For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

19:1.  “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.”


This is a typological picture of conversion, for three is the biblical number of resurrection, and every believer has been raised up out of a state of spiritual death into one of eternal life.  A month, the twelfth part of a year, is associated with those who are under God’s government, e.g. the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Church built upon the foundation of the doctrine of the twelve apostles, His regime being related to the number ten, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.


Since Egypt is a type of the world in its impudent rebellion against God, Israel’s leaving Egypt is the symbolic portrayal of the fact that conversion takes the believer out of the realm of rebellion into one of obedience to God, the submission being the uncompelled expression of love and gratitude for deliverance from bondage to Satan, sin and death.


Their coming on that same day “into the wilderness of Sinai” adds yet another brush stroke to the symbolic canvas, for Sinai means my thorns, which are the evidence of the earth’s cursed state, see Genesis 3:17-18.  The spiritual lesson here is that while the believer is no longer of the world, he is still in it.  The world of business and pleasure in which he dwelt in his unsaved state, and in which he is now a pilgrim and stranger passing through on his way home to heaven, has become instead a spiritual wilderness languishing under the curse of a holy God.


19:2.  “For 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.”


The location of Rephidim, meaning supports: shrinking of hands, is uncertain, but thought to have been in the center of the Sinai Peninsula about sixty-five miles from its southern tip.  The “mount” was Mount Sinai, and according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary “is the same as the mountain of God (cf, 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13), also called Horeb, where God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.”


The meaning Rephidim supports: shrinking of hands suggests that the believer is not long embarked on his journey to heaven until he becomes acutely aware of his own weakness as portrayed in the meaning of Rephidim shrinking of hands, and his urgent need of divine support.  His assurance of that support however, is clearly announced in Deuteronomy 33:27 “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them,” and again in the NT, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5, and again, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age),” Matthew 28:20.


The Canaanites were the enemy Israel was to destroy.  They represent the evil hosts of Satan described in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”


19:3.  “And 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;”


A lesson taught in Moses’ going up to the mountain unto God is that if we would enjoy communion with Him we too must go “up to the mountain,” i.e., we must have a quiet place removed from the distractions of the world, where we can commune with Him in prayer, and He with us through His Word, as we attune our ears to hear His reassurances relative to every care, from the greatest to the least, not in the hearing of a literal voice, but in reading what is recorded in Scripture.


As to why He described the people as “the house of Jacob” and also as “the children of Israel,” the reason is clear.  Jacob and Israel were one and the same person, Jacob meaning supplanter, but Israel he shall be prince of God: God commands.  Jacob refers to that part of him which was sensual, earthy, natural, while the name Israel is associated with what he was spiritually, a man who possessed spiritual life.  Every believer is a similar compound creature.  His receiving a new life and nature at the moment of conversion doesn’t annihilate the old life and nature inherited from Adam.  The new nature dwells in him side by side with the old nature, but there is unceasing enmity between the two, as it is written, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” Galatians 5:17.


As the true Israel consisted of a small believing remnant within the apostate mass of the nation so is the professing church similarly divided: there is a small believing remnant, the true Church, within the professing but unbelieving majority which calls itself the church, but isn’t.


19:4.  “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.”


Israel had seen the Egyptians destroyed in the same waters through which God had brought His own redeemed people in safety, thus separating them for ever from Egyptian thralldom.  It is easy to see in that passage through the divided waters a foreshadowing of believers’ baptism, for in submitting to that ordinance we are testifying symbolically that in Christ crucified we have also died vicariously, and in emerging from those waters we are declaring that in Him resurrected we also have been raised up out of spiritual death, never to die again, as declared by Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”


As noted already, we are still in this world, of which Egypt is a type, but we are no longer of it: our citizenship is in heaven.


The reference to “eagles’ wings” is a metaphoric allusion to God’s omnipotence.  And we should note also that at conversion we weren’t brought to a place but to a Person, to God Himself, the hymnist’s description of our position being accurately declared in the words:


Near, so very near to God,

Nearer I cannot be,

For in the person of His Son,

I am as near as He.


19:5.  “Now 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.”


If we would enjoy to the full the relationship with God into which faith in Christ brings us, it is imperative that we obey Him.  The covenant was the agreement, contract, compact into which the people had entered with Him, the terms of that contract being that their obedience would ensure blessing: their disobedience, chastisement.  The same conditions govern our relationship with Him during this present Church age.


The word “peculiar” in the present context means prized, special, mine own, My own little flock.  In the words “for all the earth is mine,” He was reminding them that of all the people on earth they were unique.  No others enjoyed the same relationship with Him.  We who comprise the Church enjoy a similar relationship with Him today, the distinction being that they Israel were and always will be His earthly people, but we, His spiritual heritage.


19:6.  “And 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.”


Since the principal work of the priests was to offer sacrifice to God, Israel’s being called “a kingdom of priests” is synonymous with the fact that they were to offer the continual sacrifice of obedient lives, God Himself having declared that, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” 1 Samuel 15:22.  The Lord also equated love with obedience, saying, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” John 14:15, and again, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me,” John 14:21.


They were to be also “an holy nation,” i.e., they were to be morally pure; but since this was impossible of attainment by any member of Adam’s fallen race, the Lord had graciously instituted a system of sacrifice whereby through the vicarious death of a designated substitutionary animal or bird, the sin could be expiated, the substitute being a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who by His sacrificial death has made full atonement for the sins of all who trust Him as Savior.


In contrast with verse 3, where the nation is called both Jacob and Israel (see comments on that verse), here the name Israel alone is used, for only those who were believers could be designated as Israel, meaning he shall be prince of God, in contrast with Jacob, meaning supplanter, which has an evil connotation.


19:7.  “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him.”


As God’s government of Israel was through appointed elders so also is His administration of the Church, see 1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues,” elders being those through whom the government of the local churches is exercised, they being endowed by God with the special ability to exercise that ministry.


19:8.  “And 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.”


Unaware of their own inability, and in the self-confidence of that ignorance, they promised to do the impossible, for not even believers are able to keep God’s holy law; nor was it ever given as a means of life, but rather to show man his desperate need of a Savior.


19:9.  “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.”


God’s veiling Himself in “a thick cloud” was to preserve the people from death, He Himself warning even Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live,” Exodus 33:20.  One of the privileges reserved for the redeemed in the eternal state is that they will be permitted to behold His face, as it is written, “And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads,” Revelation 22:4.


“... believe thee for ever” is also rendered believe in thee to the age: obey thee without question henceforward: they may always have faith in you: that in thee they may trust to times age-abiding.


19:10.  “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,”


“... sanctify them” means prepare themselves: rid themselves of defilement: stay pure: go through a period of consecration.”


Relative to washing their clothes, garments are to the body what habits are to the life, and the believer’s lifestyle should be such as will confirm his profession that he is a child of God.


19:11.  “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.”


Since three is the biblical number of resurrection, the truth being symbolically declared here is of the need for believers to live in anticipation of the resurrection of life, i.e., the instant when the Lord will descend from heaven to raise the believing dead of all the ages, and catch them up to heaven, together with their brethren still living at that instant, as it is written, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the (believing) dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed,” 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.  And it is written further, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord,” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.


19:12.  “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:”


This proscription sounds the warning that man in his natural fallen state is unfit for the presence of a Holy God, hence the twice-repeated warning given by the Lord in John 3:3 and 7, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God .... Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” 


The man who would have dared even to touch that mountain represents the man who dies unsaved, and who therefore must also die the second death, i.e., endure the eternal torment of the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire, see Revelation 20:14-15, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”


19:13.  “There shall not a 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.”


This continues to emphasize the deadly consequences of even touching the mountain until the sounding of a long blast on the ram’s horn trumpet.  That invitational trumpet blast is clearly a type of the one that will sound when the Lord returns to end the Tribulation and inaugurate His glorious millennial kingdom, see Matthew 24:31, “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to the other,” Matthew 24:31.


A gospel application however, may also be made, for the spiritual equivalent of that trumpet blast is the gospel which invites sinners to “come up to the mountain,” i.e., to come up out of the valley of death to the mountain of life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


19:14.  “And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.”


To sanctify is to make holy, consecrate, set apart; and since garments are to the body what habits are to the life, the washing of their clothes is the metaphoric description of their having amended their life styles.  A profession of faith unaccompanied by a transformed life is worthless.


19:15.  “And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.”


As discussed already, the third day speaks of resurrection, and the truth being announced here is that spiritual matters are to be given precedence over temporal.


19:16.  “And it came to pass in 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.”


The typological picture continues to be of the day of resurrection relative to which the Lord has declared, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:28-29. 


Revelation 20:5 however, informs us that these two resurrections are a thousand years apart, “But the rest of the dead (the unbelievers) lived not again until the thousand years were finished.”  In regard to the good that fits one for the resurrection of life, it is to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and has nothing to do with the believers’ good works, which will be recompensed at the Bema.


The loud sounding of the trumpet here is that spoken of in verse 13,  the solemnity of that day being emphasized in the phenomena which accompanied it; and a thought to be pondered is that if the judgment of believers, to assess the measure of their rewards, is fraught with such awesome circumstances, what will it be like at the great white throne where the judgment will be of the unbelievers’ sins, and the assignment of commensurate punishment to be endured eternally in the dreadful lake of fire!


19:17.  “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part (the foot) of the mount.”


19:18.  “And 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.”


In Hebrews 12:29 God is described as “a consuming fire,” and surely it is significant that that is the character in which He appeared here at Sinai, which we have already seen to be a type of this present evil world languishing under His curse, see comments on 19:1.  There could be no more dramatic portrait of the ultimate fate of this  world, and only spiritually blind eyes will fail to see in this burning of mount Sinai a foreshadowing of that end as described in 2 Peter 3:10-12, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.... the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.”


19:19.  “And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.”


19:20.  “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.”


This was the moment foretold in verse 13, “... when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.”  The preceding activity however, had so terrified the people that they feared to

go up, so that only Moses, as their representative, went up.


19:21.  “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.”


In 1 John 4:12 it is written, “No man has seen God at any time,” and in Exodus 33:20 God told Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” 


Such is the effulgence of the Divine glory that man in his natural state would be destroyed by seeing it; but one of the blessings promised believers is that in heaven they “shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads,” Revelation 22:4.  God will not permit the eternal recompense of obedient faith to be demeaned by granting it to gratify the idle curiosity of unbelief.


19:22.  “And let the priests also, which come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them.”


To sanctify is to set apart for a special holy purpose.  Even the ministering priests were to keep themselves pure, otherwise God would destroy them; and the same principle applies today.  Believers are “... a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” 1 Peter 2:9, and are commanded relative to the Lord’s Supper, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (die).  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world,” 1 Corinthians 11:27-32.


19:23.  “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.”


Moses, unaware of the total rebellion in the human heart, referred to the boundaries God had ordered to be set up, as though they were sufficient to ensure the compliance of the people.  God knew better, as declared in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?


19:24.  “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.”


With the command to ensure that the boundaries had been set up, Moses was then invited to return to the mountain with his brother Aaron, to receive further communications from God.


19:25.  “So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.”


Moses returned to the people to tell them all that God had commanded him.  We would do well to emulate him relative to all that God commands us as He talks with us through our study of His Word.

[Exodus 20]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough