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

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The Israelites come to Mount Sinai in the third month: they are commanded to sanctify themselves: the Lord descends upon the mountain in the midst of thunders and lightnings, and talks with Moses.

Before Christ 1491.

Verse 1

Exodus 19:1. In the third month—the same day Houbigant shews clearly, that this means the first day of the month; for the Jews, says he, celebrate the pentecost fifty days after the passover. From the departure out of Egypt to the coming to Sinai, were forty-five days, for they came out the fifteenth day of the first month; from which day, to the first day of the third month, forty-five days are numbered. On the second day of this third month, Moses ascended into the mountain, when three days were given to the people to purify themselves: you have, therefore, the fourth day of the third month, or the forty-ninth day from the departure out of Egypt. On the next day, which was the fiftieth, after the celebration of the passover, the glory of God appeared in the Mount; commemorative of which miracle, the Jews celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The verse might more properly be read, the children of Israel, in the third month after they had left the land of Egypt, on the first day of the month, came into the wilderness of Sinai. Bishop Kidder very judiciously observes, that this was a fit time and place for them to receive their law. They had, a little before, received many proofs of the power of God, and of his care of them, which might dispose them to obedience to his law. They were in a wilderness, in a place of recess and leisure: they were freed from the slavery of Egypt, and from the idolatrous examples of the Egyptians. On the other hand, they were short of Canaan, and so not diverted by wars with that people, nor acquainted with their abominations, nor rendered dull and stupid by the plenty and prosperities of that land. On all which accounts this was a most fit season for the solemnity.

Verse 2

Exodus 19:2. For they were departed Houbigant renders this, For they had departed from Rephidim, that they might come into the wilderness of Sinai, and encamp there: there, therefore, Israel encamped before the Mountain.

Verse 3

Exodus 19:3. Moses went up unto God The Deity having made his presence known by the usual symbol, Moses ascended to that part of the Mountain where the Lord manifested himself, and from whence he issued his sacred mandates. We have so frequently observed, that the Divine Person, who is called God, and also Lord or Jehovah, and who appeared throughout the Old Testament, was CHRIST, the Angel of the Covenant; that it may be unnecessary to remark, that the Angel, mentioned Act 7:38 means the same person. The Lord being about to deliver a system of laws to the Israelites, introduces it with a pathetic declaration of what he had already performed for them, and with the most engaging promises of what he would hereafter perform, if they would obey his covenant, (Exodus 19:5.) and we find, all through the Jewish economy, that national happiness or misery was the invariable consequence of their obedience or neglect.

Verse 4

Exodus 19:4. How I bare you on eagles' wings See Deuteronomy 32:11-12.

Verse 5

Exodus 19:5. Ye shall be a peculiar treasure The word סגלה segulah, signifies a peculium; an appropriated treasure, or peculiar propriety: GOD, to whom belong all the people upon earth, being determined to select and set apart one nation, as the repository of his law, and the subjects of his most immediate government, was pleased to choose the Israelites above all people, because he had a delight in their fathers to love them, Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 7:6-8.

Verse 6

Exodus 19:6. A kingdom of priests, and, &c.— The latter clause seems explicative of the former; and might be rendered, even an holy nation; a nation separated and set apart by me, and for my service, as priests are separated; and so, from their relation to GOD, called holy: and, as priests were to be holy in themselves, as well as relatively holy; so were the Israelites set apart, not only to preserve the knowledge of the true God, but to shew their improvement of that knowledge by their own becoming practice and experience. In the former ages of the world, we have observed, the royal and priestly offices were commonly united in the same person.

The expression here may probably allude to this particular; as, no doubt, it is to this distinguished separation of the Israelites, that St. Peter in his 1st Epistle, and St. John in the Revelation, allude, when they call Christians a chosen generation,—a royal priesthood,—an holy nation,—a peculiar people,—kings and priests unto God. Houbigant renders it, Exodus 19:5. Ye shall be a people peculiar to me above all others.Exodus 19:6. Ye shall be unto me a priestly kingdom, and an holy nation: God hereby, says he, signified, on one part, that he would be the future guide and protector of the Israelites; and that he would constitute a theocracy on the other part; that the people should be so engaged to him by religion, as the priests then were; and that the Israelites should be so distinguished from other people, as the priests were distinguished from other men.

Verses 7-8

Exodus 19:7-8. And Moses—called the elders of the people The Lord having proposed to Moses to institute a theocracy, to separate the Israelites from the rest of the world, and to become, in a peculiar sense, their God and King; Moses summons the elders of the people, as the representatives of the whole body; and informs them of his commission from the Lord: and all the people, it is said, Exo 19:8 assented to the proposition; so that we must either conceive, that the elders of the people reported to them what Moses had proposed, and that they, in person, all signified their assent; or, that all the people imports the same with all the elders, who, as being their representatives, may, with propriety, be called all the people. It is, however, I conceive, most probable, (though the sacred historian relates it not) that the elders consulted the people, and that their universal assent was given: upon which, Moses, the mediator between God and the people, reports their assent to GOD; and hence the theocracy commences; the Lord immediately after appearing in awful pomp as their King, and delivering to them those laws by which he determined to govern them.

REFLECTIONS.—About fifty days after their departure from Egypt, when they had marched to Sinai, God appears in glory on the mount, and calls up Moses to communicate his designs respecting the people.

1. A covenant is proposed. It is an act of God's free grace; and the tenor of the agreement is as advantageous for Israel, as just respecting their Maker. Note; All the mercies we enjoy in time or eternity, are purely owing to the free grace and undeserved love of God. They are reminded of God's care and protection of them; and, therefore, as they are so much obliged to him; obedience is doubly their duty: this, therefore, he expects from them, assuring them hereupon of his distinguishing regard, and the honour he designs them, as chosen out from the nations of the earth, to be his peculiar people, a nation of priests unto him. Note; God's favours are as great as they are gracious.

2. We have the ready acceptance of this proposal, which Moses, as mediator, reports to God. Note; Like Israel we are ready to be hasty in our promises; but when the performance is called for, how backward to obey the voice of the Lord our God!

Verse 9

Exodus 19:9. I come unto thee in a thick cloud This thick cloud, as appears from Exodus 19:16, &c. implies all those awful demonstrations which accompanied the Divine Presence; and, in this view, the reason here subjoined for God's coming in this thick cloud, is manifest: that the people, hearing the Almighty converse with Moses from the midst of these alarming terrors, might be fully convinced of the Divine Presence and intercourse with Moses; and, consequently, believe, and receive as sacred, what he delivered to them from GOD.

Verse 10

Exodus 19:10. Sanctify them to-day and to-morrow What is meant by sanctification, i.e. a separating and setting apart to holy uses, has been often explained. And here the context very fully informs us, what was to be the mode of the present sanctification of the Israelites: they were to wash their clothes, externally purifying themselves, as symbolical of internal purification. See Heb 10:22 and Genesis 35:2. They were to abstain from their wives, Exo 19:15 in order the better to abstract their minds from all gratifications of the flesh, and to elevate them the more in those holy duties which sanctification implied. Almost all the Eastern nations, as well as the Greeks and Romans, seem to have considered this species of abstinence as a necessary part of purification. It should be remarked, that, to render them the more fit for spiritual intercourse with God, they are enjoined to abstain at given times even from lawful pleasures; a proper hint for those who desire to be united to God, and to excel in holiness. He who desires to gain an absolute dominion over his passions, and to avoid things unlawful, must not proceed to the utmost bounds even of things lawful; but must learn frequently to curb himself in these. From Lev 10:8-9 we learn, that some things were forbidden to the priests, which were allowed to others. Christians are kings and priests unto God. All this ceremony of washing the garments, &c. says Ainsworth, figures out sanctification and purification with the washing of water by the word, Ephesians 5:26. See Titus 3:5. It is from this precept, that the Jewish doctors deduce their doctrine and usage of baptizing all whom they admit as proselytes to their faith.

Verse 11

Exodus 19:11. Come down in the sight of all the people i.e. The cloud and darkness, declarative of the Divine Presence, will come down upon the mountain. For Jehovah himself was not otherwise visible to them. Compare Exodus 19:18; Exo 19:20 and see Deuteronomy 4:12.

Verses 12-13

Exodus 19:12-13. Whosoever toucheth the mount, &c.— Houbigant, from the Samaritan, renders the first part of the 12th verse, Thou shalt set bounds round about the mountain, and shalt command the people, saying, &c. What striking circumstances of terror attended the giving of the law! How different from the manner in which the mild and blessed JESUS preached the gospel of peace! The former was a severe schoolmaster to bring us to him: the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews enlarges finely on this topic, ch. Exodus 12:18-24. Many of the versions render the beginning of the 13th verse, There shall not an hand touch HIM; implying, that whoever approached the mountain, should immediately be put to death, by stoning, or shooting through with darts, no hand offering to touch him; i.e. going within the consecrated bounds to drag the offender from thence to death. But I rather think that ours is the true version; as the word touch, in the 13th, seems to correspond with that in the 12th verse, and as mountain is the last substantive in the preceding sentence, to which the relative it (בו bo) can refer. The people, it is plain, were not to approach the mount at all, till the sound of the trumpet was protracted, or continued for some time: they were then to advance from the camp, in which they were when God descended, (Exodus 19:16.) towards the mount; which accordingly they did under the conduct of Moses, and stood at the nether part of the mount. See Deuteronomy 4:11.

REFLECTIONS.—The Lord informs Moses of his appearing, and the intention of it, and orders him to speak to the people to prepare for this awful solemnity.

1. They must be sanctified. They who approach God, should seek to be separated, not only from the grosser pollutions of sin, but from the intrusion of vain thoughts, worldly business and cares, and whatever would interrupt their communion with him. Their clothes must be washed, in token of that internal purity which becomes God's worshippers; and even their lawful enjoyments must be abstained from, that they may without distraction give themselves up more entirely to the exercises of devotion.

2. They must not go up into the mount, nay, not so much as touch it; but when the trumpet had sounded long, they might draw near, as humble hearers, that GOD might speak with them. Note; No prohibition now forbids the nearest access to God. Jesus Christ has opened a way into the holiest of all: we are no more called in terror to hear a fiery law, but are invited by the gospel's silver trumpet to draw near to a crucified Jesus, and look and live.

Verse 16

Exodus 19:16. There were thunders and lightnings The most formidable agents in nature, air, fire, and light, in their most dreadful exertions, attended the Divinity on this solemn occasion: a retinue of glorious angels, bright as the living flame, surrounded him, Deuteronomy 32:2. All nature expressed the most extraordinary commotion at his presence; and a sound, like that of a trumpet, was sent forth by his angelic ministers, as the summons to appear before him. No circumstances can be more truly awful, than these mentioned by the sacred historian; as, perhaps, there never was upon earth so solemn and majestic a display of the Divine glory. See Psalms 68:8. Jdg 5:4-5 and Deuteronomy 4:11.

Verse 19

Exodus 19:19. Moses spake, and God answered him In Exo 19:9 the Lord tells Moses, that he would come in a thick cloud, that the people might hear him speak with him: accordingly, being descended in all his terrors, he replied to Moses, speaking to him with a voice, i.e. a human voice, with which he condescended to converse with Moses, that the people might hear the Lord speaking. What Moses spake upon this occasion; we are not informed in the Old Testament; but the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ch. Exo 12:21 tells us, that, upon this terrible sight, Moses said I exceedingly fear and quake; which are very likely to have been the words he now spoke: to which God answered by a voice, soft and gentle like the human; and calculated to dispel those fears which the alarming sound of the trumpet, the thunders and the lightnings had occasioned.

Verse 20

Exodus 19:20. And the Lord came down, &c.— Houbigant renders this, But the Lord, as he descended upon Mount Sinai, called Moses to the top of the Mount. It must be understood in some such manner as this; as it is plain from Exo 19:18 that the Lord had before descended; unless we will read that verse, because the Lord was descending upon it in fire: but, perhaps, it is best to read this Exodus 19:20, Now the Lord, having descended, called Moses, &c. It is evident from this verse, and from the subsequent chapters, especially the 24th, Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9; Exodus 24:13; Exo 24:18 that there were different stations upon the mountain, which Moses and others were allowed to approach: the people were permitted only to come up to, or to approach the foot of the mountain, as we have observed on verses 12, 13. The Lord occupied the very top of the mountain, to the very inmost recess of whose presence Moses does not seem to have been admitted till ch. Exo 24:15 while Aaron and the seventy elders were allowed to advance upon the mountain much farther than the people, but not so far as Moses, ch. Exodus 24:1-2.

Verse 21

Exodus 19:21. The Lord said unto Moses, Go down, &c.— When Moses was advanced upon the mountain, the Lord, to shew the care he had for the people, and his desire to preserve them from destruction, orders Moses to go down again, and charge the people (whose curiosity, very likely, when the first awful impressions of fear were removed, might prompt them to advance beyond the bounds prescribed, Exodus 19:12.—to charge them not to advance. The original word signifies to conjure, or to adjure the people, by attesting to them their danger: and the meaning is, go down, testify to the people their danger; and so conjure them by all means to abstain from breaking through their bounds, to gaze upon the Lord, and thereby incur the penalty and destruction threatened (Exodus 19:12-13.) as the sure consequence. Houbigant renders what we have translated charge, etiam atque etiam contestare; adjure them again and again. The verse would read better, if rendered thus; go down and strictly adjure the people, lest they break through their bounds, to gaze upon Jehovah, and many of them perish.

Verse 22

Exodus 19:22. Let the priests also It is very extraordinary to observe how some expositors have perplexed themselves and others, in settling what is meant by the word priests here: for, as Aaron and his sons were not consecrated to the priestly office, or the tribe of Levi set apart, they have imagined, that therefore the Israelites, though so vast a multitude, and though the descendants of those patriarchs who always possessed the true knowledge of God, had now no priests or regular religious services; a notion, which the tenor of our observations serves amply to explode. And upon this supposition, that there were no priests before the consecration of Aaron, &c. some have absurdly imagined, that the priests here mentioned, were the first-born devoted to God, ch. 13: Strange! that they did not recollect that this command, for the sanctification of the first-born, had not yet been in force fifty days. Struck, most likely, with the absurdity of this, others have conceived, that the word rendered priests, signifies here, as it sometimes does, princes; though it is plain, that the following words very fully explain its meaning, and confine it to such as ministered in holy things: let the priests, who come near to the Lord; i.e. who approach him ordinarily in the common services of religion; let even these, sanctify themselves; keep themselves in a state of peculiar purity and elevation of mind.

Lest the Lord break forth upon them As the words break through are used in the former verse, it is to be wished that פרצ peretz, had been rendered, as it signifies, burst forth with violence:—Lest the Lord burst forth with violence upon them; causing the dreadful fire, wherewith he is surrounded, to rush violently upon them, and consume them.

Verse 23

Exodus 19:23. The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai To be consistent with the other parts of this chapter, especially Exo 19:13 these words must signify, that the people, though advanced to the mount, could not ascend up upon it; as being restrained by those bounds which God himself had strictly enjoined, and that consecration of the circumjacent limits which rendered it unlawful for them to tread thereon. The Lord, however, knowing the perverseness of the people, dismissed Moses with repeated injunctions, and with orders to bring up Aaron along with him; the rest, meanwhile, maintaining their appointed distance. This is the general, and perhaps will be thought a very just interpretation: however, I will not dissemble, that it does not perfectly satisfy me. It is strictly enjoined, Exo 19:12 that the people go not up into the mount, or even touch the border of it: the penalty of doing so was death. When Moses brought the people out of the camp, it is said that they stood only at the nether part, Exo 19:17 at the very bottom of the mountain; yet, in Exo 19:13 it is said, they shall come up to the mount, and, in this verse, they cannot come up to Mount Sinai; the same Hebrew word being used in both places for coming up. The solution of the difficulty, therefore, must lie in the prepositions used; and we shall find these, I conceive, adequate to this solution: it is said, in Exo 19:13 they shall come up, b-er: now the preposition beth signifies not only to, but near, as Noldius shews at large; and may therefore here be rendered near to the mountain: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall ascend [or advance from the camp, that is] near to the mountain: but in Exo 19:23 not the preposition beth, but al is used: the people cannot ascend, or advance, al-er, into or upon the mountain. Mr. Chais renders it, agreeably to our remark, ils monteront vers la montagne: they shall ascend towards the mountain. To what we have said, respecting Sinai and Horeb elsewhere, we will just add, from Calmet, that though these mountains are promiscuously used by the sacred historian by reason of their contiguity; yet it is certain, they are two different places. Sinai (which the Arabians at this day call. Tor, or the Mountain, by way of eminence; or otherwise gibel Mousa, the Mountain of Moses,) stands in a kind of peninsula, formed by two arms of the Red-sea, one of which stretches out towards the north, and is called the gulph of Kolsom: the other towards the east, and is called the gulph of Elan, or the Elanitish-sea. Sinai is at least one-third part higher than Horeb, and of a much more difficult access: its top terminates in an uneven and rugged space, capable of containing about sixty persons. Here is built the little chapel of St. Catherine, whose church is below at the foot of the mountain. Horeb is to the west of Sinai; so that, at sun-rising, the shadow of Sinai entirely covers Horeb.

REFLECTIONS.—The third, the memorable day appears, ushered in with thunderings and lightnings, and blasts of the mighty trumpet, like those that shortly must awake the dead. The people are drawn out; and now the Lord descends, accompanied with his mighty angels; a fiery cloud his chariot, and Sinai trembles at his presence, while blasts more loud and terrible proclaim the present Deity. Even Moses quakes with fear. God speaks to him—encourages him to approach. Moses draws near, and is sent back to repeat to the people the former solemn injunctions, not to break through, nor gaze with vain curiosity. God knows their wilfulness; and Moses must go down to prevent them, lest they perish through their presumption. Note; 1. Where God hath wrapped a sacred veil around his secrets, to be contentedly ignorant is our highest Wisdom 2. The boundaries God has fixed, are for our good: our folly or perverseness, if unrestrained, would destroy us. 3. Whenever we approach the Lord in his ordinances, let us remember his glory, that we may appear before him as becomes us, with reverence and godly fear.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 19". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/exodus-19.html. 1801-1803.
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