Exodus 19:16
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightning, and a thick cloud on the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
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(16-20) Thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud.—Compare with this description that of Deut. (Deuteronomy 4:11-12), which is fuller in some respects:—“Ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the Lord spake unto you out of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.” The phenomena accumulated to impress the people seem to have been loud thunder, fierce flashes of lightning, a fire that streamed up from the mountain to the middle of the sky, dense volumes of smoke producing an awful and weird darkness, a trembling of the mountain as by a continuous earthquake, a sound like the blare of a trumpet loud and prolonged, and then finally a clear penetrating voice. So awful a manifestation has never been made at any other place or time, nor will be until the consummation of all things. To regard it as a mere “storm of thunder and lightning,” or as “an earthquake with volcanic eruptions,” is to miss altogether the meaning of the author, and to empty his narrative of all its natural significance.

The voice of the trumpet.—Heb., a voice of a trumpet. The trumpet’s blare is the signal of a herald calling attention to a proclamation about to be made. At the last day the coming of Christ is to be announced by “the trump of God” (1Thessalonians 4:16). In the Apocalypse angels are often represented as sounding with trumpets (Revelation 8:7-8; Revelation 8:10; Revelation 8:12; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 9:14, &c.) when some great event is about to occur.

Exodus 19:16. Now at length is come that memorable day, in which Israel heard the voice of the Lord God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire and lived, Deuteronomy 4:33. Never was there such a sermon preached before or since, as this, which was here preached to the church in the wilderness. For the preacher was God himself, Exodus 19:18. The Lord descended in fire; and, Exodus 19:20, The Lord came down upon mount Sinai.

The Shechinah, or glory of the Lord, appeared in the sight of all the people; he shined forth from mount Paran with ten thousands of his saints, attended with a multitude of the holy angels. Hence the law is said to be given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53. He spake from mount Sinai, hung with a thick cloud, (Exodus 19:16,) covered with smoke, (Exodus 19:18,) and made to quake greatly. Now it was that the earth trembled at the presence of the Lord, and the mountains skipped like rams, (Psalm 114:4-7,) that Sinai itself, though rough and rocky, melted from before the Lord God of Israel, Jdg 5:5. The congregation was called together by the sound of a trumpet exceeding loud, (Exodus 19:16,) and waxing louder and louder, Exodus 19:19. This was done by the ministry of angels, and made all the people tremble. The introductions to the service were thunders and lightnings, Exodus 19:16. These have natural causes; but the Scripture directs us in a particular manner to take notice of the power of God, and his terror in them. Thunder is the voice of God, and lightning the fire of God, proper to engage both the learning senses of seeing and hearing.19:16-25 Never was there such a sermon preached, before or since, as this which was preached to the church in the wilderness. It might be supposed that the terrors would have checked presumption and curiosity in the people; but the hard heart of an unawakened sinner can trifle with the most terrible threatenings and judgments. In drawing near to God, we must never forget his holiness and greatness, nor our own meanness and pollution. We cannot stand in judgment before him according to his righteous law. The convinced transgressor asks, What must I do to be saved? and he hears the voice, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. The Holy Ghost, who made the law to convince of sin, now takes of the things of Christ, and shows them to us. In the gospel we read, Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Through him we are justified from all things, from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses. But the Divine law is binding as a rule of life. The Son of God came down from heaven, and suffered poverty, shame, agony, and death, not only to redeem us from its curse, but to bind us more closely to keep its commands.Touch it - Rather "touch him." The person who had touched the mount was not to be touched, since the contact would be pollution. 16. on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, &c.—The descent of God was signalized by every object imagination can conceive connected with the ideas of grandeur and of awe. But all was in keeping with the character of the law about to be proclaimed. As the mountain burned with fire, God was exhibited as a consuming fire to the transgressors of His law. The thunder and lightning, more awful amid the deep stillness of the region and reverberating with terrific peals among the mountains, would rouse the universal attention; a thick cloud was an apt emblem of the dark and shadowy dispensation (compare Mt 17:5).

the voice of a trumpet—This gave the scene the character of a miraculous transaction, in which other elements than those of nature were at work, and some other than material trumpet was blown by other means than human breath.


thunders and lightnings were sent partly as evidences and tokens both of God’s glorious presence, and of the anger of God, and the dreadful punishments due to the transgressors of the law now to be delivered; and partly as means to humble, and awaken, and convince, and terrify proud and secure sinners, that they might more reverently attend to the words and commands of God, more willingly yield obedience to them, and be more afraid of the violation of them.

A thick cloud was both a fit mean for the production and reception of the thunders and lightnings, and a signification as well of the invisible and unconceivable nature of God, as of the obscurity of the legal dispensation in regard of its types and shadows, & c., 2 Corinthians 3:13,18 4:6.

The trumpet was a fit instrument, both for the promulgation of God’s law, and for the signification of that war that is between God and sinners.

All the people, Moses himself not excepted, as appears from Hebrews 12:21. And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, The sixth of the month, according to the Targum of Jonathan, and so Jarchi; on which day, as the Jews generally say (t), the law was given, and which, they also observe, was a sabbath day: yea, they are sometimes so very particular as to fix the hour of the day, and say (u), it was the sixth hour of the day, or twelve o'clock at noon, that Israel received the decalogue, and at the ninth hour, at three o'clock in the afternoon, returned to their stations:

there were thunders, and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount; which were to awaken the attention of the people to what they were to hear and receive, and to strike their minds with an awe of the divine Being; and to add to the solemnity of the day, and the service of it; and to signify the obscurity and terror of the legal dispensation, and the wrath and curse that the transgressors the law might expect, even an horrible tempest of divine vengeance, see Hebrews 12:18.

and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; or, "exceeding strong" (w); being blown by the mighty angels, and by ten thousand them, with whom the Lord now descended:

so that all the people that was in the camp trembled, at the sound of it, it was so loud and terrible, and it so pierced their ears and their hearts: a different effect the Gospel trumpet the jubilee trumpet, the joyful sound of love, grace, and mercy, has upon sensible sinners, and on true believers: the law with its curses terrifies, the Gospel with its blessings comforts.

(t) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 86. 2. & Yoma, fol. 4. 2. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 5. p. 18. (u) Pirke Eliezer, c. 46. (w) "fortis valde", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus; so Ainsworth.

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
16. thick] dense; lit. heavy (cf. on Exodus 8:24). Not the word used in v. 9.

a trumpet] Heb. shôphâr (so v. 19, Exodus 20:18), properly a horn—used especially (cf. the note on Amos 2:2 in the Camb. Bible) to give a signal or summons in war (Jdg 3:27), or to announce or accompany an important public event (1 Kings 1:34; 2 Samuel 6:15). Not the yôbçl of v. 13b.

16–19. On the third day the theophany takes place; and the people are brought forth by Moses to the foot of the mountain to meet God.Verses 16-20. - THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD UPON SINAI. All was ready. The fence had been made (ver. 23); the people had purified themselves - at least so far as externals went. The third day was come - there was a breathless hush of expectation. Then suddenly, in the morning, the presence manifested itself. "There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud" (ver. 16); "and Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace and the whole mount quaked greatly" (ver. 18) Or, as the scene is elsewhere (Deuteronomy 4:11, 12) described by Moses - "Ye came near and stood under the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the Lord spoke unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice." The phenomena were not a mere "storm of thunder and lightning, whereof Moses took advantage to persuade the people that they had heard God's voice" - not "an earthquake with volcanic eruptions" - not even these two combined - but a real theophany, in which amid the phenomena of storm and tempest, and fire and smoke, and thick darkness, and hearings of the ground as by an earthquake shock, first the loud blast of a trumpet sounded long commanding attention, and then a clear penetrating voice, like that of a man, made itself heard in distinctly articulated words, audible to the whole multitude, and recognised by them as superhuman - as "the voice of God" (Deuteronomy 4:33). It is in vain to seek to minimise, and to rationalise the scene, and tone it down into something not supernatural. The only honest course is either to accept it as a plain record of plain (albeit miraculous) facts, or to reject it altogether as the fiction of a romancer. Verse 16. - There were thunders. Literally, "voices," as in Exodus 9:23; but there can be no doubt that "thunder" is meant. A thick cloud. Compare above, ver. 9, and the comment ad loc. The voice of the trumpet. Literally, "a trumpet's voice." The word used for "trumpet" is not the same as in ver. 13; but the variation does not seem to have any importance. God then commanded Moses to prepare the people for His appearing or speaking to them: (1) by their sanctification, through the washing of the body and clothes (see Genesis 35:2), and abstinence from conjugal intercourse (Exodus 19:15) on account of the defilement connected therewith (Leviticus 15:18); and (2) by setting bounds round the people, that they might not ascend or touch the mountain. The hedging or bounding (הגבּיל) of the people is spoken of in Exodus 19:23 as setting bounds about the mountain, and consisted therefore in the erection of a barrier round the mountain, which was to prevent the people form ascending or touching it. Any one who touched it (קצהוּ, "its end," i.e., the outermost or lowest part of the mountain) was to be put to death, whether man or beast. "No hand shall touch him" (the individual who passed the barrier and touched the mountain), i.e., no one was to follow him within the appointed boundaries, but he was to be killed from a distance either by stones or darts. (יּיּרה for יוּרה, see Gesenius, 69.) Not till "the drawing out of the trumpet blast," or, as Luther renders it, "only when it sounded long," could they ascend the mountain (Exodus 19:13). היּבל, from יבל to stream violently with noise, is synonymous with היּבל קרן (Joshua 6:5), and was really the same thing as the שׁופר, i.e., a long wind instrument shaped like a horn. היּבל משׁך is to draw the horn, i.e., to blow the horn with tones long drawn out. This was done either to give a signal to summon the people to war (Judges 3:27; Judges 6:34), or to call them to battle (Judges 7:18; Job 39:24-25, etc.), or for other public proclamations. No one (this is the idea) was to ascend the mountain on pain of death, or even to touch its outermost edge; but when the horn was blown with a long blast, and the signal to approach was given thereby, then they might ascend it (see Exodus 19:21), - of course not 600,000 men, which would have been physically impossible, but the people in the persons of their representatives the elders. בּהר עלות signifies to go up the mountain in Exodus 19:13 as well as in Exodus 19:12, and not merely to come to the foot of the mountain (see Deuteronomy 5:5).
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