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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 19

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Exodus 19 – The Nation of Israel Comes to Mount Sinai

A. Coming to the Mountain.

1. (Exo 19:1-2) Israel camps at Mount Sinai.

In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.

a. They came to the Wilderness of Sinai: It took them three months of trusting God to get to this place, but they finally arrived. They saw God’s deliverance from Egypt, received His guidance on the way to go, saw His glorious victory at the Red Sea, received God’s miraculous gifts of food and water, and they saw a prayerful victory won over the Amalekites.

i. Israel stayed in the Wilderness of Sinai until Numbers 10. More than 57 chapters of Scripture are devoted to what happened to Israel in the year they camped at Mount Sinai.

ii. “The word conventionally translated ‘wilderness’ is not a sandy desert, but grazing country, not settled by man.” (Cole)

b. So Israel camped there before the mountain: In one sense, all that went before was meant to bring them to this place. This was the beginning of the fulfillment of what God said in Exodus 3:12: this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.

i. Sinai was the place where Moses met God at the burning bush. The whole nation of Israel would soon experience some of what Moses did at the burning bush. Moses could lead them to this mountain for this experience because he had already been there. The people could not go farther than their leader.

ii. If the traditional site of Mount Sinai looks like anything, it looks like a huge pulpit – a sudden, steep outcropping of mountain out in the wilderness. Here, God preached one of the most dramatic sermons ever heard.

iii. Yet there is good reason to believe that the traditional site of Mount Sinai – on the Sinai Peninsula – is not the correct location of the mountain where all this came to pass.

· According to Exodus 2:15, 3:1, and 3:12 this mountain was in the region of Midian, which was on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba, east of the Sinai Peninsula. The ancient land of Midian is in the modern nation of Saudi Arabia.
· In Galatians 4:25, the Apostle Paul clearly described Mount Sinai as being in Arabia. Though some claim that this can also be understood as extending to the Sinai Peninsula, this isn’t the normal understanding of where Arabia is, either in the modern or the ancient understanding.
· There is significant evidence – both historic and archaeological – to associate the Arabian mountain Jebel al-Lawz with the site of Mount Sinai.

2. (Exo 19:3-4) God reminds Israel of His great power and care for them.

And Moses 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 children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.'”

a. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain: Moses, led by God, went up on the mountain to meet with God as he had before – and the Lord spoke to Moses again.

b. Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob: With this title God associated the nation with the weakest and least stable of the patriarchs. At this point they acted more like Jacob than like Abraham or Isaac.

c. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians: God gave a message to Israel through Moses, a message regarding His purpose and destiny for Israel. This destiny was based on what God already did for them in the great deliverance from Egypt.

d. I bore you on eagles’ wings: An eagles’ wings are strong and sure; but they also speak of careful protection. It is said that an eagle does not carry her young in her claws like other birds; the young eagles attach themselves to the back of the mother eagle and are protected as they are carried. Any arrow from a hunter must pass through the mother eagle before it could touch the young eagle on her back.

i. “This metaphor is developed most extensively in Deuteronomy 32:11, where the loving compassion, protection, strength, and watchfulness of God is compared with the majestic bird’s attributes.” (Kaiser)

e. And brought you to Myself: The deliverance (I bore you on eagles’ wings) was for fellowship (brought you to Myself). God didn’t deliver Israel so they could live apart from God, but so they could be God’s people.

3. (Exo 19:5-6) God reveals His plan and destiny for Israel.

“‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

a. If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant: God would soon make a formal covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. Before He did, He revealed what He wanted to do for an obedient Israel.

i. Before God called Israel to keep His law, He commanded them to “keep My covenant.” The covenant was greater than the law itself. The covenant God made with Israel involved law, sacrifice, and the choice to obey and be blessed or to disobey and be cursed.

b. Then you shall be a special treasure to Me: God intended for Israel to be a special treasure unto Him. He wanted them to be a people with a unique place in God’s great plan, a people of great value and concern to God. It wasn’t as if God ignored the rest of the world (for all the earth is mine), but that He was determined to use Israel to reach the earth.

i. The Apostle Paul also wanted Christians to know how great a treasure they were to God; he prayed they would know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18).

ii. “Where his treasure is, there is a man’s heart. If it is in ships on the treacherous sea, he tosses restlessly on his bed, solicitous for its safety. If it is in fabrics, he guards against moth; if in metal, against rust and thieves. And is Christ less careful for his own?” (Meyer)

c. You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests: God intended for Israel to be a kingdom of priests, where every believer could come before God themselves, and as a group they represented God to the nations.

i. “The whole nation was to act as mediators of God’s grace to the nations of the earth.” (Kaiser) “God’s ‘particularist’ choice of Israel has a wider ‘universalist’ purpose.” (Cole)

ii. Peter reminds us we are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), those who serve God as both kings and priests (and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, Revelation 1:6).

d. And a holy nation: God intended for Israel to be a holy nation, a nation and people set apart from the rest of the world, the particular possession of God, fit for His purposes.

i. Peter reminds us we are a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). As God’s people, we must be set apart, thinking and doing differently than the flow of the world in general.

4. (Exo 19:7-9) The people agree to obey the covenant.

So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.

a. Laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him: The people are later challenged to receive the covenant again, after they heard its terms, and they received it again (Exodus 24:1-8).

i. Here they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” “Their answer was sincere, but it was ignorant.” (Morgan) Later they would say it again, in an even more formal arrangement (Exodus 24:1-8).

ii. “Even so with us. We say, ‘All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do,’ and we fail. But God never fails. He waits and pursues His own way of grace and government.” (Morgan)

b. Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord: Moses here acted as a true priest, as an intermediary between God and the people. Yet God spoke audibly to Moses (that the people may hear when I speak with you) so everyone would know that it was really God speaking to Moses.

5. (Exo 19:10-13) God commands that His holy presence on Sinai be respected.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.”

a. Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow: God was going to appear to Israel in a spectacular way; and before this could happen, the people had to prepare themselves.

b. You shall set bounds for the people all around: As God promised to reveal Himself on Sinai He told Israel, Stay away. There were boundaries that could not be crossed. Israel had to keep distance behind a barrier, and the penalty for failing to keep their distance was death (shall surely be put to death).

i. Not a hand shall touch him: Any person or animal killed for getting too close would be regarded as so unholy they could not even be touched, they had to be executed with a stones or arrows.

ii. If there is anything basic to human nature, it is that we need boundaries. In setting these boundaries and providing the death penalty for breaching them, God showed Israel that obedience is more important than their feelings. We don’t doubt that some bold Israelites felt like going beyond the boundaries, but they were to submit their feelings to obedience.

c. When the trumpet sounds long: The people could only come near at God’s invitation, and the trumpet signaled that the invitation was open. At the sounding of the trumpet they could come up to the boundaries, but not beyond them.

6. (Exo 19:14-15) Commands for ceremonial purity and cleanliness.

So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.”

a. Sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes: The people immediately prepared for the revelation of God that was promised for the third day.

b. Be ready for the third day: The meeting with God could only come at the third day. God promised to reveal Himself on the third day, and they had to wait for it.

c. Do not come near your wives: The rest of the Scriptures do not teach that there is any inherent uncleanness in sexual relations. This command was peculiar for this event. In this situation, God wanted the people to demonstrate their desire for purity by putting on clean clothes and restraining desires, even legitimate desires.

i. “Men must come before God with the best preparation they can get.” (Trapp)

B. God’s presence on the mountain.

1. (Exo 19:16-19) God’s terrifying presence on Mount Sinai.

Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.

a. Thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud: These signs of power and glory signaled the presence of God. The whole environment spoke of God’s presence in a terrifying sense.

b. The sound of the trumpet was very loud: What Israel saw and felt in the thunder, lightning, the cloud, the smoke, and the earthquake was terrifying; but each of these are natural (though frightening) phenomenon. Yet the sound of the trumpet did not come from the camp, but from heaven itself. No wonder that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

c. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God: At the sound of the trumpet, Moses led the people up to the barrier at the base of Mount Sinai, where they could see, smell, hear, and virtually taste the fire which covered the mountain – as well as feel the earth shake under their feet when the whole mountain quaked greatly.

d. When the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder: In the midst of all this, the sound of the trumpet blast became longer and louder and longer and louder, until Moses spoke to God, and God answered him by voice. Collectively, Israel heard the Lord God speak from Mount Sinai in an audible voice.

2. (Exo 19:20) Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to the immediate presence of God.

Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

a. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain: God came in a special presence to Mount Sinai, ready to meet with Moses as a representative of the whole nation of Israel.

b. And Moses went up: God came down, and Moses went up. As the people trembled in terror at the foot of the mountain, Moses needed courage to go to the top and meet with God. It took courage for Moses to go up in the midst of all the thunder, lightning, earthquakes, fire, and smoke.

i. Yet Moses knew God not only in terms of this awesome power, but also in terms of His gracious kindness.

3. (Exo 19:21-25) God tells Moses to go back down and warn the people again about respecting the holiness of His presence on Sinai.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the Lord, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” But Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it.'” Then the Lord said to him, “Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest He break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.

a. Go down and warn the people: Those who through rebellion, curiosity, or simple daring presumed to go up on the mountain would perish. The glory and greatness of God wasn’t to be a matter subjected to scientific inquiry or a way to prove one’s own manhood.

b. The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai: Just because God called Moses and Aaron up did not mean there was an open invitation for the whole nation to meet with God on Mount Sinai.

c. Do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord: The whole idea at Sinai was exclusion. Exodus 19 describes the awe and fear each Israelite must have felt at Mount Sinai. It is easy to think that this alone inspired them to a holy lifestyle.

i. Many today feel we need to get more of the thunder and fire and trembling of Mount Sinai into people as a way of keeping them from sin. Yet, not forty days from this, the whole nation would have an orgy around a golden calf, praising it as the god that brought them out of Egypt.

ii. “Awe is one thing: the submission of the will is another.” (Chadwick) Israel had plenty of awe, but little submission of their will.

iii. Hebrews 12:18-24 says clearly that under the New Covenant we come to a different mountain, that our salvation and relationship with God is centered at Mount Zion, not Mount Sinai.

· Sinai speaks of fear and terror, but Zion speaks of love and forgiveness.
· Sinai is in a dry desert, but Zion is the city of the Living God.
· Sinai, with all its fear and power is earthly; but the Mount Zion we come to is heavenly and spiritual.
· At Sinai, only Moses could come and meet God; at Zion, there is an innumerable company, a general assembly.
· Sinai had guilty men in fear, but Zion has just men made perfect.
· At Sinai, Moses is the mediator, but at Zion, Jesus the mediator.
· Sinai put forth an Old Covenant, ratified by the blood of animals; Zion has a New Covenant, ratified by the blood of God’s precious Son.
· Sinai was all about barriers and exclusion; Zion is all about invitation.
· Sinai is all about Law, Zion is all about grace.

iv. Therefore, we shouldn’t come to Zion as if coming to Sinai. We must put away our hesitation and get bold in coming to God. Even so, there is much for us to learn at Mount Sinai. We learn of God’s holy requirements and what we have to do before we can come to Him. In a similar manner to those at Mount Sinai, there are things we must to do meet with God.

· We must receive God’s word
· We must be set apart
· We must be cleansed
· We can only come after the third day
· We must respect God’s boundary
· We must restrain the flesh
· We must know we come to a holy God

v. “Reader, art thou still under the influence and condemning power of that fiery law which proceeded from his right hand? Art though yet afar off? Remember, thou canst only come nigh by the blood of sprinkling; and till justified by his blood, thou are under the curse. Consider the terrible majesty of God. If thou have his favour thou hast life; if his frown, death. Be instantly reconciled to God, for though thou hast deeply sinned, and he is just, yet he is the justifier of him that believeth in Christ Jesus. Believe on him, receive his salvation; OBEY his voice indeed, and KEEP his covenant, and THEN shalt thou be a king and a priest unto God and the Lamb, and be finally saved with all the power of an endless life. Amen.” (Clarke)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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