Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
In the third month after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Sinai, proceeding from Rephidim into the desert of Sinai, and encamping there before the mountain. On what day of the month, the received text does not state. The striking expression הזּה בּיּום ("the same day"), without any previous notice of the day, cannot signify the first day of the month; nor can השּׁלישׁי החדשׁ signify the third new moon in the year, and be understood as referring to the first day of the third month. For although, according to the etymology of חדשׁ (from חדשׁ to be new), it might denote the new moon, yet in chronological data it is never used in this sense; but the day of the month is invariably appended after the month itself has been given (e.g., לחדשׁ אחד Exo 40:2, Exo 40:17; Gen 8:5, Gen 8:13; Num 1:1; Num 29:1; Num 33:38, etc.). Moreover, in the Pentateuch the word חדשׁ never signifies new moon; but the new moons are called חדשׁים ראשׁי (Num 10:10; Num 28:11, cf. Hengstenberg, Dissertations, vol. ii. 297). And even in such passages as Sa1 20:5; Sa1 18:24; Kg2 4:23; Amo 8:5; Isa 1:13, etc., where חדשׁ is mentioned as a feast along with the Sabbaths and other feasts, the meaning new moon appears neither demonstrable nor necessary, as חדשׁ in this case denotes the feast of the month, the celebration of the beginning of the month. If, therefore, the text is genuine, and the date of the month has not dropt out (and the agreement of the ancient versions with the Masoretic text favours this conclusion), there is no other course open, than to understand יום, as in Gen 2:4 and Num 3:1, and probably also in the unusual expression החדשׁ יום, Exo 40:2, in the general sense of time; so that here, and also in Num 9:1; Num 20:1, the month only is given, and not the day of the month, and it is altogether uncertain whether the arrival in the desert of Sinai took place on one of the first, one of the middle, or one of the last days of the month. The Jewish tradition, which assigns the giving of the law to the fiftieth day after the Passover, is of far too recent a date to pass for historical (see my Archologie, 83, 6).
The desert of Sinai is not the plain of er Rahah to the north of Horeb, but the desert in front (נגד) of the mountain, upon the summit of which Jehovah came down, whilst Moses ascended it to receive the law (Exo 19:20 and Exo 34:2). This mountain is constantly called Sinai so long as Israel stayed there (Exo 19:18, Exo 19:20, Exo 19:23, Exo 24:16; Exo 34:2, Exo 34:4, Exo 34:29, Exo 34:32; Lev 7:38; Lev 25:1; Lev 26:46; Lev 27:34; Num 3:1; see also Num 28:6 and Deu 33:2); and the place of their encampment by the mountain is also called the "desert of Sinai," never the desert of Horeb (Lev 7:38; Num 1:1, Num 1:19; Num 3:14; Num 9:1; Num 10:12; Num 26:64; Num 33:15). But in Exo 33:6 this spot is designated as "Mount Horeb," and in Deuteronomy, as a rule, it is spoken of briefly as "Horeb" (Deu 1:2, Deu 1:6, Deu 1:19; Deu 4:10, Deu 4:15; Deu 5:2; Deu 9:8; Deu 18:16; Deu 29:1). And whilst the general identity of Sinai and Horeb may be inferred from this; the fact, that wherever the intention of the writer is to give a precise and geographical description of the place where the law was given, the name Sinai is employed, leads to the conclusion that the term Horeb was more general and comprehensive than that of Sinai; in other words, that Horeb was the range of which Sinai was one particular mountain, which only came prominently out to view when Israel had arrived at the mount of legislation. This distinction between the two names, which Hengstenberg was the first to point out and establish (in his Dissertations, vol. ii. p. 325), is now generally admitted; so that the only room that is left for any difference of opinion is with reference to the extent of the Horeb range. There is no ground for supposing that the name Horeb includes the whole of the mountains in the Arabian peninsula. Sufficient justice is done to all the statements in the Bible, if we restrict this name to the southern and highest range of the central mountains-to the exclusion, therefore, of the Serbal group.
(Note: This hypothesis advocated by Lepsius, that Sinai or Horeb is to be sought for in Serbal, has very properly met with no favour. For the objections to this, see Ritter, Erdkunde 14, pp. 738ff.; and Kurtz, History of O.C., vol. iii. p. 94ff.)
This southern range, which Arabian geographers and the Bedouins call Jebel Tur or Jebel Tur Sina, consists of three summits: (1) a central one, called by the Arabs Jebel Musa (Moses' Mountain), and by Christians either Horeb or else Horeb-Sinai, in which case the northern and lower peak, or Ras es Sufsafeh, is called Horeb, and the southern and loftier one Sinai; (2) a western one, called Jebel Humr, with Mount Catherine on the south, the loftiest point in the whole range; and (3) an eastern one, called Jebel el Deir (Convent Mountain) or Episteme (vide Ritter, 14, pp. 527ff.). - Near this range there are two plains, which furnish space enough for a large encampment. One of these is the plain of er Rahah, on the north and north-west of Horeb-Sinai, with a level space of an English square mile, which is considerably enlarged by the Sheikh valley that opens into it from the east. At its southern extremity Horeb, with its granite rocks, runs almost precipitously to the height of 1200 or 1500 feet; and towards the west it is also shut in as with a wall by the equally precipitous spurs of Jebel Humr. The other plain, which is called Sebayeh, lies to the south-east of Sinai, or Jebel Musa in the more restricted sense; it is from 1400 to 1800 feet broad, 12,000 feet long, and is shut in towards the south and east by mountains, which rise very gently, and do not reach any considerable height. There are three wadys leading to this plain from er Rahah and the Sheikh valley. The most westerly of these, which separates Horeb-Sinai from Jebel Humr with Mount Catherine on the south, is called el Leja, and is a narrow defile full of great blocks of stone, and shut in towards the south like a cul de sac by Mount Catherine. The central one, which separates Horeb from Jebel Deir, is Wady Shoeib (Jethro valley), with the convent of Sinai in it, which is also called the Convent Valley in consequence. This is less confined, and not so much strewed with stones; towards the south it is not quite shut in, and yet not quite open, but bounded by a steep pass and a grassy mountain-saddle, viz., the easily accessible Jebel Sebayeh. The third and most easterly is the Wady es Sebayeh, which is from 400 to 600 feet broad, and leads form the Sheikh valley, in a southern and south-westerly direction, to the plain of the same name, which stretches like an amphitheatre to the southern slope of Sinai, or Jebel Musa, in the more restricted sense. When seen from this plain, "Jebel Musa has the appearance of a lofty and splendid mountain cone, towering far above the lower gravelly hills by which it is surrounded" (Ritter, pp. 540, 541).
Since Robinson, who was the first to describe the plain of er Rahah, and its fitness for the encampment of Israel, visited Sinai, this plain has generally been regarded as the site where Israel encamped in the "desert of Sinai." Robinson supposed that he had discovered the Sinai of the Bible in the northern peak of Mount Horeb, viz., Ras es Sufsafeh. But Ritter, Kurtz, and others have followed Laborde and Fa. A. Strauss, who were the first to point out the suitableness of the plain of Sebayeh to receive a great number of people, in fixing upon Jebel Musa in the stricter sense, the southern peak of the central group, which tradition had already indicated as the scene of the giving of the law, as the true Mount Sinai, where Moses received the laws from God, and the plain of Sebayeh as the spot to which Moses led the people (i.e., the men) on the third day, out of the camp of God and through the Sebayeh valley (Exo 19:16). For this plain is far better adapted to be the scene of such a display of the nation, than the plain of er Rahah: first, because the hills in the background slope gradually upwards in the form of an amphitheatre, and could therefore hold a larger number of people;
(Note: "Sinai falls towards the south for about 2000 feet into low granite hills, and then into a large plain, which is about 1600 feet broad and nearly five miles long, and rises like an amphitheatre opposite to the mountain both on the south and east. It is a plain that seems made to accommodate a large number gathered round the foot of the mountain" (Strauss, p. 135).)
whereas the mountains which surround the plain of er Rahah are so steep and rugged, that they could not be made use of in arranging the people: - and secondly, because the gradual sloping of the plain upwards, both on the east and south, would enable even the furthest rows to see Mount Sinai in all its majestic grandeur; whereas the plain of er Rahah slopes downwards towards the north, so that persons standing in the background would be completely prevented by those in front from seeing Ras es Sufsafeh. - If, however, the plain of es Sebayeh so entirely answers to all the topographical data of the Bible, that we must undoubtedly regard it as the spot where the people of God were led up to the foot of the mountain, we cannot possibly fix upon the plain of er Rahah as the place of encampment in the desert of Sinai. The very expression "desert of Sinai," which is applied to the place of encampment, is hardly reconcilable with this opinion. For example, if the Sinai of the Old Testament is identical with the present Jebel Musa, and the whole group of mountains bore the name of Horeb, the plain of er Rahah could not with propriety be called the desert of Sinai, for Sinai cannot even be seen from it, but is completely hidden by the Ras es Sufsafeh of Horeb. Moreover, the road from the plain of er Rahah into the plain of es Sebayeh through the Sebayeh valley is so long and so narrow, that the people of Israel, who numbered more than 600,000 men, could not possibly have been conducted from the camp in er Rahah into the Sebayeh plain, and so up to Mount Sinai, and then, after being placed in order there, and listening to the promulgation of the law, have returned to the camp again, all in a single day. The Sebayeh valley, or the road from the Sheikh valley to the commencement of the plain of Sebayeh, is, it is true, only an hour long. But we have to add to this the distance from the point at which the Sebayeh valley opens into the Sheikh valley to the western end of the plain of er Rahah, viz., two hours' journey, and the length of the plain of Sebayeh itself, which is more than five miles long; so that the Israelites, at least those who were encamped in the western part of the plain of er Rahah, would have to travel four or five hours before they could be posted at the foot of Sinai.
(Note: Some Englishmen who accompanied F. A. Strauss "had taken three-quarters of an hour for a fast walk from the Sebayeh plain to Wady es Sheikh;" so that it is not too much to reckon an hour for ordinary walking. Dbel tool quite six hours to go round Horeb-Sinai, which is only a little larger than Jebel Deir; so that at least three hours must be reckoned as necessary to accomplish the walk from the eastern end of the plain of er Rahah through the Wady Sebayeh to the foot of Sinai. And Robinson took fifty minutes to go with camels from the commencement of the Sheikh valley, at the end of the Convent Valley, to the point at which it is joined by the valley of Sebayeh (Palestine i. p. 215).)
Tischendorf calls this a narrow, bad road, which the Israelites were obliged to pass through to Sinai, when they came out of the Sheikh valley. At any rate, this is true of the southern end of the valley of Sebayeh, from the point at which it enters the plain of Sebayeh, where we can hardly picture it to ourselves as broad enough for two hundred men to walk abreast in an orderly procession through the valley;
(Note: We are still in want of exact information from travellers as to the breadth of the southern end of the valley of Sebayeh. Ritter merely states, on the ground of MS notes in Strauss' diary, that "at first it is somewhat contracted on account of projections in the heights by which it is bounded towards the south, but it still remains more than 500 feet broad." And "when it turns towards the north-west, the wady is considerably widened; so that at the narrowest points it is more than 600 feet broad. And very frequently, at the different curves in the valley, large basins are formed, which would hold a considerable number of people.")
consequently, 600,000 men would have required two hours' time simply to pass through the narrow southern end of the valley of Sebayeh. Now, it is clear enough from the narrative itself that Moses did not take merely the elders, as the representatives of the nation, from the camp to the mountain to meet with God (Exo 19:17), but took the whole nation, that is to say, all the adult males of 20 years old and upwards; and this is especially evident from the command so emphatically and repeatedly given, that no one was to break through the hedge placed round the mountain. It may also be inferred from the design of the revelation itself, which was intended to make the deepest impression upon the whole nation of that majesty of Jehovah and the holiness of His law.
Under these circumstances, if the people had been encamped in the plain of er Rahah and the Sheikh valley, they could not have been conducted to the foot of Sinai and stationed in the plain of Sebayeh in the course of six hours, and then, after hearing the revelation of the law, have returned to their tents on the same day; even assuming, as Kurtz does (iii. p. 117), that "the people were overpowered by the majesty of the promulgation of the law, and fled away in panic;" for flight through so narrow a valley would have caused inevitable confusion, and therefore would have prevented rather than facilitated rapidity of movement. There is not a word, however, in the original text about a panic, or about the people flying (see Exo 20:18): it is merely stated, that as soon as the people witnessed the alarming phenomena connected with the descent of God upon the mountain, they trembled in the camp (Exo 19:16), and that when they were conducted to the foot of the mountain, and "saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking," and heard the solemn promulgation of the decalogue, they trembled (ינעוּ, Exo 19:16), and said to Moses, through their elders and the heads of tribes, that they did not wish God to speak directly to them any more, but wished Moses to speak to God and listen to His words; whereupon, after God had expressed His approval of these words of the people, Moses directed the people to return to their tents (Exo 20:18.; Deu 5:23-30). If, again, we take into consideration, that after Moses had stationed the people at the foot of the mountain, he went up to God to the summit of Sinai, and came down again at the command of God to repeat the charge to the people, not to break through the hedge round the mountain (Exo 19:20-25), and it was not till after this, that God proclaimed the decalogue, and that this going up and down must also have taken up time, it cannot have been for so very short a time that the people continued standing round the bottom of the mountain. But if all these difficulties be regarded as trivial, and we include the evening and part of the night in order to afford time for the people to return to their tents; not only is there nothing in the biblical text to require the hypothesis which assigns the encampment to the plain of er Rahah, and the posting of the people at Sinai to the plain of Sebayeh, but there are various allusions which seem rather to show that such a hypothesis is inadmissible. It is very obvious from Exo 24:17, that the glory of the Lord upon the top of the mountain could be seen from the camp; and from Exo 34:1-3, that the camp, with both the people and their cattle in it, was so immediately in the neighbourhood of Sinai, that the people could easily have ascended the mountain, and the cattle could have grazed upon it. Now this does not apply in the least to the plain of er Rahah, from which not even the top of Jebel Musa can be seen, and where the cattle could not possibly have grazed upon it, but only to the plain of Sebayeh; and therefore proves that the camp in "the desert of Sinai" is not to be sought for in the plain of er Rahah, but in the plain of Sebayeh, which reaches to the foot of Sinai. If it should be objected, on the other hand, that there is not room in this plain for the camp of the whole nation, this objection is quite as applicable to the plain of er Rahah, which is not large enough in itself to take in the entire camp, without including a large portion of the Sheikh valley; and it loses all its force from the fact, that the mountains by which the plain of Sebayeh is bounded, both on the south and east, rise so gently and gradually, that they could be made use of for the camp, and on these sides therefore the space is altogether unlimited, and would allow of the widest dispersion of the people and their flocks.
Moses had known from the time of his call that Israel would serve God on this mountain (Exo 3:12); and as soon as the people were encamped opposite to it, he went up to God, i.e., up the mountain, to the top of which the cloud had probably withdrawn. There God gave him the necessary instructions for preparing for the covenant: first of all assuring him, that He had brought the Israelites to Himself to make them His own nation, and that He would speak to them from the mountain (Exo 19:4-9); and then ordering him to sanctify the people for this revelation of the Lord (Exo 19:10-15). The promise precedes the demand; for the grace of God always anticipates the wants of man, and does not demand before it has given. Jehovah spoke to Moses "from Mount Horeb." Moses had probably ascended one of the lower heights, whilst Jehovah is to be regarded as on the summit of the mountain. The words of God (Exo 19:4.) refer first of all to what He had done for the Egyptians, and how He had borne the Israelites on eagles' wings; manifesting in this way not only the separation between Israel and the Egyptians, but the adoption of Israel as the nation of His especial grace and favour. The "eagles' wings" are figurative, and denote the strong and loving care of God. The eagle watches over its young in the most careful manner, flying under them when it leads them from the nest, least they should fall upon the rocks, and be injured or destroyed (cf. Deu 32:11, and for proofs from profane literature, Bochart, Hieroz, ii. pp. 762, 765ff.). "And brought you unto Myself:" i.e., not "led you to the dwelling-place of God on Sinai," as Knobel supposes; but took you into My protection and My especial care.
This manifestation of the love of God to Israel formed only the prelude, however, to that gracious union which Jehovah was now about to establish between the Israelites and Himself. If they would hear His voice, and keep the covenant which as about to be established with them, they should be a costly possession to Him out of all nations (cf. Deu 7:6; Deu 14:2; Deu 26:18). סגלּה does not signify property in general, but valuable property, that which is laid by, or put aside (סגל), hence a treasure of silver and gold (Ch1 29:3; Ecc 2:8). In the Sept. the expression is rendered λαὸς περιούσιος, which the Scholiast in Octat. interprets ἐξαίρετος, and in Mal 3:17 εἰς περιποίησιν: hence the two phrases in the New Testament, λαὸς περιούσιος in Tit 2:14, and λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν in Pe1 2:9. Jehovah had chosen Israel as His costly possession out of all the nations of the earth, because the whole earth was His possession, and all nations belonged to Him as Creator and Preserver. The reason thus assigned for the selection of Israel precludes at the very outset the exclusiveness which would regard Jehovah as merely a national deity. The idea of the segullah is explained in Exo 19:6 : "Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests." ממלכה signifies both kingship, as the embodiment of royal supremacy, exaltation, and dignity, and the kingdom, or the union of both king and subjects, i.e., the land and nation, together with its king. In the passage before us, the word has been understood by most of the early commentators, both Jewish and Christian, and also in the ancient versions,
(Note: lxx: βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα, a royal priesthood, i.e., a priestly nation of royal power and glory. כּהנין מלכין: Kings-priests (Onkelos). - "Eritis coram me reges coronati (כלילא קטירי vincti coronis) et sacerdotes ministrantes" (Jonathan). - "Eritis meo nomini reges et sacerdotes" (Jer. Targ.).)
in the first or active sense, so that the expression contains the idea, "Ye shall be all priests and kings" (Luther); praeditos fore tam sacerdotali quam regio honore (Calvin); quod reges et sacerdotes sunt in republica, id vos eritis mihi (Drusius). This explanation is required by both the passage itself and the context. For apart from the fact that kingship is the primary and most general meaning of the word ממלכה (cf. דּוד ממלכת, the kingship, or government of David), the other (passive) meaning would not be at all suitable here; for a kingdom of priests could never denote the fellowship existing in a kingdom between the king and the priests, but only a kingdom or commonwealth consisting of priests, i.e., a kingdom the members and citizens of which were priests, and as priests constituted the ממלכה, in other words, were possessed of royal dignity and power; for ממלכה, βασιλεία, always includes the idea of מלך or ruling (βασιλεύειν). The lxx have quite hit the meaning in their rendering: βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα. Israel was to be a regal body of priests to Jehovah, and not merely a nation of priests governed by Jehovah. The idea of the theocracy, or government of God, as founded by the establishment of the Sinaitic covenant institution in Israel, is not at all involved in the term "kingdom of priests." The theocracy established by the conclusion of the covenant (Exo 24) was only the means adopted by Jehovah for making His chosen people a royal body of priests; and the maintenance of this covenant was the indispensable subjective condition, upon which their attainment of this divinely appointed destiny and glory depended. This promise of Jehovah expressed the design of the call of Israel, to which it was to be fully conducted by the covenant institution of the theocracy, if it maintained the covenant with Jehovah. The object of Israel's kingship and priesthood was to be found in the nations of the earth, out of which Jehovah had chosen Israel as a costly possession. This great and glorious promise, the fulfilment of which could not be attained till the completion of the kingdom of God, when the Israel of God, the Church of the Lord, which Jesus Christ, the first-begotten from the dead, and prince (ἄρχων, ruler) of the kings of the earth, has made a "kingdom," "priests unto God and His Father" (Rev 1:6 and Rev 5:10, where the reading should be βασιλεῖς καὶ ἱερεῖς), is exalted to glory with Christ as the first-born among many brethren, and sits upon His throne and reigns, has not been introduced abruptly here. On the contrary, the way was already prepared by the promises made to the patriarchs, of the blessing which Abraham would become to all the nations of the earth, and of the kings who were to spring from him and come out of the loins of Israel (Gen 12:3; Gen 17:6; Gen 35:11), and still more distinctly by Jacob's prophecy of the sceptre of Judah, to whom, through Shiloh, the willing submission of the nations should be made (Gen 49:10). But these promises and prophecies are outshone by the clearness, with which kingship and priesthood over and for the nations are foretold of Israel here.
This kingship, however, is not merely of a spiritual kind, consisting, as Luther supposes, in the fact, that believers "are lords over death, the devil, hell, and all evil," but culminates in the universal sway foretold by Balaam in Num 24:8 and Num 24:17., by Moses in his last words (Deu 33:29), and still more distinctly in Dan 7:27, to the people of the saints of the Most High, as the ultimate end of their calling from God. The spiritual attitude of Israel towards the nations was the result of its priestly character. As the priest is a mediator between God and man, so Israel was called to be the vehicle of the knowledge and salvation of God to the nations of the earth. By this it unquestionably acquired an intellectual and spiritual character; but this includes, rather than excludes, the government of the world. For spiritual and intellectual supremacy and rule must eventually ensure the government of the world, as certainly as spirit is the power that overcomes the world. And if the priesthood of Israel was the power which laid the foundation for its kingship, - in other words, if Israel obtained the ממלכה or government over the nations solely as a priestly nation, - the Apostle Peter, when taking up this promise (Pe1 2:9), might without hesitation follow the Septuagint rendering (βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα), and substitute in the place of the "priestly kingdom," a "royal priesthood;" for there is no essential difference between the two, the kingship being founded upon the priesthood, and the priesthood completed by the kingship.
As a kingdom of priests, it was also necessary that Israel should be a "holy nation." Gens sancta hic dicitur non respectu pietatis vel sanctimoniae, sed quam Deus singulari privilegio ab aliis separavit. Verum ab hac sanctificatione pendet altera, nempe ut sanctitatem colant, qui Dei gratia eximii sunt, atque ita vicissim Deum sanctificent (Calvin). This explanation is in general a correct one; for these words indicate the dignity to which Israel was to be elevated by Jehovah, the Holy One, through its separation from the nations of the earth. But it cannot be shown that קדושׁ ever means "separated." Whether we suppose it to be related to חדשׁ, and חדשׁ the newly shining moonlight, or compare it with the Sanskrit dhûsch, to be splendid, or beautiful, in either case the primary meaning of the word is, "to be splendid, pure, untarnished." Diestel has correctly observed, that the holiness of God and Israel is most closely connected with the covenant relationship; but he is wrong in the conclusion which lie draws from this, namely, that "holy" was originally only a "relative term," and that a thing was holy "so far as it was the property of God." For the whole earth is Jehovah's property (Exo 19:5), but it is not holy on that account. Jehovah is not holy only "so far as within the covenant He is both possession and possessor, absolute life and the source of life, and above all, both the chief good and the chief model for His people" (Diestel), or "as the truly separate One, enclosed within Himself, who is self-existent, in contrast with the world to which He does not belong" (Hoffmann); but holiness pertains to God alone, and to those who participate in the divine holiness-not, however, to God as the Creator and Preserver of the world, but to God as the Redeemer of man. Light is the earthly reflection of His holy nature: the Holy One of Israel is the light of Israel (Isa 10:17, cf. Ti1 6:16). The light, with its purity and splendour, is the most suitable earthly element to represent the brilliant and spotless purity of the Holy One, in whom there is no interchange of light and darkness (Jam 1:17). God is called the Holy One, because He is altogether pure, the clear and spotless light; so that in the idea of the holiness of God there are embodied the absolute moral purity and perfection of the divine nature, and His unclouded glory. Holiness and glory are inseparable attributes in God; but in His relation to the world they are so far distinguished, that the whole earth is full of His glory, whilst it is to and in Israel that His holiness is displayed (Isa 6:3); in other words, the glory of God is manifested in the creation and preservation of the world, and His holy name in the election and guidance of Israel (compare Ps 104 with Ps 103). God has displayed the glory of His name in the creation of the heavens and the earth (Psa 8:1-9); but His way in Israel (Psa 77:14), i.e., the work of God in His kingdom of grace, is holy; so that it might be said, that the glory of God which streams forth in the material creation is manifested as holiness in His saving work for a sinful world, to rescue it from the φθορά of sin and death and restore it to the glory of eternal life, and that it was manifested here in the fact, that by the counsels of His own spontaneous love (Deu 4:37) He chose Israel as His possession, to make of it a holy nation, if it hearkened to His voice and kept His covenant. It was not made this, however, by being separated from the other nations, for that was merely the means of attaining the divine end, but by the fact, that God placed the chosen people in the relation of covenant fellowship with Himself, founded His kingdom in Israel, established in the covenant relationship an institution of salvation, which furnished the covenant people with the means of obtaining the expiation of their sins, and securing righteousness before God and holiness of life with God, in order that by the discipline of His holy commandments, under the guidance of His holy arm, He might train and guide them to the holiness and glory of the divine life. But as sin opposes holiness, and the sinner resists sanctification, the work of the holiness of God reveals itself in His kingdom of grace, not only positively in the sanctification of those who suffer themselves to be sanctified and raised to newness of life, but negatively also, in the destruction of all those who obstinately refuse the guidance of His grace; so that the glory of the thrice Holy One (Isa 6:3) will be fully manifested both in the glorification of His chosen people and the deliverance of the whole creation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom 8:21), and also in the destruction of hardened sinners, the annihilation of everything that is ungodly in this world, the final overthrow of Satan and his kingdom, and the founding of the new heaven and new earth. Hence not only is every person, whom God receives into the sphere of His sin-destroying grace, קדושׁ, or holy; but everything which is applied to the realization of the divine work of salvation, or consecrated by God to this object. The opposite of קדושׁ, holy, is הל, κοινός, profanus (from חלל, to be loose, lit., the unbound), not devoted to holy purposes and uses (cf. Lev 10:10); and this term was applied, not only to what was sinful and unclean (טמא), but to everything earthly in its natural condition, because the whole earth, with all that is upon it, has been involved in the consequences of sin.
When Moses communicated to the people through their elders this incomparable promise of the Lord, they promised unanimously (יחדּו) to do all that Jehovah said; and when Moses reported to the Lord what the people had answered, He said to Moses, "I will come to thee in the darkness of the cloud, that the people may listen to My speaking to thee (בּ שׁמע, as in Gen 27:5, etc.), and also believe thee for ever." As God knew the weakness of the sinful nation, and could not, as the Holy One, come into direct intercourse with it on account of its unholiness, but was about to conclude the covenant with it through the mediation of Moses, it was necessary, in order to accomplish the design of God, that the chosen mediator should receive special credentials; and these were to consists in the fact that Jehovah spoke to Moses in the sight and hearing of the people, that is to say, that He solemnly proclaimed the fundamental law of the covenant in the presence of the whole nation (Ex 19:16-20:18), and showed by this fact that Moses was the recipient and mediator of the revelation of God, in order that the people might believe him "for ever," as the law was to possess everlasting validity (Mat 5:18).
God then commanded Moses to prepare the people for His appearing or speaking to them: (1) by their sanctification, through the washing of the body and clothes (see Gen 35:2), and abstinence from conjugal intercourse (Exo 19:15) on account of the defilement connected therewith (Lev 15:18); and (2) by setting bounds round the people, that they might not ascend or touch the mountain. The hedging or bounding (הגבּיל) of the people is spoken of in Exo 19:23 as setting bounds about the mountain, and consisted therefore in the erection of a barrier round the mountain, which was to prevent the people form ascending or touching it. Any one who touched it (קצהוּ, "its end," i.e., the outermost or lowest part of the mountain) was to be put to death, whether man or beast. "No hand shall touch him" (the individual who passed the barrier and touched the mountain), i.e., no one was to follow him within the appointed boundaries, but he was to be killed from a distance either by stones or darts. (יּיּרה for יוּרה, see Gesenius, 69.) Not till "the drawing out of the trumpet blast," or, as Luther renders it, "only when it sounded long," could they ascend the mountain (Exo 19:13). היּבל, from יבל to stream violently with noise, is synonymous with היּבל קרן (Jos 6:5), and was really the same thing as the שׁופר, i.e., a long wind instrument shaped like a horn. היּבל משׁך is to draw the horn, i.e., to blow the horn with tones long drawn out. This was done either to give a signal to summon the people to war (Jdg 3:27; Jdg 6:34), or to call them to battle (Jdg 7:18; Job 39:24-25, etc.), or for other public proclamations. No one (this is the idea) was to ascend the mountain on pain of death, or even to touch its outermost edge; but when the horn was blown with a long blast, and the signal to approach was given thereby, then they might ascend it (see Exo 19:21), - of course not 600,000 men, which would have been physically impossible, but the people in the persons of their representatives the elders. בּהר עלות signifies to go up the mountain in Exo 19:13 as well as in Exo 19:12, and not merely to come to the foot of the mountain (see Deu 5:5).
After these preparations, on the morning of the third day (from the issuing of this divine command), Jehovah came down upon the top of Mount Sinai (Exo 19:20), manifesting His glory in fire as the mighty, jealous God, in the midst of thunders (קלת) and lightnings, so that the mountain burned with fire (Deu 4:11; Deu 5:20), and the smoke of the burning mountain ascended as the smoke (עשׁן for עשׁן), and the whole mountain trembled (Exo 19:18), at the same time veiling in a thick cloud the fire of His wrath and jealousy, by which the unholy are consumed. Thunder and lightning bursting forth from the thick cloud, and fire with smoke, were the elementary substrata, which rendered the glory of the divine nature visible to men, though in such a way that the eye of mortals beheld no form of the spiritual and invisible Deity. These natural phenomena were accompanied by a loud trumpet blast, which "blew long and waxed louder and louder" (Exo 19:16 and Exo 19:19; see Gen 8:3), and was, as it were, the herald's call, announcing to the people the appearance of the Lord, and summoning them to assemble before Him and listen to His words, as they sounded forth from the fire and cloudy darkness. The blast (קול) of the shophar (Exo 19:19), i.e., the σάλπιγξ Θεοῦ, the trump of God, such a trumpet as is used in the service of God (in heaven, Th1 4:16; see Winer's Grammar), is not "the voice of Jehovah," but a sound resembling a trumpet blast. Whether this sound was produced by natural means, or, as some of the earlier commentators supposed, by angels, of whom myriads surrounded Jehovah when He came down upon Sinai (Deu 33:2), it is impossible to decide. At this alarming phenomenon, "all the people that was in the camp trembled" (Exo 19:16). For according to Exo 20:20 (17), it was intended to inspire them with a salutary fear of the majesty of God. Then Moses conducted the people (i.e., the men) out of the camp of God, and stationed them at the foot of the mountain outside the barrier (Exo 19:17); and "Moses spake" (Exo 19:19), i.e., asked the Lord for His commands, "and God answered loud" (בּקול), and told him to come up to the top of the mountain. He then commanded him to go down again, and impress upon the people that no one was to break through to Jehovah to see, i.e., to break down the barriers that were erected around the mountain as the sacred place of God, and attempt to penetrate into the presence of Jehovah. Even the priests, who were allowed to approach God by virtue of their office, were to sanctify themselves, that Jehovah might not break forth upon them (יפרץ), i.e., dash them to pieces. (On the form העדתה for העידת, see Ewald, 199 a). The priests were neither "the sons of Aaron," i.e., Levitical priest, nor the first-born or principes populi, but "those who had hitherto discharged the duties of the priestly office according to natural right and custom" (Baumgarten). Even these priests were too unholy to be able to come into the presence of the holy God. This repeated enforcement of the command not to touch the mountain, and the special extension of it even to the priests, were intended to awaken in the people a consciousness of their own unholiness quite as much as of the unapproachable holiness of Jehovah. But this separation from God, which arose from the unholiness of the nation, did not extend to Moses and Aaron, who were to act as mediators, and were permitted to ascend the mountain. Moreover, the prospect of ascending the holy mountain "at the drawing of the blast" was still before the people (Exo 19:13). And the strict prohibition against breaking through the barrier, to come of their own accord into the presence of Jehovah, is by no means at variance with this. When God gave the sign to ascend the mountain, the people might and were to draw near to Him. This sign, viz., the long-drawn trumpet blast, was not to be given in any case till after the promulgation of the ten words of the fundamental law. But it was not given even after this promulgation; not, however, because "the development was altogether an abnormal one, and not in accordance with the divine appointment in Exo 19:13, inasmuch as at the thunder, the lightning, and the sound of the trumpet, with which the giving of the law was concluded, they lost all courage, and instead of waiting for the promised signal, were overcome with fear, and ran from the spot," for there is not a word in the text about running away; but because the people were so terrified by the alarming phenomena which accompanied the coming down of Jehovah upon the mountain, that they gave up the right of speaking with God, and from a fear of death entreated Moses to undertake the intercourse with God in their behalf (Exo 20:18-21). Moreover, we cannot speak of an "abnormal development" of the drama, for the simple reason, that God not only foresaw the course and issue of the affair, but at the very outset only promised that He would come to Moses in a thick cloud (Exo 19:9), and merely announced and carried out His own descent upon Mount Sinai before the eyes of the people in the terrible glory of His sacred majesty (Exo 19:11), for the purpose of proving the people, that His fear might be before their eyes (Exo 20:20; cf. Deu 5:28-29). Consequently, apart from the physical impossibility of 600,000 ascending the mountain, it never was intended that all the people should do so.
(Note: The idea of the people fleeing and running away must have been got by Kurtz from either Luther's or De Wette's translation. They have both of them rendered וגו ויּנעוּ, "they fled and went far off," instead of "they trembled and stood far off." And not only the supposed flight, but his idea that "thunder, lightning, and the trumpet blast (which were silent in any case during the utterance of the ten commandments), concluded the promulgation of the law, as they had already introduced it according to Exo 19:16," also rests upon a misunderstanding of the text of the Bible. There is not a syllable in Exo 20:18 about the thunder, lightning, and trumpet blast bursting forth afresh after the proclamation of the ten commandments. There is simply an account of the impression, which the alarming phenomena, mentioned in Exo 19:16-19 as attending the descent of Jehovah upon the mountain (Exo 19:20), and preceding His speaking to Moses and the people, made upon the people, who had been brought out of the camp to meet with God.)
What God really intended, came to pass. After the people had been received into fellowship with Jehovah through the atoning blood of the sacrifice, they were permitted to ascend the mountain in the persons of their representatives, and there to see God (Exo 24:9-11).