New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

 

Exo 19:1 In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt-
"Gone out" is s.w. "brought forth". Israel were "brought forth" from Egypt by God; they had been unwilling to leave Egypt, preferring to serve the Egyptians rather than Yahweh (Ex. 14:12). God had as it were forced through His project of saving Israel by bringing them out of Egypt. And He had done so largely for the sake of Moses, by whose faith the Red Sea parted and they were delivered (Heb. 11:28,29). Therefore Yahweh's bringing Israel out of Egypt was what He did for Moses, and only thereby for His people. We too are brought out of this world towards God's Kingdom by His grace alone, with His consistently taking the initiative in our hearts and life circumstances, in accord with the loving intercession of the Lord Jesus [represented by Moses]. Thus Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 18:1; 19:1; Lev. 23:43; 25:55; Num. 26:4; 33:1,3,38; Dt. 4:45,46), but Moses did (Ex. 3:10,11).

On that same day they came into the wilderness of Sinai-
There are various options in understanding "that same day". It could mean the same day of the month, the 15th, in which they had departed from Egypt. Or it might mean the same day of the same month, i.e. the 3rd day of the 3rd month. Or we could follow the Jewish view that the phrase implies "the first day of the month". This would mean it was 45 days after leaving Egypt, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the next day, Moses went up to the mountain, and then the people are given three days to sanctify themselves. The day after that, the glory of God appeared. This would have been fifty days after Passover, the day which was to be called the day of Pentecost. And thus the Jewish tradition is confirmed- that the law was given on the day of Pentecost.    

 
Exo 19:2 When they had departed from Rephidim, and had come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mountain-
We are intended to connect this with how they had arrived in Rephidim and rebelled (Ex. 17:1). They moved on from there apparently repentant, and now encamp before Yahweh in the mountain. The impression is of a repentant people, now suitably humble to receive God's law. At least that is the idealized picture given. For God fell in love with Israel in the wilderness and spread His skirt over them at Sinai, accepting them as His wife, despite all their idolatry and weakness.


Exo 19:3 Moses went up to God, and Yahweh called to him out of the mountain, saying, This is what you shall tell the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel-
The way they were the descendants of the historical Jacob is stressed, as is his name change from Jacob to Israel. They were being reminded that Jacob too had been so weak, as they were. And yet he had been accepted and transformed by God's grace. And this was God's hope for them too.

Exo 19:4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings-
See on Num. 11:12, where Moses later doubts these words . God wants us to be independent, as good parents wish for their children; He wants us to serve Him on our initiative and not merely obey a set of legal codes. Thus He carries us an eagle teaching its young to fly, pushing them out of the nest, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them (Ex. 19:4; Ps. 17:8; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4). The pushing out of the nest in Israel's context refers to their leaving Egypt (cp. baptism for us); and throughout the wilderness journey the Father was teaching them to fly independently. But does God know in advance every failure we will commit? It seems to me that He doesn't, for in our efforts to 'learn to fly', we have freewill- the whole enterprise could go this way, or that, or the other.

"The load" of God's people was carried by Moses (Ex. 18:22); yet it had been carried by Yahweh; for He was the One who had carried Israel out of Egypt and through the desert (s.w. Ex. 19:4; Is. 46:3). Moses was carrying the people too, through patiently bearing with their petty squabbles and trying to help them see through them by wise judgment.

And brought you to Myself-
Israel's passing through the Red Sea was an undoubted type of baptism and the new creation  (1 Cor. 10:1). God brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea baptism, "and brought you unto myself" (Ex. 19:4). It was as if God was waiting for them there, in the wilderness; as He waits to receive every man or woman who passes through the waters of baptism. Time and again they were bidden look back to their exodus/ Red Sea experience. In times of dire spiritual failure or sluggish indifference to their God, as well as at their pinnacles of faith, the Spirit in the prophets directed their minds back to these things- either by explicit statement, or by indirect allusion. We too, as the baptized new Israel, ought to likewise look back to our baptism with an ever-increasing appreciation. 

Literally, 'I will take you unto Myself as a people', as in Ex. 6:7. This is similar to the formulae used for adoption of children into a family. This could continue the family allusion of :6, where we read that God would redeem / act as a family redeemer, a ga'al, for His people. The idea may not be that they became His people at the point of the exodus, but rather that He took them to Himself "as a people", they received a collective redemption, not one of them was left behind, not even the most faithless. But the collective nature of Yahweh's salvation, in our times seen in Jesus, Yehoshua, Yah's salvation, must be responded to on an individual level. 


Exo 19:5 Now therefore-
Israel were to be a Kingdom of priests exactly because "You have seen what I did... how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself" (Ex. 19:4-6). The redemption which we have personally experienced must be the motivation to rise up to this challenge. The spirit of priesthood should therefore be seen in each of us.

If you will indeed obey My voice, and keep My covenant, then you shall be My very own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine;-
We are to live out in practice what we have been made in status by our gracious Father. The very fact He counts us as in Christ, as the spotless bride of His Son, must be both felt and lived up to by us. The way He counts us like this is a wonderful motivation to rise up to it all. Consider how God told Israel that if they kept His commandments, then they would be His “peculiar treasure” (Ex. 19:5). This conditional promise is then referred to by Moses as having been fulfilled- Israel became His “peculiar treasure” by status even though they did not keep His commandments (Dt. 7:6; 14:2 s.w.; Ps. 135:4). Moses concludes by saying that “the Lord has avouched you this day to be His peculiar people [s.w.]… that you should keep all His commandments” (Dt. 26:18). See what’s happening here. God said that if they were obedient, then they would be His special people. Yet He counted them as His special people even though they were not obedient. And He did this so that they would be so touched by this grace that they would be obedient.

The Hebrew word for ‘hear’ is also translated ‘obey’ (Gen. 22:18; Ex. 19:5; Dt. 30:8,20; Ps. 95:7). We can hear God’s word and not obey it. But if we really hear it as we are intended to, we will obey it. If we truly believe God’s word to be His voice personally speaking to us, then we will by the very fact of hearing, obey. The message itself, if heard properly and not just on a surface level, will compel action. We can delight to know God’s laws and pray daily to Him, when at the same time we are forsaking Him and His laws; if we are truly obedient, then we will delight in God’s law (Is. 58:2 cp. 14). We have a tendency to have a love of and delight in God’s law only on the surface. John especially often uses ‘hearing’ to mean ‘believing’ (e.g. Jn. 10:4,26,27). And yet the Jews ‘heard’ but didn’t believe. We must, we really must ask ourselves: whether we merely hear, or hear and believe. For we can hear, but not really hear.

God saw no iniquity in Israel (Num. 23:21). He fulfilled His promise here at Sinai that if they were obedient, He would make them His people; and He did, counting them as obedient. Yet the events of the intervening forty years hardly sound like Israel being obedient; He "suffered their manners" forty years (Ps. 95:10; Acts 13:18). And yet at the end of that period, they were counted as having been sufficiently obedient to be made God’s people (Ex. 19:5 cp. Dt. 27:9).


Exo 19:6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation’. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel-
God intended Israel to be "a Kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6). “All the people of Israel” were the builders of the spiritual house of God, i.e. His people (Acts 4:10,11). It was God's intention that there should be no specialist priests. It was everyone's job, to teach their neighbour and family God's word. But His plans were ammended as their general failure became apparent, and the Levites were chosen. But His ideal intention remained. Thus when Israel were rejected, they were told that they as a nation could no longer be God’s priest (Hos. 4:6). By baptism, we become spiritual Israel; and this idea is relevant to us too. Peter picks up these words in Exodus and applies them to every one of us, for the new covenant returns to this original intention of the old covenant: "You also are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (1 Pet. 2:5,9, quoting Ex. 19:6 LXX).

As it was God’s intention that Israel were to be a nation of priests to the rest of the world, so the new Israel likewise are to all discharge the priestly functions of teaching their brethren (Ex. 19:6 cp. 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6; 5:9,10). Under the new covenant, we should all teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16). Indeed, God told Israel [unrecorded in the historical records]: “Ye are gods [elohim] and all of you are sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6 RV). Further, Ps. 96:9 makes the paradigm breaking statement that even the Gentiles could come before Yahweh of Israel in holy, priestly array- they too could aspire to the spirit of priesthood (Ps. 96:9 RVmg.). Moses spoke of how all Israel should pray that God would establish the work of their hands (Ps. 90:17)- but this was in fact his special request for the blessing of Levi, the priestly tribe (Dt. 33:11). Ps. 135:19,20 parallels all Israel with the priestly family: “Bless the Lord, O house of Israel: bless the Lord, O house of Aaron: bless the Lord, O house of Levi: ye that fear the Lord, bless the Lord...praise ye the Lord”. All Israel were to aspire to the spirit of priesthood. Indeed, the Psalms often parallel the house of Aaron (i.e. the priesthood) with the whole nation (Ps. 115:9,10,12; 118:2,3).

The "Kingdom of God" is not only a future political entity to be established on earth; the term refers also to whatever God has Kingship over now. A Kingdom is essentially a people. God's people are His Kingdom, here and now. By entry into the body of Christ by baptism, we are like Israel being declared as God's Kingdom on earth (Ex. 19:5,6) after their Red Sea 'baptism'. Life in [the body of] Christ now, the Kingdom life now [as the Lord speaks of it in Mt. 5-7], the life to be eternally experienced in the future manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth... it's all about life in a community. It's not about splendid isolation now, because it won't be about that in the eternal future either.  


Exo 19:7 Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which Yahweh commanded him-
"All these words" were the invitation to be God's priestly kingdom. The first simple step in relationship with God is to say "Yes" to that general invitation. And then the details follow, but it seems God saw their initial agreement as so significant. There is some parallel in the way that the very simple gospel of the resurrected Lord Jesus is to be taught, accepted in baptism, and then after that, those who have accepted it are to be taught "to observe all things whatever I have commanded" (Mt. 28:20). See on :11.   


Exo 19:8 All the people answered together, and said, All that Yahweh has spoken we will do. Moses reported the words of the people to Yahweh-
Answered together" could imply that they spoke these words in unison, at the same time. God of course heard those words, but Moses "reported the words" as if this was required in order for the proposed covenant to be formally ratified. See on :19. 

Exo 19:9 Yahweh said to Moses, Behold, I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever. Moses told the words of the people to Yahweh-
The Angel told Moses that the people would hear him, "and believe you for ever". But this was only true potentially, as are many such statements. For things turned out the opposite. At this time, God saw no iniquity in Israel (Num. 23:21), He was the young man in love with the girl called Israel whom He had met in the desert. And so the record reads very positively about them. See on :21.


Exo 19:10 Yahweh said to Moses, Go to the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments-
This command to sanctify themselves suggests separation from something. And surely the idea was that they were to repent of their idolatry and ditch the idols of Egypt which they had taken with them through the Red Sea (Ez. 20:8). There is no evidence they did so, for they carried the tabernacles of other gods through the desert, along with Yahweh's (Acts 7:43).


Exo 19:11 and be ready against the third day; for on the third day Yahweh will come down in the sight of all the people on Mount Sinai-
"Be ready" is the phrase used in the covenant to David, rendered "be established... be confirmed" (2 Sam. 7:16,24,26). Their readiness or preparedness, basically their willingness, was to be the qualification for entering the covenant. See on :7. In one sense, all we have to do is say yes.


Exo 19:12 You shall set bounds to the people all around, saying, ‘Be careful that you don’t go up onto the mountain, or touch its border. Whoever touches the mountain shall be surely put to death-
Moses apparently obeyed this (:23), although there is no record of his doing so. The Hebrew for "bounds" is literally to tie a rope; it was but a rope. The boundary therefore made the mountain holy / sanctified (:23). They were not to touch the holiness of Yahweh, whereas later whatever touched holy things was made holy (s.w. Ex. 29:37; 30:29; Lev. 6:18). The implication could be that God knew that in reality, they were not a sanctified / holy people. He had asked them to make themselves holy by rejecting their idols, but they had not done so (:10). And so they were warned not to touch the holy mountain, or else they would die for having defiled God's holiness by their unholiness. 


Exo 19:13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether it is animal or man, he shall not live’-
The commentary of Heb. 12:20 is that "They could not endure [s.w. "uphold"] that which was commanded- If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned". The argument in the context seems to be that Israel were disobedient even to the peripheral command not to touch the mountain; let alone to the actual content of the covenant. Although they disobeyed, there is no record of their being slain. Their curiosity overcame any respect they may have had for God's law, and thus they repeated in essence the sin of Adam and Eve in touching and taking the forbidden fruit.

When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain-
LXX "when the voices and trumpets and cloud depart from off the mountain, they shall come up on the mountain". But this didn't happen- see on :14. They were not sufficiently sanctified; see on :10.

Exo 19:14 Moses went down from the mountain to the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes-
I suggested on :10 that this command to sanctify themselves suggests separation from something. And surely the idea was that they were to repent of their idolatry and ditch the idols of Egypt which they had taken with them through the Red Sea (Ez. 20:8). But Moses sanctified them in a ritual sense. But I have argued on :10 that they were not in fact sufficiently holy, and therefore they did not ascend the mountain as originally planned (:13). 


Exo 19:15 He said to the people, Be ready by the third day. Don’t have sexual relations with a woman-
They had three days to sanctify themselves, and I suggested on :10 that this meant throwing away their idols and being sanctified to Yahweh alone. But as noted on :14, they merely went through external rituals of sanctification, and thought that washing their clothes and abstaining from sex for three days would make them sanctified. It didn't.


Exo 19:16 It happened on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain, and the sound of an exceedingly loud trumpet; and all the people who were in the camp trembled-
"Thunders" is LXX "voices"; the thunders were to be understood as the great voice of God. And then according to Ex. 19:13 LXX "when the voices and trumpets and cloud depart from off the mountain, they shall come up on the mountain". But this didn't happen- see on :14. They were not sufficiently sanctified; see on :10. Moses himself trembled (Heb. 12:21).  


Exo 19:17 Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the lower part of the mountain-
The idea was as in :13 LXX "when the voices and trumpets and cloud depart from off the mountain, they shall come up on the mountain". But this didn't happen- see on :14. They were not sufficiently sanctified; see on :10. Instead of all of them ascending the mountain, only Moses was invited to ascend (:20). This was a departure from the initial intention. And when he got to the top, he was simply told to go down and ensure the people didn't break through the cordon and come up the mountain as originally planned. Some of them had already touched the mountain; for the commentary of Heb. 12:20 is that "They could not endure [s.w. "uphold"] that which was commanded- If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned". The argument in the context seems to be that Israel were disobedient even to the peripheral command not to touch the mountain. The whole narrative is the story of an intimacy with God which didn't come about as potentially possible. And that is the sad story of so much of the Divine-human encounter. 


Exo 19:18 Mount Sinai, all of it, smoked, because Yahweh descended on it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly-
This reference to fire, smoke, furnace, earthquake and the descent of Yahweh is very similar to the language of Divine judgment, especially of Sodom (Gen. 19:28; Rev. 9:2). And we know from the prophets that Israel were considered by God as Sodom. We could read this as His wrath with Israel for breaking His simple commandments about not touching the mountain, and for not having sufficiently sanctified themselves (see on :10,14,18). The argument of Heb. 12 appears to be that the scene here is one of condemnation of sinful man- and we have not been called to that, but to salvation by grace in the new covenant in Christ. But this condemnation wasn't the original intention; which had been rather that all Israel would ascend Sinai and meet God (:13).

Exo 19:19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice-
What did Moses speak? Presumably the words of :7,8, whereby the people had agreed to enter covenant with Yahweh. The response was that Moses alone, and not the people as originally planned (see on :13), was invited up to God. And was simply told to return to the people, with no covenant, but rather a repeated message not to touch the mountain in their unclean state (see on :10,14,15). 


Exo 19:20 Yahweh came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. Yahweh called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up-
See on :19. Wherever an ordinary Israelite offered sacrifice, “I will come unto thee [‘you’ singular] and bless thee” (Ex. 20:23 AV). This is the very language of God coming unto Moses on the top of Sinai (Ex. 19:20 RV)- as if to imply that the very pinnacle of Moses’ relationship with God, meeting Him on the top of the mount, is just as attainable for each of God’s people who truly sacrifices to Him.

God Himself is spoken of as coming, descending etc. when He ‘preaches’ to humanity (e.g. Gen. 11:5; Ex. 19:20; Num. 11:25; 2 Sam. 22:10). In Jer. 39:16, the imprisoned Jeremiah is told to "go, tell Ebed-melech..." a word from the Lord about him. Jeremiah couldn't have literally left prison to do so- but the idea is that a person encountering the Lord's word has as it were experienced the Lord 'going' to him or her. And in this sense the message of the Lord Jesus (in its essence) could 'go' to persons without Him physically going anywhere or even existing consciously at the time (1 Pet. 3:18-21).


Exo 19:21 Yahweh said to Moses, Go down, warn the people, lest they break through to Yahweh to gaze, and many of them perish-
We eagerly await the words of Yahweh to Moses. The narrative sets us up to expect some profound revelation; but Moses is told simply to go all the way back down the mountain and warn the people of their tendency to disobedience. Heb. 12:20 says the people had touched the mountain, and they were not sufficiently sanctified. See on :10,14,15. They had religious curiosity, they wanted to gaze upon God- but not to personally sanctify themselves in order to enter true relationship with Him. And that is so true of people today.

The way Moses in Deuteronomy sees Israel as far more righteous than they were reflects the way the Lord imputes righteousness to us. He says that Israel didn't go near the mountain because they were afraid of the fire (Dt. 5:5), whereas Ex. 19:21-24 teaches that Israel at that time were not so afraid of the fire, and were quite inclined to break through the dividing fence and gaze in unspiritual fascination at a theophany which was beyond them. See on Dt. 13:6.


Exo 19:22 Let the priests also, who come near to Yahweh, sanctify themselves, lest Yahweh break forth on them-
Clearly there were some priests before Aaron and his sons were consecrated. So many elements of the Mosaic law were in operation before it was given, so that some of it was really just a codification of existing concepts. But it was God's intention that all His people be priests, and under the new covenant, this priestly language of coming / drawing near to God is applied to all believers (Heb. 7:19). Indeed it is through having the sure hope of the Kingdom that we are inspired to "draw near to God" in such priestly service.


Exo 19:23 Moses said to Yahweh, The people can’t come up to Mount Sinai, for you warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds around the mountain, and sanctify it’-
Moses over-estimated their obedience, so much did he love them. Unknown to him at the time, they had touched the mountain and had broken the command not to touch it (Heb. 12:20). And as explained on :10,13,14, they were not sufficiently sanctified before God.


Exo 19:24 Yahweh said to him, Go down and you shall bring Aaron up with you, but don’t let the priests and the people break through to come up to Yahweh, lest He break forth on them-
They had religious curiosity, they wanted to gaze upon God- but not to personally sanctify themselves in order to enter true relationship with Him. And that is so true of people today.

If Israel broke through to gaze, Yahweh would break through upon them (Ex. 19:24); their punishment would be appropriate to their sin. Under the Law, every sin received an appropriate judgment, and this anticipates the final meting out of punishment at the last day (Heb. 2:2,3). Because Israel said "No; for we will flee upon horses [and not need Yahweh's protection]; therefore shall you flee [in the condemnation process]: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift" (Is. 30:16). Because Israel thought they could flee God's judgments on swift horses, therefore their judgment came to them on swift horses. Adam and Eve were punished in ways appropriate to their individual failures. The lazy servant was punished out of his own mouth (Lk. 19:22); and even in Job's time, this principle of Divine condemnation was known (Job 9:20; 15:6). The Judaizers too were to have an "end [that] will correspond to their deeds" (2 Cor. 11:14,15 RSV).

Exo 19:25 So Moses went down to the people, and told them-
We are left to imagine him making the long journey back to the people, without having received the covenant as expected. He had merely been told to ensure the people didn't break through and touch the holy mountain. He would have realized on the climb down that they must have sinned. Something had gone wrong, and they had not in fact been invited up the mountain as initially planned (:13).