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Exodus: Chapter 19

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1On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8The people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. 9Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”

When Moses had told the words of the people to the LORD, 10the LORD said to Moses: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. 13No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; a Or to thousands whether animal or human being, they shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.” 14So Moses went down from the mountain to the people. He consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes. 15And he said to the people, “Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

16On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20When the LORD descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the LORD summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to the LORD to look; otherwise many of them will perish. 22Even the priests who approach the LORD must consecrate themselves or the LORD will break out against them.” 23Moses said to the LORD, “The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.’ ” 24The LORD said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to the LORD; otherwise he will break out against them.” 25So Moses went down to the people and told them.


b Or to thousands

Text Commentary view alone

Chs 19–31 : God establishes the covenant with Israel.

19.1–25 : God appears for the second time at Sinai/Horeb

(continued in 20.18–21 ). God has already appeared to Moses at the sacred mountain and promised that all the people would follow him here to worship ( 3.12 ). This chapter incorporates a wide diversity of traditions, reflecting different understandings of God and the divine relationship with Israel.

1–2 :

They have now reached the first goal of their journey, Sinai, also called Horeb ( 3.1n. ). In rabbinic Judaism, the festival of weeks (Pentecost, 23.16 ) celebrates this arrival and the gift of the covenant. Rephidim, 17.1,8 .

3–6 :

The liturgical style expresses the solemnity of the occasion.

4 :

Eagles' wings, Deut 32.11–12 .

5 :

If you obey my voice, the covenant is here conditional. The God to whom the whole earth belongs ( 9.29; Ps 24.1 ) has chosen Israel for a special role as my treasured possession, as “the people of God” ( 6.7; Deut 7.6; 14.2; 26.18 ).

6 :

Israel is to be a priestly kingdom, consecrated for service to God (Isa 61.6 ), a holy nation set apart as belonging to the holy God.

7–8 :

Cf. 24.7 .

9 :

This verse stresses Moses' role as the covenant mediator who represents God to the people and the people to God ( 20.19; 24.1–2; 34.27; Deut 5 ).

10–15 :

In this paragraph, on the other hand, all the people are to prepare to take part in the covenant ceremony ( 24.3–8 ).

12–13 :

These limits reflect the understanding of holiness as a mysterious, threatening power with which the mountain is charged ( 3.6n.; 2 Sam 6.6–9 ). No hand may touch the offender who has become affected with the contagion of holiness (Lev 6.27–28 ).

14–15 :

Washing or changing of clothing (Gen 35.2 ) and sexual abstinence (1 Sam 21.4–6 ) are forms of ceremonial purification. The people, “… a woman,” the address betrays the narrator's androcentric view: He equates the Israelite people with the men. Deut 31.12 offers a more inclusive view.

16–19 :

The theophany, or divine appearance, is portrayed this time as a violent thunderstorm and earthquake (Judg 5.4–5; Ps 18.7–15; 29.3–9 ).

16 :

The trumpet (v. 13 ) sounds on ritual occasions (2 Sam 6.15 ).

20–25 :

The three zones of increasing holiness must be carefully respected: All Israel must remain at the foot of the mountain (vv. 12,17 ), and the leaders may go up partway ( 24.1–2,9–11 ), but only Moses may ascend to the top where God is (v. 20; 20.21 ).

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