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19. At Mount Sinai

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. 2For 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. 3And 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; 4Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 5Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

7And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. 8And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. 9And 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.

10And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, 11And 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. 12And 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: 13There 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.

14And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes. 15And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.

16And 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. 17And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. 18And 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. 19And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. 20And 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. 21And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. 22And let the priests also, which come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them. 23And 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. 24And 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 to come up unto the Lord, lest he break forth upon them. 25So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.

16. And it came to pass on the third day. We must bear in mind what I have already adverted to, that this terrible spectacle was partly to set the presence of God before their eyes, that His majesty might urge the beholders to obedience, and vindicate His doctrine from contempt, and partly to express the nature of the Law, which in itself produces nothing but mere terror. The air was disturbed by thunder and lightning’s, and the sound of the trumpet; the mountain was wrapped in smoke and darkness, that the people might humbly prostrate themselves before God, and solemnly embrace the covenant proposed to them; since religion never penetrates the mind so that it seriously receives God’s word until its vices are cleansed and corrected, and it is really subdued. And this fear is common also to the Gospel; for as in the promulgation of the Law God shook the earth, so when He speaks by the Prophet of the coming of Christ, and the restoration of His Church, He says, “Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth,” etc. (Haggai 2:6.) Thus, too, David, when he would point to God as the avenger of His Church, describes Him under this image; for no doubt when, in Psalm 18:7-9, he says, “Then the earth shook and trembled, the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, — there went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured; he bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet,” he alludes to the history which Moses here relates. Habakkuk 3:3 yet more plainly does so, — “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran.” Meanwhile the other point remains, that the awful prodigies, at which the people needs must tremble, were added as seals to the promulgation of the Law, because the Law was given to cite slumbering consciences to the judgment-seat, that, through fear of eternal death, they might flee for refuge to God’s mercy.

17. And Moses brought forth the people. We learn from these words that the prodigies were not intended to drive the people from God’s sight, and that they were not smitten with fear to exasperate and disgust them with the doctrine, but that God’s covenant was no less lovely than alarming; for they are commanded to go and “meet God,” presenting themselves with minds ready unto obedience. But this could not be unless they heard in the Law something besides precepts and threatenings. Yet in the smoke and fire, and other signs, some fear was added, in accordance with the office of the Law, because the sinner will never be capable of pardon until he learns to tremble from consciousness of his guilt, nay, until confounded with dread he lies like one dead before the tribunal of God. In the two following verses, Moses explains what he had briefly touched upon respecting the meeting with God; for he shows that God was near, since His majesty appeared upon the top of Sinai. He adds that he stood within the bounds, because he went up by himself alone, and that by invitation; for he clears himself from the accusation of temerity, by expressly stating that he passed over the limits assigned to the people, not voluntarily, but at the command and call of God.217217     This sentence is omitted in the Fr. I presume the allusion here is to verse 20, which the V. translates “descendit, and not as C., “descenderat.” Corn. a Lapide defends the V., with which our A.V. agrees, conceiving that a still closer descent “in a thicker cloud, and with greater glory,” upon the very top of the mountain, over which the fire had only hovered before, is here described. It may be so; but his reasoning, founded on the word “super,” which is used in both cases, does not prove it. It appears from the context itself that the order of the narration is inverted, which the old translator does not perceive, and perverts the sense. God’s answering him “by a voice,” means that He spoke aloud and clearly, viz., so that the people might hear, as we shall see hereafter in Deuteronomy 4.

18. And all the people saw the thunderings. Because in the parallel passage218218     Au passage de Deuteronome, que nous verrons tantost. — Fr. Moses more largely pursues what he here only touches upon briefly, I shall also defer my full exposition of it. If he had been the only spectator of God’s glory, the credit of his testimony would be lighter; after having, then, reported the ten commandments, which God Himself spoke with His own sacred lips in the hearing of the people, he adds, at the same time, that the lightning’s shone openly, the mountain smoked, the trumpets sounded, and the thunder rolled. It follows, therefore, that by these conspicuous and illustrious signs, the law was ratified before all the people, from the greatest even to the least. The confession of the whole people is added; when, overwhelmed with alarm, they supplicate God to go on speaking no more. For no longer could they now despise the voice of the man, whom they had of their own accord desired to be given them as their mediator, lest they should be consumed by the awful voice of God. He lays before them the object, for which those signs had appeared to terrify them, viz., that God might subdue them to obedience. They were terrified, then, not that they might be stupified with astonishment, but only that they might be humbled and submit themselves to God. And this is a peculiar privilege, that the majesty of God, before whom heaven and earth tremble, does not219219     There is a play on the words in the Latin here: “Non exanimet, sed tantum examinet.” destroy but only proves and searches His children.

21. And the Lord said unto Moses. By God’s command the same prohibition is repeated, that the people should not pass over the bounds, because, without doubt, it was not enough to have forbidden them once, as we may gather from the reply of Moses; for he thought that since they were all admonished, there was no necessity for a new prohibition. But God insists with greater vehemence, and again with threatenings, orders them to be charged that they take diligent heed to themselves. He knew, forsooth, that He had to do with the rebellious, for whose subjugation a sorer dread of punishment would be necessary. Now, since we are no better than they, let us not be surprised if God often spurs us on by the application of many exhortations, and redoubles His threats, for else forgetfulness of all which He has once enjoined would creep over us. This passage also confirms the fact, that the curiosity which influences men’s minds is greatly displeasing to God; for He expressly commands that they should not break through to gaze, — not because He would have anything concealed or hidden which it was profitable for them to know, but because their inquiries ought to be sober; and this is the legitimate limit of knowledge, humbly to learn at God’s mouth what He voluntarily teaches, — not to advance with too anxious longings, but to follow Him as He leads us.

23. And Moses said unto the Lord. Because Moses was persuaded that the people would be obedient, he rejoins that the decree which had already been pronounced would be sufficient, and that the repetition of it would be in some degree supererogatory; for when he says that “the people cannot come up,” he replies that he puts himself forward in the name of all as their surety. And this he does honestly, and in accordance with the rule of charity; yet it appears from God’s reply that he was deceived, whilst judging of others by his own feelings. Whilst, however, he unhesitatingly executes the task allotted to him, it is plain that he preferred the command of God to his own preconceived opinion; and thus taught us by his example, that whatever may be the imaginations which come into our minds, they must still be submitted to this yoke, that God’s authority alone may have the pre-eminence. A doubt may arise because He names “the priests;” since the priestly office was not yet committed to the Levites. Some, therefore, understand it to mean all the first-born, because, by ancient and common consent, it is allowed that they were always invested with the honor of the priesthood. But although I readily admit that they were chosen from the first-born, yet I do not think it probable that out of that immense multitude there were special priests for every house. In the meantime we may conjecture that since no heathen nations were then without priests, there was no less method amongst the chosen people; for what common sense dictated to the blind, assuredly a purer religion more clearly showed, viz., that God’s worship should not be separated from the priesthood.


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