Exodus 19


                                    THE JOURNEY TO MOUNT SINAI


From Rephidim in the Wady Feiran, where they had discomfited Amalek (ch.  17:8-13),

the Israelites moved towards Sinai, probably by the two passes known as Wady Solar

and Wady-esh-Sheikh, which gradually converge and meet at the entrance to the plain

of Er-Rahah. This plain is generally allowed to be “the Desert of Sinai.” It is “two miles

long, and half-a-mile broad” (Our Work in Palestine, p. 268), nearly flat, and dotted with

tamarisk bushes.  The mountains which enclose it have for the most part sloping sides, and

form a sort of natural amphitheater. The plain abuts at its southeastern extremity on abrupt

cliffs of granite rock rising from it nearly perpendicularly, and known as the Ras Sufsafeh.

“That such a plain should exist at all in front of such a cliff is,” as Dean Stanley well remarks,

so remarkable a coincidence with the sacred narrative, as to furnish a strong internal

argument, not merely of its identity with the scene, but of the scene itself having been

described by an eye-witness” (Sinai and Palestine, pp. 42-3). All the surroundings are

such as exactly suit the narrative. “The awful and lengthened approach, as to some

natural sanctuary, would have been the fittest preparation for the coming scene. The

low line of alluvial mounds at the foot of the cliff exactly answers to the ‘bounds’ which

were to keep the people off from ‘touching the mount.’ The plain itself is not broken

and uneven and narrowly shut in, like almost all others in the range, but presents a long

retiring sweep, against which the people could ‘remove and stand afar off’ The cliff, rising

like a huge altar, in front of the whole congregation, and visible against the sky in lonely

grandeur from end to end of the whole plain, is the very image of the mount that might be

touched, and from which the voice of God might be heard far and wide over the plain

below, widened at that point to its utmost extent by the confluence of all the contiguous

valleys. Here, beyond all other parts of the peninsula, is the adytum, withdrawn as if in the

end ‘of the world,’ from all the stir and confusion of earthly things” (ib, p. 43). As an

eminent engineer has observed — “No spot in the world can be pointed out which

combines in a more remarkable manner the conditions of a commanding height and

of a plain in every part of which the sights and sounds described in Exodus would reach

an assembled multitude of more than two million souls.” Here then, we may well say, in

the words used by the most recent of scientific explorers, “was the scene of the giving

of the law. From Ras Sufsafeh the law was proclaimed to the children of Israel, assembled

in the plains of Er Rahah” (Our Work in Palestine, p. 208).


vs. 1-2 – “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.  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.”





It is scarcely possible to read the descriptions of the Sinaitic localities by modern travelers,

who pointedly note their exact adaptation to the scenes transacted among

them, without the feeling stealing upon us, that God, in the countless ages during

which He was shaping and ordering the earth to be a fitting habitation for man was

also arranging it in such sort as would best conduce to the exhibition upon it of those

supernatural occurrences, which in His counsels were to constitute turning-points in

the moral history of man. Take for instance Jerusalem: are we to suppose that the

valleys were furrowed and the rocky platform upraised by the elements acting

mechanically, as chance might direct, or not rather that God lovingly shaped, age

after age, the mountain where He was about to set His name, (landscaping if you

please – CY – 2010) and which was to be “the joy of the whole earth”? (Psalm 48:2.)

Rome again, with its seven hills: was not this remarkable formation brought into

existence to constitute the site for that capital which was to be, first and last, the pivot

of the world’s secular history; for five hundred years the seat of an almost universal empire;

for a thousand the western ecclesiastical center; and having in the future possibilities which

the wisest forecast can only dimly indicate, but which transcend those of any other existing

city.  And, if in these cases Providence contrived and shaped the geographic features with a

view to the future history, must it not have been the same at Sinai? Must not that vast granite

cluster have been upreared in the place it holds by a series of throes which shook all the

regions of the east, in order that from it the law might be given in such a way as to

impress men deeply? Must not the plain Er-Rahah have been washed by floods into its

present level surface to furnish a convenient place from which the multitudinous host of

Israel might at once see and hear? Must not the entire Sinaitic region have been so

modeled, that here should be the adytum — here and here alone in the entire district,

should be the natural “inmost sanctuary”penetrale “holy of holies” — the

center of attraction — the fit spot for supernatural events, on which the future of mankind

was to hinge for  centuries? To us it seems, that God did not so much select for His

supernatural communications with man the fittest of existing localities, as design the

localities themselves with a view to the communications, shaping them to suit his moral






As Moses, having reached the foot of Sinai, was proceeding to ascend the mountain,

where he looked to have special revelations from God, God called to him out of the

mountain, and required a positive engagement on the part of the people, before He

would condescend to enter into further direct relations with them. If, through gratitude

for what had been done for them in the deliverance from Egypt, and since, they would

solemnly engage to obey God and keep the covenant that He should make with them (v. 5),

then a fresh revelation should be made, and fresh engagements entered into; but not otherwise.

Moses communicated the message to the people through the elders, and received the solemn

promise, which he carried back to God. “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.”


vs. 3-9 – “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; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians” - God prefaces His appeal to Israel

with respect to the future, by reminding them of what He had done for them in the past. In the

fewest possible words He recalls to their recollection the whole series of signs and wonders

wrought in Egypt, from the turning of the water into blood to the destruction of Pharaoh’s

host in the Red Sea. These, He implies, ought to have taught them to trust Him – and how

I bare you on eagles’ wings” - (compare Deuteronomy 32:11), where the metaphor is

expanded at considerable length The strength and might of God’s sustaining care, and its

loving tenderness, are especially glanced at in the comparison. and brought you unto

myself” - “to Sinai, the mount of God, where it pleases me especially to reveal

myself to you.”    “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my

covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me” - (segullah) —

a precious possession to be esteemed highly and carefully guarded from all that might

injure it.  (Compare Psalm 135:4; and see also Isaiah 43:1-4).  And this preciousness

they shall not share with others on equal terms, but enjoy exclusively — it shall be theirs

above all people for all the earth is mine” - No other nation on the earth shall hold

the position which they shall hold, or be equally precious in God’s sight. All the earth is

His: and so all nations are His in a certain sense.  But this shall not interfere with the

special Israelite prerogative they alone shall be His “peculiar people” (Deuteronomy

14:2).  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests” - Or “a royalty of priests”

at once a royal and a priestly race — all of you at once both priests and kings.

(So the LXX. render, basi>leion iJera>teuma; the Targums of Onkelos and Jerusalem,

“kings and priests;” that of Jonathan, “crowned kings and ministering priests.”) They

would be “kings,” not only as “lords over death, the devil, hell, and all evil” (Luther), but

also partly as having no earthly king set over them, but designed to live under a theocracy

(I Samuel 12:12), and partly as intended to exercise lordship over the heathen. Their

 unfaithfulness and disobedience soon forfeited both privileges. They would be

priests,” as entitled — each one of them — to draw near to God directly in prayer and

praise, though not in sacrifice, and also as intermediaries between God and the heathen

world, to whom they were to be examples, instructors, prophets – “and an holy nation”  -

A nation unlike other nations — a nation consecrated to God’s service, outwardly

marked as His by the symbol of circumcision, His (if they chose) inwardly by the purity and

holiness whereto they could attain. “These are the words which thou shalt speak unto

the children of Israel.”  Much speaking was not needed. The question was a very simple

one.  Would they accept the covenant or no, upon the conditions offered? It was

not likely that they would reject such gracious proposals.  And Moses came and called

for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the

LORD commanded him.” - When they were come together, Moses reported to them

totidem verbis” -  the message which he had received from God. (This is the

responsibility of every messenger of the Lord God – CY – 2010) - He is said to have

laid the words “before their faces — a Hebraism, meaning simply “before them.”

And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken

we will do.” - It would seem that the elders submitted to the whole congregation the

question propounded by Moses; or at any rate submitted it to a popular meeting, fairly

representing the congregation. No doubt the exact purport of the question was made

known by the usual means beforehand, and the assembly was summoned to declare, by

acclamation, its assent or dissent.  The result was a unanimous shout of approval: —

All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” i.e., “we will obey His voice indeed,

and keep His covenant” (see v. 5). In this way they accepted the covenant beforehand,

not knowing what its exact provisions would be, but assured in their hearts that all would

be right, just, and good; and anxious to secure the promised blessings (vs. 5-6) for

themselves and their posterity.  And Moses returned the words of the people unto

the LORD.” - Moses was the mouthpiece both ways. He took the messages of God to

the people, and carried back (“returned”) their answer.  And the LORD said unto

Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud” - Literally, “in the thickness of a

cloud.” God must always veil Himself when He speaks with man, for man could not

bear “the brightness of His presence.”  If He takes a human form that form is a veil; if

He appears in a burning bush, the very fire is a shroud. On the present occasion it was

the more needful that He should cover Himself up, as He was about to draw near to the

whole congregation, among whom were many who were impure and impenitent. It was

necessary, in order that all might be convinced of the Divine mission of Moses, for all to be

so near as to hear Him speak out of the cloud; but sinners cannot abide the near presence

of God, unless He is carefully hidden away from them. Probably, the cloud out of which He

now spoke was that which had accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt, and directed their

march (ch.13:21-22), though this is not distinctly stated – “that the people may hear when

I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever.” - In “the people” are included their

descendants; and they are to “believe Moses for ever, because the law is in

some sense of eternal obligation on all men” (Matthew 5:18).  And Moses told the

words of the people unto the LORD.”





Three things are here specially worthy of consideration:


  • THE NATURE OF THE PROMISES. God’s promises to Israel are

            threefold — they shall be kings; they shall be priests; they shall be his

            peculiar treasure:


ü      Kings. Most men are slaves — servants of Satan, servants of sin, slaves

                        to their evil passions, slaves to opinion, abject slaves to those among

                        their fellow-men on whom they depend for daily bread, or for favor and

                        advancement. The glorious liberty of the children of God shakes off all

                        these yokes. Man, awakened to his true relations with God, at once

                        asserts himself, realizes his dignity, feels that he need “call no man,                              

                        master.” He himself is supreme over himself; his conscience is his

                        law, not the will of another. His life, his acts, his words, are under his

                        own control. Within this sphere he is “king,” directing and ruling his                             

                        conduct according to his own views of what is right and fitting; and

                        this kingship is mostly followed by another. Let a man once show

                        himself a true, brave, upright, independent person, and he will soon

                        have subjects enough. The weak place themselves under his protection,

                        the timid under his guidance. He will have a clientele, which will                                     

                        continually grow so long as he remains on earth, and in Heaven

                        he will be a “king” too. The “faithful and true servant” has

                        authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17) - he “reigns with Christ

                        for ever and ever” - (Revelation 20:6; 22:5).


ü      Priests. A priest is one who is consecrated to God, who has free and

                        ready access to Him without an intermediary at all times and seasons,

                        and who acts as an intermediary between God and others. As

                        circumcision consecrated the Israelite, so baptism consecrates the                                             

                        Christian. he receives “an unction from the Holy One” (I John 1:20),                                    

                        and is thenceforth a “priest to God,” bound to His service, brought near

                        to Him, entitled to “go boldly to the throne of grace,”  (Hebrews 4:16)

                        to offer up his own prayers and intercessions, nay — even to “enter into                                 

                        the holiest” (Hebrews 10:19).  He is further not only entitled, but bound

                        to act as intermediary between God and those who do not know God; to                                 

                        teach them; convert them, if he can; intercede for them; under certain                            

                        circumstances, and to baptize them.


ü      His peculiar treasure. The world despises God’s servants, sets little

                        store by them, regards them as poor weak creatures, whom it may ill-use                                  

                        at its pleasure. But God holds each servant dear, sets a high value on him,

                        regards him as precious. “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts,

                        in that day when I make up my jewels” (Malachi 3:17). Each saint is a

                        jewel in the crown of the Lord Christ, and is estimated accordingly. A                           

                        king would as soon lose one of his crown jewels as Christ one of those for

                        whom He shed His precious blood. He has “bought them at a price;”                                   

                        (I Corinthians 6:20) – they are His; and the value which He sets on them                                   

                        no man can know. They are to him “more precious than rubies.”



      TRUSTED. As we have found of men in the past, so we look to find of them in the

      future. God bade the Israelites look back, and consider what He had already done

      for them — whether in the past He had proved Himself faithful and true — whether

      He had supported and sustained them, “borne them up on eagle’s wings,” (v. 4) –

      protected them, delivered them from dangers. If this were so, could they not trust

      Him for the future?  Would they not believe the promises which He now held out to

      them?  Would they not regard them as certain of accomplishment? The Israelites

      appear to have believed; and shall not Christians do the like? Have not above three

      thousand years tested God’s faithfulness, since He thus spoke to Israel? In the whole

      long course of these millennia has He ever been proved unfaithful? Assuredly not.

      All that He promises, and more than all He promises, does He perform for the sons

      of men. Never does He disappoint them; never does He fail to make good His

      word. Each promise of God therefore may be trusted implicitly. “God is not

      a man that He should lie, or the son of man that He should repent:  hath He

      said, and shall He not do it?  or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it

      good?”  - (Deuteronomy 23:19)  - He is true, and therefore must will to do as He

      has said; He is omnipotent, and therefore must be able to do as He wills.  (I love the

      testimony of Joshua – “and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls,

      that not one good thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your

            God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one

            thing hath failed thereof” – [Joshua 23:14] – CY – 2010)



            “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant.” The precious

            promises of God to man are conditional upon”


ü      his general obedience;

ü      his observance of a certain formal covenant.


            The obedience must be “an obedience indeed” — i.e., an obedience from

            the heart, sincere, loving, complete, so far as human frailty permits — not

            partial, not grudging, not outward only. The covenant must be kept in all

            its essentials. To the Jew, circumcision was necessary, after which he had

            to make offerings, to attend certain festivals year by year, to pay tithes, and

            to observe numerous minute regulations with regard to “cleanness” and

            uncleanness.” The Christian covenant has but two essential rites, Baptism

            and the Lord’s Supper.  Still, if we look for covenanted mercies and claim

            them, we must take




                        FOR THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD UPON IT


The people having accepted God’s terms, the time had come for the revelation in all its

fullness of the covenant which God designed to make with them.  This, it was essential,

they should perceive and know to come from God, and not to be the invention of Moses.

God, therefore, was about to manifest Himself. But ere He could do this with safety, it

was requisite that certain preparations should be made. Before man can be fit to

approach God, he needs to be sanctified. The essential sanctification is internal; but,

as internal purity and holiness cannot be produced at a given moment, Moses was

ordered to require its outward symbol, external bodily cleanliness, by ablution and the

washing of clothes, as a preliminary to God’s descent upon the mountain (vs. 10, 13).

It would be generally understood that this external purity was symbolical only, and

needed to be accompanied by internal cleanliness. Further, since even the purest of men

is impure in God’s sight, and since there would be many in the congregation who had

attempted no internal cleansing, it was necessary to provide that they should not draw

too near, so as to intrude on the holy ground or on God’s presence. Moses was

therefore required to have a fence erected round the mountain, between it and the

people, and to proclaim the penalty of death against all who should pass it and touch

the mount (vs. 12-13). In executing these orders, Moses gave an additional charge to

the heads of families, that they should purify themselves by an act of abstinence which

he specified (v.15).


vs. 10-15 – “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify

them to day and tomorrow: - the requirement of a two days’ preparation marked the

extreme sanctity of the occasion – “and let them wash their clothes” - Compare

Leviticus 15:5. Rich people could “change their garments” on a sacred occasion

(Genesis 35:2); the poorer sort, having no change, could only wash them.  And be ready

against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the

sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. And thou shalt set bounds unto the

people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the

mount” - Unless the fence had been made, cattle would, naturally, have  grazed along

its base. To impress the Israelites with a due sense of the awful majesty  of God, and

the sacredness of everything material that it brought into close relations  with Him, the

mount itself was declared holy — none but Moses and Aaron might go up into it; none

might touch it; even the stray beast that approached it must suffer  death for its unwitting

offence (v.13) -or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be

surely  put to death” -  A terrible punishment, and one which, to modern ideas, seems

excessive. But it was only by terrible threats, and in some cases by terrible punishments

(II Samuel 6:7), that the Israelites could be taught reverence. A profound reverence lies

at the root of all true religious feeling; and for the education of the world, it was

requisite, in the early ages, to inculcate the necessity of this frame of mind in some

very marked and striking way.  There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall

surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not

live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.  And

Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people;

and they washed their clothes.   And he said unto the people, Be ready against

the third day: come not at your wives.”




                                    NEEDED ERE WE APPROACH HIM!


  • THE AWFULNESS OF GOD’S PRESENCE. The presence of God is awful,

      even to those holy angels who are without spot or stain of sin, having done the  

      holy will of their Maker from their creation. (Note Isaiah 6:2-3) - But to sinful   

      man it is far more awful. No man “can see God’s face, and live” - (ch. 33:20).         

      Jacob was mistaken when he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is     

      preserved(Genesis 32:30). He had really wrestled with an angel (Hosea 12:4).         

      When Moses requested to see the Almighty’s glory, he was told, “Thou shalt see       

      my back parts; but my face shall not be seen” ( ch. 33:23). “No man has seen    

      God at any time,” says John the Evangelist (John 1:18). But, even apart from

      sight, there is in the very sense of the presence of God an awful terribleness. “I

            am troubled at his presence,” said Job; “when I consider, I am afraid of

            him (Job 23:15). “Truly the Lord is in this place,” said Jacob, “and I

            knew it not. How dreadful is this place!” (Genesis 28:16-17). God is at all

            times everywhere; but He veils Himself, He practically withdraws Himself;

            and, though He is where we are, we do not see Him, or perceive Him (Job

            23. 8-9). But, let Him reveal His presence, and at once all tremble before it.     

            “Mine eye seeth him,” says Job again, “wherefore I abhor myself, and

            repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6) “When I heard,” says Habakkuk,

            my belly trembled, my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered

            into  my bones, and I trembled in myself” (Habakkuk 3:16). In part, no

            doubt, weakness trembles before strength, littleness before greatness,

            finiteness before infinity; but, mainly, it is sinfulness that quakes and shrinks

            before perfect holiness, corruption that shivers before incorruption,

            rottenness before absolute purity.



      pure in heart” can “see God.” In all our approaches to Him, we must

            seek first to be made fit for propinquity by separation from sin. Moses was

            bidden to “sanctify the people’ (v. 10), which he could only do outwardly.

            This true sanctification, the true purification, was heart-felt repentance,

            deep contrition, and the earnest resolve to forsake sin, and henceforth live         

            righteously. This preparation each man had to make for himself. It was in

            vain that he should wash himself seven times, or seven times seven, in vain

            that he should purify his garments, and keep himself free from material

            pollutions of every sort and kind — something more was needed — he required

            to be purified in heart and soul. And so it is with Christians — with all men        

            universally. God must be approached with humility — not in the spirit of the      

            Pharisee; with reverence — head bowed down, and voice hushed to a low tone,          

            and heart full of the fear of His holiness; with a pure mind — that is, with a

            mind averse from sin, and resolved henceforth to do righteously. The publican’s            

            approach was better than the Pharisee’s. Let men “smite upon their breast,” let         

            them be deeply convinced of sin, and own themselves sinners; let them implore

            the blotting out of their sins, and the cleansing of their entire nature; let them       

            heartily resolve to sin no more, but walk in newness of life, and there is no

            contact which they need dread, no nearness of approach from which they need

            shrink. We are not, indeed, to hope in this life for that vision of God, or for

            that degree of communion, which our souls desire. “Now we see through a

            glass darkly — now we know in part.” (I Corinthians 13:12) - The full

            vision of God, full access to Him, complete communion, is reserved for the

             next world,    where it will form our perfect bliss and consummation.





All was ready. The fence had been made (v. 23); the people had purified themselves —

at least so far as externals went. The third day was come — there was a breathless hush

of expectation. Then suddenly, in the morning, God manifested Himself. “There

were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of

the trumpet exceeding loud” (v. 16); “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” (v.18) Or, as the scene

is elsewhere (Deuteronomy 4:11-12) described by Moses — “Ye came near and stood

under the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven,

with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the Lord spoke unto you out of

the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only

ye heard a voice.” The phenomena were not a mere “storm of thunder and lightning,

 whereof Moses took advantage to persuade the people that they had heard God’s

voice” — not “an earthquake with volcanic eruptions” — not even these two

combined but a real theophany, in which amid the phenomena of storm and

tempest, and fire and smoke, and thick darkness, and hearings of the ground as by an

earthquake shock, first the loud blast of a trumpet sounded long commanding

attention, and then a clear penetrating voice, like that of a man, made itself heard in

distinctly articulated words, audible to the whole multitude, and recognized by them

as superhuman — as “the voice of God (Deuteronomy 4:33). It is in vain to seek to

minimize, and to rationalize the scene, and tone it down into something not supernatural.

The only honest course is either to accept it as a plain record of plain (albeit miraculous)

facts, or to reject it altogether as the fiction of a romancer.


vs. 16-20 – “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.

And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they

stood at the nether part of the mount. 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.  And when the voice

of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder” - This is a somewhat free

translation; but it gives well the real meaning of the Hebrew. We may conclude that the

trumpet’s blast was not continuous. It sounded when the manifestation began (v.16). It

sounded again, much louder and with a much more prolonged note, to herald the actual

descent of God upon the mount. This time the sound was so piercing, so terrible, so

intolerable, that Moses could no longer endure to keep silence, but burst out in speech.

Were his words those recorded in Hebrews 12:21 — “I exceedingly fear and quake

words not found now in the Old Testament — or were they others which have been

wholly lost to us? It is impossible to say. His speech, however, had the effect of

bringing the awful preparations to a close Moses spake, and God answered him

by a voice.  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.”





It has been well said that “when God reveals Himself it is in a manner suitable to the

occasion.”  No revelation that He has made of Himself has ever been so terrible in its

material accompaniments as that at Sinai; and no occasion can ever be conceived of as

more needing the employment of solemn, startling, and impressive circumstances.

Here was a people gross of heart, delighting in flesh-pots, debased by slavery, careless

of freedom, immoral, inclined to idolatry, which had to be elevated into God’s living

witness among the nations, the depositary of his truth, the teacher of the rest of

mankind for ages. Given the object of impressing such a nation permanently with the

conviction that it had received a Divine revelation, and that very dreadful consequences

would follow the neglect of it, and the need of the thunders and other terrors of Sinai

becomes manifest. At other times and in other places God has pursued quite different

methods. To Elijah He revealed Himself in the “still small voice;” to Isaiah and John

in visions; to the apostles generally in the solemn teaching of His Son;  to Paul in ecstasies,

wherein he heard unspeakable words. (II Corinthians 12:1-4) - The contrast

between the day of the giving of the law on Sinai and the day of Pentecost has often

been noticed.


                        “When God of old came down from Heaven,

                                    In power and wrath He came;

                        Before His feet the clouds were riven,

                                    Half darkness and half flame.”

                        “But when He came the second time,

                                    He came in power and love:

                        Softer than gale at morning prime,

                                    Hovered His holy Dove.”


The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the coming of Jesus were, both of them,

gentle and peaceful Epiphanies, suited to the time when God, having educated the

world for four thousand years or more, was about to seek to win men to Himself by

the preaching of “good tidings” of the gospel of love. The clouds and terrors of

Sinai would here have been out of place — unsuitable anachronisms. In complete harmony

with the two occasions were — at Bethlehem, the retired village, the humble stable, the

angels singing of peace on earth, the lone shepherds watching their flocks

at night — in Jerusalem the voiceless wind, “mighty” yet subdued, the lambent light playing

round the heads of holy men, the unseen inward influence shed into their hearts

at the same time, impalpable to sense, but with power to revolutionize the world. And

as God reveals Himself to His Church in manifold ways, each fitting the occasion, so does

He reveal Himself to individuals. Now He comes clothed in His terrors. He visits with

calamity or with sickness, or with that awful dread which from time to time

comes over the soul, that it is lost, hopelessly lost, alienated from God for ever. Anon,

He shows Himself in gentler guise — He whispers hope, He instills faith, He awakens love.

In every case He studies the needs of the individual, and adapts His revelation of

Himself to them. Now He calls by His preachers, now He warns by the “still small

voice of conscience; now He wakes men out of sleep by a sudden danger or a sudden

deliverance; anon, He startles them out of a self-complacency worse than sleep by

withdrawing Himself and allowing them to fall. It is for man to take advantage of

every Divine manifestation, to listen when God speaks, to obey when He calls, to make

the use of each occasion which it was intended to have, to “receive God’s revelations

 of Himself in His own way.”





It is very remarkable that, after all the directions given (vs. 10-13), and all the pains

taken by Moses and the Israelites themselves (vs. 14-15, 23), God should still have thought

it necessary to interpose with a fresh warning, and to send Moses back from

the top of the mount to the bottom, in order to communicate the renewed warning to the

people. We can only suppose that, in spite of the instructions previously given and the

precautions taken, there were those among the people who were prepared to “break

through The fence, and invade the mount, and who would have done so, to their

own destruction (v.21), but for this second warning. The special mention of the

priests (vs. 22, 24) raises the suspicion, that this proud and rebellious spirit was

particularly developed among them. Accustomed to the exercise of sacred functions,

they may have been inclined to regard Their own purity as equal to that of Moses and

Aaron; and they may even have resented their exclusion from a sacred spot to which

the two sons of Amram were admitted. Apparently, they had conceived that the injunction

to go through the recogniZed ceremonies of purification (v.10) did not

apply to them, and had neglected to do so, on which account a special command had

to be issued, addressed to them only (v. 22).


vs. 21-25 – “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.  And let

the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the

LORD break forth upon them” – The natural inference is that the priests had neglected

to sanctify themselves -  And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come

up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount,

and sanctify it.  And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou

shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people

break through” – Both the priests and the people were to be again solemnly warned

that it would be death to break through the fence.  This warning seems to have been

sufficient! -  “to come up unto the LORD, lest He break forth upon them.   So

Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.”




                        PURITY BUT OBLIGES HIM THE MORE TO IT.


Holiness of office, of profession, of function is too often regarded as if it secured, by some

occult power, the personal holiness of the individual, or even of the class, exercising it. The

priest castes of Egypt, India, and other countries, assumed to stand on a completely different

footing from the rest of the community in respect of nearness, and acceptability to God.

And both under the Jewish and the Christian dispensation, there has been in different times

and countries a vast amount of sacerdotal pretension, a wide-spread disposition to assume

that official covers and includes personal holiness.  But Holy Scripture abounds in warnings

against any such assumption. “Let the priests sanctify themselves.” Nadab and Abihu,

the sons of Aaron, were chosen among the first of the Levitical priests (ch 28:1); yet their

priestly office did not prevent them from sinning grievously by offering “strange fire before

the Lord,” and perishing for their impiety (Leviticus 10:1-2). Eli’s sons were “sons of

Belial” (I Samuel 2:12), whose “sin was very great before the Lord” (ibid. v. 17).

Even among the apostles there was a  son of perdition.” (John 17:12; II Thessalonians 2:3)

Priests have to remember:



      BEING TEMPTED. Even Christ, our great High Priest — the only true priest

      that the world has ever seen, was in all points tempted like as we are, yet

      without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Eli’s sons were tempted by greed and fleshly

      lusts (I Samuel 2:16, 22); Nadab and Abihu by pride; Judas by covetousness.

      All men have the same nature, like passions, similar appetites. The priest, after

      all, is a man. Satan watches for him no less — or rather much more — than         

      for others. It is a greater triumph for him to lead astray the shepherd than         

      the sheep. And the relations of a priest towards his flock are of such a nature —         

      so close, so private sometimes — as to lay him open to special temptations.



      YIELDING TO TEMPTATION. Jesus alone was “in all points tempted,

      yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). “ALL we the rest, although baptized and born

      again in Christ, yet offend in many things,” yield to the temptations which           

      surround us, transgress the Divine law. Nadab, Abihu, Eli’s sons, Judas, were

      not only tempted, but fell. The priests of Judah, towards the close of the       

      independent kingdom, were among those who provoked God the most             

      (Jeremiah 32:32; Zephaniah 3:4). Christian ministers, even at the present day,

      too often disgrace their profession, bring shame upon their church, and even

      upon religion itself, by acts of sin or sometimes by scandalous lives, no better    

      than those of the sons of Eli.  These terrible examples should be a warning to all            

      of their danger, and should render the minister distrustful of himself, circumspect,           

      vigilant, and above all prayerful. Only by God’s help can he hope to stand   




      ENTAIL A SORER PUNISHMENT. Ministers of Christ pledge themselves by

      special vows, over and above their baptismal vows, to lead godly lives. They are

      bound to be examples to the flock. They have greater opportunities of grace than

      others. Their offences cause greater scandal than the offences of others, and do

      greater damage to the cause of religion.  There is something shocking, even to the

      worldly man, in the immorality of one whose business in life is to minister in holy things.

      The impure minister is a hypocrite; and hypocrisy is hateful to God, and even in the

      sight of man contemptible.




            Priests are they whose office it is to “come near the Lord” (v. 22) — to draw            

            closer to Him than others — to lead others on to Him, by exhortation, by

            example, by intercessory prayer. Without holiness they are impotent to

            perform their work — they are of no service either to God or man — they do

            but help forward the work of the devil. Ministering in a holy place, in holy    

            things, with holy words continually in their mouths, if they have not holiness in    

            their hearts, their lives must be a perpetual contradiction, a continual profanity.  

            Again, as already observed, they take special vows: they profess before God

            and the congregation to have an inward call; they spontaneously promise to live

            as examples to others; they enter on their position in life on these conditions:

            they bind themselves.  Not to live holy lives is to fly in the face of these  

            obligations — to break the promises made to man and the vows offered to God —      

            to violate faith — to destroy, so far as lies in their power, the great bond of

            human society. And what must not the offence be to God which they commit, by

            continually drawing near to Him with their lips, when their hearts are far

            from him? (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8; Mark 7:6) - He is “of purer eyes than to      

            behold iniquity.” (Habakkuk 1:13) - “Without holiness no one shall see Him.”     

            (Hebrews 12:14) - Let the priests sanctify themselves.” – (v. 22)


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