Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. This day. The same on which they departed from the Raphidim, or on the third day of the third month; though St. Augustine understands the first of the month; (Calmet) on which last supposition, allowing 16 days of the month Nisan, 30 of Jiar, and 4 of Sivan, the law was given 50 days after the liberation of the Jews, as the new law was promulgated on Whit-Sunday, on the day of Pentecost. (St. Augustine, ep. 119. 16.) (Worthington)
Ver. 3. And Moses went up to God. Moses went up to Mount Sinai, where God spoke to him.
Ver. 4. Eagles. Out of the reach of danger. As eagles carry their young upon their wings, so I have protected you from all your enemies, Deuternomy xxxii. 11. (Calmet)
Ver. 5. Possession, (peculium). Hebrew segula, “a chosen portion or treasure.” (Menochius) — Mine. I could have made choice of others. We cannot but admire the goodness of God, who asks for the free consent of the people. Hence they can have no pretence for breaking this solemn covenant. (Calmet) (Theodoret 9. 35.)
Ver. 6. Priestly kingdom. “Priests and kings,” Chaldean. You shall rule over the Chanaanites, &c., and you shall offer sacrifice to me, at least, by slaying the paschal lamb. This kingdom shall not be merely of a civil nature; it shall be also sacred. The whole nation shall be holy, separated from the pagans, and consecrated to me. (Menochius)
Ver. 8. Related, as a mediator acting between two parties, (Haydock) though God knew all before. Thus his servants cease not to lay before him their own and our wants. (Worthington)
Ver. 9. Cloud, to veil his majesty, while he spoke to Moses in the hearing of all. (Haydock) — Then they began to place an entire confidence in their leader. (Maimonides)
Ver. 10. Garments, with their bodies, as the Jews understand by this expression. They were also to abstain from their wives, &c. By which exterior practices, they were admonished of the interior purity which God required. All nations seem to have adopted similar observances of continence, washing themselves, and putting on their best attire, when they appeared before God. See Herodotus, &c. (Calmet)
Ver. 13. Him. In detestation of his impiety, which has made him unclean. (Haydock) — Go up into the precincts of the mountain, to which Moses conducted them; (ver. 17. 21,) or they might ascend after the trumpet ceased, and the law was given. For some understand shall begin, in a contrary sense with the Roman Septuagint, “when the voices of thunder, and the trumpets, and the cloud shall be no more;” (apelthe) so also the Chaldean, Syriac. (Vatable) The sound which was heard, resembled that of a horn. (Jobel.) See Leviticus xxv. 10. (Calmet)
Ver. 15. Wives. St. Paul recommends continence when people have to pray, 1 Corinthians vii. On the pagan temple of Epidaurus, this inscription was placed, “Let those be chaste who enter here.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, strom. 5.)
Ver. 18. Terrible, by the display of so many instruments of God’s power; lightning, fire, a thick cloud, and various peals of thunder, and the sound of a trumpet; besides rain, and the company of millions of angels, Psalm lxvii. 9, 18. How different was the appearance of Sion, when Jesus proclaimed his gospel! (Hebrews xii. 18.)
Ver. 19. Answered him, “in a speech,” articulated and heard by all the people, as the Hebrew, Septuagint, Syriac, &c., intimate. Many legislators have pretended that their laws came from heaven. But they had no witnesses. Moses does all openly. His laws are preceded, accompanied, and followed by prodigies.
Ver. 22. Sanctified, in an extraordinary manner, above the rest. These priests, according to St. Augustine, are the children of Aaron, and the whole race of Levi, who would shortly be selected by God. But others think, they are those who, by the law of nature, were accustomed to officiate. Or, as God had declared that they were all a priestly kingdom, some of the most comely and irreproachable youths of each family, had been chosen to present victims, when the covenant with God was to be ratified, chap. xxiv. 15. (Calmet)
Ver. 23. The people. Glassius understands this with an interrogation, “Can no one?” God exempts Aaron from the common law, ver. 24. (Haydock)
Ver. 24. Pass. Septuagint, “contend violently to pass.” The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, Matthew xi. 12. (Menochius) — Moses was the mediator of this covenant, and Aaron his interpreter, to explain to the people the orders of Moses. (Calmet) — Thus we have seen the dreadful apparatus of the law of fear, with the preface to it, and the approbation of the people.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
They come to Sinai: the people are commanded to be sanctified. The Lord coming in thunder and lightning, speaketh with Moses.
1 In the third month of the departure of Israel *out of the land of Egypt, on this day they came into the wilderness of Sinai:
2 For departing out of Raphidim, and coming to the desert of Sinai, they camped in the same place, and there Israel pitched their tents over-against the mountain.
3 *And Moses went up to God; and the Lord called unto him from the mountain, and said: Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:
4 *You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, how I have carried you upon the wings of eagles, and have taken you to myself.
5 If therefore you will hear my voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be my peculiar possession above all people: *for all the earth is mine.
6 *And you shall be to me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation. These are the words thou shalt speak to the children of Israel.
7 Moses came; and calling together the elders of the people, he declared all the words which the Lord had commanded.
8 And all the people answered together: All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do. And when Moses had related the people’s words to the Lord,
9 The Lord said to him: Lo now will I come to thee in the darkness of a cloud, that the people may hear me speaking to thee, and may believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.
10 And he said to him: Go to the people, and sanctify them to-day, and to-morrow, and let them wash their garments.
11 And let them be ready against the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people, upon Mount Sinai.
12 And thou shalt appoint certain limits to the people round about, and thou shalt say to them: *Take heed ye go not up into the mount, and that ye touch not the borders thereof: every one that toucheth the mount, dying he shall die.
13 No hands shall touch him, but he shall be stoned to death, or he shall be shot through with arrows: whether it be beast, or man, he shall not live. When the trumpet shall begin to sound, then let them go up into the mount.
14 And Moses came down from the mount to the people, and sanctified them. And when they had washed their garments,
15 He said to them: Be ready against the third day, and come not near your wives.
16 And now the third day was come, and the morning appeared: and behold thunders began to be heard, and lightning to flash, and a very thick cloud to cover the mount, and the noise of the trumpet sounded exceeding loud; and the people that was in the camp, feared.
17 And when Moses had brought them forth to meet God, from the place of the camp, they stood at the bottom of the mount.
18 *And all Mount Sinai was on a smoke; because the Lord was come down upon it in fire, and the smoke arose from it as out of a furnace: and all the mount was terrible.
19 And the sound of the trumpet grew by degrees louder and louder, and was drawn out to a greater length: Moses spoke, and God answered him.
20 And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, in the very top of the mount, and he called Moses unto the top thereof. And when he was gone up thither,
21 He said unto him: Go down, and charge the people; lest they should have a mind to pass the limits to see the Lord, and a very great multitude of them should perish.
22 The priests also that come to the Lord, let them be sanctified, lest he strike them.
23 And Moses said to the Lord: The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai: for thou didst charge, and command, saying: Set limits about the mount, and sanctify it.
24 And the Lord said to him: Go, get thee down; and thou shalt come up, thou and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people pass the limits, nor come up to the Lord, lest he kill them.
25 And Moses went down to the people and told them all.
1: Numbers xxxiii. 13.
3: Acts vii. 38.
4: Deuteronomy xxix. 2.
5: Psalm xxiii. 1.
6: 1 Peter ii. 9.
12: Hebrews xii. 18.
18: Deuteronomy iv. 11.