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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 19

 

 

Introduction

III. Israel at Sinai (XIX.-XL.).

The division Num 19-40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25-31, 35-40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P's account of the Tabernacle (see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann's drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets (Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast (Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father (cf. Exodus 4:22*), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel's severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians—called "the former prophets" (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews—saw their instances of the nation's glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity." Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.


Verses 1-25

Exodus 19. Awful Revelation of God in Fire and Cloud. Exodus 19:1-2 a P, Exodus 19:2 b - Exodus 19:3 a E, Exodus 19:3 b - Exodus 19:6 Rd, Exodus 19:7-11 a E, Exodus 19:11 b - Exodus 19:13 J, Exodus 19:14-17 E, Exodus 19:18 J, Exodus 19:19 E, Exodus 19:20-22 J, Exodus 19:23 Rje, Exodus 19:24 f. J.—This highly composite chapter will be most easily followed if the component sources are taken separately. From P we have only the note of the arrival at Sinai. The order of clauses should be: Exodus 19:2 a, "And they took their journey (Exodus 16:1) from Rephidim and came to . . . Sinai, and pitched in the wilderness"; 1, "in the third month came they . . ." From E also we learn of the pitching of the camp, and that "Moses went up unto God." But the very beautiful passage which follows (Exodus 19:3 b - Exodus 19:6) was probably written for another context: it would well follow Joshua 24. It comes from a disciple of the prophets, and describes God's redemptive care and His pride of possession of His people (cf. Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:9), God's priest-nation on earth (cf. Isaiah 61:6), and so "called to be holy" (Romans 1:7). Displaced, perhaps from after Exodus 20:17, Exodus 19:7 f. has found lodgment here. Then in Exodus 19:9-11 a the promise is given of an interview with Moses in a thick cloud within hearing of the people, who must guard their persons for two days from defilement and wash their clothes (Genesis 35:2*). Then Exodus 19:14-17, after relating the preparations, describes the descent of the thunder-cloud, lightning flashing forth from it, and a supernatural trumpet (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:52) booming out its summons. The trembling people are led out "to meet God." We leave them there, standing at the foot of the mount (see next Exodus 20:18-21), and turn to J's parallel. Restoring what seems clearly the right order, we have a picture (in Exodus 19:20 a, Exodus 19:18, Exodus 19:20 b) of the mountain flaming and smoking like a furnace on the descent of Yahweh (cf. Exodus 14:21 f.*) in an earthquake (contrast 1 Kings 19:11, where "the still small voice" marks a yet higher species of revelation). Then in the present text, after Moses has been called up "to the top of the mount" (Exodus 19:20), he is immediately sent down again (Exodus 19:21; Exodus 19:24 a, to "down") merely to give directions to prevent the people profaning the sacred mount by coming too near, while Exodus 19:11 b - Exodus 19:13 tells of his obedience, and ends: "when the ram's horn soundeth long, they" (emphatic "these," i.e. the "priests" of Exodus 19:22) "shall come up to the mount." After Exodus 19:23 (an obvious gloss), Exodus 19:24 b - Exodus 19:25 summons Moses, with Aaron but no one else, though some render, "Come up, thou and Aaron with thee and the priests; but . . .," and ends, "And Moses went down unto the people, and said unto them." The sequel is Exodus 34:1 ff., and it has been suggested that the stringent regulations against sacrilege reflect a later stage of feeling, and may have been added to the original. On the other hand, the injunctions may merely rest upon the idea of taboo, which is of great antiquity. The allusion to "priests" shows that J took them as a matter of course, like altars and sacrifices (yet see Exodus 32:29*, and cf. p. 106). P does not recognise "priests" till Leviticus 8. It is important, in conclusion, to note that, while God uses natural occurrences, which are among the lower manifestations of His being and power, as channels for arousing men to a sense of things unseen, His messages can be received only by one whose mind and conscience and heart are attuned to the right pitch.

[Exodus 19:22. The presence of Yahweh is so dangerous that even the priests, whose function it is to approach Him, him have to sanctify themselves (Genesis 35:2*) as a precaution against His breaking out upon them. He reacts against ritual uncleanness, almost automatically. For this barely ethical idea we might compare the attack on Moses at the inn (Exodus 4:24-26) or the smiting of the men of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:19) and of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:6 f.).—A. S. P.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 19:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/exodus-19.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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