Seeing Moses walk out of sight in the vaporous heights of Sinai had a strange effect on many of the people. Regardless of how terrified the Israelites had become, they were so filled with curiosity that they wanted to break across the barriers at the slopes of the mountain and follow Moses.
Before Moses could get most of the way up the mountain, God therefore ordered him back down.
“People are about to try to follow you up here,” God told him. “Return at once and warn them again not to trespass on holy ground. Otherwise they will surely die. You may bring Aaron with you when you come back up but no one else at this time” (Ex. 19:21-24).
Moses went back down to order the would-be trespassers to move back from the barriers. “Go back! Go back!” he shouted from a distance as he hurried down toward the people who were already climbing over the barriers.
This disobedient crowd, momentarily growing as others pushed forward from the main body of people who stayed respectfully at a distance, failed to heed Moses. As soon as Moses reached them, he again shouted his warning.
“Move back at once all of you!” he cried out, motioning violently with his arms. “God will destroy any who come up on these slopes without His permission!”
Those close to Moses edged back, but the greater part of the throng, spread out around the base of the mountain, failed to hear him. They stuck close to the boundary markers, determined to close in and learn what Moses had seen on his quick trip up Mt. Sinai.
Suddenly several huge bolts of lightning cracked down from above. Like gigantic swords they stabbed into the ground only yards from the boundary fences. Sparks, rocks and soil hissed in blinding explosions in all direction. Those Israelites pressing against the barriers were showered with hot stones and sand. Gasping with terror, they stumbled and scrambled over one another as they struggled back.
The claps of thunder following the lightning bolts were deafening. As the sound rumbled away, behind it could be heard again the strange and awesome tones. Like the voice of a giant.
When the people looked over the barriers to see the black, smoking pits where the lightning bolts had struck, they realized what could have happened to them if they had advanced up the slopes. All the people, awed at what had happened, moved a little way back from the base of the mountain (Ex. 20:18).
“I am the Eternal, your God, who brought you out of Egypt the land of slavery!”
This pronouncement of the One whom we know as Jesus Christ was followed by utter silence for a short while. It was almost more awesome than the trumpet blast that followed. The mountain vibrated to the ear-splitting thunder that introduced God’s great laws The Ten Commandments!
“You shall have no gods but me”, boomed the thunderous voice after the last echoes of the trumpet notes had died away. Remember, this was not the Father in Heaven speaking. It was the Lord the spokesman who later became Jesus Christ who was speaking in the name of the God Family, which is the One Supreme, Divine Family (Eph. 3:15 and John 1:15).
There was silence again. Moses and Aaron didn’t know what to expect next. They didn’t even dare glance up and face the brilliance of the light above them.
“You shall not carve idols or images of things in Heaven or on Earth for the purpose of bowing down to honor or serve or worship them,” the voice blasted forth. “I am a jealous God. I punish those who hate me down to the third and even fourth generations that follow. But I show great kindness and mercy to all the descendants of those who love me and obey my laws!”
Again there was a short period of utter silence.
“You shall not use the name of the Eternal your God in any wrong or useless manner!” the voice thundered. “I shall punish those who utter my name without a spirit of respect and reverence!”
For a fourth time an intense quiet prevailed for a little while, to be broken by the tremendous voice giving the fourth of the Ten Commandments.
“Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy! You shall labor and do all your business only on the first six days of the week! The seventh day of the week is a holy day in honor to your God! On that day you shall not do any servile work! Neither shall any of your family, nor your servants, nor your animals nor any persons living with you! Remember that your God rebuilt the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh! Therefore he blessed the seventh day, making it forever a period of holy time!”
Meanwhile, below the awed Israelites down in the valley could hear the booming voice of the One who became Jesus Christ (Deut. 5:26).
The fifth silence was longer than the others. People grew tenser, wondering what was about to happen. They weren’t aware, at the time, that this was the dividing point of the Ten Commandments; that the first four fundamentally instructed man in his duty toward his Creator, and that the last six were to show man’s duty to his fellow man all adding up to perfect love for God and for man.
Again the voice pealed out to give the last six of the great laws, each one set apart by a short space of dramatic silence.
“Give special respect and honor to your parents, that you may live a long time in the land that is a gift from your God!” “You shall not murder!” “You shall not commit adultery!” “You shall not steal!” “You shall not tell lies about anyone!” “You shall not desire to wrongfully own the home of anyone else! You shall not covet the wife, servants, animals nor any of the possessions of another person” (Ex. 20:1-17).
Again the heavenly trumpet sounded, signaling the conclusion to uttering of the Ten Commandments the great, basic laws through which all mankind can find and enjoy happiness, good health, long life and prosperity.
These ten holy laws had been in effect long before then. Adam and Eve knew about them, and bitterly regretted breaking several of them. All the men of ancient times including Abraham who walked with God-- were aware of and obeyed the law (Gen. 26:5). But down through the centuries man had become confused by the many pagan ways and rules that had become mixed in with God’s laws. God chose this time and place to distinctly set forth these rules to His people, so that they could know exactly how to live in ways that would please God and be best for them.
But the Israelites were not the only ones to whom these laws applied. From the very beginning they were meant for every human being on down through time.
Obedience to them would have resulted (and does result and will result) in the best of everything for mankind (Rom. 2:11-12 and 3:23 and I John 3:4). A commandment-keeping world would have meant no wars, no poverty, no sickness, no divorces, no jails, no hospitals, no mental asylums, no military forces and no unhappiness.
Most men even those who have been well aware of God’s laws have chosen down through the centuries not to follow these ways in which God has so carefully directed. This means that man obviously believes that his ways are wiser and better for him than the ways his Creator has given him.
Would anyone actually believe that a little baby has more knowledge, ability and wisdom than its parents? If that were so, then that little baby would have no need for its parents. That idea is no more ridiculous, however, than the belief that we can happily and successfully go through a long life and at the same time continually break every physical and spiritual law a wise God made for our own good.
For six thousand years most of the people of this planet have suffered with sickness, poverty and unhappiness because they have wittingly or unwittingly ignored the living laws of God. It is true that millions of people never even heard of God. That is mostly because their ancient ancestors chose to forget about their Creator.
Today the Bible is the best-selling book in most nations, and the chance to find out about God and His laws has come to millions and millions more people than ever before. But at the same time, unfortunately, there are many highly respected church leaders, claiming to be Christians, who are doing a terrible thing. They are teaching that God’s son, Jesus Christ, came to Earth to die so that man could be freed from keeping the Ten Commandments, and that those who attempt to keep these laws will be cursed by God.
There are no scriptures in the Bible to bear out this harmful lie. But there are many, many scriptures telling that religious leaders will spring up to publish such falsehoods. There are also many scriptures that show how God will punish these “false shepherds’ who try to discourage people from becoming true Christians (Acts 20:29-30 and II Peter 2:1).
Finally Moses and Aaron got up from where they had been in the dusty stones up on Mt. Sinai. The light above them had been covered by a cloud, and there had been silence for quite a while.
Meanwhile, the elders came to Moses with a message from the waiting millions.
“Our people want to know what else God has to say to them,” they told Moses. “However, some are afraid that they might even die of fright if they hear God speaking again. They hope that God will talk to you, and that you will tell them what God would have us all to know.”
“That is as God wants it,” Moses said to the elders (Ex. 20:18-20). “Tell the people”, Moses continued, “that as long as they stand in awe of God and obey Him, they should not be terrified to the point of illness or death. Our God is a merciful and loving God. Only those who disobey Him need cringe in terror before Him.”
Again Moses went up Mt. Sinai. All the congregation of Israel remained at the base of the mountain, restlessly awaiting what would happen.
Moses was a little weak and shaky from this most unusual experience. As Moses reached the Eternal, a clear voice called out to him from somewhere above.
“Stay where you are, Moses. There is much more for you to learn before you return to the people.”
“I am your servant,” Moses spoke out. “Use me as you will.” “Then tell the Israelites these things,” the voice continued. “Remind them that although they have heard a voice speaking to them, they have not seen me. Therefore forbid them to try to make gold or silver images of me to regard as gods to worship.”
It wasn’t necessary for Moses to try with great effort to remember what he had been told or what he would hear in the minutes to come. There was something about that voice that seemed to burn the words into his memory.
“Whenever the people sacrifice their burnt offerings and their peace offerings they must do so on a simple altar made of soil,” the speaker went on. “Wherever and whenever this is done, I will come to bless the people. If stone happens to be more obtainable than soil for the altars, do not cut the stone. Tools will pollute the altar, so use stone only as you find it naturally. And don’t build altars so high that steps have to be built to reach them. Keep them low so that the priests won’t have to stride up and down in an unworthy manner.”
A period of silence followed. Moses decided that the message from God was finished, and he started to leave.
“I have much more to tell you,” the voice spoke out. “Your people will have trouble among themselves, just as they always have. They need further rules and decisions by which they can be judged. I shall now give you those judgments.”
Thereupon God gave to Moses judgments or rules for the Israelites under most all circumstances. This required a much longer time than did the giving of the Ten Commandments. There were many subjects and situations to take into account.
They included how to deal with murderers, thieves and sorceresses, what to do with rough and disorderly people, how to settle various charges and claims, how to observe God’s annual Sabbaths, and then what to do with certain vicious animals (Exodus, chapters 21, 22 and 23).
God then gave a warning to send to the people that they should always obey Him and be careful not to slip into a spirit of rebellion, insomuch that their Creator would be angered to the point of punishing them. He also gave them a promise that if they would do as He directed them, He would perform more great and helpful miracles:
“When you come into the lands of the tribes to the north, I shall drive out those idol-worshippers before you. I shall even set swarms of hornets upon them, so that even their best armies will be unable to protect themselves. I shall free you of sickness and disease. Your women will bear many children. Your flocks will greatly multiply. You will live long, healthy lives. You will take over all the land between the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the deserts of Arabia and the Euphrates River. The inhabitants will be driven out, lest you mingle with them and begin to serve their gods” (Ex. 23:28-33).
Moses returned to the valley to tell the elders what God had said. When the elders passed these rules on to the people, the whole congregation of Israel readily agreed to abide by them (Ex. 24:3). Moses at once wrote down all these laws and conditions God had given him, thus making a record of the agreement between the people and their Creator.
To establish the covenant with proper ceremonies, Moses early next morning directed the building of an altar at the base of Mt. Sinai. Around the altar were erected twelve unhewn stone pillars to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Moses chose a group of young men to prepare oxen and goats as peace offerings and sheep and lambs as burnt offerings. After the carcasses had been placed on the huge altar, he took half of the blood from the animals and sprinkled it over the wood fuel on the altar. As the flames crackled through the dry wood, Moses read aloud the newly written agreement before all the people.
The elders, gathered fairly close to the altar, lifted their voices as one person. “So be it!” the people cried out. “We will do whatever God asks of us! We will be obedient!”
“So be it!” the people chorused. “We will do whatever God asks of us! We will be obedient!”
“Then witness this blood of our agreement with our Creator!” Moses shouted, and sprinkled the other half of the blood on the elders representing the people (vs. 4-8).
God had already told Moses and Aaron to come back up Mt. Sinai. They were to bring with them Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, as well as the seventy head elders of Israel, which included Joshua and Hur. The party, with food and drink, set out to ascend the mountain not long after the sacrifices had been made to God.
At a place about halfway up the mountain all of them stopped to rest. Suddenly the guiding cloud, which was still hanging about the mountain peak, moved down to hide the upper part of Mt. Sinai. It grew dark so quickly that everyone became a little fearful. But then, out of the darkness, came a growing glow of dazzling light!
The light became intensely brilliant, causing Moses and the others to look down and close their eyes. When they hesitantly looked up, a few second later, every man gasped in surprise and awe. The cloud was no longer to be seen. Instead, there appeared a flat, glowing expanse of beautiful blue, like a vast, level pane of azure crystal flecked with millions of tiny beams of light (Ex. 24:10).
“It’s like a gigantic, floating sapphire stone!” some one exclaimed. “It’s growing clearer and clearer!” another burst out. “I can see right through it!”
Suddenly the men fell to their knees when they saw a shining, radiant Person above the transparent, blue pane overhead. They just stared in amazement.
“God has come down to us!” Moses declared. The One whom they saw appeared later as Jesus Christ! It was not the Father whom no man has seen (I John 4:12).
At first the men were afraid. But as the minutes passed, a wonderful feeling of contentment and joy came over them.
“These are indeed the most precious moments of our lives,” Aaron murmured. “Now we know what it means to be close to our God, basking in the unutterable glory of His wondrous love and mercy” (vs. 9-11)!
Now, relaxed and at ease, they realized that they were hungry and tired from their long climb. They brought out their food, and happily ate and drank in the mighty presence of the One who had created the whole universe (vs. 11, last part).
That was a wonderful privilege talking with God and conversing about His Law that only those few men of ancient times enjoyed. And yet true Christians right now have an even greater privilege because of God’s Holy Spirit guiding and dwelling in them, making it possible to talk with the Father in heaven through prayer.
After a time the beautiful sight above suddenly faded from view and was replaced by the cloud hiding the top of the mountain.
“Come farther up alone on the mountain, Moses,” a voice spoke from out of the cloud. “I have written My laws on tables of stone to give to you. You must take them down and teach them to the people.”
Moses realized that he might be gone for a long while, so he told the elders to wait for a certain time, but that if he didn’t return by then they should go back to the valley. “If I am gone a long time,” Moses said, “look for advice from Aaron and Hur as your leaders” (vs. 12-14).
Moses chose Joshua to go with him at least part of the way, and the two started on up the mountain. When they had reached a place not far from the top, their progress was stopped by a heavy cloud settling down over the summit. A little later, blinding, multi-colored beams of light moved through the vapor (vs. 15-16).
This condition continued hour after hour. Not knowing how long it would last, the two men made a sort of crude camp, and patiently waited to learn what God expected of them. Meanwhile, they spent many of those hours wondering what was about to happen and discussing the exciting events of recent days.
“Our God has shown us a glorious and happy future,” Joshua observed. “The things He has promised seem almost too wonderful to be true!” “God does not lie,” Moses replied. “He will surely do all He has promised, but only as long as we obey Him. I can’t help but wonder just how long the people will do their part.”
Probably it was just as well that Moses couldn’t foresee what was to happen within only a few weeks.
The covenant or agreement made at Mt. Sinai between God and Israel was nothing to be taken lightly. It was later referred to in the Bible as a sacred marriage contract between God, as the husband, and Israel as the wife. It was a binding promise that God would always take care of His wife, Israel, who would always be faithful - never to have anything to do with the false gods of other nations.
God, from the beginning, made the rules and terms which became the basis of the marriage covenant at Sinai. The rules were the great spiritual laws the Ten Commandments and the civil laws He gave on Mt. Sinai. The terms were that Israel was to obey those laws, thus remaining faithful to the husband. Remaining faithful would mean happiness, good health, many children and prosperity. Unfaithfulness would mean misery, disease and poverty. It could even mean divorce.
When telling a story, it’s generally not wise to jump ahead of the chain of events in the order of their happening. But to better understand about the old covenant, it must be told here that Israel later failed to live up to its terms.
The covenant was broken. Israel was punished and divorced. God sent Israel away out of Palestine (Jere. 3:6-10).
Hundreds of years afterward, when Jesus Christ came to Earth, He drew up terms for a new marriage agreement with Israel. Jesus became the mediator or go-between agent of a proposed new covenant, much as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant. This new covenant will not be completed until Jesus returns to rule the world (Heb. 8:8). After proposing the new covenant Jesus died, thus freeing Israel from the first marriage contract. You see, even though God (who was Jesus Christ) gave Israel a divorce and let Israel go, Israel was still bound to Him until the death of one of the partners. The one who died was Jesus Christ, who was the husband under the terms of the old covenant.
Meanwhile, hundreds of religious denominations are teaching that because the old covenant is broken and dead, the Ten Commandments are also dead and not to be obeyed. Nothing could be further from the truth. What terrible misery most of mankind has suffered because of believing that lie!
The Ten Commandments were the basis of the old covenant. They are living, unchanged spiritual laws, much as the physical law of gravity is a law that stays in effect no matter what any one has to say about it. The Ten Commandments are meant for man all down through time, not just for Israel. After the covenant was broken, the Ten Commandments remained in force. Remember they existed before the old covenant was made and it was because they were broken that Jesus had to die! They are also the ten main spiritual laws of the new covenant. Many ceremonial and ritualistic laws were later given to the Israelites to remind them of their sins, but those were not part of the Ten Commandments, and were added even after the old covenant was agreed to (Jere. 7:22 and Gal. 3:19).
For six long days Moses and Joshua waited for something to happen. It took courage and patience to wait that long in the cloudy vapors, huddled on rough, uncomfortable slabs of stone. There were probably moments when both men had the urge to give up and swiftly return to their warm tents and plenty of food and water. But they waited on God.
On the seventh day, probably a weekly Sabbath, a voice finally called for Moses to advance up the mountain. Moses asked Joshua to wait for him, and disappeared into the mists which curiously parted just enough for him to see his way.
We will continue with The Story of the Bible, watch for our next installment!