The arrival at Sinai and the first message. — V.1. 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. The greater part of the time since the departure out of Egypt, on the fifteenth day of the first month, had apparently been spent at Elim and at Rephidim, and it was not until the third month that the great army came into the desert of Sinai proper. V.2. For they were departed from Rephidim, chap. 17, 1, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount, over against the mountain from which the entire range has received its name. V.3. And Moses went up unto God, he was on his way to the summit. 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. In poetic form the Lord prepares for the statement of the covenant which He here intended to make with the entire people through the person of Moses. V.4. Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, in punishing them with such terrible plagues, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, which are an image of the strong and affectionate care of God, for the eagle protects and fosters her young with great devotion, and brought you unto myself. The mountain on which the pillar of cloud now rested was to be considered the habitation of the Lord for the time being, the place where He intended to reveal Himself in the covenant which He was about to make with the people. V.5. Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice in deed and keep my covenant, gladly enter into the relation of mercy which the Lord intended to propose, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people, a possession to be cherished and guarded most carefully, more than any other nation in the world; for all the earth is Mine, and the sovereign Lord of the universe, who is not a national god, has the right to manifest Himself to a single nation with unusual mercy. V.6. And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, kings, in order to conquer the heathen, and priests, in order to serve the living God, and an holy nation, a nation consecrated, set apart, for the service of Jehovah, and therefore under obligation to lead a life of sanctification before Him. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. That was the solemn, welcoming message which the Lord sent to the people whom He had chosen. In this respect the children of Israel were a type of the New Testament Church, the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the peculiar nation, 1 Pet. 2, 9; for Christ has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, Rev. 1, 6. As such we should show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. V.7. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, he summoned or invited them, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. V.8. And all the people without exception answered together, through their elders, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. They solemnly vowed allegiance and obedience, they took the obligation upon themselves. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. V.9. And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, whose darkness would, in a measure, conceal His glory, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. The position of Moses as the receiver and the mediator of the divine revelation would thus be attested, and the revelation and the authority of the Law, as given by him, would be established. The fact that he teaches the Word of the Lord gives to every true preacher his authority to this day. And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord.
The special instructions. — V.10. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, v.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. The people were to be set apart, consecrated, to the Lord, the washing of the clothes being a symbol of the inner purity which should be found in every believer. They should place themselves in the proper attitude of mind to hear the terms of the covenant which the Lord would announce on the third day, when He intended to descend upon Mount Sinai in such a manner as to make His glory visible to all the children of Israel. V.12. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, have a fence made all around the base of the mountain, saying, Take heed to yourselves that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it, the end, or foot, of the mountain. Whosoever toucheth the mount, the throne of God’s legislation, shall be surely put to death. V.13. There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; being on the other side of the fence, such a person could not be apprehended without making him that attempted to seize him guilty likewise, therefore he should be killed from a distance with stones or darts; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live. When the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount, the long-drawn blast on the horn was the signal for the representatives of the people, the elders, to approach, chap. 24, 1. V.14. And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes, they performed the ceremonial purifying as they had been ordered. V.15. And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day; come not at your wives, all marital relations were to be suspended for the time being. All these preparations show that Israel was still a sinful, unclean people. And sinners may not appear before the face of the holy God in their natural sinfulness.
The terrifying events of the third day. — V.16. 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. There were all the signs of an unusual, supernatural thunder-shower. The darkness indicated that the holy God is unapproachable, yeiling Himself from mortals even when He discloses Himself, for it is impossible for sinners to look upon His open glory. And the voice of the trumpet (was) exceeding loud, so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. The blasts of the horn, terrifying in themselves, became doubly so since their source was the divine presence on the mountain, where the Lord had now come down with His holy angels to make known His holy will, Deut. 33, 2; Acts 7, 53; Gal. 3, 19. No wonder the people heard the sound only with great fear and trembling. V.17. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God, all of them were to be assembled before Him as His holy congregation; and they stood at the nether part of the mount, at its foot. V.18. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, the entire mountain being enveloped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, of a great smelter, and the whole mount quaked greatly. The nearer the people came to the mountain, the more impressively was the scene enrolled before their eyes, and the greater their terror became. V.19. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, gained in intensity or strength, Moses spake from the foot of the mountain, asking God for His commands, and God answered him by a voice, an articulate sound which could be understood. V.20. 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, in order to speak to Him alone. V.21. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, testify before or upon them, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. To go beyond the fence and encroach upon the territory set aside for the Lord’s revelation was courting death. V.22. And let the priests also which come near to the Lord, those who had till then had charge of the priestly functions among the people, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them, strike them down and utterly destroy them. V.23. 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. The fence had proved its value as a barrier in preventing the people from ascending the mount. V.24. 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 to come up unto the Lord, lest He break forth upon them, strike them down in His anger. V.25. And Moses went down to the people and spake unto them. The entire story reminds us of the fact that we believers of the New Testament are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire,...but unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God,...and to Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel, Heb. 12, 18–24.