimed the majesty, of God. Of the

thunders and lightnings, and the deep, dark, dismal, electric

cloud, from which the thunders and lightnings proceeded, we can

form a tolerable apprehension; but of the loud, longsounding

trumpet, we can scarcely form a conjecture. Such were the

appearances and the noise that all the people in the camp

trembled, and Moses himself was constrained to say, "I exceedingly

fear and quake," Heb 12:21. Probably the sound of the

trumpet was something similar to that which shall be blown by

the angel when he sweareth, by Him that liveth for ever, There

shall be time no longer!

Verse 17. And Moses brought forth the people-to meet with God]

For though they might not touch the mount till they had

permission, yet when the trumpet sounded long, it appears they

might come up to the nether part of the mount, (see Ex 19:13, and

De 4:11;) and when the trumpet had ceased to sound, they might

then go up unto the mountain, as to any other place.

It was absolutely necessary that God should give the people at

large some particular evidence of his being and power, that they

might be saved from idolatry, to which they were most deplorably

prone; and that they might the more readily credit Moses, who was

to be the constant mediator between God and them. God, therefore,

in his indescribable majesty, descended on the mount; and, by the

thick dark cloud, the violent thunders, the vivid

lightnings, the long and loud blasts of the trumpet, the smoke

encompassing the whole mountain, and the excessive earthquake,

proclaimed his power, his glory, and his holiness; so that the

people, however unfaithful and disobedient afterwards, never once

doubted the Divine interference, or suspected Moses of any cheat

or imposture. Indeed, so absolute and unequivocal were the proofs

of supernatural agency, that it was impossible these appearances

could be attributed to any cause but the unlimited power of the

author of Nature.

It is worthy of remark that the people were informed three days

before, Ex 19:9-11, that such an appearance was to take place;

and this answered two excellent purposes: 1. They had time to

sanctify and prepare themselves for this solemn transaction;

and, 2. Those who might be skeptical had sufficient opportunity to

make use of every precaution to prevent and detect an imposture;

so this previous warning strongly serves the cause of Divine


Their being at first prohibited from touching the mount on the

most awful penalties, and secondly, being permitted to see

manifestations of the Divine majesty, and hear the words of God,

subserved the same great purposes. Their being prohibited in the

first instance would naturally whet their curiosity, make them

cautious of being deceived, and ultimately impress them with a due

sense of God's justice and their own sinfulness; and their being

permitted afterwards to go up to the mount, must have deepened the

conviction that all was fair and real, that there could be no

imposture in the case, and that though the justice and purity of

God forbade them to draw nigh for a time, yet his mercy, which had

prescribed the means of purification, had permitted an access to

his presence. The directions given from Ex 19:10-15 inclusive

show, not only the holiness of God, but the purity he requires in

his worshippers.

Besides, the whole scope and design of the chapter prove that no

soul can possibly approach this holy and terrible Being but

through a mediator; and this is the use made of this whole

transaction by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews,

Heb 12:18-24.

Verse 20. The Lord came down] This was undoubtedly done in a

visible manner, that the people might witness the awful

appearance. We may suppose that every thing was arranged thus:

the glory of the Lord occupied the top of the mountain, and near

to this Moses was permitted to approach. Aaron and the seventy

elders were permitted to advance some way up the mountain, while

the people were only permitted to come up to its base. Moses, as

the lawgiver, was to receive the statutes and judgments from God's

mouth; Aaron and the elders were to receive them from Moses, and

deliver them to the people; and the people were to act according

to the direction received. Nothing can be imagined more glorious,

terrible, majestic, and impressive, than the whole of this

transaction; but it was chiefly calculated to impress deep

reverence, religious fear, and sacred awe; and he who attempts to

worship God uninfluenced by these, has neither a proper sense of

the Divine majesty, nor of the sinfulness of sin. It seems in

reference to this that the apostle says, Let us have grace whereby

we may serve God acceptably with REVERENCE and GODLY FEAR: for

our God is a CONSUMING FIRE; Heb 12:28, 29. Who then shall dare

to approach him in his own name and without a mediator?

Verse 22. Let the priests also-sanctify themselves] That there

were priests among the Hebrews before the consecration of Aaron

and his sons, cannot be doubted; though their functions might be

in a considerable measure suspended while under persecution in

Egypt, yet the persons existed whose right and duty it was to

offer sacrifices to God. Moses requested liberty from Pharaoh to

go into the wilderness to sacrifice; and had there not been among

the people both sacrifices and priests, the request itself must

have appeared nugatory and absurd. Sacrifices from the beginning

had constituted an essential part of the worship of God, and there

certainly were priests whose business it was to offer them to God

before the giving of the law; though this, for especial reasons,

was restricted to Aaron and his sons after the law had been given.

As sacrifices had not been offered for a considerable time, the

priests themselves were considered in a state of impurity; and

therefore God requires that they also should be purified for the

purpose of approaching the mountain, and hearing their Maker

promulgate his laws. See Clarke on Ex 28:1.

Verse 23. The people cannot come up] Either because they had

been so solemnly forbidden that they would not dare, with the

penalty of instant death before their eyes, to transgress the

Divine command; or the bounds which were set about the mount were

such as rendered their passing them physically impossible.

And sanctify it.] vekiddashio. Here the word

kadash is taken in its proper literal sense, signifying the

separating of a thing, person or place, from all profane or

common uses, and devoting it to sacred purposes.

Verse 24. Let not the priests and the people break through] God

knew that they were heedless, criminally curious, and stupidly

obstinate; and therefore his mercy saw it right to give them line

upon line, that they might not transgress to their own


FROM the very solemn and awful manner in which the LAW was

introduced, we may behold it as the ministration of terror and

death, 2Co 3:7, appearing rather to exclude men from God than to

bring them nigh; and from this we may learn that an approach to

God would have been for ever impossible, had not infinite mercy

found out the Gospel scheme of salvation. By this, and this

alone, we draw nigh to God; for we have an entrance into the

holiest by the blood of Jesus, Heb 10:19. "For," says the

apostle, "ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched,

and that burned with fire; nor unto blackness, and darkness, and

tempest, and to the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words;

which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be

spoken to them any more, (for they could not endure that which was

commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain it shall

be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: and so terrible was the

sight that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) but ye are

come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the

heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to

the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are

written in heaven; and to God, the Judge of all; and to the

spirits of just men made perfect; and to Jesus the MEDIATOR of the

NEW COVENANT; and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better

things than that of Abel;" Heb 12:18-24.

Reader, art thou still under the influence and condemning power

of that fiery law which proceeded from his right hand? Art thou

yet afar off? Remember, thou canst only come nigh by the blood of

sprinkling; and till justified by his blood, thou art under the

curse. Consider the terrible majesty of God. If thou have his

favour thou hast life; if his frown, death. Be instantly

reconciled to God, for though thou hast deeply sinned, and he is

just, yet he is the justifier of him that believeth in Christ

Jesus. Believe on him, receive his salvation, OBEY his voice

indeed, and KEEP his covenant, and THEN shalt thou be a king and

a priest unto God and the Lamb, and be finally saved with all the

power of an endless life. Amen.

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