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 Exodus 19:2In the third month after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Sinai, proceeding from Rephidim into the desert of Sinai, and encamping there before the mountain. On what day of the month, the received text does not state. The striking expression הזּה בּיּום ("the same day"), without any previous notice of the day, cannot signify the first day of the month; nor can השּׁלישׁי החדשׁ signify the third new moon in the year, and be understood as referring to the first day of the third month. For although, according to the etymology of חדשׁ (from חדשׁ to be new), it might denote the new moon, yet in chronological data it is never used in this sense; but the day of the month is invariably appended after the month itself has been given (e.g., לחדשׁ אחד Exodus 40:2, Exodus 40:17; Genesis 8:5, Genesis 8:13; Numbers 1:1; Numbers 29:1; Numbers 33:38, etc.). Moreover, in the Pentateuch the word חדשׁ never signifies new moon; but the new moons are called חדשׁים ראשׁי (Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11, cf. Hengstenberg, Dissertations, vol. ii. 297). And even in such passages as 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 18:24; 2 Kings 4:23; Amos 8:5; Isaiah 1:13, etc., where חדשׁ is mentioned as a feast along with the Sabbaths and other feasts, the meaning new moon appears neither demonstrable nor necessary, as חדשׁ in this case denotes the feast of the month, the celebration of the beginning of the month. If, therefore, the text is genuine, and the date of the month has not dropt out (and the agreement of the ancient versions with the Masoretic text favours this conclusion), there is no other course open, than to understand יום, as in Genesis 2:4 and Numbers 3:1, and probably also in the unusual expression החדשׁ יום, Exodus 40:2, in the general sense of time; so that here, and also in Numbers 9:1; Numbers 20:1, the month only is given, and not the day of the month, and it is altogether uncertain whether the arrival in the desert of Sinai took place on one of the first, one of the middle, or one of the last days of the month. The Jewish tradition, which assigns the giving of the law to the fiftieth day after the Passover, is of far too recent a date to pass for historical (see my Archologie, 83, 6).

The desert of Sinai is not the plain of er Rahah to the north of Horeb, but the desert in front (נגד) of the mountain, upon the summit of which Jehovah came down, whilst Moses ascended it to receive the law (Exodus 19:20 and Exodus 34:2). This mountain is constantly called Sinai so long as Israel stayed there (Exodus 19:18, Exodus 19:20, Exodus 19:23, Exodus 24:16; Exodus 34:2, Exodus 34:4, Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:32; Leviticus 7:38; Leviticus 25:1; Leviticus 26:46; Leviticus 27:34; Numbers 3:1; see also Numbers 28:6 and Deuteronomy 33:2); and the place of their encampment by the mountain is also called the "desert of Sinai," never the desert of Horeb (Leviticus 7:38; Numbers 1:1, Numbers 1:19; Numbers 3:14; Numbers 9:1; Numbers 10:12; Numbers 26:64; Numbers 33:15). But in Exodus 33:6 this spot is designated as "Mount Horeb," and in Deuteronomy, as a rule, it is spoken of briefly as "Horeb" (Deuteronomy 1:2, Deuteronomy 1:6, Deuteronomy 1:19; Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 9:8; Deuteronomy 18:16; Deuteronomy 29:1). And whilst the general identity of Sinai and Horeb may be inferred from this; the fact, that wherever the intention of the writer is to give a precise and geographical description of the place where the law was given, the name Sinai is employed, leads to the conclusion that the term Horeb was more general and comprehensive than that of Sinai; in other words, that Horeb was the range of which Sinai was one particular mountain, which only came prominently out to view when Israel had arrived at the mount of legislation. This distinction between the two names, which Hengstenberg was the first to point out and establish (in his Dissertations, vol. ii. p. 325), is now generally admitted; so that the only room that is left for any difference of opinion is with reference to the extent of the Horeb range. There is no ground for supposing that the name Horeb includes the whole of the mountains in the Arabian peninsula. Sufficient justice is done to all the statements in the Bible, if we restrict this name to the southern and highest range of the central mountains-to the exclusion, therefore, of the Serbal group.

(Note: This hypothesis advocated by Lepsius, that Sinai or Horeb is to be sought for in Serbal, has very properly met with no favour. For the objections to this, see Ritter, Erdkunde 14, pp. 738ff.; and Kurtz, History of O.C., vol. iii. p. 94ff.)

This southern range, which Arabian geographers and the Bedouins call Jebel Tur or Jebel Tur Sina, consists of three summits: (1) a central one, called by the Arabs Jebel Musa (Moses' Mountain), and by Christians either Horeb or else Horeb-Sinai, in which case the northern and lower peak, or Ras es Sufsafeh, is called Horeb, and the southern and loftier one Sinai; (2) a western one, called Jebel Humr, with Mount Catherine on the south, the loftiest point in the whole range; and (3) an eastern one, called Jebel el Deir (Convent Mountain) or Episteme (vide Ritter, 14, pp. 527ff.). - Near this range there are two plains, which furnish space enough for a large encampment. One of these is the plain of er Rahah, on the north and north-west of Horeb-Sinai, with a level space of an English square mile, which is considerably enlarged by the Sheikh valley that opens into it from the east. At its southern extremity Horeb, with its granite rocks, runs almost precipitously to the height of 1200 or 1500 feet; and towards the west it is also shut in as with a wall by the equally precipitous spurs of Jebel Humr. The other plain, which is called Sebayeh, lies to the south-east of Sinai, or Jebel Musa in the more restricted sense; it is from 1400 to 1800 feet broad, 12,000 feet long, and is shut in towards the south and east by mountains, which rise very gently, and do not reach any considerable height. There are three wadys leading to this plain from er Rahah and the Sheikh valley. The most westerly of these, which separates Horeb-Sinai from Jebel Humr with Mount Catherine on the south, is called el Leja, and is a narrow defile full of great blocks of stone, and shut in towards the south like a cul de sac by Mount Catherine. The central one, which separates Horeb from Jebel Deir, is Wady Shoeib (Jethro valley), with the convent of Sinai in it, which is also called the Convent Valley in consequence. This is less confined, and not so much strewed with stones; towards the south it is not quite shut in, and yet not quite open, but bounded by a steep pass and a grassy mountain-saddle, viz., the easily accessible Jebel Sebayeh. The third and most easterly is the Wady es Sebayeh, which is from 400 to 600 feet broad, and leads form the Sheikh valley, in a southern and south-westerly direction, to the plain of the same name, which stretches like an amphitheatre to the southern slope of Sinai, or Jebel Musa, in the more restricted sense. When seen from this plain, "Jebel Musa has the appearance of a lofty and splendid mountain cone, towering far above the lower gravelly hills by which it is surrounded" (Ritter, pp. 540, 541).

Since Robinson, who was the first to describe the plain of er Rahah, and its fitness for the encampment of Israel, visited Sinai, this plain has generally been regarded as the site where Israel encamped in the "desert of Sinai." Robinson supposed that he had discovered the Sinai of the Bible in the northern peak of Mount Horeb, viz., Ras es Sufsafeh. But Ritter, Kurtz, and others have followed Laborde and Fa. A. Strauss, who were the first to point out the suitableness of the plain of Sebayeh to receive a great number of people, in fixing upon Jebel Musa in the stricter sense, the southern peak of the central group, which tradition had already indicated as the scene of the giving of the law, as the true Mount Sinai, where Moses received the laws from God, and the plain of Sebayeh as the spot to which Moses led the people (i.e., the men) on the third day, out of the camp of God and through the Sebayeh valley (Exodus 19:16). For this plain is far better adapted to be the scene of such a display of the nation, than the plain of er Rahah: first, because the hills in the background slope gradually upwards in the form of an amphitheatre, and could therefore hold a larger number of people;

(Note: "Sinai falls towards the south for about 2000 feet into low granite hills, and then into a large plain, which is about 1600 feet broad and nearly five miles long, and rises like an amphitheatre opposite to the mountain both on the south and east. It is a plain that seems made to accommodate a large number gathered round the foot of the mountain" (Strauss, p. 135).)

whereas the mountains which surround the plain of er Rahah are so steep and rugged, that they could not be made use of in arranging the people: - and secondly, because the gradual sloping of the plain upwards, both on the east and south, would enable even the furthest rows to see Mount Sinai in all its majestic grandeur; whereas the plain of er Rahah slopes downwards towards the north, so that persons standing in the background would be completely prevented by those in front from seeing Ras es Sufsafeh. - If, however, the plain of es Sebayeh so entirely answers to all the topographical data of the Bible, that we must undoubtedly regard it as the spot where the people of God were led up to the foot of the mountain, we cannot possibly fix upon the plain of er Rahah as the place of encampment in the desert of Sinai. The very expression "desert of Sinai," which is applied to the place of encampment, is hardly reconcilable with this opinion. For example, if the Sinai of the Old Testament is identical with the present Jebel Musa, and the whole group of mountains bore the name of Horeb, the plain of er Rahah could not with propriety be called the desert of Sinai, for Sinai cannot even be seen from it, but is completely hidden by the Ras es Sufsafeh of Horeb. Moreover, the road from the plain of er Rahah into the plain of es Sebayeh through the Sebayeh valley is so long and so narrow, that the people of Israel, who numbered more than 600,000 men, could not possibly have been conducted from the camp in er Rahah into the Sebayeh plain, and so up to Mount Sinai, and then, after being placed in order there, and listening to the promulgation of the law, have returned to the camp again, all in a single day. The Sebayeh valley, or the road from the Sheikh valley to the commencement of the plain of Sebayeh, is, it is true, only an hour long. But we have to add to this the distance from the point at which the Sebayeh valley opens into the Sheikh valley to the western end of the plain of er Rahah, viz., two hours' journey, and the length of the plain of Sebayeh itself, which is more than five miles long; so that the Israelites, at least those who were encamped in the western part of the plain of er Rahah, would have to travel four or five hours before they could be posted at the foot of Sinai.

(Note: Some Englishmen who accompanied F. A. Strauss "had taken three-quarters of an hour for a fast walk from the Sebayeh plain to Wady es Sheikh;" so that it is not too much to reckon an hour for ordinary walking. Dbel tool quite six hours to go round Horeb-Sinai, which is only a little larger than Jebel Deir; so that at least three hours must be reckoned as necessary to accomplish the walk from the eastern end of the plain of er Rahah through the Wady Sebayeh to the foot of Sinai. And Robinson took fifty minutes to go with camels from the commencement of the Sheikh valley, at the end of the Convent Valley, to the point at which it is joined by the valley of Sebayeh (Palestine i. p. 215).)

Tischendorf calls this a narrow, bad road, which the Israelites were obliged to pass through to Sinai, when they came out of the Sheikh valley. At any rate, this is true of the southern end of the valley of Sebayeh, from the point at which it enters the plain of Sebayeh, where we can hardly picture it to ourselves as broad enough for two hundred men to walk abreast in an orderly procession through the valley;

(Note: We are still in want of exact information from travellers as to the breadth of the southern end of the valley of Sebayeh. Ritter merely states, on the ground of MS notes in Strauss' diary, that "at first it is somewhat contracted on account of projections in the heights by which it is bounded towards the south, but it still remains more than 500 feet broad." And "when it turns towards the north-west, the wady is considerably widened; so that at the narrowest points it is more than 600 feet broad. And very frequently, at the different curves in the valley, large basins are formed, which would hold a considerable number of people.")

consequently, 600,000 men would have required two hours' time simply to pass through the narrow southern end of the valley of Sebayeh. Now, it is clear enough from the narrative itself that Moses did not take merely the elders, as the representatives of the nation, from the camp to the mountain to meet with God (Exodus 19:17), but took the whole nation, that is to say, all the adult males of 20 years old and upwards; and this is especially evident from the command so emphatically and repeatedly given, that no one was to break through the hedge placed round the mountain. It may also be inferred from the design of the revelation itself, which was intended to make the deepest impression upon the whole nation of that majesty of Jehovah and the holiness of His law.

Under these circumstances, if the people had been encamped in the plain of er Rahah and the Sheikh valley, they could not have been conducted to the foot of Sinai and stationed in the plain of Sebayeh in the course of six hours, and then, after hearing the revelation of the law, have returned to their tents on the same day; even assuming, as Kurtz does (iii. p. 117), that "the people were overpowered by the majesty of the promulgation of the law, and fled away in panic;" for flight through so narrow a valley would have caused inevitable confusion, and therefore would have prevented rather than facilitated rapidity of movement. There is not a word, however, in the original text about a panic, or about the people flying (see Exodus 20:18): it is merely stated, that as soon as the people witnessed the alarming phenomena connected with the descent of God upon the mountain, they trembled in the camp (Exodus 19:16), and that when they were conducted to the foot of the mountain, and "saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking," and heard the solemn promulgation of the decalogue, they trembled (ינעוּ, Exodus 19:16), and said to Moses, through their elders and the heads of tribes, that they did not wish God to speak directly to them any more, but wished Moses to speak to God and listen to His words; whereupon, after God had expressed His approval of these words of the people, Moses directed the people to return to their tents (Exodus 20:18.; Deuteronomy 5:23-30). If, again, we take into consideration, that after Moses had stationed the people at the foot of the mountain, he went up to God to the summit of Sinai, and came down again at the command of God to repeat the charge to the people, not to break through the hedge round the mountain (Exodus 19:20-25), and it was not till after this, that God proclaimed the decalogue, and that this going up and down must also have taken up time, it cannot have been for so very short a time that the people continued standing round the bottom of the mountain. But if all these difficulties be regarded as trivial, and we include the evening and part of the night in order to afford time for the people to return to their tents; not only is there nothing in the biblical text to require the hypothesis which assigns the encampment to the plain of er Rahah, and the posting of the people at Sinai to the plain of Sebayeh, but there are various allusions which seem rather to show that such a hypothesis is inadmissible. It is very obvious from Exodus 24:17, that the glory of the Lord upon the top of the mountain could be seen from the camp; and from Exodus 34:1-3, that the camp, with both the people and their cattle in it, was so immediately in the neighbourhood of Sinai, that the people could easily have ascended the mountain, and the cattle could have grazed upon it. Now this does not apply in the least to the plain of er Rahah, from which not even the top of Jebel Musa can be seen, and where the cattle could not possibly have grazed upon it, but only to the plain of Sebayeh; and therefore proves that the camp in "the desert of Sinai" is not to be sought for in the plain of er Rahah, but in the plain of Sebayeh, which reaches to the foot of Sinai. If it should be objected, on the other hand, that there is not room in this plain for the camp of the whole nation, this objection is quite as applicable to the plain of er Rahah, which is not large enough in itself to take in the entire camp, without including a large portion of the Sheikh valley; and it loses all its force from the fact, that the mountains by which the plain of Sebayeh is bounded, both on the south and east, rise so gently and gradually, that they could be made use of for the camp, and on these sides therefore the space is altogether unlimited, and would allow of the widest dispersion of the people and their flocks.

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