And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth on them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The priests.—This has been called an anachronism, since the Levitical priesthood was not as yet instituted. But the Israelites, like all other ancient tribes or races, must have had priests long ere this, appointed upon one principle or another. It is a reasonable conjecture that hitherto the heads of families had exercised sacerdotal functions.
Break forth—i.e., punish in some open and manifest way. Compare the “breach” upon Uzzah (2Samuel 6:8).Genesis 14:18 note. Exodus 13:2 24:5 Numbers 3:12 8:26, or some other persons appointed by God for doing that work till the office was settled in Aaron’s family.
Which come near to the Lord; not at this time, for both priests and people are now kept at equal distance, Exodus 19:24; but usually: q.d. Whose duty and privilege it is to approach unto God, and to present the people’s prayers and sacrifices to him, and therefore are here particularly admonished, because they above all others are obliged to this care, and because they might seem to claim this privilege by their function.
sanctify themselves; in the same manner as the people in general were before ordered, and keep themselves within the same bounds; not daring to transgress them, because they were persons that used to draw nigh to God in the performance of religious actions:
lest the Lord break forth upon them; and smite them, that they die, in like manner as he made a breach on Uzzah afterwards for touching the ark of the Lord, 2 Samuel 6:6.And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)22. Even the priests, whose duty it is to come near (Leviticus 21:21) to Jehovah, must sanctify themselves like the rest (vv. 10, 14), lest He make a breach in them (2 Samuel 6:8 AV., 1 Chronicles 15:13), i.e. work destruction among them. The word is quite distinct from that rendered ‘break through’ in v. 21.
It appears from this passage that J recognizes priests before the legislation of Sinai—just as he recognizes similarly sacrifices and altars (e.g. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 26:25 : in P priests appear first in Leviticus 8); but the representation is hardly consistent with Exodus 32:29.
23, 24 Moses reminds Jehovah that the barriers (v. 12) will effectually prevent the people from trespassing: but he is nevertheless commanded to repeat the warning.Verse 22. - Let the priests also. It has been objected, that no priests had been as yet appointed, and that we have here therefore an anachronism. But every nation in ancient times had priests, appointed on one principle or another: and the Levitical priesthood must be regarded as having superseded one previously existent, not as the first priesthood known to Israel. We have a second mention of priests, previous to the appointment of Aaron's sons to the office (in Exodus 24:5), which confirms the present passage. Sanctify themselves. The verb used is identical with that which occurs in ver. 10; and there is no reason to believe that any different sanctification was intended. The natural inference is that the priests had neglected to sanctify themselves. (See the introductory paragraph.) Lest the Lord break forth. Compare 2 Samuel 6:8, where we have an instance of such a "breaking forth" upon Uzzah. Exodus 19:20), manifesting His glory in fire as the mighty, jealous God, in the midst of thunders (קלת) and lightnings, so that the mountain burned with fire (Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:20), and the smoke of the burning mountain ascended as the smoke (עשׁן for עשׁן), and the whole mountain trembled (Exodus 19:18), at the same time veiling in a thick cloud the fire of His wrath and jealousy, by which the unholy are consumed. Thunder and lightning bursting forth from the thick cloud, and fire with smoke, were the elementary substrata, which rendered the glory of the divine nature visible to men, though in such a way that the eye of mortals beheld no form of the spiritual and invisible Deity. These natural phenomena were accompanied by a loud trumpet blast, which "blew long and waxed louder and louder" (Exodus 19:16 and Exodus 19:19; see Genesis 8:3), and was, as it were, the herald's call, announcing to the people the appearance of the Lord, and summoning them to assemble before Him and listen to His words, as they sounded forth from the fire and cloudy darkness. The blast (קול) of the shophar (Exodus 19:19), i.e., the σάλπιγξ Θεοῦ, the trump of God, such a trumpet as is used in the service of God (in heaven, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; see Winer's Grammar), is not "the voice of Jehovah," but a sound resembling a trumpet blast. Whether this sound was produced by natural means, or, as some of the earlier commentators supposed, by angels, of whom myriads surrounded Jehovah when He came down upon Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2), it is impossible to decide. At this alarming phenomenon, "all the people that was in the camp trembled" (Exodus 19:16). For according to Exodus 20:20 (17), it was intended to inspire them with a salutary fear of the majesty of God. Then Moses conducted the people (i.e., the men) out of the camp of God, and stationed them at the foot of the mountain outside the barrier (Exodus 19:17); and "Moses spake" (Exodus 19:19), i.e., asked the Lord for His commands, "and God answered loud" (בּקול), and told him to come up to the top of the mountain. He then commanded him to go down again, and impress upon the people that no one was to break through to Jehovah to see, i.e., to break down the barriers that were erected around the mountain as the sacred place of God, and attempt to penetrate into the presence of Jehovah. Even the priests, who were allowed to approach God by virtue of their office, were to sanctify themselves, that Jehovah might not break forth upon them (יפרץ), i.e., dash them to pieces. (On the form העדתה for העידת, see Ewald, 199 a). The priests were neither "the sons of Aaron," i.e., Levitical priest, nor the first-born or principes populi, but "those who had hitherto discharged the duties of the priestly office according to natural right and custom" (Baumgarten). Even these priests were too unholy to be able to come into the presence of the holy God. This repeated enforcement of the command not to touch the mountain, and the special extension of it even to the priests, were intended to awaken in the people a consciousness of their own unholiness quite as much as of the unapproachable holiness of Jehovah. But this separation from God, which arose from the unholiness of the nation, did not extend to Moses and Aaron, who were to act as mediators, and were permitted to ascend the mountain. Moreover, the prospect of ascending the holy mountain "at the drawing of the blast" was still before the people (Exodus 19:13). And the strict prohibition against breaking through the barrier, to come of their own accord into the presence of Jehovah, is by no means at variance with this. When God gave the sign to ascend the mountain, the people might and were to draw near to Him. This sign, viz., the long-drawn trumpet blast, was not to be given in any case till after the promulgation of the ten words of the fundamental law. But it was not given even after this promulgation; not, however, because "the development was altogether an abnormal one, and not in accordance with the divine appointment in Exodus 19:13, inasmuch as at the thunder, the lightning, and the sound of the trumpet, with which the giving of the law was concluded, they lost all courage, and instead of waiting for the promised signal, were overcome with fear, and ran from the spot," for there is not a word in the text about running away; but because the people were so terrified by the alarming phenomena which accompanied the coming down of Jehovah upon the mountain, that they gave up the right of speaking with God, and from a fear of death entreated Moses to undertake the intercourse with God in their behalf (Exodus 20:18-21). Moreover, we cannot speak of an "abnormal development" of the drama, for the simple reason, that God not only foresaw the course and issue of the affair, but at the very outset only promised that He would come to Moses in a thick cloud (Exodus 19:9), and merely announced and carried out His own descent upon Mount Sinai before the eyes of the people in the terrible glory of His sacred majesty (Exodus 19:11), for the purpose of proving the people, that His fear might be before their eyes (Exodus 20:20; cf. Deuteronomy 5:28-29). Consequently, apart from the physical impossibility of 600,000 ascending the mountain, it never was intended that all the people should do so.
(Note: The idea of the people fleeing and running away must have been got by Kurtz from either Luther's or De Wette's translation. They have both of them rendered וגו ויּנעוּ, "they fled and went far off," instead of "they trembled and stood far off." And not only the supposed flight, but his idea that "thunder, lightning, and the trumpet blast (which were silent in any case during the utterance of the ten commandments), concluded the promulgation of the law, as they had already introduced it according to Exodus 19:16," also rests upon a misunderstanding of the text of the Bible. There is not a syllable in Exodus 20:18 about the thunder, lightning, and trumpet blast bursting forth afresh after the proclamation of the ten commandments. There is simply an account of the impression, which the alarming phenomena, mentioned in Exodus 19:16-19 as attending the descent of Jehovah upon the mountain (Exodus 19:20), and preceding His speaking to Moses and the people, made upon the people, who had been brought out of the camp to meet with God.)
What God really intended, came to pass. After the people had been received into fellowship with Jehovah through the atoning blood of the sacrifice, they were permitted to ascend the mountain in the persons of their representatives, and there to see God (Exodus 24:9-11).
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