Exodus 19:12
And you shall set bounds to the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that you go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whoever touches the mount shall be surely put to death:
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(12) Thou shalt set bounds.—Here was another formal and mechanical direction, having for its object to deepen and intensify the lesson of God’s unapproachable majesty and holiness. Moses was required to “set bounds to the people,” i.e., to make a substantial fence between the camp and the base of Sinai, which should prevent both animals and men from coming in contact with the mountain. Modern travellers generally observe how abruptly the rocky precipice of Ras Sufsafeh rises from the plain in front of it, so that in many places it is quite possible to stand on the plain and yet touch the mountain. The idea that a line of natural mounds now to be seen near the base of Sinai represents the “bounds” of Moses (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 43) is unsatisfactory, since the “bounds” of Moses were most certainly artificial ones. It is, however, possible that his “bounds” may have followed the line of the natural barrier.

That ye go not up into the mount.—Unless it had been forbidden, there might have seemed to be no reason why pious Israelites might not have ascended the height, to draw near to God in prayer. It is a praiseworthy feeling which breathes in the words, “Nearer, my God, to thee;” but the nation was not fit for close approach.

Exodus 19:12. Set bounds — Probably he drew a ditch round the foot of the hill, which none were to pass upon pain of death. This was to intimate, 1st, That lawful reverence which ought to possess the minds of all that worship God. 2d, The distance at which worshippers were kept under that dispensation, which we ought to take notice of, that we may the more value our privilege under the gospel, having “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” Hebrews 10:19.19:9-15 The solemn manner in which the law was delivered, was to impress the people with a right sense of the Divine majesty. Also to convince them of their own guilt, and to show that they could not stand in judgment before God by their own obedience. In the law, the sinner discovers what he ought to be, what he is, and what he wants. There he learns the nature, necessity, and glory of redemption, and of being made holy. Having been taught to flee to Christ, and to love him, the law is the rule of his obedience and faith.Set bounds unto the people - The low line of alluvial mounds at the foot of the cliff of Ras Safsafeh exactly answers to the bounds which were to keep the people off from touching the mount: but the bounds here spoken of were to be set up by Moses. 9-15. The Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come … in a thick cloud, &c.—The deepest impressions are made on the mind through the medium of the senses; and so He who knew what was in man signalized His descent at the inauguration of the ancient church, by all the sensible tokens of august majesty that were fitted to produce the conviction that He is the great and terrible God. The whole multitude must have anticipated the event with feelings of intense solemnity and awe. The extraordinary preparations enjoined, the ablutions and rigid abstinence they were required to observe, the barriers erected all round the base of the mount, and the stern penalties annexed to the breach of any of the conditions, all tended to create an earnest and solemn expectation which increased as the appointed day drew near. By this symbolical injunction God designed,

1. To restrain men’s curious and bold inquiries into the things of God.

2. To possess the Israelites then present, and all succeeding generations, with the dread and reverence of the Divine Majesty, and of his holy law.

3. To prepare and inure the people to the obedience of God’s commands, even when they discern not the reasons of them.

4. To make them sensible of their own impurity and infirmity, and of their absolute need of a mediator, through whom they might have access to God. See Galatians 3:19. And thou shall set bounds to the people round about,.... That is, round about the mountain, by drawing a line, throwing up a foss or ditch, or else by laying up heaps of stones or sand, which might be come at easily, or bushes and branches of trees, which grew thick on the mount, from whence it had its name; but be it what will that were used, these were to signify, that so far the people might go, but no further, which their curiosity might prompt them to:

saying, take heed unto yourselves that ye go not up into the mount; so far were they from being allowed to go up to the top of it, that they were not allowed to ascend it at all, or to go any further than where the ascent or rise began; it was at their peril to ascend, and this was what they were to take heed unto, lest they incurred danger:

or touch the border of it; it being the mountain of God, and relatively holy through his presence on it:

whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death; which severe law was made to deter them from any attempt to go up the mountain, since it was death even to touch it, see Hebrews 12:18.

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.Verse 12. - Thou shalt set bounds. The erection of a fence or barrier, between the camp and the mountain - not necessarily all round the mountain - seems to be meant. This barrier may have run along the line of low alluvial mounds at the foot of the cliff of Ras Sufsafeh, mentioned by Dean Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, p. 43), but cannot have been identical with them, since it was an artificial fence. That ye go not up into the mount. Curiosity might have tempted some to ascend the mount, if it had not been positively forbidden under the penalty of death; carelessness might have brought many into contact with it, since the cliff rises abruptly from the plain. Unless the fence had been made, cattle would, naturally, have grazed along its base. To impress the Israelites with a due sense of the awful majesty of God, and the sacredness of everything material that it brought into close relations with him, the mount itself was declared holy - none but Moses and Aaron might go up into it; none might touch it; even the stray beast that approached it must suffer death for its unwitting offence (ver. 13). Whosoever toucheth the mount. The mountain may be "touched" from the plain - it rises so abruptly. Shall be surely put to death. A terrible punishment, and one which, to modern ideas, seems excessive. But it was only by terrible threats, and in some cases by terrible punishments (2 Samuel 6:7), that the Israelites could be taught reverence. A profound reverence lies at the root of all true religious feeling; and for the education of the world, it was requisite, in the early ages, to inculcate the necessity of this frame of mind in some very marked and striking way. This manifestation of the love of God to Israel formed only the prelude, however, to that gracious union which Jehovah was now about to establish between the Israelites and Himself. If they would hear His voice, and keep the covenant which as about to be established with them, they should be a costly possession to Him out of all nations (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18). סגלּה does not signify property in general, but valuable property, that which is laid by, or put aside (סגל), hence a treasure of silver and gold (1 Chronicles 29:3; Ecclesiastes 2:8). In the Sept. the expression is rendered λαὸς περιούσιος, which the Scholiast in Octat. interprets ἐξαίρετος, and in Malachi 3:17 εἰς περιποίησιν: hence the two phrases in the New Testament, λαὸς περιούσιος in Titus 2:14, and λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν in 1 Peter 2:9. Jehovah had chosen Israel as His costly possession out of all the nations of the earth, because the whole earth was His possession, and all nations belonged to Him as Creator and Preserver. The reason thus assigned for the selection of Israel precludes at the very outset the exclusiveness which would regard Jehovah as merely a national deity. The idea of the segullah is explained in Exodus 19:6 : "Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests." ממלכה signifies both kingship, as the embodiment of royal supremacy, exaltation, and dignity, and the kingdom, or the union of both king and subjects, i.e., the land and nation, together with its king. In the passage before us, the word has been understood by most of the early commentators, both Jewish and Christian, and also in the ancient versions,

(Note: lxx: βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα, a royal priesthood, i.e., a priestly nation of royal power and glory. כּהנין מלכין: Kings-priests (Onkelos). - "Eritis coram me reges coronati (כלילא קטירי vincti coronis) et sacerdotes ministrantes" (Jonathan). - "Eritis meo nomini reges et sacerdotes" (Jer. Targ.).)

in the first or active sense, so that the expression contains the idea, "Ye shall be all priests and kings" (Luther); praeditos fore tam sacerdotali quam regio honore (Calvin); quod reges et sacerdotes sunt in republica, id vos eritis mihi (Drusius). This explanation is required by both the passage itself and the context. For apart from the fact that kingship is the primary and most general meaning of the word ממלכה (cf. דּוד ממלכת, the kingship, or government of David), the other (passive) meaning would not be at all suitable here; for a kingdom of priests could never denote the fellowship existing in a kingdom between the king and the priests, but only a kingdom or commonwealth consisting of priests, i.e., a kingdom the members and citizens of which were priests, and as priests constituted the ממלכה, in other words, were possessed of royal dignity and power; for ממלכה, βασιλεία, always includes the idea of מלך or ruling (βασιλεύειν). The lxx have quite hit the meaning in their rendering: βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα. Israel was to be a regal body of priests to Jehovah, and not merely a nation of priests governed by Jehovah. The idea of the theocracy, or government of God, as founded by the establishment of the Sinaitic covenant institution in Israel, is not at all involved in the term "kingdom of priests." The theocracy established by the conclusion of the covenant (Exodus 24) was only the means adopted by Jehovah for making His chosen people a royal body of priests; and the maintenance of this covenant was the indispensable subjective condition, upon which their attainment of this divinely appointed destiny and glory depended. This promise of Jehovah expressed the design of the call of Israel, to which it was to be fully conducted by the covenant institution of the theocracy, if it maintained the covenant with Jehovah. The object of Israel's kingship and priesthood was to be found in the nations of the earth, out of which Jehovah had chosen Israel as a costly possession. This great and glorious promise, the fulfilment of which could not be attained till the completion of the kingdom of God, when the Israel of God, the Church of the Lord, which Jesus Christ, the first-begotten from the dead, and prince (ἄρχων, ruler) of the kings of the earth, has made a "kingdom," "priests unto God and His Father" (Revelation 1:6 and Revelation 5:10, where the reading should be βασιλεῖς καὶ ἱερεῖς), is exalted to glory with Christ as the first-born among many brethren, and sits upon His throne and reigns, has not been introduced abruptly here. On the contrary, the way was already prepared by the promises made to the patriarchs, of the blessing which Abraham would become to all the nations of the earth, and of the kings who were to spring from him and come out of the loins of Israel (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:6; Genesis 35:11), and still more distinctly by Jacob's prophecy of the sceptre of Judah, to whom, through Shiloh, the willing submission of the nations should be made (Genesis 49:10). But these promises and prophecies are outshone by the clearness, with which kingship and priesthood over and for the nations are foretold of Israel here.

This kingship, however, is not merely of a spiritual kind, consisting, as Luther supposes, in the fact, that believers "are lords over death, the devil, hell, and all evil," but culminates in the universal sway foretold by Balaam in Numbers 24:8 and Numbers 24:17., by Moses in his last words (Deuteronomy 33:29), and still more distinctly in Daniel 7:27, to the people of the saints of the Most High, as the ultimate end of their calling from God. The spiritual attitude of Israel towards the nations was the result of its priestly character. As the priest is a mediator between God and man, so Israel was called to be the vehicle of the knowledge and salvation of God to the nations of the earth. By this it unquestionably acquired an intellectual and spiritual character; but this includes, rather than excludes, the government of the world. For spiritual and intellectual supremacy and rule must eventually ensure the government of the world, as certainly as spirit is the power that overcomes the world. And if the priesthood of Israel was the power which laid the foundation for its kingship, - in other words, if Israel obtained the ממלכה or government over the nations solely as a priestly nation, - the Apostle Peter, when taking up this promise (1 Peter 2:9), might without hesitation follow the Septuagint rendering (βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα), and substitute in the place of the "priestly kingdom," a "royal priesthood;" for there is no essential difference between the two, the kingship being founded upon the priesthood, and the priesthood completed by the kingship.

As a kingdom of priests, it was also necessary that Israel should be a "holy nation." Gens sancta hic dicitur non respectu pietatis vel sanctimoniae, sed quam Deus singulari privilegio ab aliis separavit. Verum ab hac sanctificatione pendet altera, nempe ut sanctitatem colant, qui Dei gratia eximii sunt, atque ita vicissim Deum sanctificent (Calvin). This explanation is in general a correct one; for these words indicate the dignity to which Israel was to be elevated by Jehovah, the Holy One, through its separation from the nations of the earth. But it cannot be shown that קדושׁ ever means "separated." Whether we suppose it to be related to חדשׁ, and חדשׁ the newly shining moonlight, or compare it with the Sanskrit dhûsch, to be splendid, or beautiful, in either case the primary meaning of the word is, "to be splendid, pure, untarnished." Diestel has correctly observed, that the holiness of God and Israel is most closely connected with the covenant relationship; but he is wrong in the conclusion which lie draws from this, namely, that "holy" was originally only a "relative term," and that a thing was holy "so far as it was the property of God." For the whole earth is Jehovah's property (Exodus 19:5), but it is not holy on that account. Jehovah is not holy only "so far as within the covenant He is both possession and possessor, absolute life and the source of life, and above all, both the chief good and the chief model for His people" (Diestel), or "as the truly separate One, enclosed within Himself, who is self-existent, in contrast with the world to which He does not belong" (Hoffmann); but holiness pertains to God alone, and to those who participate in the divine holiness-not, however, to God as the Creator and Preserver of the world, but to God as the Redeemer of man. Light is the earthly reflection of His holy nature: the Holy One of Israel is the light of Israel (Isaiah 10:17, cf. 1 Timothy 6:16). The light, with its purity and splendour, is the most suitable earthly element to represent the brilliant and spotless purity of the Holy One, in whom there is no interchange of light and darkness (James 1:17). God is called the Holy One, because He is altogether pure, the clear and spotless light; so that in the idea of the holiness of God there are embodied the absolute moral purity and perfection of the divine nature, and His unclouded glory. Holiness and glory are inseparable attributes in God; but in His relation to the world they are so far distinguished, that the whole earth is full of His glory, whilst it is to and in Israel that His holiness is displayed (Isaiah 6:3); in other words, the glory of God is manifested in the creation and preservation of the world, and His holy name in the election and guidance of Israel (compare Psalm 104 with Psalm 103). God has displayed the glory of His name in the creation of the heavens and the earth (Psalm 8:1-9); but His way in Israel (Psalm 77:14), i.e., the work of God in His kingdom of grace, is holy; so that it might be said, that the glory of God which streams forth in the material creation is manifested as holiness in His saving work for a sinful world, to rescue it from the φθορά of sin and death and restore it to the glory of eternal life, and that it was manifested here in the fact, that by the counsels of His own spontaneous love (Deuteronomy 4:37) He chose Israel as His possession, to make of it a holy nation, if it hearkened to His voice and kept His covenant. It was not made this, however, by being separated from the other nations, for that was merely the means of attaining the divine end, but by the fact, that God placed the chosen people in the relation of covenant fellowship with Himself, founded His kingdom in Israel, established in the covenant relationship an institution of salvation, which furnished the covenant people with the means of obtaining the expiation of their sins, and securing righteousness before God and holiness of life with God, in order that by the discipline of His holy commandments, under the guidance of His holy arm, He might train and guide them to the holiness and glory of the divine life. But as sin opposes holiness, and the sinner resists sanctification, the work of the holiness of God reveals itself in His kingdom of grace, not only positively in the sanctification of those who suffer themselves to be sanctified and raised to newness of life, but negatively also, in the destruction of all those who obstinately refuse the guidance of His grace; so that the glory of the thrice Holy One (Isaiah 6:3) will be fully manifested both in the glorification of His chosen people and the deliverance of the whole creation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21), and also in the destruction of hardened sinners, the annihilation of everything that is ungodly in this world, the final overthrow of Satan and his kingdom, and the founding of the new heaven and new earth. Hence not only is every person, whom God receives into the sphere of His sin-destroying grace, קדושׁ, or holy; but everything which is applied to the realization of the divine work of salvation, or consecrated by God to this object. The opposite of קדושׁ, holy, is הל, κοινός, profanus (from חלל, to be loose, lit., the unbound), not devoted to holy purposes and uses (cf. Leviticus 10:10); and this term was applied, not only to what was sinful and unclean (טמא), but to everything earthly in its natural condition, because the whole earth, with all that is upon it, has been involved in the consequences of sin.

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