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EXODUS 19

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Moses On Sinai Israel at Mount Sinai The Theophany at Sinai The Israelites at Mount Sinai The Israelites Reach Sinai
19:1-6 19:1-9 19:1-6 19:1-3a 19:1-2
Yahweh Promises the Covenant
19:3-8
19:3b-8
19:7-9 19:7-9a Preparing for the Covenant
19:9a 19:9
19:9b-15 19:9b-13
19:10-15 19:10-13 19:10-13
19:14-15 19:14-15 19:14-15
The Theophany on Sinai
19:16-17 19:16-25 19:16-25 19:16-22 19:16-25
The Lord Visits Sinai
19:18-25
19:23
19:24-25

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

  1. This is the fulfillment of Exodus 3:12.

  2. This is the beginning of an extended passage of the revelation of YHWH which occurred at Mt. Sinai/Horeb (cf. Exodus 19; Numbers 10).

  3. There are several questions about Exodus 19.
    1. How can Israel be called "a kingdom of priests" when there are no priests yet? (also note Exod. 19:22,24)
    2. How many times does Moses go up and down the mountain? (cf. Exod. 19:3,7,8,14,20,21,24)
    3. Who did Moses take with him?
      1. Aaron - Exod. 19:24
      2. several people - Exod. 24:1
      3. Joshua - Exodus 24:13
    We must remember that this is oral tradition, not western history (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HEBREW NARRATIVE). See John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 19:1-6
1In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. 3Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 4'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. 5Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."

19:1 "third month" This is literally "third new moon," which would be the month of June. Moses often dates these events precisely in Exodus (cf. Exod. 12:6; 16:1; 19:1). The Israelites would stay at Mt. Sinai for about one year (cf. Num. 10:11).

▣ "wilderness" The wilderness of Sinai is the same as the wilderness of Sin. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE WILDERNESSES OF THE EXODUS.

▣ "Sinai" This mountain is often called "Horeb" (Exod. 3:1). Scholars have suggested that Horeb may refer to the entire range and Sinai to a specific peak. The exact location is unknown. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE LOCATION OF MT. SINAI.

19:2 "Rephidim" This was a site of continued grumbling and rebellion by the children of Israel (cf. Exodus 16-18).

▣ "camped in front of the mountain" This is a fulfillment of Exod. 3:12. It is often called "the Mountain of God" (cf. Exod. 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13).

19:3 "the Lord called to him" Notice YHWH initiated the contact!

▣ "the house of Jacob. . .the sons of Israel" These are parallel titles for the descendants of the Patriarchal promise. Jacob's name was changed to Israel in Gen. 32:28.
For the name "Israel" see SPECIAL TOPIC: ISRAEL (THE NAME).

19:4 "I bore you on eagles' wings" God is described here as a mother bird (cf. Genesis 1:2; Deuteronomy 32:9-11; Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:34). See video sermon, "The Femininity of God," online at www.freebiblecommentary.org in "Difficult and Controversial Texts," #111.

▣ "brought you to Myself" The PRONOUN "you," PLURAL, is repeated three times in this verse for emphasis. YHWH took them out of Egypt to bring them to Himself! YHWH wanted a personal faith relationship with the descendants of Abraham. The covenant is both

  1. a proper faith attitude (i.e., Deut. 30:6)
  2. a proper lifestyle
    1. ritual (cf. Deut. 30:1-5)
    2. daily (cf. Micah 6:8)
The NET Bible (p. 164, #27) suggests that this phrase denotes a bridegroom bringing his bride to his chamber. This marriage metaphor is also seen in Matt. 9:14-15; 25:1-13; John 3:29; Eph. 5:22-24; Rev. 18:23. A godly marriage may be the best earthly analogy of a faith relationship with God through Christ.

19:5 "if you will indeed obey" Notice the conditional element which is just like the Abrahamic covenant. Obedience is emphasized (cf. Luke 6:46; see SPECIAL TOPIC: KEEP).

▣ "will indeed obey" This is the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB from the same root (lit. "hear," BDB 1033, KB 1570).
Notice this emphatic construction is followed by a similar sounding VERB (BDB 1036, KB 1581), "keep," which is a Qal PERFECT with waw, denoting continuing obedience.

▣ "My voice" These are not Moses' words or thoughts, but YHWH's.

▣ "My covenant" See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT.

NASB  "My own possession"
NKJV  "a special treasure to Me"
NRSV, JPSOA  "my treasured possession"
NJB  "my personal possession"
REB  "my special possession"
This FEMININE SINGULAR NOUN (BDB 688) means "valued property reserved for oneself." Later it denoted the treasure of kings (cf. 1 Chr. 29:3; Eccl. 2:8; see Jewish Study Bible, p. 146). This phrase is a recurrent allusion (cf. Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps. 135:4; Mal. 3:17; Eph. 1:14; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9). Israel, if obedient, had a unique relationship with YHWH. She was to be His means of revealing Himself to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Gen. 3:15; 12:3).

▣ "for all the earth is Mine" This implies monotheism (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM). Notice the universal element even amidst a national covenant (cf. Gen. 12:3; see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).

19:6 "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" Israel was to reveal YHWH to all the other nations and people groups. God chose Israel to choose all nations. Also note that these same descriptive phrases used of Israel are now used of the church (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6). The church is spiritual Israel (cf. Rom. 2:28,29; 9:6; Gal. 3:29; Eph. 2:11-3:13). I know this is hard for some to accept. Please look at SPECIAL TOPIC: WHY DO OT COVENANT PROMISES SEEM SO DIFFERENT FROM NT COVENANT PROMISES?
For "holy nation" see Deut. 7:6; 14:2,21; 26:19. YHWH wants a "holy" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY) people to reflect His character (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HOLY ONE) to the nations (cf. Lev. 11:45; 19:2; Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:16). Holiness is obedience to the covenant in the OT, but for the NT (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 30:22-36), it becomes Christlikeness. The goal of biblical faith is Christlikeness! We dare not separate justification from sanctification.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 19:7-9
7So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. 8All the people answered together and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do!" And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. 9The Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever." Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.

19:8 "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" This is Israel's first formal acceptance of the covenant (another in Jos. 24:19). The covenant was initiated by God's grace but Israel had to respond to it (cf. Exod. 24:3,7; Deut. 5:27). See SPECIAL TOPIC: PREDESTINATION (CALVINISM) VS. HUMAN FREE WILL (ARMINIANISM).

19:9 "thick cloud" The rabbis called it the Shekinah Cloud of Glory (cf. Exod. 19:16; 13:21; 14:19; 33:9-10; 1 Kgs. 8:10,12; Isa. 6:4; Dan.7:13; Acts 1:9; 1 Thess. 4:17). It was a symbol of the personal presence of YHWH. It was to

  1. show God's personal presence
  2. show Moses was His spokesman (cf. Exod. 19:9)
  3. keep the people from seeing God and thereby dying (cf. Exod. 19:21; Gen. 32:30; Exod. 3:6; 33:20; Jdgs. 6:22-23; 13:22; 1 Kgs. 19:13; Isa. 6:5)

▣ "and may also believe in you forever" This is a good example of "forever" (BDB 761) referring to a limited period of time (i.e., Moses' lifetime). See SPECIAL TOPIC: FOREVER ('olam).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 19:10-15
10The Lord also said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; 11and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain." 14So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. 15He said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman."

19:10 "consecrate them" This VERB (BDB 872, KB 1073, Piel PERFECT with waw) is used as an IMPERATIVE. The text mentions several things this involved.

  1. a time element
  2. ceremonial washing of their clothes (i.e., Num. 8:7,21)
  3. abstinence from sexual relations with one's wife (cf. Lev. 15:18)
Josephus added more (Antiq. 3.5.1):
  1. specific prayer for Moses
  2. plentiful, festival diet
  3. ceremonial dressing of wives and children in more "decent clothing than they usually wore"

▣ "wash their garments" This was an outward symbol of the people's reverence for God (cf. Gen. 35:2; Num. 8:7; 19:10,19). This is theologically analogous to the symbolism of Christian baptism. See SPECIAL TOPIC: BAPTISM.

19:11 "the Lord will come down" YHWH did not live on the mountain, as the Greek and Roman gods did. He lives in heaven but He came down (immanence)

  1. to investigate the Tower of Babel - Gen. 11:5
  2. to investigate Sodom's sins - Gen. 18:21
  3. to act on behalf of Israel's cries for help - Exod. 3:8
  4. to reveal Himself to Israel - Exod. 19:11,18,20

19:12 "people" The Samaritan text has "mountain." Both could fit the context.

▣ "set bounds" One aspect of holiness is that it is separate/set apart (cf. Exod. 19:23). The holiness of a place or thing causes it to be off limits (cf. Exod. 3:5; 40:35; Lev. 16:2; Num. 1:51; 18:22; 2 Sam. 6:7). To view God meant death (i.e., transcendence, cf. Exod. 19:9), so too, getting too close!

▣ "shall surely be put to death" This is the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and the IMPERFECT VERB from the same root (BDB 559, KB 562), which shows emphasis.

19:13 "shall surely be stoned" This is the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an IMPERFECT VERB from the same root (BDB 709, KB 768) for emphasis. This was a common form of execution (cf. Exod. 19:13; 21:28,29,32; Lev. 20:2,27; 24:14,16,23; Num. 14:10; 15:35,36; Deut. 21:21; Jos. 7:25; 1 Kgs. 12:18).

▣ "or shot" This is another INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB from the same root (BDB 434, KB 436). Apparently it refers to shooting arrows.
Notice the one who (or animal who) touches the mountain becomes "holy" and cannot remain among the people (similar to "under the ban," herem, BDB 356, i.e., Deut. 20:16-17; Jos. 6:17-19). His (their) execution must be done in such a way as to not touch the person or animal, so, therefore, stones or arrows.

▣ "the ram's horn" Later rabbis use the ram's horn because it was symbolic of the ram which God provided in the place of Isaac (cf. Genesis 22). Also, no horns of the cow or oxen could be used because they said it would remind God of the golden calf (cf. Exodus 32). The ram's horn makes a loud, piercing sound. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HORNS USED BY ISRAEL.

19:15 "do not go near a woman" This must be interpreted in light of the culture. This is not a proof text for the uncleanliness of sex. Sex is a gift from God and a command for mankind (cf. Gen. 1:28,31; 9:1,7). This is based on the view of Semitic cultures regarding the ritual uncleanliness of any bodily emissions (cf. Leviticus 13-15; 1 Sam. 21:4-5; 2 Sam. 11:6ff). This may also possibly be an attempt of radical distinction between Israel and the surrounding fertility cults. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 19:16-17
16So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

19:16 "thunder and lightning flashes" "Thunder" can refer to God's voice (cf. 1 Sam. 7:10; 2 Sam. 22:14-15; Job 37:2-5; Ps. 29:3-9). This is an attempt to express in language that which is inexpressible (cf. Deut. 4:11-12).
The Creator of the world uses its power and majesty to reveal Himself (i.e., theophany, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1247-1249). Here, it reflects a powerful thunder storm (i.e., an aspect of the pillar of cloud). This imagery is recurrent of theophanies (cf. Jdgs. 5:4-5; 1 Kgs. 19:11-13; Job 36:24-33; 37:2-5; 38:25-30; Ps.8:1,3; 18:7-15; 29:3-9; 68:7-9; 144:5-6; 147:8; Isa. 13:2-13; Hag. 2:6).

▣ "a very loud trumpet sound" This is a different word for "trumpet" (BDB 1051, cf. Exod. 19:19) than the one in Exod. 19:13 (BDB 385). This possibly refers to God's trumpet (cf. Matt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 8:2; 11:15-19).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 19:18-25
18Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. 20The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21Then the Lord spoke to Moses, "Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. 22Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them." 23Moses said to the Lord, "The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.'" 24Then the Lord said to him, "Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them." 25So Moses went down to the people and told them.

19:18 "the Lord descended upon it in fire" Fire is often associated with

  1. God's presence - Gen. 15:17; Exod. 3:2; 13:21; 19:16,18; 20:18; 24:17; Deut. 5:4
  2. God's holiness - Deut. 4:24; 9:3; Heb. 12:29
  3. God's judgment - Gen. 38:24; Lev. 9:24; 20:14; 21:9; 1 Kgs. 18:38; Nah. 1:6
  4. cleansing - Num. 31:22-23; Pro. 17:3; Isa. 1:25; 6:6-8; Jer. 6:29; Matt. 2:2-3
There are many other texts about "fire." See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

▣ "the whole mountain quaked violently" The physical effects of this theophany are also recorded in Ps. 68:7,8. The LXX translates this verse so that it is the people who "quake."
Is this verse a description of a volcano or is it metaphorical of a powerful spiritual event?

19:19 This verse may be the biblical source of the statement that God spoke to Moses face-to-face as a friend (cf. Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10. Moses had unique access to YHWH.

19:21 "to gaze, and many of them perish" See note at Exod. 19:9.

19:22 "the priests" This must refer to the heads of the households who functioned as priests (i.e., Job and Abraham) because as of yet, there were no Levitical priests, only the firstborn servants of Exodus 13. Rotherhams Emphasized Bible, p. 103, #a, suggests it refers to "chieftains." It surely could be an anachronism.
Notice there are consequences for disobedience (even if inadvertent, cf. 2 Samuel 6).

19:24 "Aaron" Why Moses had to go down and then come back up apparently was to also show Aaron's leadership before the people.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. How is this covenant different from the covenant of Genesis 12?
  2. Why did God want to reveal His law at Mt. Sinai?
  3. What is monotheism? What is its significance?
  4. Why were sexual relations considered unclean? Is this a universal truth or a cultural situation?
  5. How could the people know what "a kingdom of priests" meant if there was no priesthood at the time?

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