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

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-6


Exodus 19:1. The Wilderness of Sinai.]—Sinai is the “proper name of the granite mountain in the Arabian Veninsula, rendered famous by the Mosaic legislation. It consists of three large summits, of which the north-eastern is called Horeb, the south-western that of St. Catherine. ‘The Wilderness of Sinai’ is the wilderness about Sinai, and particularly the plain of Sebayeh, south of Gibel Mûsa.” (Fürst.)—

Exodus 19:3. Thus shalt thou say.]—There is something peculiarly beautiful in this message to Israel. (a) Its poetical form strikes the ear as well as the eye if printed, as it ought to be, in parallel lines. (b) The graciousness of its tenor goes straight to the heart: “Ye have seen what I did … now therefore.” Benefits already bestowed are urged as a motive to consecration. (c) Its position at the commencement of the Divine announcement is an introductory proposal to Israel, eliciting Israel’s first response—being, as we may term it, “the first time of asking,” prior to the ratification of the covenant (ch. Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7). (d) Its lofty aim, namely, that of securing a holy, obedient “people,” and consecrating them as “a kingdom of priests” on behalf of all the earth, for which Jehovah thus shows His care. Note especially, how much light is here thrown upon the meaning of the Hebrew berith in its loftiest application, as truly signifying COVENANT; and, further, the grace of Jehovah, in that, even here, where He appears in terror as Lawgiver, He makes way for His sovereignty by the most exquisite tenderness and love.

Exodus 19:5. Peculiar treasure. “Heb., çeghullah = property, possessim, i.e., that which one embraces, encloses. (Fürst.) The Sept. has periousios = “abundant, opulent; peculiar, eminent.” The language is that of one who has many valuables, but brings out one as his special delight. For all the earth is mine.]—The point of this clause is apt to be lost, until, with the proper emphasis laid on the pronoun “mine,” the contrast is carried forward by the adversative conjunction “but,” which in this case is required.

“For MINE is all the earth;
But YE shall become mine as a kingdom of priests,” &c.

The specialty of pure Hebraism and the narrowness of Pharisaic Judaism are utterly opposed to each other. Jehovah’s care for all nations is ever and anon gleaming out in the Hebrew Scriptures. Even here in Israel’s betrothal it is not forgotten.



I. The recital of His works. The works recited are these:—What He did to the Egyptians for the sake of Israel, His people; how He bore His Church on eagles’ wings; how He bought His people to Himself. Every Christian can understand this: I defy any one else to do it. There is a spiritual import in all these expressions which none but the converted can understand. The child of God can enter into all this. God hath borne him on eagles’ wings, delivering him from worse than Egyptian bondage. “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son; in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”

II. The proposals of His love. The two things that God Almighty, by His servant Moses, urges upon the people, are these. First, “If ye will obey My voice indeed:” do not mistake the matter, every word has its meaning:—“If ye will obey My voice indeed.” They were to follow God at all risks, heedless of consequences: determined to obey Him, though all the world should frown, or hiss, or should persecute. Israel was also to keep the covenant of God. “If ye will keep My covenant.” It may be said that it was a national covenant; and I admit that to a great extent it was a national covenant. All must admit that who examine the matter; but I must affirm that it was something more than this. Yes, it had respect to a Saviour, to an approach to God which now, through infinite mercy, is offered to you and to me. There are two grand characteristics of a Christian wherever you meet with him, that by God’s help he is willing to follow God’s voice at all risks; and that he shall lay hold on the cross as the only means whereby sinful man can approach God.

III. The promises of His grace. Now this promise contained in the text is the most remarkable in the Bible, “Then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” Oh, what a bold word to utter! If the word had come out of other lips, it had been the greatest blasphemy ever uttered; but coming from God, it is the language of truth and soberness. “All the earth is Mine.” O Christian! do not be afraid! The very world in which you live, with all its treasure, with all upon its surface, with all beneath its surface, belongs to God. Now, though all the earth be His, He says, “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people.” The Israelites were never great as a commercial people; they were never great as a maritime people; they were never great in war, except, indeed, in the early stage of their history, when, in fact, God fought for the people, and they had little to do but to take possession of what God had given them. But they were a peculiar treasure to God; and still that people have mercies in store for them. The Bible teems with promises of the restoration of the Jews. The poorest saint is a treasure to the Lord. We do not know how to set a value upon moral excellence, upon spiritual greatness, but God does: “They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels.”

1. What actually became the state of the Jews? How far was this promise fulfilled? The Jews were, to a certain degree, for a long time, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. While all other nations, the whole world around them, was in a state of pagan darkness, the lamp of life and truth shone forth in Israel. A succession of patriarchs, and then of prophets, and then of priests, was vouchsafed; and God’s truth was perpetuated among the people, and they were, to a great degree, a kingdom of priests, and a holy people.

2. What was it that caused it to come to pass that this promise was never completely fulfilled, that it never has yet been completely fulfilled to the Jews? Because the people left off to hear God’s voice, and left off to keep God’s covenant. They went after dumb idols. They left the God of all their mercies. Hence the promise has never been fully realised.

3. How far this promise, together with these proposals, may be considered as fairly bearing upon the state and upon the future prospects of the Christian Church. With all our improvements in science, we are a degenerate people as to the service of God. We must be more regular in the worship of God, in private devotion, in family prayer. Let us make the most of our exalted privileges.—Rev. T. Mortimer in The Pulpit.


Exodus 19:1-6. Months and days from Egyptian bondage are fit to be recorded.

Days are set by God for the progress and rest of the Church.
From Rephidim to Sinai, or from trials to rest, God removes His Church.
The camp of the Church and the Word of God are sweetly joined together.
In covenant making with God there is need of a mediator.
God’s call alone can qualify or authorise a mediator between Him and sinners.
It is incumbent on the mediator to declare fully God’s mind to His people.
A due recognition of God’s gracious acts for souls against enemies is a good preparation to receive His law.
God’s securing providence as well as selecting a people to Himself prepares them to hear His covenant.
God’s covenanted people are His peculiar treasure in the world.
Royalty, near communion with God, and sanctity, are the privileges of God’s peculiar ones.
The needs of duty and privilege must be spoken and made known to the Church.
We would remark that as soon as God had erected the framework of this body politic, He gave His subjects laws—His own laws. He did not allow any man to lay down a rule for His own conduct or for His own worship. He did not allow these people to think they could be independent of Him, but He brought them to this wilderness where they had evidence in abundance that their God was the God of Providence and the God of power; and now He was about to teach them another lesson, that He was the God to whom they were amenable. “I said it was interesting to mark the order in which these events occurred. It is false doctrine, though almost universally received, that it is God’s method to bring the sinner under subjection by moulding his heart into obedience by some repenting process as it were, and afterwards, when the man becomes worthy, then to bestow upon him His choicest gifts. There never was more unsound teaching, brethren. God takes the sinner just as he is; and according to the riches and sovereignty of His own grace, makes him a recipient of mercy; and after He has brought him into His fold—alter He has taken him under the shelter of His own wing, He writes His law upon the fleshly tables of that sinner’s heart.”

W. H. Krause, M.A.

“You will observe, in the first place, that every man is thus taught his accountability to God. Do what you will, you cannot escape that accountability. It seemed as if God brought the people of Israel into the solitude of that wilderness that each man might, in the nakedness of his own soul, stand before God and hear His law. It has been said with much solemnity by a good man, that in the present time men hide themselves in the crowd, but in the day of judgment every man must stand alone, as if he saw or knew no one and nothing but himself and his own transgressions.

Exodus 19:5. “For all the earth is Mine.”

I. God’s assertion of universal possession in the earth.

1. Nations.
2. Lands.
3. The animal and vegetable kingdoms.

II. God’s assertion excludes every other being from universal possession.

1. It is not man’s earth.
2. It is not the devil’s.
3. It does not belong to any created intelligence.

III. God’s assertion should awaken confidence in His saints and terror in sinners.

1. All forces are under His control.
2. Everything that is not of Him must fail.
3. His possession of the earth will be fully manifest in the end.



Divine Motive! Exodus 19:1-5. Exotic flowers or foreign plants, if seeded on the mountainside, or inserted in the meadow amongst the promiscuous herbage growing there, soon become choked and disappear. Those who wish to preserve the flaming glories of the Cape, or the rich fruits of the tropic, must provide a garden enclosed—must keep out the weeds and ruffian weather. And so God, anxious to preserve “His Holy Law,” fenced in the Hebrew nationality. He secluded them, and walled them in, and made them, as it were, His own conservatory—a conservatory where Divine truth should survive uninjured until Messiah should come.

“We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot enclosed by grace
Out of the world’s wide wilderness.”

Divine-Presence! Exodus 19:3. Greenland says that hunters once went out and found a revolving mountain, and that, attempting to cross the chasm between it and the firm land, some of these men were crushed as the mountain revolved. But they finally noticed that the gnarled, wheeling mass, had a red side and a white side. They waited till the white side came opposite them; and then, ascending the mountain, found that a king lived on its summit—made themselves loyal to him, surrendered themselves to him affectionately and irreversibly, and afterwards found themselves happy in his presence. There was but one way of approach to the “Mount of Awe,” and by that path Moses entered into Jehovah’s presence without fear. Along that “new living way” Gentile sinners pass to God. It is the King’s highway, for through Christ, who is our peace, both Jew and Gentile have access by one Spirit unto the Father. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man cometh unto the Father but by ME.”

“Thou art the Way, the Truth, the life;

Grant us that Way to know,

That Truth to keep, that Life to win,

Whose joys eternal flow.”


Mountain-Eagles! Exodus 19:4. Arabia is a region of mountains and magnificent bluffs; bare of verdure and destitute of streams of living water. Amid these granite cliffs the eagles make their nest; and high above their frowning peaks these noble birds wheel in majestic flight. So that this figure, “borne on eagles’ wings,” must have been full of deepest significance. M‘Cheyne, when visiting a synagogue in Tarnopol—one of the finest towns of Austrian Poland—witnessed a procession of the law, in which he observed a standard embroidered with the Austrian eagle, and bearing these words, “I bear you on eagles’ wings.” During the eagle-like career of Alexander the Great, he had occasion to attack the Sogdians. These people dwelt amid huge mountain rocks and refused to surrender. When threatened by the Macedonian conqueror, they replied that they feared not his soldiers until they were “borne up on eagles’ wings.” The eagle soars the highest, and is the most majestic in its aerial courses. God, as it were, bears up His people on these mighty wings, so that they are above all obstacles and hindrances. As no bird can rise higher than the eagle, so none can get above God’s children when He thus enables them to mount up with wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31).

“While on this vantage-ground the Christian stands,
His quickened eye a boundless view commands;
Discovers fair abodes not made with hands—

Abodes of peace.”


Divine Republics! Exodus 19:5-9. When the freed negroes arrived on the West Coast of Africa, as the Republic of Liberia, they received certain laws and regulations. These were established amid the firing of cannon, the flaunting of flags, and the flashing of firearms. But when Jehovah constituted the legislation of Israel’s Divine Republic, the eye was arrested by darkness that defied the gaze, and by lightning and tempest that played about the summit of Sinai, while the ear was thrilled by the trumpet-blast, and appalled by the thunder. The great mountain rocked to and fro, and burned like a furnace. Then, piercing through cloud and camp, was heard the trumpet-blast pealing out above the thunder, that “the laws of the Divine Republic were about to be promulgated.” Glorious was this Divine legislation ceremony! The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them. From His right hand went a fiery law for them: Deuteronomy 33:2.

“The terrors of that awful day, though past,
Have on the tide of time some glory cast.”


Verses 7-25


The subject of this paragraph is God’s revelation of Himself,—the call to receive it, the manner in which it was made.

I. When God reveals Himself man is summoned to attend. This is uniformly God’s method. First the call, then the revelation. “Hear, O Israel,” then, “the Lord thy God is one Lord.” “This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him,” then the New Testament dispensation. This was “one of the sundry times and divers manners” in which “God spake to the fathers by the prophets.” Moses was His minister here. “In these last days,” He “hath spoken unto us by His Son.” The aim of Moses is to call Israel’s attention to God. So Christ, in answer to the prayer, “Show us the Father,” says, “I am the way,” &c. Moses was a type of the ministry of the Son of Man, and an example to Christian ministers in the manner in which he summoned men to God. He spoke—

1. Authoritatively. “Moses came and called for the elders of the people.” He spoke for God. He knew that he spoke for God. His message was no trivial speculation of his own about which there might be two opinions. God’s truth, his own conviction of it, and its great importance, invested him with authority.

2. Clearly. He “laid it before their faces.” In order for a declaration to be clear, the speaker must see it clearly himself, or he will never make it plain to his hearers. He who has never seen Christ will never be able to proclaim Him to others. In order to see a thing clearly one must contemplate it for a sufficient length of time, till all its points and bearings are fully understood. Then, in order to convey it clearly to others, an intellect capable of more or less concentrated thought and power of distinct articulation are indispensable. All these qualifications Moses possessed in an eminent degree.

3. Completely. “All these words.” This needed courage; a weak man would have suppressed or toned down what was likely to be unpalatable. Memory, unselfishness, fidelity, a habit of accurate statement, and a sense of the vast importance of his message. Peter, “All the words of this life.” Paul, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”

4. Successfully.

(1.) It was successful in producing the desired effect upon the people (Exodus 19:8). This is the true test and seal of a faithful ministry. If men will deliver “all the words of the Lord” without adulteration in all their Divine power, they will do their appointed work. The result may not be seen, but that is God’s matter (Ecclesiastes 11:1; Isaiah 55:10-11).

(2.) It was successful in securing the people’s confidence; “that the people may … believe Thee for ever.” Another test and seal of a faithful ministry. Men will honour those who honour the truth. Men will trust those who are true to their own convictions. All workers for God should aim at these elements of success. “Seals for their ministry and souls for their hire” and the confidence of their fellow-men.
5. Moses spoke for the people to God. “Moses told the words of the people back to God.” So does Christ combine our poor prayers with the mighty eloquence of His intercession.

II. When God reveals Himself man must be prepared for the revelation (Exodus 19:10-15). This is natural. Men prepare themselves for a visit from their fellow-man. Much more so should man be prepared for the revelation of God. It were an insult to receive any superior otherwise; much more so when that superior is God (Ecclesiastes 5:1). In order to be prepared man must—

1. Attend to the herald who proclaims God’s coming. It was Moses in this instance. God announces Himself through many agencies. His Son, His Spirit, His Providence, His Word, the means of grace, the Christian ministry, &c., are ever telling man to “prepare to meet” his “God.” Hence the importance of treating them with due respect. Learning and dignity sink into insignificance before the humblest of God’s messengers (Hebrews 12:25).

2. Man must be prepared by personal sanctification. “Sanctify them.” “And Moses … sanctified them.” Sanctification in its Biblical sense means—

(1.) Separation from sin; for only “the pure in heart shall see God.”

(2.) Separation to God, or else God cannot be seen. These two ideas must never be disassociated. There can be no real separation from sin which is not at the same time separation to God. Some men deny this, and call the outcome of their discipline virtue and morality. But these are only artificial flowers, fading and perishable, without life, having no root in the ground of true virtue, and no spring in the source of true morality. On the other hand, no amount of asceticism, praying, psalm singing, or ecstasy will impart sanctity to a life which harbours or practises any form of sin. “Wherefore come out from among them,” &c. (2 Corinthians 6:17).

3. Man must be prepared by a ready acquiescence in all that God commands. Some of the commands here indicated may seem trivial; but they are not really so. They involve great principles, and that God commands them invests them with importance. One of the first was personal cleanliness. Discomfort, disease, death, are God’s retribution on those who deem this trivial. Again, they were not to presume to over step a prescribed boundary. Those who would enjoy God’s revelation of Himself must remain humbly and patiently in the sphere which God sees fit to appoint.

4. Man must be prepared at the appointed time. “Be ready against the third day.”

(1.) God has now appointed times in which He promises to reveal Himself to men. The Lord’s day. All times of duty and religious privilege. Let no man be unprepared, or plead excuses, or make other engagements. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked.”
(2.) God has now appointed times which He has not chosen to reveal. Death, judgment. We “know not the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh.” Hence the wisdom of immediate and constant preparation. “Watch and pray.” Ten virgins. “Blessed is the man who, when his Lord cometh,” &c.

III. When God reveals Himself it is in a manner suited to the occasion. It was necessary that He should speak to men who for years had been surrounded by idolatrous associations, and who had become debased by years of servitude, in a most solemn, startling, and impressive form. God has other methods than those employed here. Abraham, Elijah. Bethlehem, Pentecost, Patmos, &c. So in each individual case.

1. God here revealed Himself in a cloud, luminous, but still a cloud. So He does now in many instances. Doubt, adversity, depression. But every cloud is luminous that has God in it. Christians, therefore, should not “fear to enter into the cloud.”

2. God revealed Himself within a Divine enclosure (Exodus 19:12-13). So He does always. God ever says, “Hitherto shalt thou go and no further (Job 38:11). Hence the sinfulness of undue speculations about the Divine existence—of spiritualistic prying into the mysteries of the unseen world (Deuteronomy 29:29). God has made all things plain that are necessary to life and godliness. Let us be satisfied with that.

3. God revealed Himself with terrible manifestations of His power. It was needful under the circumstances. It is often needful now. It is perilous for man to prescribe to God. He could be as tender in His dealings with His people then as He usually is now (Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 1:33; Psalms 103:0; Isaiah 54:0). And God never, under the Old Testament dispensation, revealed Himself more terribly than He has through loving lips in Matthew 24:0; Matthew 25:0; Matthew 2:0 Thess., Hebrews 12:28-29, Jude and Revelation, and in some of the events of modern history.

4. God revealed Himself after He had minutely ascertained that all preparations were complete (Exodus 19:21-25). This reveals to us God’s careful attention to detail, and affords us many thoughts for edification and comfort. He studies the safety of His people. It is for their temporal and eternal safety that there is so much minute detail in the dispensation of—

(1.) Creation (Isaiah 40:12-31).

(2.) Providence (Matthew 6:25-30).

(3.) Grace. Promise in the garden, types, prophecies, incarnation, crucifixion, Pentecost, means of grace, ministry, &c. Learn then:
1. To listen when God speaks. Faith has a faculty not only of sight but of hearing.

2. When God calls obey that call, and be prepared for the public revelation which that call precedes. “God now commandeth every man to repent” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

3. Receive God’s revelation of Himself in His own way.—J. W. Burn.


The covenant between God and Israel was, in general, made at this time. Its particulars were entered into subsequently (Exodus 30:27-28). A clear and correct idea of how the term covenant is here used is important. When applied to relations subsisting between God and man, the word is evidently used by way of accommodation; because man is in no respect in the position of an independent covenanting party in relation to God. He cannot say upon what terms he will render obedience, &c. Compliance with the Divine requirements is a most binding obligation, from which there is no possibility of escape for man. “Generally, however, the form of a covenant is maintained by the benefits which God engages to bestow being made by Him dependent upon the fulfilment of certain conditions which He imposes on man.” Two points are clear.

1. The covenant does not originate in human obligation to render to God loyal obedience. It recognises it, enforces it; but its origin is coeval with human existence, and springs out of man’s relation to God as a dependent moral creature.

2. The covenant is an act of grace and condescension on the part of God towards man. In assuming the attitude of a contracting party with us He generally stoops to our weakness, &c. Our text is the response of Israel to the general terms of the covenant as stated by Moses. We have in the text—

I. A commendable engagement. “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” This promise is commendable.

1. Because of its righteousness. To do what God commands is our sacred duty. Even if there were no heaven for the loyal and obedient, and no hell for the rebellious and incorrigible, still it would be our binding duty to seek truth, practise righteousness, reverence holiness, love moral beauty.

2. Because of its advantageousness. In keeping the commands of God there is great reward. The Lord promised to bestow the choicest blessings upon Israel if they would obey His voice indeed (Exodus 19:5-6). He engaged to grant unto them

(1.) The highest character: “a holy nation.”

(2.) The highest service: “unto Me a kingdom of priests.”

(3.) The highest privilege: “a peculiar treasure unto Me,” &c. How very much is included in the last-named assurance. The path of obedience to God is the path of safety and blessedness for man. “In the way of righteousness is life.” “He that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 3:13-27; 1 Timothy 4:8; 1 Timothy 6:6).

3. Because of its unanimity. “And all the people answered together,” &c. Such harmony in making this holy engagement is admirable. In itself it is commendable. Union in a holy enterprise is beautiful. In its tendency it is commendable. The natural tendency of this union would be to promote the fulfilment of this engagement.

II. A commendable engagement rashly made. The Israelites entered into this engagement—

1. Without due consideration. They had not weighed the character or measured the extent of the obligations which they undertook. Had they considered what was involved in being unto God “a holy nation”? Or estimated the comprehension of their promise, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do”? Their haste in making so vast and solemn a promise reminds us of the scribe who said unto Jesus, “Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.” In making religious vows, serious and thorough thought should be exercised.

2. Without earnest purpose. As the subsequent history shows with painful copiousness and conclusiveness, they entered into this engagement without any high and earnest resolution to keep it. Sacred promises should not be uttered without a sincere and firm purpose to fulfil them.

3. Without hearty concurrence with the will which they promised to obey. In their after history they manifested an almost utter absence of sympathy with the will of God. They had little or no love for either God or His will, although they so readily promised to obey it in all things. Make no religious resolutions except your heart be in them.

4. Without any realisation of their need of Divine help in order that they may keep it. The ring of self-confidence is in their words “How easily overween we our own abilities!” The most ready promisers are often the slowest performers. He who makes religious promises in his own strength is deplorably self-ignorant. Peter is a conspicuous example of this (Matthew 26:33-35; Matthew 26:69-75). “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” “When I am weak, then am I strong.” “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

III. A commendable engagement repeatedly and terribly broken. They seem to have forgotten the promise as readily as they made it. They violated their engagement.—

1. With great frequency. Many instances in the following history (32; Numbers 11:0; Numbers 14:0; Numbers 16:0; Numbers 20:1-7; Numbers 21:4-6; et al).

2. With great unanimity. The great majority of the people united in practically repudiating the solemn obligations of the covenant. In the narrative of their rebellions we meet with some of these words frequently—“the people gathered themselves together;” … “all the people;” … “all the congregation;” et al. The breakers of the engagement were not the exception, but the rule.

3. With great aggravations. Their sin in violating this solemn promise was the more heinous because of

(1.) God’s great goodness to them.
(2.) His invariable faithfulness in His portion of the covenant.
(3.) The comparatively trivial circumstances and slight influences which proved sufficient to induce them to break their engagement. Notwithstanding the strongest obligations to fulfil their promise, they broke it upon the slightest provocation. CONCLUSION.—
1. Let us heed well our obligation to do all that the Lord commands.

2. Let us be careful in the utterance of religious vows.

3. Let us be humbled by the recollection of the many religious vows we have made but not kept, and seek forgiveness for our failures.

4. Let us endeavour to perform our vows, looking to God for strength to enable us to do so.—William Jones.


Moses was God’s minister. In a sense, he spoke for God to the people, and for the people to God. “I stood between the Lord and you” (Deuteronomy 5:5).

I. The call (Exodus 19:7).

1. The elders represented the people. In dealing with so great a multitude some such arrangement was necessary. So it is in many things—in the nation, the family, the Church.

2. God’s commands were faithfully communicated. “Laid before their faces all,” &c., nothing was added and nothing kept back. The will of God was made known so plainly that none could plead ignorance; so particularly that none could plead excuse. The truth was communicated to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

II. The response (Exodus 19:8). “And all the people answered together,” &c.

1. Prompt. There was no hesitancy.

2. Hearty. There was no reservation.

3. Unanimous. There was no dissentient voice (Acts 2:1). How grand the spectacle. The mighty multitude as with one heart and voice proclaimed their submission to God. But, alas! the sequel showed, that mixed with their apparent sincerity and enthusiasm there was much of ignorance, presumption, and self-conceit. Like myriads since, they had not rightly counted the cost. They professed more than they felt; they promised more than they could perform; they needed further and deeper instruction, both as to God’s law and their own hearts. How penetrating and wise are the words of Joshua at a similar juncture, “Ye cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God” (Joshua 24:19).

III. The report to God. “And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord” (cf. Exodus 19:9). Such report was necessary to secure the favour of God and the faith of the people. It tended to—

1. Exoneration of conscience.

2. Relief of the heart.

3. Invigoration of hope.

4. Accrediting of character.

5. Success of ministry. Nothing works more to give a man power with men than the belief that he has power with God.—William Forsyth.


Moses acted throughout according to Divine command.

I. The people were called to sanctify themselves. This work was to be done thoroughly. Both inward and outward defilement were to be put away (Leviticus 11:44-45; Hebrews 10:22). There must be separation from what was not of God, that there might be fellowship with what was of God. To this end self-consecration was required (Psalms 26:6; Isaiah 1:16-18; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20).

II. The people were charged to be ready at the appointed time (Exodus 19:11). The fixing of times and seasons for worship belongs to God. Unquestioning obedience is ours. Thus we receive the blessing. But times of special manifestation and privilege require special preparation. The soul must be in readiness, the ear open to hear, the reason quick to apprehend; the conscience, the heart, and the will ready to bow in homage and submission. Come into God’s presence careless or preoccupied, and you can expect no benefit; but come with humility, prayer, and hope, and you will not come in vain. Instructed and refreshed, your grateful song will be, “This is none other but the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!”

III. The people were commanded to observe the prescribed laws and ordinances as to approach to God. Bounds were fixed as to place, action, and behaviour (Exodus 19:12-14). These restrictions were not arbitrary. They proceeded from the wisdom and love of God. They were necessary to check vain curiosity and unhallowed licence, and to preserve due order and reserve at a time of extraordinary excitement and peril. The lesson for all time is that found in the counsels of St. Paul, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:10). “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).—William Forsyth.


Exodus 19:7-15. Orderly proceeding to acquaint the people with God’s will by their chiefs is reasonable.… Proposition and exposition of God’s words must be made to souls that they may know them all to be God’s words, and no more but His.… Jehovah commands His ministers to speak to His people. Universal and free must be the confessions of the Church visible to the demands of God.

Mediators can return no other but what they receive from people unto God.
Upon people’s readiness to obey, God is willing to make known His law.
People must hear God’s speech by ministers, that they may believe it.
Sanctification of the people by the mediators is commanded by God before He deal with them.… Due preparation must be performed by souls against the time of meeting with God.

Exodus 19:16-25. God on Mount Sinai. With what eager hearts would the people hail the dawn of the third—the appointed day. Doubtless they must have had many strange thoughts, and much talk one with another of what was to come to pass, but who could have conceived the reality? Fathers and mothers were there by thousands who had seen the wonders of the Lord in Egypt, and His works in the wilderness; but now something more sublime and terrible by far was to be revealed to their eyes. What excitement there must have been when they were commanded to leave their tents! What an awful pause of stillness and suspense as they stood marshalled in the plain before the Mount of God! And then—Exodus 19:16-20. This manifestation was fitted to give an awful sense of—

I. The greatness of God. The most tremendous powers of nature were under His control. They were His servants, to do His pleasure (Exodus 20:20; Psalms 96:4; Psalms 97:1-6; Psalms 104:4).

II. The nearness of God. The thunder was near, but nearer seemed the lightning. The lightning was near, but nearer still seemed the trumpet. The trumpet was near, but nearest of all was “The Voice.” It was the Voice of Jehovah, and spoke to the hearts of the people, thrilling them through and through (Deuteronomy 4:7-12).

III. The mysteriousness of God. Though much was revealed, more was unrevealed. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him. Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne” (Psalms 97:2; cf. Job 12:7; Isaiah 45:5; Deuteronomy 29:29; Romans 11:33-35).

IV. The holiness of God. Everything proclaimed the holiness of God (Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:1-2; Revelation 4:8; 1 Peter 1:16).

V. The sovereignty and mercy of God (Deuteronomy 5:24). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. How great our privileges under the Gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 12:18-29).—William Forsyth.

Exodus 19:17. The highest ministry. The ultimate and supreme object of man is to be united to God. But we forget this. The things of this world for countless powers and agencies are constantly at work to hide God from us, and to make us feel and act as if there were no God. The essence of religion is to realise the presence of God. Therefore we should hail as our highest benefactor the man who does for us as Moses did for Israel. “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God.”

I. In the operations of nature. Poets have sung of the sublimities and beauties of nature, and philosophers explain her secrets, but he does the noblest work who brings us face to face with nature’s God.

II. The events of providence. Many writers have done well in history and fiction, and have depicted with wondrous skill the varieties of character and incident, and the strange vicissitudes of human life; but he does best who shows us that there is a providence in the affairs of men, and that the Lord our God ruleth over all in righteousness and love.

III. The ordinances of the Gospel. Preachers may be learned and eloquent, but it is only as they manifest God’s law to the conscience and God’s love to the heart that they do us real good. Prayer and praise are proper duties, but unless in them we rise to God they are meaningless and vain. We should remember the words of Christ, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Only through Christ can men be brought to God, united to God, and blessed in God.—William Forsyth.

Exodus 19:21. Vain curiosity. There is a curiosity which is just, and which lies at the foundation of all science and research. But there is a curiosity which is vain and productive of much evil.

I. It pries into secrets.
II. Breaks through boundaries.
III. Sacrifices reverence and self-respect.
IV. Recklessly rushes into danger.
V. Multiplies confusions and perils.

Remember Eve, Uzziah.

According to this agreement, ratified by God, in which the mediatorship between God and the people was conferred upon Moses, the latter now approached the darkness in which God dwelt. Who does not stand amazed at the admirable confidence exemplified by Moses under such terrific circumstances—a confidence so filial and fearless! Who does not rejoice at the power which God can bestow upon the children of men, filially and confidentially to converse with Him, as a man with a friend. If such was the case under the Old Testament, where a spirit of fear predominated, and the true way of holiness was not yet thrown open, what cannot, what ought not, to take place under the New Testament which bestows a filial spirit, by which we cry, “Abba, Father!” and are encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace; whilst at that period the people were told not to come near, but to stand at a distance.—P. Krummacher.



Divine Republics! Exodus 19:5-9. When the freed negroes arrived on the West Coast of Africa, as the Republic of Liberia, they received certain laws and regulations. These were established amid the firing of cannon, the flaunting of flags, and the flashing of firearms. But when Jehovah constituted the legislation of Israel’s Divine Republic, the eye was arrested by darkness that defied the gaze, and by lightning and tempest that played about the summit of Sinai, while the ear was thrilled by the trumpet-blast, and appalled by the thunder. The great mountain rocked to and fro, and burned like a furnace. Then, piercing through cloud and camp, was heard the trumpet-blast pealing out above the thunder, that “the laws of the Divine Republic were about to be promulgated.” Glorious was this Divine legislation ceremony! The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them. From His right hand went a fiery law for them: Deuteronomy 33:2.

“The terrors of that awful day, though past,
Have on the tide of time some glory cast.”

Oath of Allegiance! Exodus 19:7-8. When a kingdom is established, an oath of allegiance is required. Napoleon the Great, when he founded his empire on the ruins of the great “French Revolution,” required this. And when Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India at Delhi, it was accompanied by a similar requirement. God was now about to become the King or President of Israel, and required a voluntary self-surrender to His holy law. With a view to this, the hosts were marshalled, and by some suitable arrangement Moses communicated all the words of the Lord. They were good precepts and gracious promises, and the people took the preliminary oath of allegiance, “All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.” Such supreme self-surrender is still required. Matthew Henry wrote as follows: “Oct. 20, 1686.—I take God the Father to be my chiefest good and highest end. I take God the Son to be my Prince and Saviour. I take God the Holy Ghost to be my Sanctifier, Teacher, Guide, and Comforter. I take the Word of God to be my rule in all my actions, and the people of God to be my people in all conditions. And this I do deliberately, sincerely, freely, and for ever.” This Divine oath of allegiance need not be written. “To whom shall we go but unto Thee! Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

“Lord, Thou art mine, and I am Thine,
If mine I am; and Thine much more,
Than I or ought or can be mine.

If I without Thee could be mine,
I neither should be mine nor Thine.”


Divine-Division! Exodus 19:12. An eminent war-correspondent describes his first sensations during the Crimean war in beholding a shell fired from an English mortar. He watched it as it issued from the mortar, and admired the sublime rapidity with which it cuts through the air. While he followed the deadly missile, an explosion far off in the enemy’s earthworks attested at once its gunner’s purpose and unerring aim. The terrors of Sinai were a sublime spectacle, but their design was to shatter Israel’s earthwork of self-confidence; to show men in all ages of the world that no citadel of self-righteous dependence was proof against the Divine law.

“Hence shall dividing hills and rents

Between my soul and Thee,

Be to my faith but arguments

To haste thy march to me.”


Divine Monitions! Exodus 19:16. There is a quaint fable of the archer who went to the mountains in search of game. All the beasts of the forest fled at his approach. The lion alone challenged him to combat. The bow-man shot an arrow at the monarch of the wild, who fled in pain and panic. Met by a fox, who exhorted him to take courage and not give up at the first onset, the king of beasts replied, “You advise to no purpose, for if you archer sends so fearful a messenger before him, who will be able to contend when the man himself draws near?” If the bolts and arrows of Sinai were so terrible to Israel, what must be the appalling terrors of His arm when He draws near at the last day! Sir F. Henneker says that “so great is the wildness of this region that if he had to represent the end of the world, he would model it from Mount Sinai.”

“Then the trumpet’s pealing clangour
Through the earth’s four quarters spread,
Waxing loud and even louder,
Shall convoke the quick and dead.”


Fire-Symbolism! Exodus 19:18. The lamp of fire was an emblem of the Divine presence in Genesis 15:17. That presence was connected with covenant, and was indicated by the fire that passed between the pieces of the victims sacrificed. In the literature and customs of the East, the same thing is still asserted; and at the celebration of respectable marriages, it is a general practice to have a fire as a witness of the transaction. This fire is made of the wood of the mango-tree, and intimated that the vow was taken in the presence of the God of fire, whose vengeance was thereby invoked upon the breaker of the covenant. The Sinaitic covenant was entered into with all the sacred accessions of the most solemn invocation; and Jehovah’s judicial presence at the last day will be linked with fire.

“Flame, and fire, and desolation
At the Judge’s feet shall go;
Earth, and sea, and all abysses,
Shall his mighty sentence know.”

Fiery-Clouds! Exodus 19:16-18. Brydone relates that in his tour through Malta, in 1757, a great black cloud was visible, which, as it settled, changed colour, till at last it became like a flame of fire mixed with black smoke. In 1772, in the island of Java, a bright cloud was observed covering a mountain in the Cheriton district. It was seen rising and falling like the waves of the sea, and emitting globes of fire, while loud reports as of cannon terrified the natives. Sir Charles Lyell says that Commander Murray observed, at Bagdad in 1857, a huge black cloud like a pall over the heavens. Afterwards, the black darkness was succeeded by a red lurid gloom.

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break

In blessings on your head.”

Divine Forces! Exodus 19:23. A traveller relates that—when passing through an Austrian town—his attention was directed to a forest on a slope near the road. He was told that death was the penalty of cutting down one of those trees. He was incredulous, until he was further informed that they were the protection of the city, breaking the force of the descending avalanche, which—without this natural barrier—would sweep over the quiet home of thousands. When a Russian army was marching there, and began to cut away the defence for fuel, the inhabitants besought them to take their dwellings instead. Alas! men are not so anxious to preserve those moral fences which God sets up for the preservation of their souls from His righteous judgments.

Law Functions! Exodus 19:25. Wandering last year over the South Downs with my daughter, we came upon a model farm, under whose open outhouses were ranged the various implements of husbandry. It was no difficult task to explain to the young inquirer what the “drill” was. She could understand why it was necessary to plant the seed, and, under the blessing of God, ensure a golden harvest to a full garner. But the “plough,” with its shining, terrible coulter, called for greater and more careful explanation. Why should it be required? To upheave the hard clods of earth—to uproot the tangled thistles and weeds. Are men not more readily disposed to believe in the “Gospel Drill” than in the “Legal Plough”! And yet both conserve the same purpose—both conduce to the same result. The Law ploughs conviction deep in the hard, weed-grown human heart; while the Gospel follows in due time, casting in seeds of saving grace. And the deeper the plough is put in beforehand, the better the crop afterwards.

“So the hearts of Christians owe

Each its deepest, sweetest strain

To the pressure firm of woe,

And the tension tight of palm.”


These words stand out from all others in the Old Testament. Other things God spake to mankind through men,—these were spoken by Him through the nobler ministry of angels (Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53). They were uttered, not by the Divine spirit in the stillness of a prophet’s soul, but audibly, as voices coming from heaven (Deuteronomy 5:22-26). They may be said to have been the only direct utterance made by God to men under the old covenant (Deuteronomy 5:4). As if to mark the special sacredness that belonged to them, they were, moreover, Divinely recorded (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15-16). But what were the words that were uttered under circumstances so solemn, and recorded in a manner so special? When we compare the two versions of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21), we find some important variations such as the reason assigned for the sanctification of the seventh day. Probably all were originally given with the same brevity as the first, sixth, seventh, and eighth; and all else that we now find included in them is amplification, command, and explanations which Moses was Divinely authorised to make in order to render their meaning more plain. Concerning these great commandments, I observe—

I. That they are of universal obligation. They thus differ from many ceremonial injunctions afterwards given to the Jews. They are intrinsically and therefore eternally right. They have their foundation in the nature of God and of man, and therefore can never be abrogated while God and man continue what they are. This is true of the fourth. “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) by his Creator, who best knows what his needs are; and while man continues what he is, he cannot neglect to consecrate to rest and worship without sinning against himself, as well as against God.

II. They are universal in their scope. They cover the whole range of duty, at least to the prohibition of every kind of wrong-doing. Consider what would be the state of society were they universally obeyed!

III. They reach to the heart, as well as the outward life. They are completed by One that teaches the heart alone. Christ teaches us that all the other commandments were intended to forbid, in like manner, not merely the actions named in them, but the cherishing in the heart of those evil thoughts which are the germs of crime (Matthew 5:21-28). Hence, if we would know if we have kept these great commandments, we must examine our heart as well as our outward life. In that solemn day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be known, it will be seen that some of the blackest criminals who ever trod this earth were men whose outward lives were blameless, and upon whom their fellow-men looked with a respect that almost amounted to veneration (Matthew 23:27-28).

IV. Nevertheless they are the most elementary that can be conceived of. If God undertook to give men any intimation at all as to their duty towards Him and each other, He could not have said less than He did from Mount Sinai. A man may keep all these commandments from his youth up, and yet lack the “one thing needful” (Mark 10:1-20). Nay, he may do so, and yet be far from being a good man. Now, with one exception—the command to honour father and mother—they are all negations. They tell us what we must not do. Even the command to keep holy the Sabbath day is explained by a series of negations. To abstain from evil is better than to commit it. But abstinence from evil is by no means all that is demanded from moral agents. Otherwise, even an atheist who worked only six days in the week might be said to keep all the commandments of the first table, and a harmless idiot all the commands of the second. Remember, you may abstain from all forms of crime, and yet not be a good man. Were I to propose to erect a statue in honour of a man who had never been known to be guilty of any violation of the letter of the Ten Commandments, you would laugh at me. You would ask me what good he did—what benefactions he conferred on society—that he should be thus honoured. The barren fig-tree did no harm; it brought forth no poisonous fruit, as do some trees, that smite all who partake of them with madness and death: it simply brought forth no fruit—it did no good; and that was reason enough for condemning it (Luke 8:7). If we would be loved of men and commended of God, we must not only eschew that which is evil: we must follow that which is good (Romans 5:7). Before we can even thus secure the commendation of God, we must be restored to a right relation to Him. Through Jesus Christ, we must obtain the pardon of our first transgressions, and our acceptance with God or His children. Then our acts of faith and love will be sacrifices well pleasing in His sight; and even the imperfections of our services will be passed over in His fatherly pity (Psalms 103:13-14).—R. A. Bertram.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 19". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/exodus-19.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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