Mt Sinai and the Ten Commandments
I am hoping that this lesson will help in laying out all the specifics concerning the giving of the ten commandments at Mt Sinai. It’s an interesting little study, so I hope you’ll enjoy it. A good understanding of the event, is really just a matter of reading the accounts given in Exodus chapters 19 & 20, and also Deuteronomy chapters 4 & 5, and examining both of them together, to get the full story of what occurred that day at Mt Sinai. And it’s important to understand that Exodus 19 & 20, is telling the story at the time that it actually occurred, and Deuteronomy 4 & 5 is telling the story of a day when Moses was “recounting” the events of that previous time. Forty years separates the day when the events happened, and the day when Moses “recounts” those events in the book of Deuteronomy.
With that being said, please let me proceed. The ten commandments, as well as the rest of the old covenant laws, were given to Israel at Mt. Sinai, in the third month after Israel left Egypt. This is borne out in Exodus 19, verse 1, where it says; “In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai.” Verse 16 says; “So it came about on the third day (this would be the third day of the third month) when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud upon the mountain. And a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.”
Now don’t get this day confused with the day spoken of in Deuteronomy 5:1, which is the day when Moses gathered all Israel together to remind them of what had taken place at Mt Sinai. That day spoken of in Deut 5:1, was forty years AFTER the law was given at Mt Sinai. The day the Lord descended upon Mt Sinai was on the third day of the third month after Israel had left Egypt. The day that Moses “summoned all Israel”, as spoken of in Deut. 5:1, was forty years later. Moses had called the entire congregation of people together to prepare them for their entry into the land of Canaan. And so, on this occasion, he is reminding them of that day (forty years ago) when the Lord had descended on Mt Sinai, and had given them the law, including the ten commandments.
Please listen to how the book of Deuteronomy begins; V-1; “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel, on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain to the front of the Suph..” (Most Hebrew scholars believe that the word “Suph” probably refers to the “Red Sea”) “..between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hezeroth and Dizahab.” (These are simply various locations in the wilderness)
V-2; “It is eleven days from Horeb (Horeb is another name for Sinai) by the way of Mt Seir, to Kadesh-barnea.” (Another location in the wilderness where Israel had camped)
V-3; “And it came about in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the Lord had commanded him to give them.” The book of Deuteronomy, is a “recap” of what had transpired over the past forty years, as Israel wandered in the wilderness. Moses recounts to the congregation of Israel, all that the Lord did for them as they wandered in the wilderness, and in chapters 4 and 5, he recounts to them the day when they stood at Mt Sinai, and received the law from God. It’s not until about chapter 29, that “real-time” events begin to unfold again.
It’s important to understand that the things said in Deuteronomy, are simply a recounting of the things that had previously happened. Therefore take note of the fact that the day in which Moses summoned the whole camp of Israel together, in Deut 5:1, took place forty years after they had all stood at Mt Sinai and received the law.
Now let’s go back to “real-time” description of the event, in Exodus 19:16 & 17; “So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God.”
Verse 20; “And the Lord came down on Mt Sinai, to the top of the mountain, and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Then the Lord spoke to Moses; Go down, warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the Lord, and many of them perish.”
Verse 24 says; “Then the Lord said to him; Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break forth upon them.” So now we have Moses and Aaron at the top of the mountain, and the rest of Israel at the foot of the mountain. And chapter 20, verse 1 says; “Then God spoke all these words, saying..” And then the ten commandments are given by God, in verses 2 thru 17.
Now notice that nothing is said here about God speaking these words only to Moses, or to both Moses and Aaron, who was there at the top of the mountain with Moses. These verses simply say that Moses and Aaron were at the top of the mountain, and the rest of the people were at the bottom, and chapter 20, verse 1 says; “Then the Lord spoke all these words saying..” But now listen to what God tells Moses to say to the people, in verse 22; “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel; You yourselves have seen..” (“You yourselves” obviously means, “you the sons of Israel”) “You yourselves have seen, that I have spoken with you, from heaven.” Moses is speaking the words of God, to the camp of Israel. Listen again to what God said; “YOU yourselves (YOU the sons of Israel) have seen that I (I, the God of heaven) have spoken with YOU (again, YOU the sons of Israel) from heaven.” God is stating as clearly as anyone could state it, that He (God)spoke to the sons of Israel, that day at Mt Sinai.
So then that is the account from Exodus chapters 19 20, of the day that God gave the ten commandments to Israel. The specific words that God spoke in giving the commandments, are recorded in chapter 20, verses 2 thru 17. Then verse 18 says; “And all the people witnessed the thunders and the lightnings, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood at a distance.” The people were afraid! And when the Lord had finished speaking, they said to Moses, in verse 19; “Speak to us yourself, but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”
The people most certainly heard the words of God, and they were afraid to hear any more! Once again, the Lord told Moses to tell the people; “You yourselves have seen that I (God) have spoken with YOU, from heaven!” (V-22)
The other account of what happened on this day is given to us in Deuteronomy 5:1 thru 31, and it agrees 100% with what has already been said in Exodus chapters 19 & 20, plus, it gives us even more details. Now again, keep in mind that in this account given in Deuteronomy chapter 5, Moses is reminding the sons of Israel exactly what had happened that day at Mt Sinai. And also keep in mind that this takes place forty years after the original event. The stage is set in Deuteronomy 1:3, with these words; “And it came about, in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel..” And the words of Moses, as he recounts all that has transpired during the forty years that Israel wandered in the wilderness, continue all the way up to chapter 29.
So now let’s read what Moses tells the people, beginning in Deut 5:1; “Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them; “Hear O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking to you today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. (Horeb is the same as Sinai) The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, ourselves alive here today.” Now listen to these next two verses. Verses 4 & 5; “The Lord spoke to YOU face to face, (“face to face”, means the same thing there as it always means. “Face to face” means.. Directly, one to another. God spoke “face to face”, directly with YOU, the children of Israel)
So then, once again; “The Lord spoke to you, face to face, while I was standing between the Lord and you, at that time. to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire, and did not go up the mountain..” Then, from verses 6 thru 21, Moses repeats the ten commandments which God had given to them, forty years earlier. And after Moses finishes repeating the ten commandments, he says in verse 22; “These words, the Lord spoke to ALL your assembly, at the mountain, from the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick gloom, with a great voice! And He added no more.” In other words, He then spoke no more to you. “And He wrote them on two tablets of stone, and gave them to me.”
Now verse 23; “And it came about, when YOU HEARD the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said; Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and WE HAVE HEARD His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen today, that God speaks with man, yet man lives.” The whole assembly of Israel was stunned, because they had seen the Lord’s greatness, and they had heard His voice, and yet they lived! They thought surely that no man could live, after hearing, and seeing the greatness of God!
Now, here’s what the spokesmen from Israel said to Moses because of their continued fear; Verse 25; “Now then, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us! If we HEAR the voice of the Lord any longer, then we shall die! They were afraid to HEAR the voice of the Lord, any longer! They had already heard God’s voice as He gave them the ten commandments, and they were afraid to hear His voice any longer!
Now, verse 26; “For who is there, of all flesh, who has HEARD the voice of the living God, speaking from the midst of the fire, AS WE HAVE, and lived?” The people are still astonished that they have actually heard the voice of God, speaking the ten commandments from the midst of the fire on Mt Sinai, and they haven’t perished! But they’re too afraid to hear any more. So here’s what they say to Moses, in verse 27; “Go near, and hear all that the Lord our God says. (they’re telling Moses to go and hear God’s words) then speak to us, all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.” This is basically the very same thing that it says in Exodus 19:19; “Then they said to Moses, Speak to us yourself, and we will listen, but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”
Remember that all that is recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 5, is Moses reminding Israel of what happened at Mt Sinai, forty years ago. So Moses reminds them of how they were afraid to hear any more of the Lord’s voice, and how they had told Moses that he should go and hear what the Lord has to say, and then come back and tell it to them, and they would listen to it, and obey. And now Moses tells Israel, in verses 28 thru 30; “And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me; I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. (the words they spoke to Moses) They have done well in all that they have spoken. (they are right to fear Me) Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep My commandments always. that it may be well with them, and with their sons forever! Go say to them, Return to your tents,”
Then God tells Moses, in verse 31; “But as for you (Moses) stand her by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes, and the judgments, which you shall teach them, that they may observe, in the land which I give them to possess.” So we can see that God had a lot more to tell the people, but they were too afraid to hear it all, and so God commands Moses to go ahead and send the people back to their tents (you’ll remember that we were told in Exodus 19:17; “And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God at the foot of the mountain”) Now the Lord tells Moses to go ahead and send them back, while God gives the rest of His instructions to Moses alone. It was the people’s fear of their God, which kept them from hearing ALL of the commands. As it was, they heard only the ten commandments; Because as the people of Israel said, in Deut 5:24; “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory, and His greatness, and we have heard His voice, from the midst of the fire..” (the people specifically said here; “We have heard His voice”) And as Moses reminded them, in Deut 4:12; “Then the Lord spoke to YOU from the midst of the fire. YOU HEARD the sound of the words; You saw no form, only a voice.” All of Israel heard the voice of God that day.
I hope that this helps to clear up what is said in both Exodus 19 & 20, and also in Deuteronomy 4 & 5.