Exodus 19:2
For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
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(2) They were departed from Rephidim.—If Rephidim was where we have placed it, in the Wady Feiran, the march to “the wilderness of Sinai” (Er Rahah) must have been by the Wady Solaf, or the Wady esh Sheikh, or possibly by both. The distance by Wady Solaf is about eighteen, by Wady esh Sheikh about twenty-five miles. The wilderness of Sinai, now generally identified with Er Rahah, is a plain two miles long by half a mile wide, “enclosed between two precipitous mountain ranges of black and yellow granite, and having at its end the prodigious mountain block of Ras Sufsafeh” (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 74). It is nearly fiat, and covered at present with stunted tamarisk bushes. “No spot in the whole peninsula is so well supplied with water” (Our Work in Palestine, p. 268).

Israel camped before the mount.—On the capacity of the plain Er Rahah to receive the entire multitude, see Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, p. 42), and comp. The comment on Exodus 12:37-41. The Ras Sufsafeh is visible from every part of the plain.

19:1-8 Moses was called up the mountain, and was employed as the messenger of this covenant. The Maker and first Mover of the covenant, is God himself. This blessed charter was granted out of God's own free grace. The covenant here mentioned was the national covenant, by which the Israelites were a people under the government of Jehovah. It was a type of the new covenant made with true believers in Christ Jesus; but, like other types, it was only a shadow of good things to come. As a nation they broke this covenant; therefore the Lord declared that he would make a new covenant with Israel, writing his law, not upon tables of stone, but in their hearts, Jer 31:33; Heb 8:7-10. The covenant spoken of in these places as ready to vanish away, is the national covenant with Israel, which they forfeited by their sins. Unless we carefully attend to this, we shall fall into mistakes while reading the Old Testament. We must not suppose that the nation of the Jews were under the covenant of works, which knows nothing of repentance, faith in a Mediator, forgiveness of sins, or grace; nor yet that the whole nation of Israel bore the character, and possessed the privileges of true believers, as being actually sharers in the covenant of grace. They were all under a dispensation of mercy; they had outward privileges and advantages for salvation; but, like professing Christians, most rested therein, and went no further. Israel consented to the conditions. They answered as one man, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. Oh that there had been such a heart in them! Moses, as a mediator, returned the words of the people to God. Thus Christ, the Mediator, as a Prophet, reveals God's will to us, his precepts and promises; and then, as a Priest, offers up to God our spiritual sacrifices, not only of prayer and praise, but of devout affections, and pious resolutions, the work of his own Spirit in us.The wilderness ... the desert of Sinai - If the mount from which the law was delivered be the rock of Ras Safsafeh, then the spacious plain of Er Rahah would be the "desert" of Sinai (see Exodus 5:17). 2. were come to the desert of Sinai—The desert has its provinces, or divisions, distinguished by a variety of names; and the "desert of Sinai" is that wild and desolate region which occupies the very center of the peninsula, comprising the lofty range to which the mount of God belongs. It is a wilderness of shaggy rocks of porphyry and red granite, and of valleys for the most part bare of verdure.

and there Israel camped before the mount—Sinai, so called from Seneh, or acacia bush. It is now called Jebel Musa. Their way into the interior of the gigantic cluster was by Wady Feiran, which would lead the bulk of the hosts with their flocks and herds into the high valleys of Jebel Musa, with their abundant springs, especially into the great thoroughfare of the desert—the longest, widest, and most continuous of all the valleys, the Wady-es-Sheikh, while many would be scattered among the adjacent valleys; so that thus secluded from the world in a wild and sublime amphitheatre of rocks, they "camped before the mount." "In this valley—a long flat valley—about a quarter of a mile in breadth, winding northwards, Israel would find ample room for their encampment. Of all the wadys in that region, it seems the most suitable for a prolonged sojourn. The 'goodly tents' of Israel could spread themselves without limit" [Bonar].

To the desert of Sinai, i.e. to that part of the desert which adjoined to Mount Sinai, as Rephidim, from whence they came, was in that part of the wilderness adjoining to Horeb, which was another part of the same mountain. See Exodus 17:6. So they seem to have fetched a large compass, and to have come from one side of the mountain to the other. For they were departed from Rephidim,.... After they had fought with Amalek, and came to the western part of the mount to Horeb, where the rock was smitten for them; and they were come from that now, and encamped at Sinai, after Jethro had paid a visit to Moses:

and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in this wilderness; that is, of Sinai, as in the preceding verse:

and there Israel encamped before the mount; Mount Sinai, from whence the desert or wilderness was called. This, as Jarchi says, was on the east side of the mount; Horeb and Sinai were but one and the same mountain, which had two tops. Horeb was on the western side, near to which lay the plain of Rephidim; and Sinai was on the eastern side, on which the wilderness of that name bordered: so that the children of Israel, when they came from Rephidim, came from the western side, and took a circuit about and came to the eastern; which, according to a fore mentioned writer, was eight miles, and was the twelfth station or mansion of the children of Israel. This number twelve is taken notice of by some, as having something singular and peculiar in it; there were the twelve tribes of Israel, and at their twelfth mansion the law was given them; Christ had twelve apostles, and there are twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem, and 12,000 were sealed out of every tribe of Israel.

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.

Verse 2. - They were departed from Rephidim. See the comment on ch. 17:1, and compare Numbers 33:15. There Israel en-camped before the mountain. The bulk of the tents were no doubt pitched in the plain, Er-Rahah; but this may not have sufficed, and some may have been located in the Wady-ed-Deir, north-east of the Ras Sufsafeh, and others in the Seil-Leja to the west. The Ras Sufsafeh is visible from both these valleys.

CHAPTER 19:3-9 The next day Jethro saw how Moses was occupied from morning till evening in judging the people, who brought all their disputes to him, that he might settle them according to the statutes of God. על עמד: as in Genesis 18:8. The people came to Moses "to seek or inquire of God" (Genesis 18:15), i.e., to ask for a decision from God: in most cases, this means to inquire through an oracle; here it signifies to desire a divine decision as to questions in dispute. By judging or deciding the cases brought before him, Moses made known to the people the ordinances and laws of God. For every decision was based upon some law, which, like all true justice here on earth, emanated first of all from God. This is the meaning of Genesis 18:16, and not, as Knobel supposes, that Moses made use of the questions in dispute, at the time they were decided, as good opportunities for giving laws to the people. Jethro condemned this plan (Genesis 18:18.) as exhausting, wearing out (נבל lit., to fade away, Psalm 37:2), both for Moses and the people: for the latter, inasmuch as they not only got wearied out through long waiting, but, judging from Genesis 18:23, very often began to take the law into their own hands on account of the delay in the judicial decision, and so undermined the well-being of the community at large; and for Moses, inasmuch as the work was necessarily too great for him, and he could not continue for any length of time to sustain such a burden alone (Genesis 18:18). The obsolete form of the inf. const. עשׂהוּ for עשׂתו is only used here, but is not without analogies in the Pentateuch. Jethro advised him (Genesis 18:19.) to appoint judged from the people for all the smaller matters in dispute, so that in future only the more difficult cases, which really needed a superior or divine decision, would be brought to him that he might lay them before God. "I will give thee counsel, and God be with thee (i.e., help thee to carry out this advice): Be thou to the people האלהים מוּל, towards God," i.e., lay their affairs before God, take the place of God in matters of judgment, or, as Luther expresses it, "take charge of the people before God." To this end, in the first place, he was to instruct the people in the commandments of God, and their own walk and conduct (הזהיר with a double accusative, to enlighten, instruct; שדרך the walk, the whole behaviour; מעשׂה particular actions); secondly, he was to select able men (חיל אנשׁי men of moral strength, 1 Kings 1:52) as judges, men who were God-fearing, sincere, and unselfish (gain-hating), and appoint them to administer justice to the people, by deciding the simpler matters themselves, and only referring the more difficult questions to him, and so to lighten his own duties by sharing the burden with these judges. מעליך הקל (Genesis 18:22) "make light of (that which lies) upon thee." If he would do this, and God would command him, he would be able to stand, and the people would come to their place, i.e., to Canaan, in good condition (בּשׁלום). The apodosis cannot begin with וצוּך, "then God will establish thee," for צוּה never has this meaning; but the idea is this, "if God should preside over the execution of the plan proposed."
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