Exodus 19
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Arrival of Israel at Sinai. Jehovah’s purpose to make Israel a people to Himself. The theophany on Sinai

The account of the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai extends from Exodus 19:1 to Numbers 10:10. So far as Exodus is concerned, it embraces the establishment of the theocracy on the basis of the Decalogue, and the ‘Book of the Covenant’ (19–24), directions for the construction of the Tabernacle, and consecration of the priests (25–31), the episode of the Golden Calf (32–34), and the erection of the Tabernacle according to the directions given in 25–31 (35–40). In 19–24, only Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15-18 a belong to P; in the rest of these chapters the main narrative (including the laws in chs. 20–23) is E; but there are parts of it which are certainly derived from J. Thus in Exodus 19:3 a Moses ‘goes up’ into the mountain, but in v. 3b he is apparently below, and the natural sequel to ‘went up’ in v. 3a would be, not ‘came’ in v. 7, but ‘went down’ in v. 14; v. 13b is isolated, and not explained by anything that follows; vv. 20–25 interrupt the connexion between v. 19 and Exodus 20:1; the preparations for the theophany are complete, and it has indeed already begun (vv. 14–19), when Moses is called to the top of the mountain, and fresh directions are given for the behaviour of the people; in vv. 22, 24 directions are given relating to the priests and Aaron, which, if the chapter had been a unity, would have been expected earlier; v. 25 ‘and said unto them’ (not ‘and told them’) should be followed by a statement of the words said, and is quite unconnected with Exodus 20:1; on the other hand Exodus 20:1 is the natural continuation of Exodus 19:19. It seems evident that two parallel narratives of the theophany on Sinai have been combined together—vv. 2b–3a, 10–11a, 14–17, 19 belonging probably to E (notice God in vv. 3a, 17, 19, and the resemblances to Exodus 20:1 a, 18–21), and vv. 3b–9, 11b–13, 18, 20–25 to J. The two narratives do not agree entirely in representation. In E Moses goes up the mountain to God, and is commanded to sanctify the people for a theophany on the third day. He goes down, and does this: on the 3rd day he brings the people out to the foot of the mount; the people are timid; he remains with them there; God speaks with them; and the sequel Isaiah 20:1-6. In J Jehovah calls to him at the foot of the mountain, announces to him the covenant, and commands the people to be kept from the mountain by bounds, for on the 3rd day Jehovah will descend upon it. Jehovah does so, and calls Moses up to Him, but at once sends him down again to prevent the people—who are here not timid, but inquisitive—from breaking through the bounds. The sequel follows in Exodus 24:1-2; Exodus 24:9-11.

The Theophany on Sinai

In view of the many considerations which combine to shew that the narratives of the Exodus are not contemporary with the events described, it becomes a question whether we must not see in Exodus 19 another example of that ‘symbolism of the Bible,’ which was referred to in connexion with the narratives of the Plagues (above, p. 58). As Dillm. remarks, the ‘natural foundation’ of the description in vv. 16, 18 (cf. Exodus 20:18) is evidently a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm is one of the most imposing of natural phaenomena: and it was habitually regarded by the Hebrews as a manifestation of Jehovah’s presence (see on Exodus 9:23 a). ‘The description here given of Jehovah’s descent upon Sinai,’ writes Dr Wade1[162], ‘finds a parallel in many rhetorical passages of the Psalms and Prophets2[163], and is doubtless to be explained similarly. In these any signal event in which the hand of God is discerned is depicted as accompanied by disturbances in the elements and by convulsions of nature. In the light of such, it seems reasonable to regard the narratives recounting the delivery of the Law at Sinai as a dramatic picture, the details of which are not to be pressed. The divine communications made to Moses were presumably internal rather than external; and were imparted through the avenues of reflection and conscience rather than by the outward hearing. Yet it is’ highly probable ‘that in the locality where the events are placed, there really occurred natural phaenomena which are reflected in the narrative. To the race, and to the age, to which Moses belonged, all that was startling or exceptional in nature unmistakeably manifested divine power; and lightning and tempest, in particular, were associated by the Hebrews with Jehovah’s presence. Consequently the storms that occasionally burst,’ with exceptional impressiveness and grandeur3[164], ‘round the top of Sinai may easily have impressed the spirit of the Israelite leader with a sense of God’s nearness; whilst the thunder may have been to him something more than a mere symbol of the divine voice (cf. Psalm 29:3-9).’ To the same effect Dr Sanday, after speaking of the nucleus of judgements and decisions given by Moses in God’s name, continues1[165], ‘And then the imagination played round the idea of divine legislation, and invested it with what seemed more adequate circumstances of solemnity and sanctity.’ The thunderstorm was considered to be a special manifestation of God’s presence; and so the Decalogue, addressed to all Israel, was pictured as uttered by God, in a voice of thunder, out of the storm. But ‘these (the smoke and fire, &c.) are just poetic accessories, emblematic of the central fact that the words proceeded from God. The literal truth was that God spoke to the heart of Moses2[166]: the poetic truth was that He spoke in thunder and lightning from the crest of Sinai.’

[162] Old Test. History (1901), p. 115 f.

[163] E.g. Psalm 18:7-16; Psalm 50:3; Psalm 97:3-5, Micah 1:3-4, Habakkuk 3:3-6; Habakkuk 3:10-11.

[164] See the account of the storm, with almost continuous lightnings, and deafening peals of thunder, witnessed by Ebers in 1871, about 12 miles N. of J. Serbâl (cites by Di. on v. 16, from Ebers, Gosen, p. 433); and of the one in W. Feiran, witnessed by the Rev. F. W. Holland in 1867, as given in the writer’s notes in Habakkuk in the Century Bible, p. 99 f.

[165] The Life of Christ in recent Research (1907), p. 19 f., cf. p. 211. Comp. Ewald, ii. 104.

[166] So Delitzsch wrote long ago: ‘It was in the soul of Moses that the Divine thoughts of the Decalogue found their expression in language: the human words in which God’s revelation is here cast are words of Moses’ (Zeitschr. für kirchl. Wiss. und kirchl. Leben, 1882, p, 298; or in his New Commentary on Genesis, 1887, p. 19, Eng. tr. i. 29).

The site of Sinai

The Sinaitic Peninsula3[167] consists of a huge wedge-shaped block of mountains, intersected by numerous gorges and valleys, lying between the Gulfs of Suez and Akaba. On the north, the lofty desert table-land, 2000–2500 ft. above the Medit. Sea, called the Bâdiyet et-Tih, or the ‘Wilderness of wandering,’—itself, however, not of uniform height, but containing many hills and valleys—projects into it in the form of a crescent, ending in a long range of almost perpendicular limestone cliffs, 1–2000 ft. in height, which marks the N. limit of the Sinaitic mountains. The mountains of the Peninsula are rugged and lofty. Jebel Mûsâ, almost exactly in the centre of the wedge, is at its summit 7636 ft. in height, Jebel Catharina, 2 miles to the SW., 8536 ft., and the highest peak of J. Serbâl, 20 miles to the NW., 6734 ft. The mountains consist chiefly of granite or porphyry, and sandstone, which give a rich and varied colouring, of red, grey, lilac, purple, &c., to the landscape. The higher parts of the mountains are uniformly bare: lower down, the valleys and plains are generally ‘clothed more or less sparsely with varieties of the aromatic and almost sapless herbs peculiar to dry barren soils’: the same hardy plants may also be sometimes seen springing out of fissures in the rugged hill sides; and occasionally patches of grass are also visible. This herbage, meagre as it is, provides pasture for the camels, goats, and sheep, kept by the Bedawin who inhabit the region. Only in a few of the wâdys are there perennial streams, the courses of which are marked by mosses, rushes, and acacias: the most fertile of these is the oasis of W. Feiran, described above on Exodus 17:1 a. Not unfrequently also there are springs, which fertilize the soil around them, and diversify the general barrenness by patches of grateful verdure. As a whole, however, the aspect of both the wâdys and the mountains of the Peninsula is one of extreme barrenness and desolation: even photographs are sufficient to shew the bareness of the mountain-sides, and the huge rocks and boulders which in many cases strew the surface of the wâdys. As a rule, the air is clear and dry; but between December and May sudden and violent rain- and thunderstorms are apt to burst over the Peninsula, giving rise to highly destructive floods, or seils, which sweep down the valleys in torrents, ten, twenty, or even thirty feet deep, carrying away with them, not trees only and cattle, if they happen to be in their way, but huge boulders, and often completely altering the face of the wâdy (see a description of one in the notes on Habakkuk in the Century Bible, p. 100). The mountains of the Peninsula, as a whole, are called by the Arabs eṭ-Ṭur (‘the Mountain’); the population consists of Bedawin of various tribes, numbering (without women and children) 4–5000, and called locally Ṭowâra, ‘mountaineers’ (from Ṭûr, ‘mountain’).

[167] For the fullest and most critical account of the Peninsula, see Weill, La Presqu’île du Sinai, Étude de geographie et d’histoire (1908), which appeared after the following pages were written.

Assuming (see below) that Mt. Sinai was where, at least since the 4th cent. a.d., tradition has located it, and that the Israelites really journeyed through the ‘Sinaitic’ Peninsula, let us, so far as this has not been done already, describe briefly the places that they may have halted at, or passed near, on their presumed route from Egypt. Enough has been said with regard to ‘Ayûn Mûsâ and ‘Ain Nâba (see the note on Exodus 15:22), Hawwárah (Exodus 15:23); the route up W. Gharandel (Exodus 15:26), and then along Wâdy Shebeikeh, and down W. Ṭaiyibeh to the plain el-Markhâ by the sea (Exodus 16:1); and the route thence up W. Feiran to the ruins of the ancient town of Feiran (Exodus 17:1 a), 3 miles N. of the imposing peaks of J. Serbâl.

The route to W. Feiran through Seiḥ Sidreh (Exodus 16:1) passes through two interesting localities, which deserve a few words in passing. At Maghârah, about half-way up Seiḥ Sidreh (see the Map), and at Serâbîṭ el-Khâdim, 10–12 miles N. of this, are the remains of the celebrated turquoise and copper mines worked at intervals by the Egyptians from the 3rd to the 20th dynasty (c. b.c. 2900 [Breasted]—1100), the stelae and inscriptions of many Egyptian kings, and (at Serâbîṭ el-Khâdim) the great Temple to Hat-hor, founded by Usertesen I (b.c. 1980–1935), and added to by Thothmes III (1501–1447) and other kings till c. 1100 b.c. These Egyptian antiquities have been most recently and most completely explored by Prof. Petrie in 1905; and they have since been very fully described by him in his Researches in Sinai (cf. on Exodus 2:15; see also Maspero, i. 355–58, and the briefer account in Major Palmer’s Sinai,2 pp. 92–106 [only partially contained in ed. 1]).

After Maghârah the route passes through the famous Wâdy Mukatteb (the ‘Written Valley’), so called from the numerous inscriptions cut out, some on the lower part of its sandstone sides, but most on the fallen blocks of rock with which the floor of the valley is strewed. Although the clue to the decypherment of these inscriptions had been found by E. F. F. Beer in 1840, the Rev C. Forster in 1851 made himself a by-word by publishing a book in which he maintained that they were written by the Israelites, and contained notices of the quails, manna, &c.: but as soon as the script and language of the neighbouring Nabataean inscriptions, in NW. Arabia, became known, it was at once seen that these Sinaitic inscriptions were of the same type, and the substantial correctness of Beer’s interpretations was fully confirmed. About 500 were copied by Prof. E. H. Palmer, when he visited Sinai as a member of the Ordnance Survey Expedition in 1868; his copies were never published, but he satisfied himself with regard to the character of the inscriptions. A collection of 677 was edited afterwards by Julius Euting, of Strassburg, in 1891; and more recently (1902, 1907) 2744 have been published and explained in the Paris Corpus of Semitic Inscriptions (Part II. vols. i. and ii. Nos. 490–3233). Only about 700 of these inscriptions are from W. Mukatteb itself: of the rest, about 450 are from W. Naṣb and W. Suwig, 12 miles to the N., and from W. Sidreh and other valleys about Maghârah, 1350 are from W. Feiran and other Wâdys N. of J. Serbâl, and 250 from near J. Mûsâ (see the Maps, ibid. i. 352, 358, ii. 2, 152, 179). All are thus on the W. and NW. parts of the Peninsula. The language of the inscriptions is Aramaic, though—as in the case of the allied Nabataean inscriptions—with a strong admixture of Arabic in the proper names. They consist principally of short formulae of greeting, or blessing, or commemoration. Here are a few specimens: ‘Greeting! Uwaisu, son of Faṣiyyu, good luck!’ ‘Remembered in welfare and peace be Sa‘adu, son of Garm-al-ba‘ali for ever!’ ‘Blessed be Wa’ilu, son of Sa’adallâhi! This is year 85 of the eparchy’ (= a.d. 189). Only a few of the inscriptions are dated: but all belong probably to the 2nd and 3rd centuries of our era (CIS. ii. 353 f.). They must have been the work of Nabataeans (whose proper home at this time was in or about Edom), who—probably for some commercial purpose—visited the Peninsula. When, a century or two later, a Christian population sprang up in it, crosses and other Christian emblems were in many cases attached to the inscriptions. See further Palmer, Sinai,2 pp. 114–127; G. A. Cooke, North-Semitic Inscriptions, 1903, p. 258 ff.

As the route up W. Feiran approaches Feiran (the ‘Pharan’ of Eusebius, see on Exodus 17:1 a), 2000 ft. above the sea, there emerges, as the mouth of W. ‘Ajeleh is reached on the right, about 3 miles to the S., towering up above the mountains in front of it, the imposing range of J. Serbâl1[168]. This, ‘though not so high as several eminences further inland, is without doubt, viewed as a whole, more grand and striking than any other mountain in the country. It culminates in a noble ridge, 3 miles long and about 6500 ft. above the sea, running nearly E. and W., and rising far above the surrounding hills’ (Palmer, Sinai, p. 178). The ridge consists of 5 massive and lofty peaks (besides 6 or 7 less conspicuous ones), the highest of which is 6734 ft. above the sea. There is no plain at the foot of J. Serbâl, but only 3 miles or so of mountains, terminating on the N. in a stretch, about ¾ mile long, of W. Feiran on the N. The base of the mountain may be approached from W. Feiran either by W. ‘Ajeleh on the W., or by W. ‘Ayelat on the E., each about 3 miles long, and each, but especially the former, ‘a wilderness of boulders and torrent-beds,’ passable only with the greatest difficulty by the pedestrian (Ordn. Survey, p. 90). The ascent of the principal peak can be made from some palm trees in the upper part of W. ‘Aleyat in about 3 hours (ibid.): it was hence that both Burckhardt (Syria, p. 607 f.) and Stanley (S. and P. p. 72 f.,—in the shilling edition (1910), p. 56 f.) ascended J. Serbâl.

[168] See the Ordn. Survey Photographs, vol. ii. Nos. 25, 50, 51 (W. ‘Ajeleh); 34, 37–38 (W. ‘Ayelat), as well as the two reproduced here, pp. 180, 181.

From Feiran, Jebel Mûsâ can be reached by three routes (O. S. p. 155). By either route the traveller will first pass through the oasis above Feiran, mentioned on Exodus 17:1 a; he may then (1) turn, at the top of W. Feiran, to the NE., up W. Sheikh, and ascending this, as far as (4022 ft.) the defile el-Waṭiyeh, 10 miles N. of Jebel Mûsâ, turn off through this defile to the right, and so, still ascending the same wâdy, enter the plain er-Râḥah, NW. of J. Mûsâ, from the NE., in all 37 miles; or (2) turn off to the SE. at the top of W. Feiran, and pass up W. Solaf across the low hills to the same point, El-Waṭiyeh, and then on as before, in all 41 miles; or (3) follow, as in (2), W. Solaf, but only as far as Nagb Hawâ (the ‘Pass of the Wind’), 5–6 miles NW. of er-Râḥah, and ascend the pass which there begins; this route is not more than 30½ miles, but Nagb Hawâ is not passable for waggons or heavily laden camels. The plain er-Râḥah (râḥah means the palm of the hand, hence fig. a flat open area) is 4850–5150 ft. above the sea, and consequently some 3000 ft. above Feiran. It is about 1¼ mile long by ½ mile broad, so that it covers an area of about 400 acres; and it directly faces the NW. end of the huge oblong granite block known as Jebel Mûsâ (‘Moses’ Mount1[169]). At the SE. end the cliffs of the N. end of Râs Ṣufṣafeh—the ‘Head, or Summit, of the Willow’—so called from an ancient willow growing upon it, near the ‘Chapel of the Holy Zone’ (of the Virgin Mary)—rise suddenly and steeply more than 1600 ft. above the plain (from 4900 ft. to 6541 ft.). Râs Ṣufṣafeh is the long narrow NW. extremity, about 500 ft. broad by a mile long, of the huge granite block, spoken of above, which bears the general name of Jebel Mûsâ (‘Jebel Mûsâ’ itself being properly only the lofty peak a its SE. extremity). This granite block is about 2 miles long from NW to SE., and a mile broad from NE. to SW.: on the NE. it slopes down into the deep narrow glen called, from the Convent of St Catharine standing in it, Wâdy ed-Deir, the ‘Convent Valley’—sometimes also, from its having been supposed to have been the spot in which Moses tended his father-in-law’s sheep, Wâdy Sho‘eib, the ‘Valley of Hobab’ or Jethro: ‘on the SW. Wâdy Shureij, a still narrower ravine, divides it from the long subordinate ridge of Jebel Fera‘, which again is cut off on its SW. by Wâdy el-Lejâ from the huge red bluffs of Jebel el-Ḥamr’ (the ‘Red mountain’). J. Mûsâ, J. Fera‘, and J. el-Ḥamr are all composed mainly of red or pink syenitic granite. The central and highest part of Râs Ṣufṣafeh is 6937 ft. above the sea; the ridge SE. of this sinks in the middle to 6744 ft.; but at its extreme SE. end it rises into the single pointed peak, called specifically Jebel Mûsâ, 7363 ft. above the sea. This peak, though 400 ft. higher than Râs Ṣufṣafeh, lies too far back to be visible from any part of the plain of er-Râḥah. On the slopes of J. Mûsâ and in the neighbouring hills and valleys there is ‘a fair abundance of perennial springs and streams’: the Convent of St Catharine, for instance, contains two good wells: there is also ‘enough herbage for the support of large flocks of goats and sheep’ (Palmer, Sinai,2 p. 187).

[169] When Pococke visited the Peninsula in 1740, Jebel Mûsâ was the name given to J. Moneijah, E. of J. Mûsâ, on the opposite side of the valley, J. Mûsâ being known then as ‘Mount Sinai’ (O. S. p. 203).

The wâdys which surround J. Mûsâ on the E., W., and S. are extremely wild and rocky. W. el-Lejâ is filled with enormous fragments and boulders of granite; W. Shureij is even worse towards its mouth, though it improves higher up; in W. ed-Deir, at least as far as the Convent, there are fewer boulders, and walking is easier. The principal ascent of J. Mûsâ is by the Sikket Syednâ Mûsâ, the ‘Path of our lord Moses.’ This route, leaving the Convent of St Catharine (5013 ft.) in a southerly direction, climbs the mountain-side by a steep ravine, till it reaches, after an ascent of about 1500 ft., the so-called Chapel of Elijah (6589 ft.), enclosing a small grotto in which the prophet is said to have dwelt (1 Kings 19:8-9), close to the foot of the peak of J. Mûsâ. ‘It is the track which has been followed by monks and pilgrims for many centuries past—a rude flight of rocky steps,’ said to number in all 3000, ‘formed of huge blocks of granite, but now destroyed at many points by the fall of rocks or rush of torrents. Its course lies amid the wildest and grandest natural features, tremendous masses of fallen granite, towering precipices, and mighty peaks and pinnacles of rock.’

From Elijah’s Chapel, a further flight of steps leads straight on up to the summit peak of J. Mûsâ (7363 ft.), with the Chapel and Mosque of Moses just below it, the latter built over a cave in which he is said to have dwelt during the forty days. To reach Râs Ṣufṣafeh, however, we must turn off at Elijah’s Chapel to the right: the route thence is extremely difficult (Rob. i. 107); first there comes (O. S. 115) ‘a rough scramble for a mile or more along the mountain basin to the back of the bluff, over a rugged path, now ascending, now descending, and passing in and out between enormous domes of granite; then a breathless climb of 3–400 ft. up a steep rocky ravine which divides the two westernmost bluffs till at its crest,’ through a cleft opening out between the rocks [see view in Palmer’s Desert of the Ex. i. 110], the plain of er-Râḥah, 2000 ft. below, with the panorama of mountains surrounding it, bursts suddenly into view. The N. end of Râs Ṣufṣafeh, immediately above the plain, is 6541 ft. above the sea: but actually its highest part (6937 ft.), the point just mentioned, which affords the finest view, is about 3/5 of a mile to the S. The mountains round J. Mûsâ, though few are higher than the summit peak of J. Mûsâ (7363 ft.), form an imposing spectacle: they consist of a number of peaks, with a network of valleys between them, varying from about 6000 ft. in height to the two highest (on the SW.), J. Catharina (8536 ft.), and J. Zebir (8551 ft.). The view from J. Catharina is much more comprehensive than that from any part of J. Mûsâ, embracing practically the whole Peninsula (see Rob. i. 110–112).

There are also two other tracks up J. Mûsâ from W. ed-Deir, and one from W. Shureij on the W.; but these are much less frequented. The one from the mouth of W. ed-Deir, near the so-called ‘Aaron’s Hill,’ is the shortest from er-Râḥah, and was often used by the members of the Survey expedition. The one from W. Shureij was in the 18th cent. shewn to pilgrims as the one which Moses was accustomed to use. A winding path, less rocky and precipitous than the Sikket Syednâ Mûsâ, starting from the deserted Convent of el-Arba ‘in (‘The Forty,’ i.e. 40 monks said to have been once killed by Arabs) in W. Lejâ, SW. of the summit peak of J. Mûsâ, is however much used by pilgrims in making the descent from the Chapel and Mosque of Moses on this peak, after they have ascended from the Convent of St Catharine.

As early as the 4th cent. of our era, Christians began to settle in the Sinaitic Peninsula in considerable numbers, some resorting to it as a refuge from persecution, but the majority seeking in it solitude from the world. The celebrated anchorite St Antony, Athanasius’ friend, the ‘founder of asceticism,’ thus made it his home from about 285 till his death, c. 350. Early in the 4th cent. monasteries began to spring up about both J. Serbâl and J. Mûsâ; and many anchorites began to plant their cells in the secluded valleys around the same mountains. In 324 we hear of a Bishop of Sinai; Nathyras was Bishop of Pharan (see on Exodus 17:1 a) c. 400: for other bishops see Weill, 221 f. The hermit, Ammonius, and the ascetic, Nilus, describe the barbarous massacres of monks and anchorites perpetrated by ferocious bands of Saracens, in 373 and at about 400 a.d., respectively. The monasteries flourished for some centuries; of many the ruins are still visible; and one, that of St Catharine, is inhabited by monks to the present day. J. Mûsâ and the neighbouring valleys and mountain sides contain naturally many sites connected by monkish tradition with events in Moses’ life: but the legends possess no historical value, and need not therefore here be further noticed (see S. and P. pp. 44–48; Palmer, Sinai,2 pp. 127–137). The Convent of St Catharine is, however, too famous to be passed by without a few words. It is a large fortified enclosure, containing a church, library, refectory, chapels, cells, &c. (see Rob. i. 93 ff.), built originally by Justinian in 527, on a site where already, it is said, a small church existed, to protect the monks from the incursions of the Arabs. In the Church is the so-called ‘Chapel of the Burning Bush.’ Attached to the Convent is a large garden, containing two wells of excellent water (one declared to have been the one mentioned in Exodus 2:15), and abounding in vegetables and fruit-trees of various kinds. The St Catharine from whom the Convent is named is affirmed by mediaeval tradition to have been a virgin martyred at Alexandria in 307, of whose real history, however, no single fact seems to be certain (see the Dict. of Christian Biogr. s.v.): her body, it was said, had been carried by angels to the top of the mountain which was thenceforth called after her, J. Catharina; and her supposed relics, consisting of a skull and hand, were also said to have been afterwards transferred the monks to their own Convent, where they are still shewn (Rob. i. 96 f.). It was from this Convent that a MS. of large parts of the LXX. and of the whole of the NT. (the ‘Codex Sinaiticus’) was obtained by Tischendorf in 1844 and 1859, and a valuable MS. of the old Syriac Version of the Gospels by Mrs Lewis and Mrs Gibson in 1892.

The ‘Sinai’ of the OT. has commonly been supposed to have been some part of J. Mûsâ. J. Serbâl has, however, found its advocates, especially Lepsius (Letters from Egypt, Engl. Tr., 1853, pp. 303 ff., 532 ff.), Ebers (Durch Gosen zum Sinai, 1872), and most recently Mr Currelly in Petrie’s Sinai, 1906, pp. 247–254. It must be remembered that there is nothing in the Bible, which fixes the site of Sinai: the ‘eleven days’ journey from Horeb to Kadesh’ of Deuteronomy 1:2 would suit many other localities besides J. Mûsâ; of the places mentioned in Numbers 33:6-35 between Succoth and ‘Eẓion-geber, the name of only one, Kadesh, has been preserved to the present day; the sites of the places between Succoth and Sinai depend thus entirely upon the position assigned to Sinai; the only site of which we can be said to have any ancient tradition at all is Rephidim, which Eusebius says was near Pharan (in W. Feiran: see p. 155). Nor can we be sure that the Israelites had any continuous tradition of the site of Sinai: from the time of Moses onwards, the only Israelite who is mentioned as visiting it is Elijah (1 Kings 19:8). All that Josephus tells us is that Moses, having fled to a Midianite city, situated by the Red Sea (Ant. ii. 11. 1), led Jethro’s flocks to the mountain called Sinai, ‘the loftiest mountain in these parts,’ with good pasture, but never before trodden even by shepherds, on account of its being supposed to be inhabited by God, and difficult to climb or even to see, on account of its great size and its precipitous crags (ib. ii. 12. 1, iii. 5. 1). This description does not distinctly say that Sinai was in the Peninsula, but rather implies that it was in Midian, on the E. of the Gulf of ‘Aḳaba (see on Exodus 2:15); if the Peninsula, however, is meant, then the highest mountain in it would be J. Zebir (p. 184); to the eye, however,—for it is certain that the ancients never took the actual heights of the mountains,—J. Serbâl is twice as lofty (4000 ft. above W. Feiran) as J. Mûsâ (2000 ft. above er-Râḥah). St Paul’s statement (Galatians 4:25) that he visited ‘Sinai in Arabia’ tells us nothing definite as to its situation. And such traditions as we possess respecting the sites of Sinai and connected places cannot be traced back beyond the beginnings of the monastic period, in the 3rd cent. a.d.

The principal arguments that have been advanced in support of J. Serbâl’s being ‘Sinai’ are (1) that it was the earliest centre of Christian life in the Peninsula, and identified with Sinai by the oldest monastic tradition; a narrative dating from c. 400 (Ebers, 413 f.) seems to imply that ‘Sinai’ was very near Pharan; (2) Exodus 17:1; Exodus 17:6; Exodus 19:22 imply that Sinai was not far from Rephidim, which is already by Eusebius placed near Pharan; (3) J. Mûsâ, though an imposing mountain, is only one of a number of imposing mountains (including some loftier and more imposing than itself) centred round the plain er-Râḥah; J. Serbâl is a single imposing range of peaks, towering far above any of the mountains near it, and as seen by a spectator below (see above) far loftier; it is thus a more appropriate site for the great events described in Exodus 19. than J. Mûsâ (Ebers, p. 389 f.); (4) th great cold of er-Râḥah (4900 ft. above the sea) in winter, causing the water to freeze in a single night to the depth of an inch, renders it unsuitable for a year’s stay for people including many women and children (Currelly, p. 248; cf. Lepsius, p. 545). The first of these arguments had force when Ebers wrote in 1872 and (ed. 2) 1881; but the discovery in 1887 of the Peregrinatio Silviae—the narrative of journey through various sacred places in Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine by a lady of Aquitania at about a.d. 385—in which the description given of Sinai, as 35 miles distant from Feiran, and as being seen across a large plain1[170], suits J. Mûsâ, but not J. Serbâl, shews that J. Mûsâ was identified with Sinai earlier than Ebers supposed2[171]. (2) If J. Serbâl be Sinai, it is as much too near Rephidim—4 miles below Pharan, if Ebers’ site (pp. 222, 188) at Ḥesy el-Khattatin be accepted (see Palmer, Sinai, pp. 208 n., 86)—as J. Mûsâ (30, 37, or 41 miles: see p. 182) is too far—at least for a single day’s march. (3) J. Serbâl may be more imposing than J. Mûsâ, but it is difficult to argue that J. Mûsâ is not sufficiently imposing for the events of Exodus 19 to be associated with it. (4) To the present writer, this appears to be the most serious objection to J. Mûsâ; but he must allow that, not having visited the spot, he is not in a position to estimate it at its proper value. We may add (5) in favour of J. Mûsâ that the plain er-Râḥah is much better adapted as a camping-ground, even for a body of 5000 Israelites, than the comparatively narrow valley of W. Feiran, at the foot of the cluster of mountains in front of J. Serbâl (see p. 182). The argument would of course be stronger if the numbers of the Israelites at all approached 2,000,000; for as the engineers of the Ordnance Survey are careful to point out, the plain er-Râḥah contains 1,936,000 square yards, which would allow nearly a square yard of standing ground for each person, while the adjacent valleys, containing 2,357,080 square yards, or more, would afford ample space for the tents, animals, and baggage. But, though the springs and streams about J. Mûsâ are, no doubt, more numerous than those about J. Serbâl, the descriptions of them (e.g. O.S. 113 f.; cf. above, p. 177 f.) leave it very doubtful whether they would supply water sufficient for the needs of such an immense host, so that either the Israelites never came to J. Mûsâ, or their numbers were very much less than tradition relates (cf. on Exodus 12:37). Even, however, though their numbers were more moderate, if difficulty (4) can be overcome, J. Mûsâ would seem to have on the whole better claims than J. Serbâl to be regarded as the Sinai of the OT. (so also Di., after an impartial discussion of the question, especially on account of the superior water and pasturage about J. Mûsâ, but admitting the uncertainty of any decision on account of our having no evidence of the sites of many of the places mentioned, or of the existence of a continuous tradition respecting them).

[170] See J. H. Bernard’s edition (1891), in vol. i. of the Palestine Pilgrims’ Text society, pp. 11 f., 19, cf. 137–139. The whole account of Silvia’s journey in the Peninsula is interesting (pp. 11–20); she made the ascent of J. Mûsâ from W. Lejâ, in the opposite direction to that usually followed now by pilgrims (pp. 139–141), and was shewn at the top the caves and chapels of Moses and Elijah, just as they are shewn now.

[171] The date 385 a.d. is not, however, certain; and Clermont-Ganneau (Recueil d’ Archéologie Orientale, vi. 1905, p. 128 ff.) adduces strong reasons for assigning the Peregrinatio to the first half of the 6th cent. (cf. Weill, pp. 222 f., 226, 259). If this date is correct, the objections to Ebers’ first argument will fall through.

Was Sinai, however, in the ‘Sinaitic’ Peninsula at all?

(1) It has been repeatedly urged by Prof. Sayce (Monuments, 1894, pp. 263–272; EHH., 1897, pp. 186–190) that ‘Sinai’ was on the E. side of the Gulf of ‘Aḳaba: the Peninsula, at the time of the 19th dynasty, was an Egyptian province, with Egyptian garrisons stationed about the copper and turquoise mines in it [but see p. 14]; fugitives from Egypt would thus naturally avoid it, and flee rather across the desert et-Tih—approximately along what is now the regular pilgrim track from Suez to ‘Aḳaba—in the direction of Edom: the land of Midian (see on Exodus 2:15) was on the E. of the Gulf of ‘Aḳaba, and the presence of Midianites in the Peninsula (cf. p. 14) rests upon no independent testimony, but is simply a corollary of the assumption that Sinai was a mountain in it; the natural home of the Amalekites also was the steppes S. of Canaan (see on Exodus 17:8-16), and their presence in the Peninsula (Exodus 17:8) is again merely a corollary of the same assumption: Deuteronomy 33:2 ‘Jehovah came from Sinai, And beamed forth from Seir unto them; He shone forth from mount Paran, And came [as ought almost certainly to be read] from [or to] Meribath-Kadesh’ (viz. to lead His people into Canaan), Jdg 5:4, and Habakkuk 3:3 (where He is similarly represented as coming from Edom, and Teman [in Edom], and mount Paran [some mountain in the SE. of the desert et-Tih]), all suggest that Sinai was in the direction of Edom, NE. of the Peninsula (between ‘Aḳaba and the Dead Sea). Those who adopt this view place Marah somewhere between Suez and ‘Aḳaba, identify Elim with Eloth (1 Kings 9:26; the modern ‘Aḳaba), the ‘Red Sea’ station (Numbers 33:10; cf. on ch. Exodus 16:1) with some spot on the east shore of the Gulf of ‘Aḳaba, and place Rephidim, Sinai, &c. in the region S. or SE. of this. No objection can be raised against this view from the usually accepted sites of Marah, Elim, Rephidim, &c.; for, as has been explained above, these all depend purely upon the situation assumed for ‘Sinai.’ There is however no evidence that there were Amalekites on the E. of the Gulf of ‘Aḳaba. The country S. and SE. of ‘Aḳaba has not yet been sufficiently explored for definite sites to be proposed for Rephidim, &c.

(2) Other recent writers place Sinai in the neighbourhood of Ḳadesh, on the W. border of Edom (Numbers 20:16). The site of Ḳadesh may be regarded as established by Trumbull: it was the modern ‘Ain Ḳadis, about 50 miles S. of Beer-sheba. Now ‘Sinai’ is very closely associated with Ḳadesh: (a) if it may be assumed that the Meribah of Exodus 17:7 is the same as the Meribah of Numbers 20:13, which was at Ḳadesh (Numbers 27:14), Sinai, which was certainly near the Meribah of Exodus 17, must have also been near Ḳadesh; (b) the wilderness of Paran, in which Ḳadesh is located (Numbers 13:26), is the first stopping place of the Israelites after Sinai in P (Numbers 10:12), as it is the third in J (Numbers 12:16; cf. Numbers 11:34-35): the wilderness or Paran, however would be something like 80 miles from Jebel Mûsâ; (c) Ḳadesh being on the W. border of Edom, if Sinai were near it, the parallelism Sinai and Seir (Edom) in Deuteronomy 33:2 would be as easily explained as if Sinai were SE. of Edom; (d) the country about Ḳadesh was the home of the Amalekites, so, if Sinai were near it, the mention of them in Exodus 17:8 would occasion no difficulty (McNeile, pp. cii.–civ.). To (b) it might be replied that the narratives in Numbers 10-12 may not be detailed: Numbers 33:16-36 (P) mentions 20 stations between Sinai and Ḳadesh, and Numbers 10:12 also implies a series of stages; it remains, however, strange that there is no notice of any of these places in Numbers 11-12. (JE). Deuteronomy 1:2 seems, however, to present a fatal objection to this view: if Horeb was 11 days’ journey from Ḳadesh, how could it be near it? The objection can hardly be said to be satisfactorily met (ibid. p. cv f.) by distinguishing Horeb altogether from Sinai, and placing it at J. Ḥarb, some 120 miles S. of ‘Aḳaba, on the E. of the Gulf; such a site, being in, or near, the true ‘land of Midian,’ would of course suit Exodus 3, 18; but it seems hardly likely that the two names, associated as they are in the Biblical traditions with the same events, should have denoted in reality places so distant from each other.

On the whole, while difficulties and uncertainties must be admitted, Jebel Mûsâ seems, with our present knowledge, to be the most likely site for the ‘Sinai’ of the OT. But we are not entitled to dogmatize on the subject; and the opinion advocated by Prof. Sayce has undeniably points in its favour1[172].

[172] It is also the view of Wellh. (Hist. 344 n.); Moore, Judges (1895), p. 140; Stade, Entstehung des Volkes Israels (in his Akad. Reden, 1899), p. 107, and others.

On the question of the site of Sinai, see p. 177 ff.

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.
1. the same day] The day of the month must in some way have fallen out in the early part of the verse.

the wilderness of Sinai] The area in front of the mountain, whether ‘Sinai’ be J. Serbâl or J. Mûsâ (see p. 186 ff.): so v. 2, Leviticus 7:38 b, Numbers 1:1; Num Exo 1:19; Numbers 3:14; Numbers 9:1; Numbers 10:12; Numbers 26:64; Numbers 33:15-16 (all P). If Sinai be J. Serbäl, the ‘wilderness’ will be the stretch of W. Feiran, ¾ mile long, between W. ‘Ajeleh and W. ‘Aleyat (cf. on Exodus 17:1 a), 3 miles N. of J. Serbâl, and separated from J. Serbǎl itself by a chaos of rugged hills (cf. p. 182, and see the map): if Sinai be J. Mûsâ, then the ‘wilderness’ will be the plain er-Râḥah, about 1½ mile long, and ½ mile broad, fronting it on the NW., and, according to the best route (p. 182), 37 miles above Feiran. Er-Râḥah, it may be added, is 3000 ft. above Feiran, and 5000 ft. above the sea.

1, 2.a (P). Arrival of the Israelites at Sinai. The ‘when’ in v. 2. is intended to remove a difficulty: the Heb. is, And they took their journey …, and came …, and pitched, &c.; these words, however, beginning with the departure from Rephidim, would naturally precede v. 1, which, stating the new fact of the date of their arrival at Sinai, would as naturally then follow. And this doubtless was the original order, viz.: And they took their journey (Exodus 16:1) from Rephidim, and came to the wilderness of Sinai, and pitched in the wilderness: in the third month after, &c., came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For the form of v. 2a, comp. now Exodus 16:1, Numbers 33:16.

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.
2b. camped] The Heb. is the same as ‘pitched,’ just before. Major Palmer’s argument, founded on the supposed difference between the two expressions (Sinai, p. 201, ed. 2, 1906, p. 209), thus falls to the ground.

2. The covenant of Exodus 34:10; Exodus 34:27-28 (see p. 364 f.), concluded with Israel on the basis of the laws contained in Exodus 34:14; Exodus 34:17-26.

In E:—1. The covenant of Exodus 24:7-8, concluded with Israel on the basis of the ‘Book of the Covenant’ (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33). The same covenant is also referred to in Exodus 19:5 (compiler of JE).

In Dt.:—1. The covenant with the patriarchs, Exodus 4:31, Exodus 7:12, Exodus 8:18.

2. The covenant concluded with Israel at Horeb on the basis of the Decalogue, Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 4:23; Deuteronomy 5:2-3; Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 29:1 b (hence the Deut. expression, ‘the tables, and ark, of the covenant,’ Deuteronomy 9:9; Deuteronomy 9:11; Deuteronomy 9:15, Deuteronomy 10:8, Deuteronomy 31:9; Deu 31:25-26, Joshua 8:33 D[161]: in Numbers 10:33; Numbers 14:44 J, ‘the covenant of’ is probably an addition made by one familiar with the Deut. phraseology; cf. often in Joshua 3, 4, Joshua 6:6; Joshua 6:8). The terms of this covenant are stated in Deuteronomy 26:17 f. Dt. is silent as to any covenant made at Horeb, and based on the ‘Book of the Covenant.’

[161] Deuteronomic passages in Josh., Jud., Kings.

2. The covenant made with Abraham and his seed, Genesis 17:2; Genesis 17:4; Genesis 17:7; Genesis 17:9-10; with Isaac and his seed, vv. 19, 21; with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Exodus 2:24; Exodus 6:4 (see the note), 5.

See also (in H) Leviticus 26:9; Leviticus 26:15; Leviticus 26:42; Leviticus 26:44-45; and (in P) Exodus 31:16 (of the sabbath), Leviticus 2:13; Leviticus 24:8 (of the shewbread), Numbers 18:19 (of the priestly dues), Exodus 25:12 f. (with Phinehas).

In P, as was remarked on Exodus 19:5, God confirms a former covenant by bringing His people out of Egypt, and He gives Israel a body of ceremonial regulations at Sinai; but there is not in P any mention of a covenant made by Him with Israel at Sinai. See further A. B. Davidson’s art. Covenant in DB.

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;
3a (E). The mountain is the abode of God (cf. on v. 4): so Moses, immediately upon the Israelites’ arrival at Sinai, naturally goes up it to Him. The original sequel follows in v. 10.

3b–6. Jehovah calls to Moses ‘out of’ (or ‘from’) the mountain—so that he is apparently still below—and tells him of the exalted future which, if Israel will but be obedient, He has in store for it, and of the special relation to Himself in which, upon the same condition, it is His intention to place it. The words are (McNeile) ‘a very beautiful expression of God’s relations with His people, written by a religious thinker of the Deuteronomic school’; and (Di.) ‘the locus classicus of the OT. on the nature and aim of the theocratic covenant: they have, that least at the beginning, an elevated, poetical form; and the rhythmical articulation of v. 3b explains the expression “house of Jacob,” which occurs nowhere else in the Pent.’

3. Thus shalt thou say] Exodus 3:14-15, Exodus 20:22.

the house of Jacob] Isaiah 2:5-6; Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 10:20, &c. ‘Jacob,’ as a poet. synonym of ‘Israel,’ occurs also often besides in the prophets; in the Pent., only in Genesis 49:7, Numbers 23:7; Numbers 23:10; Numbers 23:21; Numbers 23:23; Numbers 24:5; Numbers 24:17; Numbers 24:19, Deuteronomy 33:4; Deuteronomy 33:10; Deuteronomy 33:28.

3. The covenant concluded with Israel in the steppes of Moab, in the basis of the Deuteronomic legislation itself, Deuteronomy 29:1 a, 9, 12, 14, 21, 25 (cf. 2 Kings 23:2; 2 Kings 23:21, where this legislation is called the ‘book of the covenant’).

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.
4. Ye] the pron. is emphatic: in Exodus 20:22 expressed by Ye yourselves. on eagles’ wings] A fine figure for the swiftness, the security, and the affectionate care with which the deliverance from Egypt had been effected. Cf. the development of the same figure in Deuteronomy 32:10-11.

‘Eagle,’ though it suffices in a popular version, is not however an exact rend. of the Heb. nésher. As Tristram has shewn (NHB. p. 172 ff.), nésher, on account especially of the term ‘baldness’ in Micah 1:16, must denote really the griffon-vulture, a large and majestic bird, very abundant in Palestine, and constantly seen there circling in the air.

unto myself] i.e. to my abode in Sinai, the ‘mount of God’ (Di.; cf. on Exodus 3:1).

4. In the ‘Blessing of Moses,’ Exodus 33:9, the covenant with the tribe of Levi (i.e. their consecration to the priesthood, which was probably once narrated after Exodus 32:29). Cf. Malachi 2:4-5; Malachi 2:8.

In P:—1. The covenant with Noah, Genesis 6:18; Genesis 9:9-16.

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:
5. obey] lit. hearken to. So always. Cf. Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 13:4; Deuteronomy 13:18; Deuteronomy 27:10, &c.; and especially Deuteronomy 11:13, Deuteronomy 15:5, Deuteronomy 28:1 (in these three passages hearken diligently unto is in the Heb. the same as obey indeed here), Exo Exodus 30:10.

my covenant] the covenant of Exodus 24:7-8, described there as concluded on the basis of the ‘Book of the Covenant’ (i.e. the injunctions in Exodus 20:23 to Exodus 23:19): if Israel observes the terms of this covenant, Jehovah promises that He will bring it into a relation of special nearness to Himself.

This is a point on which the representation of both J and E differs from that of P. Both J and E speak of a covenant concluded between Jehovah and Israel at Sinai: P says nothing of such a covenant; the only covenant mentioned by him in this connexion is the covenant with the patriarchs, to which Jehovah gives effect by delivering their descendants from Egypt, and settling them in Canaan (see Exodus 6:4-8).

a peculiar treasure] Heb. segullâh, i.e. a special possession; see 1 Chronicles 29:3, Ecclesiastes 2:8, where the word is used of a private treasure (of gold, silver, &c.) belonging to kings. The rend. ‘peculiar’ we owe to Jerome, who states that Symmachus had used peculiaris in one place: it means ‘specially one’s own,’ being used in its old etymological sense, derived from the Lat. peculium, the private property of a child or slave. With the addition of ‘people,’ ‘a people of special possession,’ the word occurs, borrowed from here, in Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18; and alone also in Psalm 135:4 : in Malachi 3:17 (RV.) it is transferred to the faithful Israelites of the future. The LXX. here, Exodus 23:22 (in an addition to the Heb.), Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18, render by λαὸς περιούσιος; and in Psalm 135:4, Ecclesiastes 2:8 by περιουσιασμός: hence λαὸς περιούσιος in Titus 2:14. Λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν in 1 Peter 2:9 (cf. Ephesians 1:14) is also based upon the same expression: cf. εἰς περιποίησιν for segullâh in Malachi 3:17 LXX., and ὃ περιπεποίημαι in 1 Chronicles 29:3. (Περιούσιος means apparently being over and above, and so exceptional, special; see Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the Engl. N. T., p. 234 ff.)

from among] lit. out of; but as what is taken specially out of a number is preferred to the rest (cf. ἐξαίρετος, eximius, egregius), the meaning above (marg.) is also implied. So Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2.

for all the earth is mine] and so I can choose which I will of the nations upon it. Cf. Exodus 9:29, Deuteronomy 10:14.

On the ‘covenants’ mentioned in the Pentateuch

A ‘covenant’ is a compact or agreement, concluded—at least on important occasions—under solemn religious sanctions, and implying mutual undertakings and obligations. For instances of covenants between men, see Genesis 26:26-31; Genesis 31:44-54, 1 Kings 15:19 (‘league’), 1 Kings 20:34. In a religious sense, a ‘covenant’ is the most formal, and, so to say, official expression of the gracious relation subsisting between God and men: God promises that, if man observes the conditions laid down by Him, He will bestow upon him certain specified blessings. In references to a covenant of this kind, the stress may rest, according to the context and purpose of the writer, either on the Divine promise (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:31), or on the human obligation (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:23). The following are the ‘covenants’ referred to in the Pentateuch:—

In J:—1. The covenant with Abraham, Genesis 15:18.

5, 6. The promise. The high privileges in store for Israel, if it but listens to Jehovah’s voice, and observes His covenant. The verses, in style and thought, approximate to Dt. (cf. on Deuteronomy 12:25-27 a), and may have been expanded by the compiler of JE.

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.
6. And ye (emph.)] in contrast to the other nations.

a kingdom of priests] i.e. a kingdom whose citizens are all priests, living wholly in God’s service, and ever enjoying the right of access to Him. Comp., of the ideal future, Isaiah 61:6; and in the NT., of Christians, 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6.

an holy nation] separated from other nations, and holy to Jehovah. The expression implies not a promised privilege only, but also a duty: Israel, enjoying this privilege, is also (as is developed more fully in Dt.) under the obligation to make it a reality, to keep itself free from everything heathen, and fulfil the ideal of a holy nation upon earth. The expression is taken up in Dt. in the form ‘a holy people,’ Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 14:21; Deuteronomy 26:19; cf. Isaiah 62:12 (the ideal of the future), 1 Peter 2:9.

And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.
7–8. Moses communicates Jehovah’s purpose to the people. They express their readiness to fulfil the conditions imposed.

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.
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.
9. Jehovah declares that He will so speak to Moses as to satisfy the people that he is His accredited messenger.

I come] more clearly, I am coming, i.e. am about to come. The first announcement of the coming theophany.

a thick cloud] Heb. the thickness of a cloud (or, of the clouds).

and may believe thee also] the pron. is emphatic. Stress is laid also on the people’s believing Moses in Exodus 4:1-9; Exodus 4:31, Exodus 14:31 (all J).

And Moses told, &c.] The words of the people have been already reported to Jehovah in v. 8, and no other words have followed since. The clause is probably a misplaced variant of v. 8b.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,
10. sanctify] viz. by enjoining ablutions and abstention from anything that would render ‘unclean’ (cf. v. 15b): comp. Numbers 11:18 (in preparation for the approaching manifestation of Jehovah’s power), Joshua 3:5; Joshua 7:13, 1 Samuel 16:5.

wash their garments] often enjoined, as a purificatory rite, in the later ceremonial legislation, e.g. Leviticus 11:25; Leviticus 11:28; Leviticus 11:40, &c.

10–13. Preparations to be made in view of the approaching theophany. The people are to be sanctified (E), and (J) barriers set about the mountain, to prevent its being desecrated by idle intruders.

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.
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:
12. border] Heb. extremity, or edge (Exodus 13:20).

shall be surely put to death] Genesis 26:11, Jdg 21:15; and often in the laws, as ch. Exodus 21:12; Exodus 21:14-16, &c.

There 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.
13. no hand, &c.] i.e. he is not to be followed, and seized on the mount, but to be stoned or shot from a distance. Possibly the underlying idea may be (Bä.) that the trespasser, having touched sacred ground without proper authority, becomes thereby taboo—i.e. dangerous to touch, on account of the supernatural penalties that would be thereby incurred (see DB. ii. 395b n., iv. 826 ff.)—and forfeits his life to the deity, and anyone touching him afterwards is liable to become taboo likewise (cf. on Exodus 29:37). RVm. it means the mountain; but this is not probable.

13b. the ram(’s horn)] Heb. yôbçl, as Joshua 6:5 (קרן היובל, also with ‘soundeth long’); 4, 6, 8, 13 (שופרות (ה)יובלים). Not the word rendered ‘trumpet’ in vv. 16, 19, Exodus 20:18.

they (emph.) may come up into (Heb., as v. 12) the mount, &c.] It may be doubted whether this clause is in its original position. Where it stands, it apparently refers to what may be done when the signal is given by the ‘ram’s horn’ at the end of the solemnity. Bacon would transfer vv. 11b–13 to v. 24, to follow priests (as in the note): ‘they shall come’ would then refer to the priests, and, vv. 23, 24 (to down) being rejected as a gloss, vv. 20–22, 24a, 11b–13, 24b would read consecutively (cf. McNeile, pp. xxvi. 113).

And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.
14–15. The sequel in E to vv. 10, 11a. Moses comes down from the mountain, and sanctifies the people as instructed in vv. 10, 11a.

15b. Cf. 1 Samuel 21:4; and the Minaean inscr. cited in ATLAO. p. 433.

And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.
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, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
16. thick] dense; lit. heavy (cf. on Exodus 8:24). Not the word used in v. 9.

a trumpet] Heb. shôphâr (so v. 19, Exodus 20:18), properly a horn—used especially (cf. the note on Amos 2:2 in the Camb. Bible) to give a signal or summons in war (Jdg 3:27), or to announce or accompany an important public event (1 Kings 1:34; 2 Samuel 6:15). Not the yôbçl of v. 13b.

16–19. On the third day the theophany takes place; and the people are brought forth by Moses to the foot of the mountain to meet God.

And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
17. stood] better, took their stand.

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.
18. on smoke] For the archaism, see Wright’s Bible Word-Book, s.v. On; and cf. Hamlet v. 1. 211 ‘on a roar,’ 2 Samuel 9:3 ‘lame on his feet,’ Psalm 78:14 (P. B. V.) ‘on an heap,’ Psalm 79:1on heaps.’

the smoke of a kiln] as Exodus 9:8, Genesis 19:28 (‘the steam of a kiln’).

quaked] The word rendered ‘trembled’ in v. 16 end. LXX. and 9 Heb. MSS. have people for mount (as v. 16b); and it is true (Di.) that ḥârçd is not used elsewhere of the merely physical movement of inanimate objects.

And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
19. and the voice of the trumpet waxed louder and louder: Moses kept speaking, and God kept answering him with a voice] i.e. with thunder. Moses is of course below with the people. The tense of the two last verbs implies reiteration: the repeated thunderings were interpreted as God’s part in a dialogue with Moses. The sequel Isaiah 20:1.

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.
20. came down] according to v. 18, Jehovah had already done this. Perhaps (Bä.) v. 18 is misplaced, and stood originally after v. 20a.

20–25. After the theophany has begun (vv. 18, 20a), Moses is summoned to the top of the mountain, where he is told to go down again at once and check the too eager curiosity of the people, and when he has done this to come up again with Aaron (v. 24). In E the people, so far from evincing any desire to trespass upon the mountain, are in alarm, and ‘tremble’ (v. 16; cf. Exodus 20:18).

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.
21. break through] viz. the barriers that had been erected (v. 12). Lit. pull or tear down (Jdg 6:25 al.). So v. 24.

perish] lit. fall, i.e. be struck down suddenly by the lightning.

And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.
22. Even the priests, whose duty it is to come near (Leviticus 21:21) to Jehovah, must sanctify themselves like the rest (vv. 10, 14), lest He make a breach in them (2 Samuel 6:8 AV., 1 Chronicles 15:13), i.e. work destruction among them. The word is quite distinct from that rendered ‘break through’ in v. 21.

It appears from this passage that J recognizes priests before the legislation of Sinai—just as he recognizes similarly sacrifices and altars (e.g. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 26:25 : in P priests appear first in Leviticus 8); but the representation is hardly consistent with Exodus 32:29.

23, 24 Moses reminds Jehovah that the barriers (v. 12) will effectually prevent the people from trespassing: but he is nevertheless commanded to repeat the warning.

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.
23. thou] the pron. is emphatic, thou thyself.

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.
24. thou, and Aaron with thee, &c.] This command is nowhere stated to have been carried out: in Exodus 20:21 (E) Moses goes in before God alone; in Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9 Moses and Aaron are accompanied by Nadab and Abihu and seventy elders.

with thee: but, &c.] Or, with thee, and the priests: but let not the people break through, &c.: cf. v. 22a (‘which come near to Y.’), and on v. 13b.

break throughmake a breach in] as vv. 21, 22.

So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.
25. and said unto them] The paraphrase ‘told’ is illegitimate. The word always means to ‘say’; and is followed regularly by the words said. The narrative is here broken off in the middle. What originally followed must have been the substance of the commands given in vv. 21–24. The next excerpts from J are Exodus 24:1-2; Exodus 24:9-11.

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