Exodus 19

 

בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי לְצֵאת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם בַּיֹּום הַזֶּה בָּאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינָי   19:1

Exod. 19:1  In the third month of the departure of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, in the same day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai.

So the day they arrived at Sinai was exactly two months after the first day of Passover.  This is almost precisely 59 days later (the phases of the moon repeat every 29.5 days).  Now something interesting:  In the last chapter the children of Israel were already encamped at Sinai (Exod. 18:5).  So what is the meaning of this verse?  Two alternative explanations present themselves. One is that, in any intervening time between then and now, the Israelites had wandered elsewhere and now had returned.  The other alternative is that this verse relates back to the events of the previous chapter and places them in time.  In other words, the arrival of Israel at Sinai, after which the events of Chapter 18 took place, is now pinned down in the time frame of the continuing narrative.

I am inclined toward the latter alternative, as it exhibits one of the fascinating aspects of the bible and its Hebrew (and it seems supported by the next verse): The flow of time in the bible is not necessarily smoothly continuous or always in the forward direction.  I consider the events of the last chapter to be sort of sandwiched among the events of this chapter, like two “parallel” or intertwined narratives.  They both took place over the same time frame.

וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן־שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר   19:2

Exod. 19:2  When they had journeyed from Rephidim and come to the wilderness of Sinai, then they had encamped in the wilderness, and Israel had encamped there before the mountain.

וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה מִן־הָהָר לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי    19:3

יִשְׂרָאֵל

Exod. 19:3  And Moses withdrew to He Who is God as the Lord called out to him from the mountain saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and relate to the children of Israel:”

Here is another unusual occurrence of a non-inverting vav prefix to a second-person imperfect verb, this time in prose, not poetry (although the quoted statement here and in the next three verses, except for the final part of v. 19:6, is written as poetry).  The word in which the non-inverting vav is found is the third from last, dyGEt;w, translated as and relate.

אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל־כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי   19:4

Exod. 19:4  “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians.  Then I bore you on wings of eagles and brought you to Me.”

וְעַתָּה אִם־שָׁמֹועַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל־הָעַמִּים כִּי־לִי כָּל־   19:5

הָאָרֶץ

Exod. 19:5  “So now if you will diligently listen to My voice and preserve My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me out of all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.”

וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ־לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגֹוי קָדֹושׁ אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל   19:6

Exod. 19:6  “And you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me.  These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.”                                           [Return to Hose. 4:6]

Some comments about vss. 19:3 through 19:6 are in order.  First, in v. 19:3, why does God tell Moses to speak to the house of Jacob and relate to the children of Israel?  Doesn’t this seem like an unnecessary repetition?  I think not. I believe that God is telling Moses to address both the whole of the people (the house of Jacob), as well as each individual (the children of Israel).  Although it may not seem like it, what I am saying is rather profound.  In vss. 19:4, 19:5 and 19:6, all the second-person pronouns are plural – God is instructing each of the children of Israel.  God is saying that if each individual listens, and preserves God’s covenant (circumcision?), the whole people will be God’s special treasure.  This sounds to me like we are each responsible for the whole and vice versa.  And this is borne out by history.  Are we not all blamed, and always have been, for the perceived or actual shortcomings of one of us?

Second, it seems that God is telling us, especially here in v. 9:6, that we are all His priests; not just the sons of Aaron, but all of us.  We may not be responsible for ministering in the Tabernacle or Temple, but we are responsible for preserving the holiness of priesthood.  We are responsible for adhering to the applicable laws pertaining to the Temple rituals, although the Temple is no longer ours.

Listen, Jews, to what God is telling you!  These verses, 19:5 and 19:6, are a  promise and a prophecy of the most profound kind.

וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וַיִּקְרָא לְזִקְנֵי הָעָם וַיָּשֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶם אֵת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּהוּ יְהוָה   19:7

Exod. 19:7  And Moses came and called to the elders of the people and put before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.

וַיַּעֲנוּ כָל־הָעָם יַחְדָּו וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וַיָּשֶׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶת־דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל־יְהוָה   19:8

Exod. 19:8  And all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.”  And Moses turned again to the Lord with the words of the people.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָןָן בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ וְגַם־בְּךָ   19:9

יַאֲמִינוּ לְעֹולָם וַיַּגֵּד מֹשֶׁה אֶת־דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל־יְהוָה

Exod. 19:9  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will be coming to you in the darkness of a cloud in order that the people may hear My speaking with you, and they may indeed trust in you for eternity.”  And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

Once again in this verse, we have the people signified as both singular (in the people may hear) and plural (in they may … trust). The whole and the individual!  They seem to be inseparable.  Also, please notice that I translated a particular verb as may instead of the more usual shall, in the phrase and they may indeed trust in you, so that the consequence of the people hearing the Lord’s words is specified as a possibility rather than as a certainty.  In other words, in keeping with my belief about fate and free will, I believe that the Lord is offering us an opportunity to trust in Him and in Moses forever.  In every generation, the choice is ours.  The Lord will not normally impose His choice on us.  He will always leave the door open for us.  We can choose to stay with Him or go.

This is probably a good place to introduce and fully explain one of my pet observations, actually a theory that is supported (in fact, virtually proven by verses in Deuteronomy Chapter 18).  Whenever God or Moses addresses the whole congregation, it’s important for us to understand the significance of the grammar of the second-person pronouns present in any statement.  Understand that the terms “congregation” and “people” are singular nouns.  They take singular pronouns.  So when a passage contains singular second-person pronouns, I believe that the congregation or people is being addressed as a single entity.  Then when a second-person pronoun is plural, God or Moses must be addressing each of the individuals in the congregation or the people.  This may be counter-intuitive, but it is supported throughout most of the Hebrew Scriptures.  I believe there is great significance in this understanding.  It leads to insights that would be missed without taking the grammar into consideration.  I will refer to this grammar repeatedly as we encounter appropriate examples.

     [Return to Exod. 35:2]        [Return to Numb. 15:4]        [Return to Numb. 28:4]        [Return to Deut. 18:11]

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵךְ אֶל־הָעָם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיֹּום וּמָחָר וְכִבְּסוּ שִׂמְלֹתָם   19:10

Exod. 19:10   And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and you shall sanctify them today and tomorrow; then they shall wash their garments,

וְהָיוּ נְכֹנִים לַיֹּום הַשְּׁלִישִׁי כִּי בַּיֹּום הַשְּׁלִישִׁי יֵרֵד יְהוָה לְעֵינֵי כָל־הָעָם עַל־הַר סִינָי   19:11

Exod. 19:11   so they will be ready for the third day, for in the third day the Lord will descend for the eyes of all the people onto Mount Sinai.”

First of all, what does it mean to sanctify (v. 19:10)?  The only explanation appears in v. 19:15.  Is that what sanctified means, abstinence from sexual contact?  I ask myself, would the Lord have the people wash their clothes without first washing themselves?  So I’m guessing that sanctification, at least in this instance, means to wash oneself, to abstain from sexual contact, and to wash one’s clothes.

וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת־הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלֹות בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ כָּל־הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר מֹות יוּמָת   19:12

Exod. 19:12   “But you must set bounds for the people on every side saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves coming up to the mountain or coming too close to its border.  Anyone coming too close to the mountain will surely die.’”

לֹא־תִגַּע בֹּו יָד כִּי־סָקֹול יִסָּקֵל אֹו־יָרֹה יִיָּרֶה אִם־בְּהֵמָה אִם־אִישׁ לֹא יִחְיֶה בִּמְשֹׁךְ הַיֹּבֵל הֵמָּה   19:13

יַעֲלוּ בָהָר

Exod. 19:13   “No hand shall be laid on him, but he will surely be stoned or he will be shot through.  Neither beast nor man could survive.  With the sounding of the ram’s horn, they may come up to the mountain.”

וַיֵּרֶד מֹשֶׁה מִן־הָהָר אֶל־הָעָם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת־הָעָם וַיְכַבְּסוּ שִׂמְלֹתָם   19:14

Exod. 19:14   And Moses came down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their garments.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־הָעָם הֱיוּ נְכֹנִים לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים אַל־תִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל־אִשָּׁה   19:15

Exod. 19:15   And he said to the people, “Be ready:  For three days you must not come near to a woman.”

Is this another augmentation by Moses of the Lord’s instructions?  From the text as written, it would seem so.  Of course we know that things are often omitted from the narrative, but wouldn’t this be rather important?  Still, the instructions that the Lord gave Moses in vss. 19:10 and 19:11 are not very explicit.  Again Moses might have received additional words or pictures as he will when the Lord instructs him about the construction of the tabernacle.  There is no way for us to be sure.                                                        [Return to Levi. 6:11]

וַיְהִי בַיֹּום הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיֹת הַבֹּקֶר וַיְהִי קֹלֹת וּבְרָקִים וְעָןָן כָּבֵד עַל־הָהָר וְקֹל שֹׁפָר חָזָק מְאֹד   19:16

וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל־הָעָם אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּחֲנֶה

Exod. 19:16   And it was in the third day, being the morning, that there was thunder and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was over the mountain, and the very loud sound of a shofar, and all the people who were in the camp trembled.

וַיֹּוצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת־הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱלֹהִים מִן־הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר   19:17

Exod. 19:17   Then Moses brought forth the people from the camp to meet He Who is God, and they stationed themselves at the bottom of the mountain.

וְהַר סִינַי עָשַׁן כֻּלֹּו מִפְּנֵי אֲשֶׁר יָרַד עָלָיו יְהוָה בָּאֵשׁ וַיַּעַל עֲשָׁנֹו כְּעֶשֶׁן הַכִּבְשָׁן וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל־הָהָר   19:18

מְאֹד

Exod. 19:18   Now Mount Sinai smoked, all of it, for the reason that the Lord descended on it in fire, and its smoke rose like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked very much.

וַיְהִי קֹול הַשֹּׁופָר הֹולֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד מֹשֶׁה יְדַבֵּר וְהָאֱלֹהִים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקֹול   19:19

Exod. 19:19   As the sound of the horn was coming, and very loud, Moses would speak, and God would answer with a voice.

וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה עַל־הַר סִינַי אֶל־רֹאשׁ הָהָר וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָה לְמֹשֶׁה אֶל־רֹאשׁ הָהָר וַיַּעַל מֹשֶׁה   19:20

Exod. 19:20   When the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, then the Lord called to Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה רֵד הָעֵד בָּעָם פֶּן־יֶהֶרְסוּ אֶל־יְהוָה לִרְאֹות וְנָפַל מִמֶּנּוּ רָב   19:21

Exod. 19:21   And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, give warning among the people lest they might break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them would perish.”

וְגַם הַכֹּהֲנִים הַנִּגָּשִׁים אֶל־יְהוָה יִתְקַדָּשׁוּ פֶּן־יִפְרֹץ בָּהֶם יְהוָה   19:22

Exod. 19:22   “And also the priests coming near to the Lord, let them consecrate themselves lest the Lord could burst forth upon them.”

When did the priests arrive?  Apparently, Aaron and/or Moses had already appointed some sons of Levi to act in some sort of religious capacity.  Are the priests those men that Moses had appointed as judges in the last chapter (Exod. 18:25)?

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהוָה לֹא־יוּכַל הָעָם לַעֲלֹת אֶל־הַר סִינָי כִּי־אַתָּה הַעֵדֹתָה בָּנוּ לֵאמֹר הַגְבֵּל אֶת־   19:23

הָהָר וְקִדַּשְׁתֹּו

Exod. 19:23   And Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not able to come up to Mount Sinai, for You have placed a charge with us saying, “Set bounds around the mountain and sanctify it.”

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו יְהוָה לֶךְ־רֵד וְעָלִיתָ אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן עִמָּךְ וְהַכֹּהֲנִים וְהָעָם אַל־יֶהֶרְסוּ לַעֲלֹת אֶל־יְהוָה   19:24

פֶּן־יִפְרָץ־בָּם

Exod. 19:24   And the Lord said to him, “Go, get down!  Then you will come up, you and Aaron with you, but let not the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord,” lest He could break forth upon them.

וַיֵּרֶד מֹשֶׁה אֶל־הָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם   19:25

Exod. 19:25   So Moses went down to the people and said to them,

Some might imagine this an unusual way to end a chapter.  But remember that the Torah scroll does not normally designate or delineate chapters.  I suspect that ending Chapter 19 on this note, with a comma for punctuation, was the intention of the sages who decided where to separate the words of the Torah into chapters.  The next chapter is the recitation of the ten commandments by Moses.  What better way to introduce that chapter than to end this one on this expectant note!

 

[Return to Exodus Chapters]  [Prev:  Exod. 18]  [Next:  Exod. 20]