Israel at Sinai
1#sn This chapter is essentially about mediation. The people are getting ready to meet with God, receive the Law from him, and enter into a covenant with him. All of this required mediation and preparation. Through it all, Israel will become God’s unique possession, a kingdom of priests on earth – if they comply with his Law. The chapter can be divided as follows: vv. 1-8 tell how God, Israel’s great deliverer promised to make them a kingdom of priests; this is followed by God’s declaration that Moses would be the mediator (v. 9); vv. 10-22 record instructions for Israel to prepare themselves to worship Yahweh and an account of the manifestation of Yahweh with all the phenomena; and the chapter closes with the mediation of Moses on behalf of the people (vv. 23-25). Having been redeemed from Egypt, the people will now be granted a covenant with God. See also R. E. Bee, “A Statistical Study of the Sinai Pericope,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 135 (1972): 406-21. In the third month after the Israelites went out#tn The construction uses the infinitive construct followed by the subjective genitive to form a temporal clause. from the land of Egypt, on the very day,#tn Heb “on this day.” they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they journeyed#tn The form is a preterite with vav (ו) consecutive, “and they journeyed.” It is here subordinated to the next clause as a temporal clause. But since the action of this temporal clause preceded the actions recorded in v. 1, a translation of “after” will keep the sequence in order. Verse 2 adds details to the summary in v. 1. from Rephidim, they came to the Desert of Sinai, and they camped in the desert; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.#sn The mountain is Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, the place where God had met and called Moses and had promised that they would be here to worship him. If this mountain is Jebel Musa, the traditional site of Sinai, then the plain in front of it would be Er-Rahah, about a mile and a half long by half a mile wide, fronting the mountain on the NW side (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 169). The plain itself is about 5000 feet above sea level. A mountain on the west side of the Arabian Peninsula has also been suggested as a possible site.
3 Moses#tn Heb “and Moses went up.” went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people#tn This expression is normally translated as “Israelites” in this translation, but because in this place it is parallel to “the house of Jacob” it seemed better to offer a fuller rendering. of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings#tn The figure compares the way a bird would teach its young to fly and leave the nest with the way Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt. The bird referred to could be one of several species of eagles, but more likely is the griffin-vulture. The image is that of power and love. and brought you to myself.#sn The language here is the language of a bridegroom bringing the bride to the chamber. This may be a deliberate allusion to another metaphor for the covenant relationship. 5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me#tn Heb “listen to my voice.” The construction uses the imperfect tense in the conditional clause, preceded by the infinitive absolute from the same verb. The idiom “listen to the voice of” implies obedience, not just mental awareness of sound. and keep#tn The verb is a perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the idea in the protasis of the sentence: “and [if you will] keep.” my covenant, then you will be my#tn The lamed preposition expresses possession here: “to me” means “my.” special possession#tn The noun is סְגֻלָּה (sÿgullah), which means a special possession. Israel was to be God’s special possession, but the prophets will later narrow it to the faithful remnant. All the nations belong to God, but Israel was to stand in a place of special privilege and enormous responsibility. See Deut 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4; and Mal 3:17. See M. Greenburg, “Hebrew sÿgulla: Akkadian sikiltu,” JAOS 71 (1951): 172ff. out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 6 and you will be to me#tn Or “for me” (NIV, NRSV), or, if the lamed (ל) preposition has a possessive use, “my kingdom” (so NCV). a kingdom of priests#tn The construction “a kingdom of priests” means that the kingdom is made up of priests. W. C. Kaiser (“Exodus,” EBC 2:417) offers four possible renderings of the expression: 1) apposition, viz., “kings, that is, priests; 2) as a construct with a genitive of specification, “royal priesthood”; 3) as a construct with the genitive being the attribute, “priestly kingdom”; and 4) reading with an unexpressed “and” – “kings and priests.” He takes the latter view that they were to be kings and priests. (Other references are R. B. Y. Scott, “A Kingdom of Priests (Exodus xix. 6),” OTS 8 : 213-19; William L. Moran, “A Kingdom of Priests,” The Bible in Current Catholic Thought, 7-20). However, due to the parallelism of the next description which uses an adjective, this is probably a construct relationship. This kingdom of God will be composed of a priestly people. All the Israelites would be living wholly in God’s service and enjoying the right of access to him. And, as priests, they would have the duty of representing God to the nations, following what they perceived to be the duties of priests – proclaiming God’s word, interceding for people, and making provision for people to find God through atonement (see Deut 33:9,10). and a holy nation.’#tn They are also to be “a holy nation.” They are to be a nation separate and distinct from the rest of the nations. Here is another aspect of their duty. It was one thing to be God’s special possession, but to be that they had to be priestly and holy. The duties of the covenant will specify what it would mean to be a holy nation. In short, they had to keep themselves free from everything that characterized pagan people (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 171). So it is a bilateral covenant: they received special privileges but they must provide special services by the special discipline. See also H. Kruse, “Exodus 19:5 and the Mission of Israel,” North East Asian Journal of Theology 24/25 (1980): 239-42. These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel. He set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him, 8 and all the people answered together, “All that the Lord has commanded we will do!”#tn The verb is an imperfect. The people are not being presumptuous in stating their compliance – there are several options open for the interpretation of this tense. It may be classified as having a desiderative nuance: “we are willing to do” or, “we will do.” So Moses brought the words of the people back to the Lord.
9 The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come#tn The construction uses the deictic particle and the participle to express the imminent future, what God was about to do. Here is the first announcement of the theophany. to you in a dense cloud,#tn Heb “the thickness of the cloud”; KJV, ASV, NASB, NCV, TEV, CEV, NLT “in a thick cloud.” so that the people may hear when I speak with you and so that they will always believe in you.”#tn Since “and also in you” begins the clause, the emphasis must be that the people would also trust Moses. See Exod 4:1-9, 31; 14:31. And Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.
10 The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them#tn This verb is a Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the force of the imperative preceding it. This sanctification would be accomplished by abstaining from things that would make them defiled or unclean, and then by ritual washings and ablutions. today and tomorrow, and make them wash#tn The form is a perfect 3cpl with a vav (ו) consecutive. It is instructional as well, but now in the third person it is like a jussive, “let them wash, make them wash.” their clothes 11 and 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. 12 You must set boundaries#tn The verb is a Hiphil perfect (“make borders”) with vav (ו) consecutive, following the sequence of instructions. for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed#tn The Niphal imperative (“guard yourselves, take heed to yourselves”) is followed by two infinitives construct that provide the description of what is to be avoided – going up or touching the mountain. to yourselves not to go up on the mountain nor touch its edge. Whoever touches the mountain will surely be put to death! 13 No hand will touch him#sn There is some ambiguity here. The clause either means that no man will touch the mountain, so that if there is someone who is to be put to death he must be stoned or shot since they could not go into the mountain region to get him, or, it may mean no one is to touch the culprit who went in to the region of the mountain. – but he will surely be stoned or shot through, whether a beast or a human being;#tn Heb “a man.” he must not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast they may#tn The nuance here is permissive imperfect, “they may go up.” The ram’s horn would sound the blast to announce that the revelation period was over and it was permitted then to ascend the mountain. go up on the mountain.”
14 Then Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 He said to the people, “Be ready for the third day. Do not go near your wives.”#tn Heb “do not go near a woman”; NIV “Abstain from sexual relations.”sn B. Jacob (Exodus, 537) notes that as the people were to approach him they were not to lose themselves in earthly love. Such separations prepared the people for meeting God. Sinai was like a bride, forbidden to anyone else. Abstinence was the spiritual preparation for coming into the presence of the Holy One.
16 On#tn Heb “and it was on.” the third day in the morning there was thunder and lightning and a dense#tn Heb “heavy” (כָּבֵד, kaved). cloud on the mountain, and the sound of a very loud#tn Literally “strong” (חָזָק, khazaq). horn;#tn The word here is שֹׁפָר (shofar), the normal word for “horn.” This word is used especially to announce something important in a public event (see 1 Kgs 1:34; 2 Sam 6:15). The previous word used in the context (v. 16) was יֹבֵל (yovel, “ram’s horn”). all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their place at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a great furnace,#sn The image is that of a large kiln, as in Gen 19:28. and the whole mountain shook#tn This is the same word translated “trembled” above (v. 16). violently. 19 When the sound of the horn grew louder and louder,#tn The active participle הוֹלֵךְ (holekh) is used to add the idea of “continually” to the action of the sentence; here the trumpet became very loud – continually. See GKC 344 §113.u. Moses was speaking#tn The two verbs here (“spoke” and “answered”) are imperfect tenses; they emphasize repeated action but in past time. The customary imperfect usually is translated “would” or “used to” do the action, but here continuous action in past time is meant. S. R. Driver translates it “kept speaking” and “kept answering” (Exodus, 172). and God was answering him with a voice.#tn The text simply has בְּקוֹל (bÿqol); it could mean “with a voice” or it could mean “in thunder” since “voice” was used in v. 16 for thunder. In this context it would be natural to say that the repeated thunderings were the voice of God – but how is that an answer? Deut 4:12 says that the people heard the sound of words. U. Cassuto (Exodus, 232-33) rightly comments, “He was answering him with a loud voice so that it was possible for Moses to hear His words clearly in the midst of the storm.” He then draws a parallel from Ugaritic where it tells that one of the gods was speaking in a loud voice.
20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down and solemnly warn#tn The imperative הָעֵד (ha’ed) means “charge” them – put them under oath, or solemnly warn them. God wished to ensure that the people would not force their way past the barriers that had been set out. the people, lest they force their way through to the Lord to look, and many of them perish.#tn Heb “and fall”; NAB “be struck down.” 22 Let the priests also, who approach the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break through#tn The verb יִפְרֹץ (yifrots) is the imperfect tense from פָּרַץ (parats, “to make a breach, to break through”). The image of Yahweh breaking forth on them means “work destruction” (see 2 Sam 6:8; S. R. Driver, Exodus, 174). against them.”
23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not able to come up to Mount Sinai, because you solemnly warned us,#tn The construction is emphatic: “because you – you solemnly warned us.” Moses’ response to God is to ask how they would break through when God had already charged them not to. God knew them better than Moses did. ‘Set boundaries for the mountain and set it apart.’”#tn Heb “sanctify it.” 24 The Lord said to him, “Go, get down, and come up, and Aaron with you, but do not let the priests and the people force their way through to come up to the Lord, lest he break through against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.#sn The passage has many themes and emphases that could be developed in exposition. It could serve for meditation: the theology drawn from the three parts could be subordinated to the theme of holiness: God is holy, therefore adhere to his word for service, approach him through a mediator, and adore him in purity and fearful reverence. A developed outline for the exposition could be: I. If the people of God will obey him, they will be privileged to serve in a unique way (1-8); II. If the people of God are to obey, they must be convinced of the divine source of their commands (9); and finally, III. If the people of God are convinced of the divine approval of their mediator, and the divine source of their instructions, they must sanctify themselves before him (vv. 10-25). In sum, the manifestation of the holiness of Yahweh is the reason for sanctification and worship. The correlation is to be made through 1 Peter 2 to the church. The Church is a kingdom of priests; it is to obey the Word of God. What is the motivation for this? Their mediator is Jesus Christ; he has the approval of the Father and manifests the glory of God to his own; and he declares the purpose of their calling is to display his glory. God’s people are to abstain from sin so that pagans can see their good works and glorify God.