Now, at length, comes that memorable day, that terrible day of the Lord, that day of judgment, in which Israel heard the voice of the Lord God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire, and lived, Deut. 4:33. Never was there such a sermon preached, before nor since, as this which was here preached to the church in the wilderness. For,
I. The preacher was God himself (Exod. 19:18): The Lord descended in fire, and (Exod. 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 shone forth from mount Paran with ten thousands of his saints (Deut. 33:2), that is, attended, as the divine Majesty always is, by a multitude of the holy angels, who were both to grace the solemnity and to assist at it. Hence the law is said to be given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53.
II. The pulpit (or throne rather) was mount Sinai, hung with a thick cloud (Exod. 19:16), covered with smoke (Exod. 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 (Ps. 114:4), that Sinai itself, though rough and rocky, melted from before the Lord God of Israel, Jdg. 5:5. Now it was that the mountains saw him, and trembled (Hab. 3:10), and were witnesses against a hard-hearted unmoved people, whom nothing would influence.
III. The congregation was called together by the sound of a trumpet, exceedingly loud (Exod. 19:16), and waxing louder and louder, Exod. 19:19. This was done by the ministry of the angels, and we read of trumpets sounded by angels, Rev. 8:6. It was the sound of the trumpet that made all the people tremble, as those who knew their own guilt, and who had reason to expect that the sound of this trumpet was to them the alarm of war.
IV. Moses brought the hearers to the place of meeting, Exod. 19:17. He that had led them out of the bondage of Egypt now led them to receive the law from God’s mouth. Public persons are indeed public blessings when they lay out themselves in their places to promote the public worship of God. Moses, at the head of an assembly worshipping God, was as truly great as Moses at the head of an army in the field.
V. The introductions to the service were thunders and lightnings, Exod. 19:16. These were designed to strike an awe upon the people, and to raise and engage their attention. Were they asleep? The thunders would awaken them. Were they looking another way? The lightnings would engage them 11dd to turn their faces towards him that spoke to them. Thunder and lightning 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 the senses of sight and hearing, those senses by which we receive so much of our information.
VI. Moses is God’s minister, who is spoken to, to command silence, and keep the congregation in order: Moses spoke, Exod. 19:19. Some think it was now that he said, I exceedingly fear and quake (Heb. 12:21); but God stilled his fear by his distinguishing favour to him, in calling him up to the top of the mount (Exod. 19:20), by which also he tried his faith and courage. No sooner had Moses got up a little way towards the top of the mount than he was sent down again to keep the people from breaking through to gaze, Exod. 19:21. Even the priests or princes, the heads of the houses of their fathers, who officiated for their respective families, and therefore are said to come near to the Lord at other times, must now keep their distance, and conduct themselves with a great deal of caution. Moses pleads that they needed not to have any further orders given them, effectual care being taken already to prevent any intrusions, Exod. 19:23. But God, who knew their wilfulness and presumption, and what was now in the hearts of some of them, hastens him down with this in charge, that neither the priests nor the people should offer to force the lines that were set, to come up unto the Lord, but Moses and Aaron on, the men whom God delighted to honour. Observe, 1. What it was that God forbade them—breaking through to gaze; enough was provided to awaken their consciences, but they were not allowed to gratify their vain curiosity. They might see, but not gaze. Some of them, probably, were desirous to see some similitude, that they might know how to make an image of God, which he took care to prevent, for they saw no manner of similitude, Deut. 4:5. Note, In divine things we must not covet to know more than God would have us know; and he has allowed us as much as is good for us. A desire of forbidden knowledge was the ruin of our first parents. Those that would be wise above what is written, and intrude into those things which they have not seen, need this admonition, that they break not through to gaze. 2. Under what penalty it was forbidden: Lest the Lord break forth upon them (Exod. 19:22-24), and many of them perish. Note, (1.) The restraints and warnings of the divine law are all intended for our good, and to keep us out of that danger into which we should otherwise, by our own folly, run ourselves. (2.) It is at our peril if we break the bounds that God has set us, and intrude upon that which he has not allowed us; the Bethshemites and Uzzah paid dearly for their presumption. And, even when we are called to approach God, we must remember that he is in heaven and we upon earth, and therefore it behoves us to exercise reverence and godly fear.