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Tuesday, September 26th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Exodus 19

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Arrival At Mount Sinai And The Appearance of Yahweh on the Mount (Exodus 19:1-25 ).

This section is introduced by a summary (Exodus 19:1-2) which refers back to the details in Exodus 17-18. It was possibly the opening of a new papyrus scroll (or tablet) in his source to bring back to mind the stage reached in the last scroll. Compare here Exodus 6:28 to Exodus 7:1 with Exodus 6:11-13.

Verses 1-2

Arrival At Mount Sinai And The Appearance of Yahweh on the Mount (Exodus 19:1-25 ).

This section is introduced by a summary (Exodus 19:1-2) which refers back to the details in Exodus 17-18. It was possibly the opening of a new papyrus scroll (or tablet) in his source to bring back to mind the stage reached in the last scroll. Compare here Exodus 6:28 to Exodus 7:1 with Exodus 6:11-13.

Opening Summary (Exodus 19:1-2 ).

Exodus 19:1-2

‘In the third moon period after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. And when they were departed from Rephidim and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they pitched in the wilderness, and there Israel camped before the mount.’

“In the third moon period.” Where there is the intention of being specific the day of the month is always given, so this is a rather vague indicator of time. About seventy to ninety days have thus passed since they began their journey. ‘The same day’, that is, in that particular time period, with ‘yom’ signifying a particular time rather than a day.

“They came into the wilderness of Sinai.” This refers to their entry into that part of the country south of Canaan named ‘the wilderness of Sinai’, the area in which the mountain itself was found.

“And when they were departed from Rephidim and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they pitched in the wilderness.” Here the ‘wilderness of Sinai’ refers to that part of the Sinai peninsula which is immediately around the Mount. It was here that they pitched their camp ‘in the wilderness’, and where the rock was to be found from which water gushed (Exodus 17:6). This brief summary connects back to the previous chapters, probably indicating the beginning of a new papyrus scroll.

“There Israel camped before the mount.” This is the mountain where Moses met with God in the theophany at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1), the place where God had chosen to reveal Himself. The place of which Yahweh had said, ‘You shall serve God on this mountain’ (Exodus 3:12). Now Moses has come to meet with Him there again for one of the greatest events in history. Note again the use of ‘Israel’ by itself. This is now used synonymously with ‘the children of Israel’.

Note on the whereabouts of Sinai.

The traditional Mount Sinai is Jebel Musa (the mount of Moses), part of the granite range of mountains in the south-central part of the peninsula of Sinai. It is one of three large peaks in that area.

Tradition has pointed to this mountain as Mount Sinai, although the tradition is rather late only going back sixteen hundred years. It has a plain at its base which ties in with the Biblical description. “That such a plain should exist at all in front of such a cliff is so remarkable a coincidence with the sacred narrative as to furnish a strong internal argument, not merely of its identity with the scene, but of the scene itself having been described by an eyewitness. -- the awful and lengthened approach, as to some natural sanctuary, would have been the fittest preparation for the coming scene. The low line of alluvial mounds at the foot of the cliff exactly answers to the ‘bounds’ which were to keep the people off from touching the mount. The plain itself is not broken and uneven and narrowly shut in, like almost all others in the range, but presents a long, retiring sweep, against which the people could ‘remove and stand afar off’. The cliff, arising like a huge altar in front of the whole congregation, and visible against the sky in lonely grandeur from end to end of the whole plain is the very image of ‘the mountain that might be touched’, and from which the voice of God might be heard far and wide over the plain below, widened at that point to its utmost extent by the confluence of all the contiguous valleys.”

And its strongest support comes from the fact that some of the places that the Israelites visited are generally, although not certainly, identifiable along the way to it.

Some have argued against this identification on the grounds that: 1). The mountain is not volcanic and they consider what follows to suggest volcanic action. 2). That the Sinai peninsula lay within the jurisdiction of Pharaoh and that therefore the children of Israel would avoid it. 3). That Jethro’s clan lay east of the Gulf of ‘Aqabah and not in the south of the Sinai peninsula.

But in the case of 1). there is no reason for requiring the mountain to be volcanic. The vivid pictures of the glory of Yahweh fit better with a violent storm rather than a volcano. In the case of 2). we know that Pharaoh’s soldiers were only in the area when the mines were operating in January-March. They would therefore not be around at this time. And in the case of 3). the Midianites were nomads and therefore moved around at will. The presence of the Amalekites at Rephidim to defend it demonstrates that this territory was seen as Bedouin territory. The Midianites and the Amalekites tended to live at peace with one another acknowledging that each had a right to be there. Thus Midianites may well have travelled and encamped in the Sinai region. It is also clear that they had contacts with the Kenites for Jethro’s grandson is called a Kenite (Judges 4:11), possibly through marriage. And the word Kenite probably means ‘smiths’, thus connecting them with the mines in the Sinai peninsula.

Be that as it may what happened there was considerably more important than its identity.

End of note.

Verses 3-9

Yahweh Declares His People To Be A Holy People And His Treasured Possession, A Kingdom of Priests (Exodus 19:3-9 ).

This may be analysed as follows:

a Moses goes up to God and Yahweh calls to him from the mountain (Exodus 19:3).

b Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4).

c “Now therefore if you will obey my voice indeed” (Exodus 19:5 a).

d “And keep my covenant,” (Exodus 19:5 b).

e “Then you shall be a special possession to me from among all people” (Exodus 19:5 c),

f “For all the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5 d).

e “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 a).

d These are the words (of My covenant) which you will speak to the children of Israel (Exodus 19:6 b).

c And Moses came and called for the elders of the people and set before them all these words which Yahweh commanded him, and all the people answered together and said, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to Yahweh (Exodus 19:7-8).

b And Yahweh said to Moses, “Lo I come to you in a thick cloud that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you for ever” (Exodus 19:9 a).

a And Moses told the words of the people to Yahweh (Exodus 19:9 b).

Note how in ‘a’ Yahweh calls to Moses from the mountain, while in the parallel Moses replies to Yahweh and tells Him words of the people. In ‘b’ Yahweh declares in a short covenant form what He had done to their oppressors, the Egyptians, and how He had borne them on eagles’ wings and brought them too Himself, while in the parallel He will come in a thick cloud (the cloud that has ever been their protector and has gone with them) so that the people might hear Him and believe, being thus brought to Himself. In ‘c’ the call in the covenant is to obey Him while in the parallel the people respond in promising obedience. In ‘d’ He calls on them to keep His covenant while in the parallel His covenant words are to be spoken to the children of Israel. In ‘e’ they are to be a special possession and in the parallel they are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the central promises of the covenant. While ‘f’ is central to the whole covenant.

Exodus 19:3-4

‘And Moses went up to God, and Yahweh called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

Having arrived at the mount and encamped Moses went up into the mountain to meet with God (it is the mountain of God), as Exodus 3:12 had promised he would. And as he ascended Yahweh spoke to him from the mountain above.

The words that follow are in the form of a covenant. They are addressed to the people, they declare what Yahweh has done for them and how He has cared for them, they further declare what privileges will be theirs if they hear and obey Him. And Moses is then called on to report His words to the people, to which they make a specific covenant response. This is preparing them for the greater experience that they will shortly have, a kind of preparation before the main event.

“The house of Jacob --- the children of Israel.” This demonstrates how closely the phrase ‘the children of Israel’ still refers back to Jacob as their patriarchal figure. They are of the household of Jacob, one people. Thus are the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) ensured of their place in Jacob’s household, and among the children of Israel if they respond to His covenant.

The reference back to the wonders He wrought in Egypt and the way He had brought them through the wilderness is preparatory to this covenant but is also preparing for the great covenant that is coming. These events are the basis of the covenant, the reason why He demands that they accept it.

“Went up to God (Elohim).” Here ‘God’ is probably used instead of Yahweh to stress a movement into the supernatural sphere. ‘Elohim’ stresses the sphere of the supernatural and can be used of angels and spirits. Thus it stresses that Moses was moving into a higher sphere, where he met God. But it is Yahweh Who speaks to him.

“Bore you on eagles” wings.’ The eagle flew swiftly (Deuteronomy 28:49; 2 Samuel 1:23) and bore its young on its wings (Deuteronomy 32:11). So has Yahweh borne His people through the wilderness. They are His ‘young’. (In the Bible the term ‘eagle’ is used of large birds generally and often refers to vultures).

“Brought you to myself.” These words are indicative of the importance of this moment. They have been brought to Him as His own chosen people. And now, as a result of His sovereign choice, revealed by His actions on their behalf, He will have dealings with them.

In Exodus 19:9 we have the parallel thought that He has been with them in His thick cloud in which His presence is made known to them, from which He will speak to them so that they might hear and believe

Exodus 19:5

“Now therefore if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you will be my treasured personal possession from among all peoples. For all the earth is mine.”

Having first stated why they should be grateful to Him, He now declares that if they will obey Him and observe the requirements of His covenant, then He will treat them in turn as special and unique. As we shall see, this gratitude for what He has done for them, and the subsequent demand for obedience to His terms, is the basis of the covenant in Exodus 20:0 that we call the Ten Commandments, but Exodus calls ‘the ten words’ (we call it that because we have partly missed the point of what it is really saying. We stress the commandments as permanent principles and tend to ignore the covenant).

“My treasured personal possession.” (Hebrew ‘segulah’). Compare its use in 1 Chronicles 3:0 where it differentiates David’s own treasure from the general treasure. All the earth is Yahweh’s but they will be specially His own. There for His joy and delight and cared for as none other.

“For all the earth is mine.” A clear declaration that He is God of the whole earth and can do with it as He will. That is why what He is doing will affect all peoples.

Exodus 19:6

“And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you will speak to the children of Israel.”

While certainly forward looking this promise is intrinsic in the covenants made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If the whole world was to be blessed through them, and through His covenant with them, there had to be some means of it reaching to the world and in those days this would be accomplished through teaching priests. Thus God’s destiny for Israel was that they should be priests to the nations. They were to be holy to Yahweh, separated and true to Him, and finally to minister to the nations.

“A kingdom of priests.” As Yahweh’s subjects they were later to have priestly responsibility towards the nations. No other description of a whole people who were to evangelise the world would have been conceivable at that time. In the terms of the day it would include sacrificial responsibilities, including the ministering of the benefits of those sacrifices, and teaching responsibilities so that men may know and understand Yahweh’s covenant (the teaching responsibilities of priests are referred to in Deuteronomy 33:8-10; see also Jeremiah 31:34 for the future hope that all Israel will qualify as teachers. Compare 2 Chronicles 17:7-10; Nehemiah 8:7-8; Malachi 2:6-7). What Moses at present did for them acting as their priest they would do for the nations. The later fulfilment of this through the ministry of the cross and the true Christian church is the quite remarkable result (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

“A holy nation.” A nation set apart to Yahweh for a holy purpose, sharing His sanctity and uniquely in a position to dispense His mercy to the world. This, as the covenant makes clear, includes purity of living, something unique in regard to the concept of ‘holiness’ in the ancient world. They were ideally to present to the world the essence of what Yahweh was in visible form, and were separated off for this purpose which would be accomplished by their obedience to the covenant, which in itself would reveal Yahweh’s uniqueness and purity to the world.

“These are the words that you will speak to the children of Israel.” So Yahweh begins preparations for what is about to happen by outlining His final purposes for them. From the beginning they are shown the distant objective and their glorious destiny. Before the detail they are shown the final overall plan.

Exodus 19:7-8

‘And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which Yahweh commanded them, and all the people answered together and said, “All that Yahweh has said, we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to Yahweh.’

Moses reported back to the elders all that Yahweh had said, and his requirement that the people should see themselves as priests to the nations, with their lives dedicated to this responsibility. The people themselves were then informed and brought together en masse. And there they declared their intent to do what Yahweh had said.

Then Moses returned into the mountain and told Yahweh what the response the people had made. There was an offer, and an acceptance, and the acceptance of the covenant was now communicated to the offerer.

Exodus 19:9

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Lo, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you for ever.” And Moses told the words of the people to Yahweh.’

The cloud was already the visible sign of Yahweh’s presence with His people. Perhaps it had already gone to the top of the mountain when Moses went there. Now Yahweh promises that when He speaks the words of His great covenant the cloud will appear so that all the people will see that He is speaking to Moses and will hear His words. Then their faith will not just rest on what Moses tells them but also on what they themselves have heard and seen.

“And may also believe you for ever.” This was one thing on which future generations of Israel would never be in doubt, that Yahweh had given His covenant on the Mount and had revealed His demands through Moses.

“And Moses told the words of the people to Yahweh.” This may well have been for a second time. Possibly it was like the responses in a consecration service, with the replies often repeated (compare Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7). If so, to this new approach from Yahweh he repeats the words of the people, “All that Yahweh has said, we will do.” It was important that they should voluntarily indicate their willingness to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation as Yahweh desired, and a thing repeated twice was especially binding.

However, repetition was commonplace in ancient narratives and this may simply be a repeat intended to stress that Moses did give the peoples’ reply to Yahweh, binding them to His requirements, thus making their responsibility doubly clear.

Verses 10-13

The People Are To Prepare For What Yahweh Is Going To Do (Exodus 19:10-25 ) .

This passage is also based on a chiastic construction as follows:

a Moses is told to prepare the people so that they will be ready (Exodus 19:10-11).

b Bounds are to be set, they must not touch the mount lest they die (Exodus 19:12-13).

c Moses sanctifies the people in readiness (Exodus 19:14-15).

d The awesome scene is described. Thunders and lightning and a thick cloud on the mount, and the sound of a trumpet, all the people tremble (Exodus 19:16).

e The people brought forth to meet with God (Exodus 19:17 a).

e The people stand at the bottom of the mount (Exodus 19:17 b).

d The awesome scene is described. The mount is on smoke, Yahweh descends in fire, smoke rises, the mount quakes, the voice of a trumpet sounds long, when Yahweh comes down on the top of the mount, and Moses goes up to meet Yahweh (Exodus 19:18-20).

c The priests to sanctify themselves lest Yahweh break forth on them (Exodus 19:21).

b The priests and people not to approach the mount lest Yahweh break forth on them (Exodus 19:23-24).

a Moses goes down to the people and speaks to them (Exodus 19:25).

The chiasmus is powerful. The opening and closing statements (a) show Moses in total control over the whole situation, while b at both ends stresses in contrast the need for the people not to approach the mount. They are not worthy. The chiasmus then brings out in d (‘surrounding’ the people in e) the mighty and fearful things by which they were ‘surrounded’ and the contrast between the people, of whom it is said, ‘all the people --- trembled’, and Moses of whom it is said, ‘Moses went up (to the top of the mount)’. So the people tremble, while Moses goes boldly up to meet Yahweh. Note also the stress on each side of the description of the mount (in c) of their need to be sanctified, both people and priests in order to face this experience of Yahweh. And in the midst of all this, trembling and afraid are the people brought forth to meet God and at the bottom of the mount (e).

Exodus 19:10-13

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes 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. And you will set bounds for the people round about, saying, ‘Take notice of yourselves that you do not go up the mount, or touch its border. Whoever touches the mount will surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him for he shall surely be stoned or shot through. Whether it be beast or man it shall not live. When the trumpet sounds a long note they will go up the mount.’ ” ’

The conditions God lays down stress the sacredness of this experience. He Himself is going to descend in the full reality of His presence, although hidden by a cloud. So intense will be His presence that the mountain will be so holy that nothing earthly must touch it while He is there manifested to such an extent. Only Moses, and then Aaron, the men whom He has set apart to Himself, will be able to enter it.

So Moses is to set a boundary, some kind of physical indicator, beyond which the people may not come. That boundary and all above it will be sacred and must not be touched from the border upwards.

“Sanctify them today and tomorrow.” Possibly by the offering of sacrifice. ‘Sanctify them’ may represent something to be done by Moses - compare Exodus 29:1 - but it could simply mean ‘arrange for them to sanctify themselves’. This must then be followed by them washing their clothes and avoiding contact with anything seen as ritually unclean, which included abstention from sexual intercourse (Exodus 19:15; compare Leviticus 15:16-18; 1 Samuel 21:4-5). It may well have included bathing themselves daily as a preparatory act, for the removing of earthiness in view of their approach to God (Exodus 30:20; Exodus 40:32). The washing of the clothes and waiting for a period was later regularly a way by which ‘cleansing’ could finally be effected (Leviticus 11:28; Leviticus 11:40 and often) and in some cases bathing was also required (Leviticus 15:5 and often). The period of sanctifying demonstrated how pure they had to be.

“Yahweh will come down in the sight of all the people on Mount Sinai.” The whole people are to be witnesses to this amazing event, Yahweh coming down on Mount Sinai.

“Whoever touches the mount shall surely be put to death.” This is because they will have come in contact with the mount where God is, in direct defiance of His commands, and will have defiled it. They must learn the holiness and ‘otherness’ of God (compare Exodus 3:5).

“No hand shall touch him.” That is, shall touch any transgressor. This is because something of the ‘holiness’ of the Mount is seen as imparted to him which none must come in contact with. Nothing that touches the mount at that time shall be allowed to live, even if it be a stray animal. Thus his death must be by stoning or by arrow shot, not by contact. Thus the holiness and total ‘otherness’ (unlike anything known) of God is emphasised.

The purpose of all these restrictions is to bring home the supreme holiness and otherness of God and to prevent the people from treating His approach too lightly. God is not to be treated lightly, something we need to be more aware of in the present day.

“When the trumpet sounds a long note they shall go up (to) the mount.” At the long trumpet blast they are to go up the mount to the bounds marked by Moses. Alternately, but more unlikely, this may mean that the mount will no longer be seen as holy once there has been an extra long blast of the trumpet. Another suggestion is that ‘they’ means the people’s representatives, Moses and Aaron.

The point at which a mountain begins is always an open question as there will be slopes leading up to it. The boundary is to be decided by Moses. This then refers to coming up to that point.

Verse 14

‘And Moses went down from the Mount to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, “Be ready against the third day. Do not come near a woman.” ’

The sanctifying by Moses was possibly by the offering of sacrifices (compare Exodus 29:1) after which the people washed their clothes in readiness for God’s call. From then on they had to avoid anything that would make them ritually unclean, including sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse produced uncleanness on the body (Leviticus 15:16-18) and they were required to be ritually pure for the whole three days (compare 1 Samuel 21:5).

It is significant that sexual intercourse was seen as an earthly activity excluded from the heavenly. This may well partly have been because of its association with certain religious rituals elsewhere, as well as because it was associated with man’s first sin. But Jesus will later point out that the angels in Heaven ‘neither marry nor are given in marriage’. It is very much a ‘fleshly’ activity.

Verse 16

‘And on the third day, when it was morning, it happened. There were thunders and lightning and thick cloud on the Mount, and the sound of an exceedingly loud trumpet. And all the people who were in the camp trembled.’

On the morning of the third day what appeared to be a terrible electrical storm came on the mountain top. There was thunder and lightning and thick cloud. And from it came the sound of what seemed like an exceedingly loud trumpet. What caused this latter naturally speaking, if it was a natural manifestation, we do not know. It may well have been a deliberate representation of a trumpet blast announcing the arrival of the King. But through it all God was preparing to manifest Himself.

Verse 17

‘And Moses brought the people out of the camp and they stood at the lowest part of the mountain.’

At the coming of the storm Moses obediently brought all the people up to the bounds that he had set at ‘the lowest part of the mountain’, the mounds leading up to the mountain.

Verse 18

‘And Mount Sinai was totally covered in smoke because Yahweh descended on it in fire, and its smoke ascended as the smoke of a furnace and the whole mountain quaked greatly.’

Fire and smoke were both symbols of God in Genesis 15:17 where He appeared in a smoking furnace and a flaming torch. This manifestation at Sinai reproduced the same on a grander scale. It would remind the people of that covenant with Abram, confirmed by smoke and fire, and the great deliverance from Egypt He then promised (Genesis 15:13-14). Fire was the most awe-inspiring thing known to ancient man, and fire swirling with smoke the most destructive. Man had experienced its effects often, he had seen it consume great areas of land, he knew himself how to use it for destructive purposes. And he had learned to fear it. And God was the untouchable and unapproachable fire.

God appearing in the likeness of fire is common in both Old and New Testaments (see Genesis 15:17; Exodus 13:21; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:18; Exodus 24:17; Exodus 40:38; Deuteronomy 4:11; Ezekiel 1:27; Ezekiel 8:2: Act 2:3 ; 1 Timothy 6:16; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). To the ancient such a manifestation showed God to be a combination of the inexplicable and the beneficial, of the dangerous and yet vital. Yahweh had no form and yet like fire could be seen even in the darkness. He could even bring light to the darkness. Like fire He benefited man and yet could consume him. He was glorious and awe-inspiring and then in a moment He could be gone. In manifestation fire brought home something of the significance of the divine. But above all it revealed glory.

“Totally covered in smoke --- its smoke ascended as the smoke of a furnace.” Isaiah 4:5 demonstrates that smoke and cloud can be seen as parallels in this context, for he spoke of ‘a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night’ with the pillars of cloud and fire, and probably this scene, in mind (compare also Isaiah 6:4). Thus the smoke represented Yahweh appearing in a cloud.

But the ascending smoke would also remind them of that dreadful and awesome day when God reigned down fire from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah. There too ‘the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace’ (Genesis 19:28). He was a God of judgment as well as a God of glory. So we have both fire and smoke, light (Exodus 13:21) and judgment, the Guide (through cloud and fire) and the Judge.

“The whole mountain quaked greatly.” This may have been caused by the impression given by the excessive rumbling of the heavy thunder and the continual flickering of the lightning, heightened by the divine presence, or there may have been a minor earthquake that shook the mountain to its core. Either way it added to the awesomeness of the experience.

Verses 20-21

‘And Yahweh came down on Mount Sinai, to the mountain peak, and Yahweh called Moses to the mountain peak, and Moses went up. And Yahweh said to Moses, “Go down. Charge the people lest they break through to Yahweh to gaze and many of them perish.”

As God looked down He knew the hearts of the people, and He had mercy on them. He knew that their trembling fear (Exodus 19:16) was slowly turning into awed curiosity (‘to gaze’ - Exodus 19:21), and that in such a state some might become careless and thus perish. So He sent for Moses to come up to Him on the mountain peak, and from there He sent him down to prevent it happening. He did not want His gracious appearance to turn into tragedy. The people would be filled with awe to think that Moses had been allowed into the holy mount while God was resident.

“Charge the people.” They were to be given a strict charge not a mild admonishment. The matter was deadly serious.

Verse 22

‘And let the priests also who come near to Yahweh, sanctify themselves, lest Yahweh break forth on them.’

This refers to Moses and Aaron. They are the priests who approach Yahweh at this time (Exodus 19:24). Moses especially (Exodus 17:15), and Aaron with him, are the ones who at this stage mainly act as priests on behalf of the people. There were secondary priests, heads of their fathers’ houses, but they were not to be allowed to approach on this holy mountain (Exodus 19:24). Yahweh is reminding the people of the exalted position of Moses and Aaron.

But before they do so even they must sanctify themselves. For they cannot come without that. So once he has gone down the mountain and been with the people Moses, before returning, must again wash his clothes, to remove the earthiness of being with the people, as must Aaron. Then they may again approach Yahweh.

“Let the priests who approach Yahweh.” This is emphasising that Moses and Aaron, as those who are to approach Yahweh, have their privileged access as priests to the people. This is the reason that they come before Him, because they are mediators for the people. Yet in this case they alone of all the priests are to be allowed this access. This brings out the unique holiness of this situation. But because of this very fact they must re-sanctify themselves.

But behind the specific situation is a general situation. All priests who approach Yahweh at any time must sanctify themselves. Indeed the words may be a quotation of words already given to Moses and written down in the statutes previously laid down (Exodus 15:25). The simple approach confirms their primitive form. They will soon be replaced by a more complex situation.

“Lest Yahweh break forth on them.” They too will be destroyed if they do not obey Yahweh’s requirements (compare Exodus 4:24) or if they seek to approach him covered in earthiness.

Verse 23

‘And Moses said to Yahweh, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, for you charged us saying, ‘Set bounds about the Mount and sanctify it’.” ’

Moses is still a little naive. He cannot conceive that the people would disobey Yahweh and break through the bounds and enter the sanctified area of the mountain, for Yahweh has forbidden it, and to him that is final, and besides there is the threat of instant death. But Yahweh knows His people better than he.

Verse 24

‘And Yahweh said to him, “Go, get yourself down, and you will come up, you, and Aaron with you, but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to Yahweh, lest he break out upon them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them.’

Again Yahweh issues His warning through Moses. Whether priest or people none may approach Yahweh in the Mount except His two priests, Moses and Aaron. Otherwise they will face the dire consequences of which they have been warned. He is aware how easily someone might feel he was the equal of Moses and Aaron, especially among the priests, and might feel he could brave the ban. God did not want this to happen. He had no delight in the death of His people.

“And Aaron with you.” We are not told that Aaron goes into the mount with Moses until Exodus 24:1 where he is one of a group. But this need not mean that Aaron did not go up with Moses. We have regularly seen in the past that Yahweh has said something will happen and then it is assumed that it happened. The word of Yahweh was sufficient to establish the happening. Thus we may assume that often when Moses goes up, Aaron goes up. Compare how later Joshua seemingly accompanies Moses but nothing is said of his presence after the initial statement (Exodus 24:13).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 19". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/exodus-19.html. 2013.
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