Exodus 19:1-20:21 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Of what does the Lord remind Israel in Exodus 19:3-4 (printed below?)

Then Moses went up to God, and Jehovah called to him from the mountain and said, This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel: (4) You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Exodus 19:3-4)

Here in the isolated place of the wilderness of Sinai, the Lord reminds Israel of what He has done for them. He declares, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians,” namely, the devastating plagues and the collapsing of the Red Sea upon the pursuing Egyptian army. Here was the exertion of Christ’s almighty power to redeem His people from the tyranny of Egypt and it’s gods. Furthermore, the Lord reminds Israel how He carried them “on eagles’ wings.” Here is a picture of the Lord’s tender compassion: the eagle watches over it’s young by flying under them when it leads them from the nest, so that they will not fall upon the rocks below (Commentaries on the Old Testament, The Pentateuch, Vol.2, Keil and Delitzsch, p.96). Finally the Lord declares, “I brought you to myself.” The Lord’s whole purpose was to receive them and have them as His own treasured possession (note Ephesians 1:11-14).

2. What is the Lord’s purpose and plan for His people? See Exodus 19:5-6 (printed below)

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you shall be my treasured possession, even though the whole earth is mine. (6) You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel. (Exodus 19:5-6)

The Lord not only reminds Israel of what He has done for them, but also reveals the plan He has for them: “You will be for me a kingdom of priests.” His divine purpose is not only that they be His subjects over whom He exercises His benevolent reign and bestows His divine protection; but also that they be His own personal servants (priests) who have the privilege of ministering to the Almighty, offering to Him the sacrifices of worship, praise, and devotion. Furthermore, the Lord’s purpose for His people is that they be “a holy nation.” That is to say, a people who are sacred: set apart for God and set apart to be like God Himself, in truth and purity and righteousness (note1 Peter 2:9-10a).

3. How must Israel prepare themselves to meet their God? See Exodus 19:9-15 (printed below)

Jehovah said to Moses, I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and always put their trust in you. Then Moses told Jehovah what the people had said. (10) Jehovah said to Moses, Go back to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes (11) and be ready by the third day, because on the third day Jehovah will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. (12) You must set boundaries for the people all around the mountain and tell them, Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or even touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. (13) No hand is to be laid on him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows. Whether man or beast, he shall not be permitted to live. Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they ascend the mountain. (14) Then Moses went back down the mountain to the people and sanctified them; and they washed their clothes. (15) Then he said to the people, Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations. (Exodus 19:9-15)

In anticipation of meeting the Lord and entering into covenant with Him, the people must be “sanctified”—i.e.; purified and consecrated. They had to wash their garments (verse 10)—symbolizing the washing away of their sins and presenting a pure life unto God. They were to abstain from sexual relationships (verse 15) —symbolizing a desire to be dedicated to the Lord and become His holy bride.

4. Describe the way in which the Lord revealed Himself to His people. See Exodus 19:16-18 (printed below)

Then on the third day, when morning dawned, there was thunder and lightning, and a dense cloud was over the mountain, and there was a very loud trumpet blast. All the people who were in the camp trembled. (17) Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. (18) Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because Jehovah descended upon it in fire. The smoke billowed up like smoke from a furnace and the whole mountain trembled violently. (Exodus 19:16-18)

On the morning of the third day, the day appointed for the people to meet God, there was thunder and lightning and a dense cloud covered the mountain. “A very loud trumpet blast” heralded the coming of the King. “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because Jehovah descended upon it in fire.” Here was an awesome display of the majesty of the Lord God the Almighty.

5. When the people tremble in the presence of the Lord God, how does Moses comfort them? See Exodus 20:18-20 (printed below)

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain covered with smoke, they trembled with fear and stood at a distance. (19) They said to Moses, You speak to us and we will listen. But do not let God speak to us or we will die. (20) Moses said to the people, Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, in order that the fear of him may be always before you, so that you will not sin. (Exodus 20:18-20)

When, with trembling, the people request that Moses communicate the Word of God to them, rather than they being directly exposed to the presence of God, Moses comforts them with these words, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you”– i.e., the Lord’s intention is not to destroy you but rather to determine if you really want a relationship with Him. Then Moses informs the people that God has revealed to them His divine glory “in order that the fear of him may be always before you, so that you will not sin.” The Lord desires to instill in His people the grace of godly fear that leads to obedience and blessing. Note Deuteronomy 5:29, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” Contrast this with the description of the ungodly given in Romans 3:10,18, “…as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one… (18) There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Together with the grace of devoted love for Him, the Lord employs the grace of godly fear to bind us to Himself.