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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 19

Verses 1-25



Chapter 19 begins the second great division of the book of Exodus. God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt has been fully accomplished though they are still in the wilderness. He had carried out His unconditional promise in this great deliverance. But now He makes a promise that is conditional on their obedience. This did not infringe on His first promise, but it is typical of God's authority being established among a redeemed people. Since they are redeemed to Him, they are responsible to Him, just as is true of believers today. Not that we today are put under law: we are not. Law has no authority over us, but nevertheless, the Lord Jesus does have authority over us, and if we ignore His authority we can expect present serious consequences, though our eternal salvation if not affected by this.

In the third month after leaving Egypt, Israel came to Mount Sinai. Moses went up into the mountain, where God called to him (v.3), giving him a message for Israel. This began with a reminder that Israel had witnessed God's judgment of the Egyptians and His bringing Israel by miraculous power (symbolized by eagles' wings) to Himself (v.4).

Being the recipients of such marvelous grace from God, Israel was surely responsible to Him. God therefore addresses them on the basis of their responsibility. If they would obey God's voice and would keep the covenant that God was now establishing with them, then they would be His special treasure above all the nations (v.5) and "a kingdom of priests," a holy nation, that is, sanctified above all others.



When Moses brought God's message to the children of Israel, then "all the people answered and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do"(v.8). They made this promise before having heard what God required of them. How little they knew their own hearts! Moses returned their answer to the Lord (v.8).

What was the result of this? did God express His approval and appreciation of their promise? Far from it! Rather, He told Moses, "Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever" (v.9). Rather than the people speaking (making a promise) and God believing them, God would speak, and the people had better believe Moses, who would convey God's word to them. Thus, they were to believe God.

Apparently Moses told the people's words to the Lord a second time (v.9), probably to remind Him that the people did believe because they had made such a strong promise. But Moses needed to be taught also that God was not seeking a promise from them, but submission of heart. A promise by sinners really indicates confidence in the flesh, and is always soon broken: a heart humbled before God indicates that the flesh is judged.

Therefore the Lord tells Moses to go to the people and consecrate (or sanctify) them for two days and let them wash their clothes (v.10). In other words, in their natural condition they were not to meet a God of absolute holiness. Sanctifying is setting them apart from the evil natural to them. Also, their clothes, speaking of their habits, were defiled, just as we too require washing from defiling habits. On the third day God Himself would come down on Mount Sinai to manifest Himself in a certain way. that manifestation was not in grace, however, as it is today in the person of Christ, "God manifest in flesh."

In fact, this manifestation of God in Christ is most wonderful in the fact that God comes near and brings us near to Himself. But the manifestation of Exodus 19:1-25 keeps the people at a distance. Bounds were to be set around the mountain (v.12) with the solemn threat of death to anyone who dared to even touch the base of the mountain. Even beasts were included in this prohibition (v.13). When the trumpet sounded long, they were to come near to the mountain, but no further, just near enough to be filled with awe and apprehension.

Moses brought this word to the people, so that they were sanctified and washed their clothes (v.14), and he told them to be ready for the third day, maintaining a sanctification even from a sexual relationship with their wives. Yet even these preparations did not take the edge off the stern, forbidding character of the manifestation of God in awe inspiring justice.

For on the third day there were thunderings and lightings and a thick cloud on the mountain, then a trumpet sounding extremely loud, causing the people to tremble (v.16). Yet Moses did not allow them to draw back, but brought them near to the foot of the mountain, to meet with a God who was really hidden behind the forbidding cloud. Added to the thunder and lightning and the thick cloud, was fire and smoke and a great earthquake (v.18). Thus God met their promise to obey Him!

Along with other awe-inspiring manifestations, the blast of the trumpet not only continued long, but became louder and louder. This simply implies that God was speaking to Israel so loudly as to totally silence any speaking on Israel's part, whether in promise or whatever else. The trumpet was intended as an announcement to be heard by everyone. In this case God was announcing the giving of the law, that which was to be placed as a stern exaction on the nation Israel. From the very outset God was indicating that He knew the law was a yoke of bondage that Israel would not be able to bear. Yet in spite of these awesome tokens, Israel still did not understand this lesson of their inability to keep the law.

Moses spoke and God answered by a voice, calling him to come to the top of the mountain to which God had come down. In what way His presence was manifest there we do not know, but immediately again the Lord sent Moses back down to solemnly charge the people not to dare to break through the bounds around the mountain, to see what they could, and therefore die (v.21) Also, as to the priests, who evidently were allowed to come closer, they must sanctify themselves from all defilement, or suffer judgment from the Lord.

Moses protested to the Lord that the people were not able to come up to the mountain because he had obeyed the Lord in setting bounds around the mountain beyond which the people were not allowed to go. But God knew the people better than Moses did. Setting bounds for them was no guarantee that they would observe those bounds, just as the law of God sets definite restrictions, but man's boldly rebellious nature does not hesitate to break over every such barrier.

Therefore God speaks sharply to Moses, "Away! Get down." He must give an extra solemn warning to Israel to restrain their fleshly impatience which they were told would issue in their own death. Moses and Aaron were then told to come up, where they heard from God the ten commandments (ch.20) and many attendant regulations and ordinances given in chapters 21-23. After that Moses went down to the people (ch.24:3), and later returned, not with Aaron, but Joshua (ch.24:12-13), and was there forty days, until the history recounted in chapter 32.

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 19". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.