The battle with the Amalekites near Sinai had now lasted all day. Little by little the Israelites cut down the numbers of the enemy and gradually forced them eastward away from the camps. By late afternoon Moses was very tired because of praying and holding his arms toward the sky. Believing that the foe was about to give up, he ceased praying and fell back to rest.
From that moment the Amalekites began to put sudden fury into their fighting. The Israelites had to retreat over much of the ground they had gained (Ex. 17:11). “We’re losing!” exclaimed Aaron. “Lift up your hands and pray, Moses, or these Amalekites will slay us all!”
“My arms are too tired to hold up any longer,” Moses muttered wearily. Among those with Moses on the hill was a man named Hur. He is said to have been the husband of Moses’ sister, Miriam, and was a help to Moses because of his great influence and popularity with the Israelites.
When he heard Moses complain that he was weary, Hur quickly looked around to find a rock about the height of a bench. He motioned for others to help him, and the men rolled the rock up behind Moses.
“Sit back and rest on this stone behind you,” Hur said to Moses. Moses sat down with relief, but he was still too tired to hold his arms up. Hur took one arm and held it up. Aaron held up the other. Still holding his shepherd’s rod, Moses started praying again. The three men thus carried on until the setting of the sun (Ex. 17:12).
By that time the Israelites had scored a victory! Dead and wounded Amalekites littered the ground. The rest of them fled eastward to disappear among the sand dunes and hills.
Very tired, Moses returned to his tent. There was much celebrating that night because the Israelites had won in battle with little or no loss of life. But many weary ones, including Moses, didn’t join in the celebrating.
God spoke to Moses, instructing him to carefully record that day’s events in the book in which Moses was writing the events happening to Israel during his lifetime.
“Tell Joshua to remember these things, too,” God told Moses. “Tell him that he will have to look forward to more war from the Amalekites, but that I shall one day cause that enemy of yours to be utterly destroyed.”
Not long after that, Moses ordered an altar built at Rephidim to honor God for sparing the Israelites, and to remind the people that God would continue to protect them from their enemies (vs. 14-16).
After hovering for several weeks in the same place, the guiding cloud one morning began to change shape and move a little. This was the signal that it was about to lead the people forward. The Israelites broke up their camps, banded their flocks and herds together and were ready to move on when the cloud started to float to the southeast. There was a narrow range of mountains in that direction, and movement was increasingly difficult around high rocks and through narrow gorges. Travel was upgrade, and the multitude made slow progress over the rough, arid ground.
“This is a peculiar route by which to cross this country,” one of Moses’ officers remarked. “Would you choose some other way and not follow the cloud?” Moses asked. “But we are moving upward and directly toward those mountain peaks,” the officer observed.
“I am familiar with those mountains,” Moses told the officer. “That lofty one with the two peaks is Mt. Sinai, otherwise known as Mt. Horeb. Some call the higher peak Mt. Sinai and the lower peak Mt. Horeb. I herded sheep in those regions for a long time, and so this area is almost like home to me.”
Moses glanced at the officer, and saw that his remarks obviously hadn’t swept away the man’s belief that the cloud was leading the people into the wrong path.
“God has a definite reason for bringing us this way,” Moses told him in a sterner tone. “When you learn what that reason is, you will remember it all your life.”
The guiding cloud continued to move slowly but directly toward the high mountains. In fact, it moved straight toward Mt. Sinai, the mountain Moses had mentioned. It was on the slopes of this mountain that God had first spoke to Moses several months before, out of the burning bush.
Suddenly the cloud stopped, right over the top of Mt. Sinai! “Look!” some of Moses’ men exclaimed. “The cloud has come to a stop in the middle of the day! Are we to pitch our tents for the night this early in the day?”
“The cloud has stopped here,” Moses told them. “We must do the same. It would be wise to tell the people to set up their camps for more than just an overnight stay” (Ex. 19:1-2).
The people happily welcomed the opportunity to stop early. It had been a hot and difficult journey up into the higher elevations. But now, in the vast valley nestled amid the cluster of mountain peaks, the Israelites quickly discovered many springs of cool, pure water. This was a happy surprise in this area of bleak rocks and great stretches of arid sand and gravel.
Not long after his quarters were set up, Moses received a message from God. “Come up on Mt. Sinai,” he was told. “Come alone to receive word directly from your Creator.”
Accompanied by Aaron, Hur, Joshua and other mounted officers, Moses rode up to the sloping base of the mountains. When the way became quite steep, Moses alighted and told the others that he would go alone on foot.
Moses was still spry for his age, and he set out with amazing agility up the rough, rocky side of the mountain. After a while he reached a flat ledge. He walked back from its edge, out of sight of those below.
Suddenly a clear, booming voice came from somewhere above on the mountain!
“Moses, you will deliver a message to the Israelites in the valley below.” Moses bowed in awe when the vibrating tones broke upon his ears. This was the same, tremendous voice he had heard from the burning bush months before. No other voice was like it, not even the angel voices by which God had contacted Moses from time to time.
“Remind the people,” the Voice spoke out, “that I, the Creator of all the universe, have freed them from the Egyptians and have brought them safely to this place. Tell them that if they will obey my laws, they shall become a special people – a nation I shall treasure more than any other nation of this world. They shall become a holy kingdom of priests who will guide and help all mankind, and who will some day rule over the whole world! Now go down to the people and tell them what I have spoken” (vs. 3-6).
Moses obeyed. He went back down the mountain to his tent. There he called for the heads of the twelve tribes and other elders. When they arrived, he repeated God’s words to them.
“Tell these things to the people,” Moses instructed them. “Show them that God has honored and blessed us by giving us a wonderful task to do. If we are faithful in these things, and live by God’s rules, a glorious and useful future is in store for us and our future generations.”
The elders in turn, took God’s message to the people. Probably there were thousands and thousands who were thrilled by this message from God. On the other hand, there were probably more thousands who utterly failed to understand that God was giving them a wonderful opportunity no other nation would ever be given.
However, when the people were told about God’s great promise to them, they were quick to agree to the terms. Their attitude was reported to Moses, who later went back up the mountain to tell God that the Israelites were anxious to obey him (vs. 8-9).
“Go back to the people,” God told Moses, “and tell them to wash themselves and their clothes, so that they may be clean when I come down upon Mt. Sinai three days from now to be heard by them. Tell them that because I shall come down upon the mountain, no one is to come up too close to it. Set barricades along the slopes to keep the people from coming too near. Any man or beast who passes those barricades must be put to death for trespassing on hallowed ground.” God wanted to make sure the people respected Him so they would fear to break His righteous laws which make people happy (vs. 10-13).
Moses went back down the mountain again to take God’s instructions to the Israelites.
Before three days had passed, the people were prepared for God’s visit to Mt. Sinai. They didn’t know exactly what to expect. They had been told that they would hear their Creator’s voice, and although they were curious to know how He would sound, many of them felt somewhat fearful about what would happen. If people today were told that God would come down from heaven in three days, most of them would also be fearful – simply because most to them aren’t living as God wants them to live.
The third day dawned clear and mild, as it had for the past several days. The cloud still hung motionless above Mt. Sinai. There was nothing unusual to indicate that anything special would take place.
Suddenly, as out of nowhere, clouds began to form over the valley. Within only a few minutes the bright, blue sky was veiled by tumbling masses of dark gray vapor. The guiding cloud was lost from sight as the swirling vapors swung downward.
The mere sight of the darkening sky was enough to startle the people. But when crackling, blinding tongues of lightning began to stab out of the clouds, the Israelites were greatly alarmed. Roaring thunder echoed and re-echoed between mountain peaks. The valley was filled with jolting, awesome sounds and sights. It seemed that the noise couldn’t possibly be any greater. But through it all came a long, piercing, clear blast of a great trumpet, which caused every man, woman and child to tremble.
It was the tremendous strain from a mighty, heavenly trumpet, announcing that God was coming down to Mt. Sinai (v. 19)!
The people had been told that a sounding trumpet would also be the signal for them to come out of their tents and camps and gather close to Mt. Sinai without trespassing beyond the marked barriers.
The mighty sound of the trumpet continued ever louder, but the thunder and lightning subsided. The clouds lifted, exposing most of the mountain to the searching gaze of millions surging toward it.
Abruptly the top of the mountain broke out in gigantic tongues of brilliant flame, as though it were being consumed in a sea of fire! Pillars of lighted smoke spewed skyward. Then the peak of the mountain seemed to explode in an awesome burst of eye-paining light!
People covered their eyes. Many of them fell to the ground, for at that moment the ground rocked and shook. Huge boulders, shaken loose by the earthquake, came thundering down off the mountain. None of them rolled so far as to injure anyone. Clouds of dust appeared here and there on the slopes where tons of soil and loose rocks cascaded from the mountain sides.
Even Moses shook with fear and awe at this overwhelming display of God’s power. Yet Moses knew that it was as nothing, compared to what God could do – such as causing mammoth planets to collide or creating galaxies of stars in great, fiery, celestial upheaval over billions of miles of space.
The brilliant light remained atop the mountain. The ground ceased to shake. The blasting note of the trumpet faded away. Because the Israelites didn’t know what to expect next, the utter silence that followed was, to some, even more terrible than the blinding light and furious sounds.
What did happen next brought more fear and trembling to the Israelites. A loud voice, louder than the recent thunder, boomed down from the mountain top reverberated across the valley to the awe-struck listeners. It was like the voice that might come from a giant thousands of feet tall; and it spoke in Hebrew, the mother tongue of the Israelites.
“Come up on the mountain, Moses!” the voice thundered. “Come alone! Do not allow anyone to follow you!”
Still trembling, as were all the elders and officers about him, Moses walked past the barricades, slowly made his way up the side of Mt. Sinai and disappeared over a smoky ledge.
Be watching for our next installment.