Bible Commentaries
Exodus 19

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

In the third month - according to Jewish usage, the first of that month - "same day," it is added, to mark the time more explicitly - i:e., 45 days after leaving Egypt-one day spent on the mount (Exodus 19:3), one returning people's answers (Exodus 19:7-8), three days of preparation-making the whole time fifty days from the first Passover to the promulgation of the law. Hence, the Feast of Pentecost, i:e., the 50th day, was the inauguration of the Old Testament Church; and the divine wisdom is apparent in the selection of the same season for the restitution of the New Testament Church (John 1:17; Acts 2:1).

Wilderness of Sinai. This name is here used for the first time. Thenceforth, with one exception (Exodus 33:6), during the whole sojourn of the Israelites in the vicinity, Sinai alone is spoken of (Exodus 7:18; Exodus 7:23; Exodus 24:16; Exodus 31:18; Exodus 34:29; Exodus 34:32; Leviticus 7:38; Leviticus 25:1; Leviticus 26:46; Leviticus 27:34; Numbers 1:1; Numbers 3:11; Numbers 3:14). In Numbers 10:12 they break up from Sinai; and in the list of stations (Numbers 33:15), Sinai also naturally appears. But elsewhere, after their departure, and through the whole book of Deuteronomy (except in the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:2), Horeb alone is named; and the same events are spoken of as occurring in Horeb which were before described as taking place on Sinai (Deuteronomy 1:2, Deuteronomy 1:6, Deuteronomy 1:19; Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 9:8; Deuteronomy 18:16; 28:69 ). Horeb and Sinai seem to be used in some cases indifferently as the designation of the mountain of the law. But in general Horeb is the name of the mountainous region, and Sinai is the specific one of the central district (Robinson, 'Biblical Researches,' vol. 1:, p. 551; Hengstenberg, 'Pentateuch,' vol. 2:, p. 396).

Verse 2

For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.

Were come to the desert of Sinai. The desert has its provinces, or divisions, distinguished by a variety of names; and the 'desert of Sinai' is that wild and desolate region which occupies the very center of the peninsula, comprising the lofty range to which the mount of God belongs. It is a wilderness of shaggy rocks of porphyry and red granite, and of valleys for the most part bare of verdure.

Camped before the mount - Sinai, so called from Seneh, or acacia bush. It is now called Jebel Musa. Their way into the interior of the gigantic cluster was by Wady Feiran, which would lead the bulk of the host, with their flocks and herds, into the high valleys of Jebel Musa, with their abundant springs, especially into the great thoroughfare of the desert-the longest, widest, and most continuous of all the valleys, the Wady es-Shiekh, whilst many would be scattered among the adjacent valleys; so that thus secluded from the world, in a wild and sublime amphitheater of rocks, they "camped before the mount." Of the granite piles that form the central group of this mountainous district, almost each one has been pitched as being the true Sinai. While Serbal, in the northern range, has numerous advocates (see the note at Exodus 18:5); but it is rejected, as it affords no camping ground, and the narrow valley at its base, instead of being a desert, has in all ages been the garden of the peninsula; and whilst some, maintaining that the Israelites never penetrated the granite region at all, have sought for Sinai in some of the border parts of the desert, the vast majority rest in the belief that the encampment of the Israelites was in the heart of the gigantic cluster; but respecting the particular mountain there has been much discussion. Ruppel fixed on Jebel Katerin, Lord Lindsay on Jebel Monejah; but both of these fail to meet the required conditions of the sacred narrative. Opinions greatly preponderate in favour of the old monkish tradition which assigns the honour of being "the mount" to Jebel Musa, with its two summits.

Dr. Wilson clings to the southernmost peak, which has the special name of Moses, as the genuine place; but it is objected to this view that the plain at its foot is too narrow to admit the encampment of such a host. Dr. Robison, feeling the force of this objection, places Sinai at the northern extremity of the ridge, where its bold precipice overlooks the broad plain of Rahah, on which an army even larger than the host of Israel might be comfortably stationed. But Safsafeh is considerably lower than several of the adjacent mountains. Mr. Sandie enlists both summits as being at different times the scene of inaugurating the new dispensation: Jebel Musa, back from the plain about three miles, about 2,000 feet in height;-this is "the top of the mount" (Exodus 19:20), invisible from the plain, and very easily ascended from the valley of the convent;-Safsafeh, which overhangs the plain, is about 1,000 feet in height, and very difficult of ascent. He shows in a very ingenious and interesting manner how all the facts recorded in the sacred narrative are fully verified, on the hypothesis that both these peaks formed stages of action in the progressive development of the great drama. In this valley-a long flat valley-about a quarter of a mile in breadth, winding northwards, Israel would find ample room for their encampment. Of all the wadys in that region, it seems the most suitable for a prolonged sojourn. The "goodly tents" of Israel could spread themselves without limit.

Verses 3-6

And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

Moses went up unto God - the Shechinah, within the cloud (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18). From the encampment in Er Rehab, the point of his departure, Moses would probably go through the Wady Lejah or Wady Shuweib; then climbing the side of the mount by a winding ascent, perhaps the route usually taken in the present day in scaling it, he would arrive at the broad platform in front of the highest Peak of Sinai. It is a wide, open space, entirely secluded from view; and while in that elevated solitude, he was summoned by the voice of Yahweh to receive the pattern of that theocracy which was now to be established in Israel. It appears that in communicating the basis of the new constitution to the people, and reporting their acceptance of it to the Lord, he had to ascend the mount more than once (Exodus 19:3; Exodus 19:6; Exodus 19:8; Exodus 19:10) in one day-three days before the promulgation of the law. But he was a hale old man, in full and vigorous activity both of body and mind, and he was equal to such an exertion.

Thus shalt thou say ... The object for which Moses went up was to receive and convey to the people the message contained in these verses, and the purport of which was a general announcement of the terms on which God was to take the Israelites into a close and special relation to Himself. In thus negotiating between God and His people-the highest post of duty which any mortal man was ever called to occupy-Moses was still but a servant. The only Mediator is Jesus Christ.

Verse 4. Ye have seen ... how I bare you on eagles' wings - a beautifully expressive metaphor, used to describe the entireness of their deliverance from the scenes of danger, and the rapidity with which they were carried in unassailable security to a distant eyrie among the mountains (cf. Deuteronomy 32:11-12). This is the prototype of the image employed in Revelation 12:14, to symbolize the Christian Church as a woman borne away into the wilderness on the wings of a great eagle.

And brought you unto myself - i:e., to a place where they might be devoted to God's service.

Verse 5. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice ... and keep my covenant. God had entered into a special covenant With Abraham, guaranteeing the promise of spiritual blessings; and if a large portion of his posterity did not secure an interest in that promise, the fault was their own. God, notwithstanding, for His love to their fathers, and for many wise and important reasons, saw fit to allow them the benefit of an external covenant.

This new covenant entered into at Sinai did not make void the former covenant;-it was intermediate, temporary, and national; and as God can have no contact with sinners without sacrifices and without a Mediator, so this Sinai covenant was founded on sacrifices (Hebrews 9:5; Hebrews 9:18), and had a Mediator, Moses (Galatians 3:19). And in an outward, typical covenant, securing temporal prosperity, so great a display of the divine holiness was not necessary as in a covenant securing an interest in God's special lovingkindness. Therefore, as s Mediator of less value sufficed for the former, a typical Mediator was most suitable to a typical covenant.

Then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me, [ cªgulaah (H5459), property, wealth, from caagal, to get, to acquire, what is carefully stored up (1 Chronicles 29:3) and highly prized (Ecclesiastes 2:8)]. So the Israelites were chosen as the objects of divine favour, redeemed from bondage, and trained under the divine care for high ends (Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18; Psalms 135:4), [The Septuagint has: laos periousios apo pantoon toon ethnoon-a people peculiar (separate) from all the nations (cf. Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9, in which Christians are represented as the full inheritors of the spiritual blessings typically held forth to the Jews).] for all the earth is mine. The Lord added this immediately after declaring that in the event of their 'obeying His voice and keeping His covenant,' they would be 'a peculiar treasure unto Him,' to show that if He chose them from among the nations, to confer upon them special privileges and tokens of His favour, it was not because He stood in need of them, or could derive any advantage from their services; for as 'all the earth was His,' in any other place He might have established His worship-to some other people He might have communicated the knowledge of His will and His worship. Hence, His doing so to them was an act of pure grace. But the phrase, "for all the earth is mine," was undoubtedly used also to intimate that the import of the covenant now being made with the Israelites was not the introduction of a national religion, or for the worship of a local deity, but was designed for the ultimate benefit of the whole world.

Kingdom of priests. Since the priestly order was set apart from the common mass, so the Israelites, compared with other people, were to sustain the same near relation to God-a community of spiritual sovereigns.

A holy nation - set apart to preserve the knowledge and worship of God. That this phrase directed the minds of the people to the sacerdotal order in Egypt as a privileged and consecrated body, especially as the tribe of Levi had not yet been set apart to the service of God, has been suggested by Michaelis and others. But from the sacred functions which, among other privileges, belonged to the oldest sons in families, they must have been perfectly able to form an idea of the meaning of the declaration that they were to be a kingdom of priests; which implied, that, as contrasted with Gentile nations, they were to be taught by direct revelation a knowledge of the character and worship of the true God, and to stand to Him in a relation peculiarly near.

Since God had purposed to save mankind by a Redeemer, the body of the redeemed was, until the advent of Christ, represented by the chosen people, who might collectively be regarded as a kind of mediator, and justly described as "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." Men are said to be sanctified or made holy in very different senses.

Sanctification (for the distinction, though an old, is not a bad one) is either real or relative. Real sanctification is either inward, consisting of holiness of heart and life, or outward, consisting in external purifications, and a conduct free from the pollution of gross sins. Relative sanctification consists in separation from common use and a special relation to God and spiritual things.

Though the Israelites were not generalist at this time characterized by that holiness which results from moral excellence or from the graces of the spirit, and in every subsequent period of their history there was a great amount of corruption infecting their society, yet they were destined to be "a holy nation," inasmuch as they were distinguished by a holiness consisting in separation from other nations (Ezra 9:2), in external dedication to God and his service, in their possessing the outward symbols of His presence among them (Exodus 29:43-44), and in their typifying Messiah and his kingdom, and preparing things for his birth and appearance (cf. Leviticus 11:44; Deuteronomy 7:6). That separation from other nations in which the holiness of the Jewish nation chiefly consisted (Exodus 19:5-6; Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 26:18-19) was not spiritual, resulting from rectitude of heart and a correspondent deportment, but merely external, derived from the institution of certain sacred rites and ceremonies, different from, or opposite to, those of other nations.

The glory of divine wisdom, no less than of divine goodness and grace, was manifested in the choice of the Israelites for the important purposes contemplated by their separation. In the simplicity as well as in the power of their character, the fitness of the Jews for illustrating the divine government is now clearly seen. 'Neither the Egyptians, with all their wisdom,' says Tholuck (On the Old Testament, 'Biblical Cabinet,' vol. 1:,

p. 22), 'nor the imaginative Indians, nor the vain and speculative Greeks, nor the haughty Romans, could have received a revelation, or have been employed in this work, without marring it.'

Verses 7-8

And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.

Moses came and called for the elders. The message was conveyed to the mighty multitude through their elders, who doubtless instructed them in the conditions required. Their unanimous acceptance was conveyed through the same channel to Moses, and by him reported to the Lord. Ah, how much self-confidence did their language betray!-how little did they know what spirit they were of! But without reference to the moral weaknesses of humanity, which, alas, were but too conspicuously displayed in their sad failures to act up to their promise, the response, "all that the Lord hath spoken we will do," was a declaration of the national acceptance of the constitution. Here is what has been aptly called by Lowman ('Civ. Gov. of the Heb.,' 100: 1), 'the original contract of the Hebrew government,' which is comprised in two fundamental principles:

(1) Adherence to the worship of one God, in opposition to the polytheistic tendencies of ancient times; and, (2) As subservient to this end, the separation of the Israelites from other nations, to prevent the formation of unsuitable and corrupting alliances.

This was a transaction of the most important character, and having deep significance. It was the inauguration of the national compact, to which the communications of which Moses was the bearer between Yahweh and the people were the necessary preparations. Divinely commissioned to propose Yahweh as the Sovereign and Head of the Israelite nation, Moses, on his descent from the mount, assembled the public representatives of the people, and, in a duly constituted convention, formally submitted the proposition from the Lord. The assent of that council having been given in name and on behalf of the people, Moses ascends to report the unanimous resolution of the meeting, which, in consideration of its representative character, is described as equivalent to the popular response. On receiving this official answer, this public and formal declaration of the willing acceptance by the people of the terms of the proposed compact, Yahweh concluded the transaction by declaring to Moses, as the ambassador of the people, that on the third day thereafter He would initiate the theocratic government by a public and impressive display of His sovereign majesty before the eyes of the Israelite people as his subjects (Michaelis, 'Commentary on Laws of Moses,' vol 1: part 34; Warburton's 'Divine Legation,' b. 5:, sec. 2; Jahn, 'Hebrew Commonwealth,' ch. 2:; Graves 'On the Pentateuch,' part 2:, secs. 1 and 3).

Verses 9-15

And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.

Lo, I come ... in a thick cloud ... The deepest impressions are made on the mind through the medium of the senses; and so He who knew what was in man signalized His descent at the inauguration of the ancient church by all the sensible tokens of august Majesty that were fitted to produce the conviction that He is the great and terrible God. The whole multitude must have anticipated the event with feelings of intense solemnity and awe. The extraoradinary preparations enjoined, the ablutions and rigid abstinence they were required to observe, the barriers erected all round the base of the mount, and the stern penalties annexed to the breach of any of the conditions, all tended to create an earnest and solemn expectation, which increased as the appointed day drew near.

Verse 10-14. Sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. The whole people of Israel being about to be taken into covenant with God, and thereby constituted "a holy nation," were required to "wash their clothes" - emblematic of their ceremonial purity. It was a baptism-the sign of their admission to sacred privileges. 'When Yahweh admitted Israel to the rights of the covenant, He constituted them a "holy nation;" and all the children ever afterward born of those parents were, by their birth, holy in this respect, they were entitled to all the privileges of the covenant, when observed. For which reason succeeding generations of Israelites were never baptized, because they were already in the holiness, the passage to which such a baptism would signify' ('Johnstone, 'Israel after the Flesh,' p. 97).

Verse 16

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

On the third day ... The descent of God was signalized by every object imagination can conceive connected with the ideas of grandeur and of awe. Although the Divine Being was animated with feelings of the tenderest consideration for His people, and this new dispensation was itself an eminent display of kindness and love, yet 'the law being added because of transgressions,' its inauguration was all in keeping with the economy about to be introduced. Since the mountain burned with fire, God was exhibited as a consuming fire to the transgressors of His law. The thunder and lightning, more awful amid the deep stillness of the region, and reverberating with terrific peals among the mountains, would rouse the universal attention: a thick cloud was an apt emblem of the dark and shadowy dispensation, (cf. Matthew 17:5; Judges 5:4; Psalms 68:7-9, where the sacred bards, alluding to the solemn and impressive scene on Sinai, mention, among the other phenomena, torrents of rain).

If it be asked, Why was the proclamation of the law accompanied by thunders and lightnings? the answer is, The law of Moses, which was a law of ordinances, and intended to impress a people accustomed to, and bent upon, idolatry, with the fear of God and a sense of His power, was delivered in such an imposing manner in order that the appalling phenomena on the mount might impress them with the indispensable need of a mediator. When the expected Mediator, therefore, appeared, according to God's promise, He would certainly not come in a way to frighten or to appall (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-12; Isaiah 42:3).

A cloud was the symbol of the divine presence. In the Scriptural accounts of the Deity's descent He is commonly said to come in the clouds; and there are passages in which it may be questioned whether this costume, designed to convey an impression of His regal majesty, is to be only figuratively understood (Psalms 18:9-13; Isaiah 6:4). But in the Theophany at Sinai there was no doubt a visible exhibition of these objects, which was perceived by the natural eyes of the Israelites (cf. Exodus 34:5).

The voice of the trumpet. The awfully impressive and solemnizing effects of the thunder-peals in such an amphitheater of gigantic mountains can be very inadequately conceived by us. Dr. Stewart ('Tent and Khan,' pp. 139, 140) enjoyed the rare opportunity of witnessing a thunder-storm in the Sinaitic region, which he describes as follows: 'Every bolt, as it burst with the roar of a cannon, seemed to awaken a series of distinct echoes on every side. They swept like a whirlwind among the higher mountains, becoming faint as some mighty peak intervened, and bursting with undiminished volume through some yawning cleft, until the very ground trembled with the concussion. It seemed as if the mountains of the whole peninsula were answering one another in a chorus of the deepest bass. Ever and anon a flash of lightning dispelled the pitchy darkness and lit up the mount as if it had been day; then, after the interval of a few seconds, came the peal of thunder, bursting like a shell, to scatter its echoes to the four quarters of the heavens, and overpowering for a moment the loud howlings of the wind.'

The reverberation of the thunder-peals among the mountains and wadys of Sinai was as Mr. Drew ('Scripture Lands,' p. 124) remarks, from having witnessed a thunder-storm in the Sinaitic region, exactly like the sound of a trumpet; and this is the way-a most natural and obvious way-of explaining the clause with reference to "the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud." Some ascribe it to angels (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). This gave the scene the character of a miraculous transaction, in which other elements than those of nature were at work, and some other than material trumpet was blown by other means than human breath.

Verse 17

And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.

Moses brought forth the people. All classes, except, of course, the aged, the sick, and infant children, including even the achsuph, or mixed multitude, required to be present at the inauguration of a national covenant. Wady er-Rahah, where they stood, as a spacious sandy plain immediately in front of Es-Safsafeh, is considered by Robinson to be the mount from which the law was given. 'We measured it, and estimated the whole plain at two geographical miles long, and ranging in width from one-third to two-thirds of a mile, or as equivalent to a surface of one square mile. This space is nearly doubled by the recess on the west, and by the broad and level area of Wady es-Sheikh on the east, which issues at right angles to the plain, and is equally in view of the front and summit of the mount. The examination convinced us that here was space enough to satisfy all the requisitions of the Scripture narrative, so far as it relates to the assembling of the congregation to receive the law. Here, too, one can see the fitness of the injunction to set bounds around the mount, that neither man nor beast might approach too near; because it rises like a perpendicular wall.' Mr. Sandie follows Dr. Robinson in expressing a strong conviction that Safsafeh was the mount from which the Decalogue was proclaimed, and he supports this view by additional reasons-

(1) That the tenor of the narrative implies the summit, unlike that of Jebel Musa, to have been comparatively low, as well as precipitous; because the people were not only brought to "the nether part of the mount" (Exodus 19:17: cf. Deuteronomy 4:11), but near to God (Deuteronomy 5:4).

(2) That this closeness to the mount-unnecessary, and not advisable, had the proclamation been made from a lofty peak-was in order that they might hear the voice of God, who addressed them not in the loud tones of wrath, but in the calm accents of kind and affectionate command.

(3) That other statutes, founded on the principles of the moral law (see the notes at Exodus 21:1-36; Exodus 22:1-31; Exodus 23:1-33), on the same occasion were delivered from the same place; but as the people stood afar off (Exodus 20:18), Moses alone heard them; whereas, had they been uttered from a higher eminence they must have been re-echoed throughout every part of the spacious valley.

This theory, however good it apparently is, entirely fails to meet one of the most prominent circumstances in the narrative-namely, 'that of Moses bringing forth the people out of the camp to meet with God;' for as, according to Dr. Robinson and Mr. Sandie, the encampment was in Er-Rahah and es-Shiekh-the people only came out of their tents in front of Safsafeh, but were not summoned out of the camp.

Many recent writers have furnished a complete solution of this difficulty by transferring the place of assembling the people to hear the proclamation of the law from the valleys in front of Safsafeh, the northern peak, to a plain in front of Jebel Musa, the southern summit. This is the spacious plain of es-Sebayeh, 'which,' says Mr. Drew ('Scripture Lands.' p. 393, 4) 'widens and enlarges toward the south into a most magnificent area for a much larger encampment than could be placed in Er-Rahah. And from every point of it, with the exception of a few inconsiderable depressions beneath recent mounds, Jebel Musa is grandly visible. This was our impression after we had walked a mile; but in order that we might be quite sure of it, and, especially, that we might quite satisfy ourselves that Abu Aldi, on the southeastern flank of Jebel Musa, did at no point hide it, we walked to the very end. At no point was the view of Jebel Musa interrupted. It rose everywhere before us, through the three miles over which Sebayeh extends as THE MOUNT. In the broadest part, near the south end, and along a line bearing northwest and southeast, we found the plain was one mile and three-quarters broad. We could look along it straight into the Wady es-Shiekh-a distance of fully ten miles. This wady meets all the requirements of the narrative. Its sides, gently sloping, are filled with vegetation. Jebel Musa is the object visible at every part, and the spurs from the mountain come down along it on the east side, so as to form a clearly defined boundary ... There is abundant room in it and the adjacent wadys for the Israelites to have been placed, as the narrative describes, during the giving of the law; and after going over the conditions that must have been fulfilled by the actual scene of that event, we came deliberately and strongly to the conclusion that it had far greater claims to be received in that character than Er-Rahah, and that the old traditional Sinai was indeed no other than the sacred mount. Still we thought it right to go and examine Er-Rahah again, though we had seen it so plainly from Safsafeh the day before; otherwise we should have been partly falling into what appears to have been Robinson's, Stanley's, and others' mistake in judging of the plain from the mountain, instead of the mountain from the plain. Obviously the problem is to find a plain from every point of which the mountain is distinctly and impressively visible-not to find a mountain where you can see everyone who is standing on a given space below. We went accordingly, and traversed Er-Rahah from end to end; and we found --

(1) 'That it is of smaller superficial extent than Sebayeh: it is, on the average, one mile broad, and it Isaiah 2:3 /4 miles long.

(2) 'That it is not to be compared with Sebayeh in regard to its approaches, and to the nature of its side boundaries, which are, and always have been, steep and bare of vegetation; and

(3) 'We were impressed greatly by the fact, that at all points of the plain Safsafeh stands blended and mingled with almost equal heights. Indeed, at the northern end El-Tlaha is far more impressive, so that Safsafeh could never be looked upon from Er-Rahah as THE MOUNT.

'Our conclusion was in the strongest manner sustained; and I do not hesitate to record my firm belief that the old traditional Sinai is the very place, if this be known at all, whence the law was given, and in view of which the people were assembled.' (See Laborde's 'Commentaire Geographique on Exodus;' also Tischendorf's 'Travels in the East,' vol. 1:, p. 232; Ritter, 'Erd Kunde,' 100: 14: 591; Wilson's 'Lands,' vol 1:, p. 232; Stewart, 'Tent and Khan,' pp. 134, 152.)

Verse 18

And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

The Lord descended upon it in fire. This was an extraordinary, unprecedented display of the Shechinah, that fiery effulgence surrounded with dark clouds, in which Yahweh is represented as appearing. On this occasion the transcendent brightness of this glory is described, in the sublime poetry of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:3-7), as covering the whole firmament far and wide above the Arabian desert.

And the whole mount quaked greatly. Since 'the shaking of the earth' is a common figure of the prophets to indicate great moral and political revolutions, the tremulous motion of Sinai was emblematic of the change which then occurred, when God took the nation of Israel into covenant, avouching Himself to be their God, and adopting them to be His special people (Deuteronomy 4:32-38). It was a new dispensation of Providence, to be productive in later ages of mighty moral changes on the world; and the majestic presence of Him who introduced this economy "shook," says Habakkuk poetically, "the whole earth." The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews refers the shaking of Sinai to Christ (Exodus 12:26).

Verse 19

And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 20

And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

The Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up. Assuming that Moses was in the plain of Sebayeh, whither he had brought forth the people out of the camp, his ascent now would be from that valley, 'crossing the Hutberg (which connects the Jebel Musa with the Jebel ed-Deir in the form of a saddle), and in that case his ascent would be witnessed by no stranger's eye, and be concealed from all below' (Kurtz, 'History of the Old Covenant,' vol. 3:, p. 101).

While the people were filled with solemn feelings of awe Moses himself went up into "the thick cloud" with fear and trembling (Hebrews 12:21). The design of this last ascent, previous to the promulgation, was doubtless to receive fresh instructions as to the pattern of that religious order which he was to be the main instrument of establishing in Israel. But scarcely had he reached "the top of the mount" when he was ordered back, 'to take the strictest measures for repressing the presumptuous curiosity of a carnal and ignorant rabble, who were in high expectation of some extraordinary advantages, and elated with the distinguished tokens of the divine favour they had received, but incapable to a great extent of entering into the meaning and intention of their sacred calling, or cherishing the reverence due to the supreme Majesty of heaven.

Verse 21

And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.

Lord said unto Moses, Go down. No sooner had Moses proceeded a little up the mount than he was suddenly ordered to return, in order to keep the people from breaking through to gaze-a course adopted to heighten the impressive solemnity of the scene. The strict injunctions renewed to all, whatever their condition, at a time and in circumstances when the whole multitude of Israel were standing at the base of the mount, was calculated in the highest degree to solemnize and awe every heart.

Verse 22

And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.

Let the priests also, which come hear to the Lord, sanctify themselves. Who these priests were-whether the first-born of families (cf. Exodus 24:5), or the sacerdotal office was at this transitional period conjoined with the exercise of their magisterial functions by the elders of Israel-is not known; but they were not to be so lifted up with pride by the official character which they possessed as to deem themselves better than others, and more worthy to approach the sacred shrine on the mount.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 19". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.