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Exodus 19:1-8

Context
Israel at Sinai

19:1 1 In the third month after the Israelites went out 2  from the land of Egypt, on the very day, 3  they came to the Desert of Sinai. 19:2 After they journeyed 4  from Rephidim, they came to the Desert of Sinai, and they camped in the desert; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 5 

19:3 Moses 6  went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people 7  of Israel: 19:4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings 8  and brought you to myself. 9  19:5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me 10  and keep 11  my covenant, then you will be my 12  special possession 13  out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 19:6 and you will be to me 14  a kingdom of priests 15  and a holy nation.’ 16  These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”

19:7 So Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel. He set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him, 19:8 and all the people answered together, “All that the Lord has commanded we will do!” 17  So Moses brought the words of the people back to the Lord.

1 sn This chapter is essentially about mediation. The people are getting ready to meet with God, receive the Law from him, and enter into a covenant with him. All of this required mediation and preparation. Through it all, Israel will become God’s unique possession, a kingdom of priests on earth – if they comply with his Law. The chapter can be divided as follows: vv. 1-8 tell how God, Israel’s great deliverer promised to make them a kingdom of priests; this is followed by God’s declaration that Moses would be the mediator (v. 9); vv. 10-22 record instructions for Israel to prepare themselves to worship Yahweh and an account of the manifestation of Yahweh with all the phenomena; and the chapter closes with the mediation of Moses on behalf of the people (vv. 23-25). Having been redeemed from Egypt, the people will now be granted a covenant with God. See also R. E. Bee, “A Statistical Study of the Sinai Pericope,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 135 (1972): 406-21.

2 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct followed by the subjective genitive to form a temporal clause.

3 tn Heb “on this day.”

4 tn The form is a preterite with vav (ו) consecutive, “and they journeyed.” It is here subordinated to the next clause as a temporal clause. But since the action of this temporal clause preceded the actions recorded in v. 1, a translation of “after” will keep the sequence in order. Verse 2 adds details to the summary in v. 1.

5 sn The mountain is Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, the place where God had met and called Moses and had promised that they would be here to worship him. If this mountain is Jebel Musa, the traditional site of Sinai, then the plain in front of it would be Er-Rahah, about a mile and a half long by half a mile wide, fronting the mountain on the NW side (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 169). The plain itself is about 5000 feet above sea level. A mountain on the west side of the Arabian Peninsula has also been suggested as a possible site.

6 tn Heb “and Moses went up.”

7 tn This expression is normally translated as “Israelites” in this translation, but because in this place it is parallel to “the house of Jacob” it seemed better to offer a fuller rendering.

8 tn The figure compares the way a bird would teach its young to fly and leave the nest with the way Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt. The bird referred to could be one of several species of eagles, but more likely is the griffin-vulture. The image is that of power and love.

9 sn The language here is the language of a bridegroom bringing the bride to the chamber. This may be a deliberate allusion to another metaphor for the covenant relationship.

10 tn Heb “listen to my voice.” The construction uses the imperfect tense in the conditional clause, preceded by the infinitive absolute from the same verb. The idiom “listen to the voice of” implies obedience, not just mental awareness of sound.

11 tn The verb is a perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the idea in the protasis of the sentence: “and [if you will] keep.”

12 tn The lamed preposition expresses possession here: “to me” means “my.”

13 tn The noun is סְגֻלָּה (sÿgullah), which means a special possession. Israel was to be God’s special possession, but the prophets will later narrow it to the faithful remnant. All the nations belong to God, but Israel was to stand in a place of special privilege and enormous responsibility. See Deut 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4; and Mal 3:17. See M. Greenburg, “Hebrew sÿgulla: Akkadian sikiltu,” JAOS 71 (1951): 172ff.

14 tn Or “for me” (NIV, NRSV), or, if the lamed (ל) preposition has a possessive use, “my kingdom” (so NCV).

15 tn The construction “a kingdom of priests” means that the kingdom is made up of priests. W. C. Kaiser (“Exodus,” EBC 2:417) offers four possible renderings of the expression: 1) apposition, viz., “kings, that is, priests; 2) as a construct with a genitive of specification, “royal priesthood”; 3) as a construct with the genitive being the attribute, “priestly kingdom”; and 4) reading with an unexpressed “and” – “kings and priests.” He takes the latter view that they were to be kings and priests. (Other references are R. B. Y. Scott, “A Kingdom of Priests (Exodus xix. 6),” OTS 8 [1950]: 213-19; William L. Moran, “A Kingdom of Priests,” The Bible in Current Catholic Thought, 7-20). However, due to the parallelism of the next description which uses an adjective, this is probably a construct relationship. This kingdom of God will be composed of a priestly people. All the Israelites would be living wholly in God’s service and enjoying the right of access to him. And, as priests, they would have the duty of representing God to the nations, following what they perceived to be the duties of priests – proclaiming God’s word, interceding for people, and making provision for people to find God through atonement (see Deut 33:9,10).

16 tn They are also to be “a holy nation.” They are to be a nation separate and distinct from the rest of the nations. Here is another aspect of their duty. It was one thing to be God’s special possession, but to be that they had to be priestly and holy. The duties of the covenant will specify what it would mean to be a holy nation. In short, they had to keep themselves free from everything that characterized pagan people (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 171). So it is a bilateral covenant: they received special privileges but they must provide special services by the special discipline. See also H. Kruse, “Exodus 19:5 and the Mission of Israel,” North East Asian Journal of Theology 24/25 (1980): 239-42.

17 tn The verb is an imperfect. The people are not being presumptuous in stating their compliance – there are several options open for the interpretation of this tense. It may be classified as having a desiderative nuance: “we are willing to do” or, “we will do.”



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