Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 19

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Exodus 19:1. In the third month — After they came out of Egypt, including the latter part of May and the former part of June. It is computed that the law was given just fifty days after their coming out of Egypt, in remembrance of which the feast of pentecost was observed the fiftieth day after the passover, and in compliance with which the Spirit was poured out upon the apostles, at the feast of pentecost, fifty days after the death of Christ.

Mount Sinai was a place which nature, not art, had made conspicuous, for it was the highest in all that range of mountains. Thus God put contempt upon cities and palaces, setting up his pavilion on the top of a mountain, in a barren desert. It is called Sinai, from the multitude of thorny bushes that overspread it.

Verse 3
Exodus 19:3. Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and Israel — The people are called by the names both of Jacob and Israel, to remind them that they who had been as low as Jacob when he went to Padan-aram, were now grown as great as God made him when he came from thence and was called Israel.

Verse 4
Exodus 19:4. Ye have seen how I bare you on eagles’ wings — A high expression of the wonderful tenderness God showed for them. It denotes great speed; God not only came upon the wing for their deliverance, but he hastened them out, as it were, upon the wing. Also that he did it with great ease, with the strength as well as the swiftness of an eagle. They that faint not, nor are weary, are said to “mount up with wings as eagles,” Isaiah 40:31. Especially it signifies God’s particular care of them, and affection to them. Even Egypt was the nest in which these young ones were first formed as the embryo of a nation: when by the increase of their numbers they grew to some maturity, they were carried out of that nest. I brought you unto myself — They were brought not only into a state of liberty, but into covenant and communion with God. This God aims at in all the gracious methods of his providence and grace, to bring us back to himself, from whom we have revolted, and to bring us home to himself, in whom alone we can be happy.

Verse 5
Exodus 19:5. Then ye shall be a peculiar treasure to me — He doth not instance in any one particular favour, but expresseth it in that which was inclusive of all happiness, that he would be to them a God in covenant, and they should be to him a people. Nay, you shall be a peculiar treasure: not that God was enriched by them, as a man is by his treasure, but he was pleased to value and esteem them as a man doth his treasure; they were precious in his sight. He took them under his special care and protection, as a treasure that is kept under lock and key. He distinguished them from, and dignified them above all people, as a people devoted to him and to his service.

Verse 6
Exodus 19:6. A kingdom of priests, a holy nation — All the Israelites, if compared with other people, were priests unto God, so near were they to him, so much employed in his immediate service, and such intimate communion they had with him. The tendency of the laws given them was to distinguish them from others, and engage them for God as a holy nation. Thus all believers are, through Christ, made to our God kings and priests, (Revelation 1:6,) “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,” 1 Peter 2:9.

Verse 7-8
Exodus 19:7-8. And Moses laid before their faces all these words — He not only explained to them what God had given him in charge, but put it to their choice, whether they would accept these promises upon these terms or not. His laying it to their faces speaks his laying it to their consciences. And they answered together: All that the Lord hath spoken we will do — Thus accepting the Lord to be to them a God, and giving up themselves to be to him a people.

Verse 10
Exodus 19:10. Sanctify the people — As Job sent and sanctified his sons, Job 1:5. Sanctify them — That is, call them off from their worldly business, and call them to religious exercises, meditation and prayer, that they may receive the law from God’s mouth with reverence and devotion. Two things particularly were prescribed as instances of their preparation.

1st, In token of cleansing of themselves from all sinful pollutions, they must wash their clothes — Not that God regards our clothes, but while they were washing their clothes, he would have them think of washing their souls, by repentance. It becomes us to appear in clean clothes when we wait upon great men; so clean hearts are required in our attendance on the great God. 2d, In token of their devoting themselves entirely to religious exercises, upon this occasion they must abstain even from lawful enjoyments during these three days.

Verse 11
Exodus 19:11. In the sight of all the people — Though they should see no manner of similitude, yet they should see so much as would convince them, that God was among them of a truth. And so high was the top of mount Sinai, that it is supposed not only the camp of Israel, but even the countries about might discern some extraordinary appearance of glory upon it.

Verse 12
Exodus 19:12. Set bounds — Probably he drew a ditch round the foot of the hill, which none were to pass upon pain of death. This was to intimate, 1st, That lawful reverence which ought to possess the minds of all that worship God. 2d, The distance at which worshippers were kept under that dispensation, which we ought to take notice of, that we may the more value our privilege under the gospel, having “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” Hebrews 10:19.

Verse 13
Exodus 19:13. When the trumpet soundeth long — Then let them take their places at the foot of the mount. Never was so great a congregation called together and preached to at once as this was here. No one man’s voice could have reached so many, but the voice of God did.

Verse 16
Exodus 19:16. Now at length is come that memorable day, in which Israel heard the voice of the Lord God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire and lived, Deuteronomy 4:33. Never was there such a sermon preached before or since, as this, which was here preached to the church in the wilderness. For the preacher was God himself, Exodus 19:18. The Lord descended in fire; and, Exodus 19:20, The Lord came down upon mount Sinai.

The Shechinah, or glory of the Lord, appeared in the sight of all the people; he shined forth from mount Paran with ten thousands of his saints, attended with a multitude of the holy angels. Hence the law is said to be given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53. He spake from mount Sinai, hung with a thick cloud, (Exodus 19:16,) covered with smoke, (Exodus 19:18,) and made to quake greatly. Now it was that the earth trembled at the presence of the Lord, and the mountains skipped like rams, (Psalms 114:4-7,) that Sinai itself, though rough and rocky, melted from before the Lord God of Israel, 5:5. The congregation was called together by the sound of a trumpet exceeding loud, (Exodus 19:16,) and waxing louder and louder, Exodus 19:19. This was done by the ministry of angels, and made all the people tremble. The introductions to the service were thunders and lightnings, Exodus 19:16. These have natural causes; but the Scripture directs us in a particular manner to take notice of the power of God, and his terror in them. Thunder is the voice of God, and lightning the fire of God, proper to engage both the learning senses of seeing and hearing.

Verse 18
Exodus 19:18. The whole mount quaked greatly — There cannot be a more grand, awful, and majestic description than this of the descent of Jehovah upon mount Sinai. We can scarcely read it without trembling; and all the tremendous majesty of God appears before our eyes. The psalmist seems to have conceived a most high idea of God from it: — “O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; the earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God, the God of Israel,” Psalms 68:7-8.