We live in a generation that spends very little time reading or studying the Bible for themselves. Most people accept whatever they see or hear about God from their pastors or teachers as true, without ever actually checking the Scriptures to make sure. People by the thousands flock to theaters to watch Hollywood movies or sit in their recliners watching television shows that supposedly depict biblical stories, not realizing that often times the media’s portrayal is not very accurate. Perhaps this is one reason why God’s word warns us to be cautious about what we believe and to check everything against the Bible.
Many of us here today have seen the classic film “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston. We have also heard this story told and retold since our days in children’s Sunday School. But if you’ve never actually studied it carefully for yourself, then you probably believe that this event happened differently than it actually did…
Moses and the people of God have set up camp at Mt. Sinai. Not long after their arrival Moses reunited with his family. Following their visit, the Bible turns its attention toward Moses’ ongoing interaction with God. During the remaining chapters of the book of Exodus, Moses will climb Mt. Sinai on at least eight separate occasions to speak with the LORD.
In this morning’s message we will examine Moses’ first three trips up the mountain, why he went, and what happened in between each ascent. We will also read about God’s original giving of the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, and see how the actual details of the story as written in God’s Word differ from the familiar rendition that most Christians believe.
I. GOD DWELLS ATOP THE MOUNTAIN (Exodus 19:1-15)
God is omnipresent, meaning that He is present and readily available everywhere. That said, we also see His manifest presence at specific places throughout the Bible. He was in the Garden of Eden when Adam was created, He is seated enthroned in Heaven in the book of Job and in Revelation, and He was present in the Holy of Holies during the era of the tabernacle and temple. Thus, we can understand that God’s presence is both general and specific simultaneously. While the children of Israel were camped at Mt. Sinai, the manifest presence of God dwelt atop the mountain.
God summoned Moses to the mountain top. When Moses reached the peak, God gave him a simple message to deliver to the people waiting below. He said, “If these people will obey my commandments then I will make them into a holy nation all My own”. Moses went back down and presented this simple condition to the congregation. All the people heartily agreed to obey the LORD, so Moses climbed back up the mountain a second time to tell God what they’d said.
Upon hearing that the people had consented to obey the His commands, God instructed Moses to prepare them for His coming. In three days, the LORD’s manifest presence would come down from the mountaintop where He could speak to the people directly. He would then tell them the specific commandments that they’d agreed to obey. He would appear in a thick cloud that was to be visible to all of the assembly. His presence would be signaled by the trumpet blast. In the meantime Moses was to consecrate the people, to ensure they were ceremonially clean, and to set up a boundary at the mountain’s base that none of them were allowed to cross.
II. GOD DESCENDS UPON THE MOUNTAIN (Exodus 19:16-25)
The people prepared for the LORD’s arrival and on the morning of the third day there was thunder and lighting and a thick cloud upon the mountain. The trumpet sounded, alerting the people that God had come and Moses led the people from their camp out to the foot of Mt. Sinai, careful not to cross the boundary line that had been marked previously. The people trembled fearfully in the presence of the Almighty God.
God had come down upon Mt. Sinai with fire and the whole mountain was covered in smoke and shook violently. The trumpet blasts continued to grow louder and louder. Suddenly the LORD spoke in a thunderous voice and called Moses to return to the mountaintop for a third time. Moses went up again, through the dense smoke and as the mountain of God quaked. All the while, the people waited and watched. When Moses got to the top, the LORD issued additional warnings for the people and the priests gathered below. God told Moses to go back down, to get Aaron, and then to come back up with him once more. Furthermore, he reminded Moses not to let any of the other people past the boundary line. So Moses climbed back down the mountain to find his brother Aaron.
III. GOD’S DECLARATION FROM THE MOUNTAIN (Exodus 20:1-17)
When Moses reached the bottom of the mountain for the third time, God began to speak to all of the children of Israel from His place on the mountain. It is important to understand that God was speaking to all of the people - not just to Moses. This included not only the majority of Hebrews, but also those foreigners who had come with them (Exodus 12:38). As such, these commandments that were spoken applied to everyone who’d committed themselves to be a child of God.
God listed in the hearing of all the people that morning what are now known collectively as the Ten Commandments. They are as follows:
- You shall have no other gods before the LORD.
- You shall not make idols or practice idolatry.
- You shall not use God’s name in vain.
- You shall remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
- You shall honor your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.
These ten commandments codified in certain terms the basis of moral law for God’s people. Over the centuries countless civilizations have referred to these as the foundational determinants of right versus wrong. The Ten Commandments established a moral standard by which all people should seek to live. Almost every set of laws ever written by men to govern nations or states are rooted in the principles set forth by God in the Ten Commandments.
For the sake of this series, we are not going to delve into each of these commandments individually - we will save that for another time. Suffice it to say that the first four dealt with the people’s relationship with God, while the final six dealt with the people’s relationships with one another. By adhering to these ten comprehensive rules, God’s people could ensure that their behaviors would be acceptable and honorable to Him.
IV. GOD DISTURBS THOSE AROUND THE MOUNTAIN (Exodus 20:18-20)
As the people saw and heard the LORD speaking through the thunder, lightning, trumpets, and smoke they sheepishly distanced themselves from the mountain. The manifest presence of God was more than they could take, and they were terrified. Not wishing to endure it any longer, they approached Moses and asked him to serve as their mediator. They requested that God speak to Moses first, and then Moses would relay His message to them. The people desired that the LORD not speak directly to them, because it was too frightful and overwhelming.
Moses tried to comfort the congregation and told them not to be afraid, but they obviously did not listen. Moses explained that God was testing them so that they would understand the seriousness of His commands. He was making such a strong impression because He wanted the people to obey and not to die as the result of their sin. Moses contended that God’s grand and somewhat intimidating appearance was intended for the people’s own good. Still they insisted that Moses serve as the go-between from this point forward, and he agreed.
The relationship between God, Moses, and the children of Israel while they were camped at Mt. Sinai is quite interesting. God’s manifest presence dwelt on top of the mountain, where only Moses was permitted to go. As such, he served as a liaison between God and His people. This arrangement was a precursor to the priesthood, in which the priest would serve as the mediator.
God gave the Ten Commandments to His children so that they would know for themselves what constituted sin. The law made it possible for the people to make their own informed choices about their behaviors. By choosing obedience to His commands, Israel could demonstrate their love for and devotion to God. As Christians today, we can still do likewise by living in accordance with God’s unchanging expectations. Fortunately, we have a much fuller understanding of God’s grace through Jesus Christ than they had. We know that the law was never intended to save us. That said, it still remains useful if we aspire to live godly lives.
Those who truly love God will seek to keep His commandments voluntarily because they want to honor Him, not because they feel as though they have to obey in order to receive salvation. By studying God’s laws, commandments, and statutes we can gain a greater appreciation for His character and a deeper understanding of His holiness. Finally, we as Christians should not view the Ten Commandments as obsolete or out-of-date, but rather as important and contemporary guidelines for righteous living.