Exodus 19 – Some of the interesting observations made by the Schocken translator in his introduction to chapters 19-24 include the following: the mountain serves as a bridge between heaven and earth [Augustine would run with this image in his sermons]—and only Moses is permitted to ascend it.
Mt. Sinai itself never became a holy site for the Israelites. The only other story that is located here is one with Elijah (1 Kings 19) and it tries to show the relationship between the two prophets. The Midrash notices that the events on Sinai resemble the conclusion of a marriage ceremony: “rescue—courting—wedding w/stipulations—home planning—infidelity—reconciliation--moving in” (360); not the first or the last image of marriage as a “type” of the relationship between God and his people.
A new covenant will be entered into here. It differs from the two described in Genesis—Noah (Gen 9) and Abraham (Gen 15, 17) where human beings are more passive recipients of God’s promises. Exodus introduces the idea of mutuality and conditionality.
Arriving at the wilderness of Sinai, Moses goes up to meet with God, and God addresses him thus: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. So now, if you will hearken, yes, hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be to me a special-treasure from among all peoples. Indeed, all the earth is mine, but you, you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (19:4-6).
He comes down and speaks to the elders. He “set before them these words, with which YHWH had commanded him” (19:7). They arrange a time for the people to assemble before YHWH at the base of the mountain. No one is to approach the mountain: “Whoever touches the mountain—he is to be put-to-death, yes, death; no hand is to touch him, but he is to be stones, yes, stoned, or shot, yes, shot, whether beast or man, he is not to live!” (19:12-13) TOUGH WORDS!
Moses descends the mountain and helps to make the people holy (clean). On the third day at daybreak, there were “thunder-sounds, and lightning, a heavy cloud on the mountain and an exceedingly strong shofar sound. And all of the people that were in the camp trembled” (19:16).
The Way of Death
5 – “The Way of Death is this. To begin with, it is evil, and in every way fraught with damnation. In it are murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, witchcraft, sorceries, robberies, perjuries, hypocrisies, duplicities, deceit, pride, malice, self-will, avarice, foul language, jealousy, insolence, arrogance, and boastfulness. Here are those who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgment; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentleness and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor of feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them” (193).
Christians should flee from all of this.
6 – Be careful that no one lures you away from this Teaching. “If you can shoulder the Lord’s yoke in its entirety, then you will be perfect; but if that is too much for you, do as much as you can” (193).
Keep the dietary rules if you are able, especially regarding anything “that has been offered to an idol, for that is the worship of dead gods” (194).