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Exodus 19:9-15

9. And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord.

9. Tunc ait Jehova ad Mosen, Ecce, ego venio ad te in densa nube, ut audiat populus quum loquar tecum, atque etiam tibi credant in perpetuum. Indicaverat autem Moses Jehovae verba populi.

10. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes,

10. Et dixit Jehova ad Mosen, Vade ad populum, et sanctifica eos hodie et cras, laventque vestimenta sua.

11. 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.

11. Et sint parati in diem tertium: quoniam die tertio descendet Jehova coram oculis totius populi super montem Sinai.

12. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:

12. Et praescribet terminum populo per circuitum, dicendo, Cavete vobis ne ascendatis in montem, neque contingatis terminum ejus. Quicunque tetigerit montem, moriendo morietur.

13. 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.

13. Non tanget eum manus, sed lapidando lapidabitur, aut jaculis ferietur: sive jumentum fuerit, sive homo, non vivet, quum protraxerit buccina, ipsi ascendcut in montem.

14. And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.

14. Descendit autem Moses e monte ad populum, et sanctificavit populum, et laverunt vestimenta sua.

15. And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.

15. Dixitque populo, Sitis parati in diem tertium, et ne accedatis ad uxores.

9. And the Lord said unto Moses. God here proclaims, that by a manifest symbol of His glory, He will make it evident that the Law proceeded not from Moses, but that he merely delivered faithfully what he received from heaven; for God was so covered with the cloud, as with a veil that He still upraised their minds as by a certain sign of His presence. On this was the authority of Moses founded, that the Israelites knew God to be the author of the doctrine, of which he was the minister. And this is especially worth remarking, because we gather from hence that there is no other mode of proving a doctrine, except by the assurance that it comes not from elsewhere, but from God alone; and thus is every mortal brought down to his level, lest any one, however excellent in wisdom, should dare to advance his own imaginations. For if the mightiest of prophets, Moses, obtained credit in the Church on no other grounds than because he bore the commands of God, and only taught what he had heard, how foolish and impudent will it be in teachers, who sink down far beneath him, to endeavor to attain a higher point! In fine, this passage shows that we must believe in God alone, but that at the same time we must listen to the prophets, who spoke out of His mouth. Besides this, it appears that God did not wish to obtain credit for His servant Moses during a short period of time, but that posterity should pay him the same reverence even after his death. The call of some is temporary; and it may happen that God takes away the spirit of prophecy from those to whom He has given it; but so did He appear to Moses, as to ratify, and, as it were, consecrate the truth of his doctrine in all ages. Thence it follows, that the brightness of God’s glory, which was shown to his ancient people in the thick cloud, is not yet extinct, but that it ought to illuminate the minds of all the godly, reverently to submit themselves to Moses. What follows at the end of the verse is a repetition from the last; for there was no intervening reply of the people which Moses could report. The meaning is, that although the Israelites had voluntarily promised to abide in the path of duty, yet that this confirmation was added, like a spur to those who are running, that they may proceed more nimbly.

10. And the Lord said unto Moses. Before propounding His law, it is not unreasonable that God should command the people to be sanctified, lest He should cast pearls before swine, or give that which is holy unto dogs; for although by right of adoption they were holy, yet, as regarded themselves, the filthiness of their nature unfitted them for participating in so great a blessing. It was by no means right or just that the inestimable treasure should be polluted by foul and stinking vessels. Therefore, in the injunction that they should be sanctified, two things were pointed out, — that the sacred doctrine of God was not to be handled by unwashen hands, and that the whole human race is impure and polluted, and, consequently, that none can duly enter God’s school save those who are cleansed from their filthiness. And, doubtless, it is the just reward of their unworthy profanation that so many readers or hearers profit not by heavenly doctrine, because they rush in without fear or reverence, as to some ridiculous stage play. This preparation, then, is seasonably commanded, to make ready God’s scholars and render them fit to be taught. But while the inward purity of the heart is chiefly demanded, this ceremony was not without its use to accustom an ignorant people to meditate upon true holiness. That they should wash their clothes and abstain from the nuptial bed were things of naught in themselves; but when external rites are referred to their proper end, viz., to be exercises unto spiritual worship, they are useful aids to piety; and we know that God, in consideration of the times, before Christ’s coming, employed such figures which now have no place under the brightness of the Gospel. But although the use of them be grown obsolete, yet the truth, which I spoke of, still remains, viz., that if we desire to be admitted to a participation in heavenly doctrine, we should

“cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 7:1.)

But here a question arises; for if, as Peter bears witness, faith purifies the heart, (Acts 15:9,) and understanding of the doctrine goes before faith, since Paul declares that it “cometh by hearing,” (Romans 10:17,) the consequence is, that the order of things is inverted if the people are to be sanctified before they hear the Law, because in this way the means of sanctification is wanting. My reply is, that albeit faith, in so far as it embraces the offer of reconciliation and the Spirit of regeneration, can alone truly purify us; yet this by no means prevents the fear of God from going before to prepare a place for the word in our minds. And, properly speaking, a pious desire of learning, humility, and reverence should be accounted the commencement of faith, since it is from these elements that God begins to perfect faith in us by certain progressive steps. On this account James exhorts us to “receive with meekness the engrafted word,” because the door of the entrance is shut against it by pride, and obstinacy, and profane contempt. As to the meaning of the passage, to be “sanctified,” and to “wash their clothes,” are not spoken of as different things, but the second is added as the symbol213213     Comme marque visible. — Fr. of the first; for under the Law the rite of ablution reminded the ancient people that no one can please God, except he both seek for expiation in the blood of Christ, and labor to purify himself from the pollution’s of the flesh. Abstinence from cohabitation had the same object; for although there is nothing polluting or contaminating in the marriage bed, yet the Israelites were to be reminded that all earthly cares were, as much as possible, to be renounced, and all carnal affections to be put away, that they might give their entire attention to the hearing of the Law. The sanctity of marriage veils and covers whatever of sin there is in the cohabitation of man and wife; yet it is certain that it in some degree distracts them from having their whole minds occupied by spiritual affections. Therefore Paul makes this exception in the mutual obligation of the marriage bed, that couples may be separated for “fasting and prayer.” (1 Corinthians 7:5.) Yet the moderation which God prescribed is to be observed; for God did not enjoin perpetual celibacy, but so arranged the time that the Israelites might be disengaged from all earthly preoccupations, and might more freely apply their whole minds to the reverent reception of the Law.

12. And thou shalt set bounds. By this symbol the Israelites were admonished to restrain their natural inquisitiveness, that they may be sober in their desires after knowledge, because God, by the teaching of His Law, only enlightens those who are as “little children.” We know how great is men’s natural curiosity, how forwardly they seek to penetrate the secrets of God, how daringly they indulge themselves, and how, by their irreverence, all religion and fear of God is extinguished in them; wherefore there was good cause why He should set these bounds, and restrain this perverse longing after unlawful knowledge. All would have wished to come, like Moses, to familiar converse with God; but they are commanded to stand within the boundaries, that they may obey God speaking to them by an interpreter. Thus are their modesty and docility proved, when they desire no more than is permitted them, and keep themselves within the bounds of revelation. What was then enjoined upon His ancient people is extended also to us, that in reading and hearing we should not overpass the limits which God assigns us, but, content with the form of doctrine which He delivers to us, should let alone what He would have concealed from us; and, although He speaks to us from afar, should not be offended by the distance. Yet does He not prohibit the people from ascending, as though he grudged them a nearer prospect of His glory; but because it is expedient that the proud and improperly arrogant should be kept within His narrow limit, that they may be reminded of their weakness. To alarm them yet more, He commands that the men themselves,214214     “Or, pour plus estonner les hommes, il commande que les bestes memes,” etc.; now, to alarm men more, He commands that even the beasts. etc. — Fr. and even beasts, though harmless, should be killed if they passed over the borders. We have just before explained what is meant by God’s descending, viz., the manifestation of His power; since His essence which fills heaven and earth moves not from its place.

13. There shall not a hand touch it.215215     There shall not a hand touch him, (eum.) — Lat.
   Curiously enough, the French translation contradicts the Commentary, — “Nulle main ne la touchera (i.e., la montagne) autrement il sera lapide, etc.” Our translation, too, seems to carry this meaning. Dathe’s Version is in accordance with Calvin’s view, — “Nec tamen ejusmodi transgressorem mann esse tangendum (sc. ut vi adhibita ejiceretur e cancellis) sed lapidibus obruendum, etc.” Hugo de S. Victor, in Willet, gives yet another conjecture, — “The hand of man shall not need to be upon him; sed intelligitur lapidum ictibus in eum divinitus volitantibus necandus.”
They ignorantly pervert the meaning who resolve the particle ב, be, into the adversative else; as if Moses forbade them to touch the mountain with the hand, under penalty of stoning.216216     Aben-Ezra sic exponit: Qui praescriptum terminum transierit in hunc nemo injiciat manus, nemo illum sequatur intra constitutos limites, sed projiciant ad eum lapides, aut feriant eum jaculis. S. M. W. Those also are far from the truth who think that what is ordained is, that one should not follow the other, or that none should stretch forth his hand to the transgressors for their help. Moses referred to something altogether different; for in order to render more detestable those who, by rash advances, should violate the limits placed by God, he commanded them to be killed afar off by stones or darts; as if whosoever should touch them, even with a finger, would contract pollution. It is, then, as if he commanded them to be avoided as being accursed, lest they should infect others by their contagion. Therefore there is an antithesis between different kinds of death, viz., to smite with the sword or to shoot through with darts, and to strike with the hand. But lest the people should consider themselves rejected, and thus being offended by the ignominy of their repulse, should abandon their love and desire for the Law, He permits their ascent conditionally, viz., when the sound of the trumpet shall have been protracted for a long time, or it shall have done sounding. Thus there was no ground for complaining of the limitation which God had appointed for their safety.


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