The Word Made Fresh
1On the third new moon after leaving Egypt they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai, 2having traveled from Rephidim. They camped in front of the mountain. 3Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD spoke to him from the mountain. “Tell Jacob’s descendants and the Israelites, 4You saw what I did to the Egyptians and how I brought you here to me as though you were carried on the wings of eagles. 5If you obey me and keep my laws you will be my chosen ones out of all the people on earth. The whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a people of faith and a godly nation. Say that to the Israelites.”
7So, Moses called the elders together and told them what the LORD had said. 8They responded, “We will do whatever the LORD says.”
Moses returned and reported their answer to the LORD. 9The LORD said, “I will come to you in a heavy cloud cover so that the people will know when I am speaking to you, and after that they will trust you completely.”
Moses told the LORD what the people had said, 10and the LORD told Moses, “Go back to the people and prepare them today and tomorrow. Tell them to wash their clothes 11and be ready on the third day. On the third day the LORD will descend upon Mt. Sinai in full view. 12You will need to set up barriers and tell the people not to even touch the mountain. Tell them, ‘Anyone who touches it will be sentenced to death.’ 13But do not lay a hand on the trespasser; stone him to death or shoot him, but don’t touch him. The same rule applies to animals. When they hear a long blast from the trumpet will they be allowed to approach the mountain.”
14Moses went back down to the people and prepared them and made them wash their clothes. 15He told them, “Be prepared on the third day, and do not engage in any sexual activity.”
16On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning. The mountain was obscured by a heavy cloud cover. A trumpet blast reverberated so loudly that all the people trembled. 17Moses led them out of the camp to meet God and had them gather at the foot of the mountain.18The LORD descended upon Mt. Sinai in fire, and the mountain was wreathed in smoke like the smoke of a furnace. The mountain shook violently. 19The trumpet blast grew louder, and as Moses spoke God answered him with thunder.
20The LORD came down to the top of Mt. Sinai and called Moses to come to the top of the mountain. Moses did, 21and the LORD told him to go back down and warn the people not to approach the mountain to try and get a glimpse of the LORD, or else many of them would die. 22“Even priests who approach the LORD must cleanse themselves or I will destroy them.”
23Moses answered, “But the people cannot come up to the mountain because you ordered us to set up barriers.”
24The LORD replied, “Go down there and return with Aaron, but neither the priests nor the people are allowed to come up, or the LORD will destroy them.” So, Moses went back down to the people and reported to them what God had said.
1-6: Three months after leaving Egypt they arrive at Mt. Sinai. The Exodus account may not always follow a strictly chronological sequence. The people were at Mt. Horeb (17:6) where God told Moses to strike the rock and provide water for the people. Perhaps the battle with the Amalekites has caused them to be displaced and now they are returning to the holy mountain. However, verse 1 reads as though they have only just arrived there. It has been generally accepted that Horeb is an alternate name for Sinai, and the two names refer to the same mountain. There is some recent debate among scholars, however, that they may in fact be separate locations. If that is the case, it might help explain some of the confusion here, but would create confusion in other narratives. In any case, they are now at Mt. Sinai. God summons Moses up the mountain to talk with him and tells Moses to lay before the people the offer of a covenant relationship.
7-9: Moses relays the message, the people agree, and Moses brings their agreement back up to the LORD. God then says he is going down with Moses and will speak audibly out of the ever-present cloud so that the people will hear and therefore trust Moses.
10-15: The LORD tells Moses that the people must consecrate themselves by washing their clothes because on the third day he will appear to them on the mountain. Furthermore, Moses is to set a boundary around the mountain that no one can cross upon penalty of death by stoning. That rule applies even to animals. Moses tells the people to wash their clothes and prepare for the third day. He tells them not to touch a woman, but you may have noticed that was not part of God’s instructions to him.
16-25: On the third day there is thunder and lightning, but no rain. Moses leads the people to the foot of the mountain. The mountain is wrapped in smoke, and it shakes violently — the description fits a volcanic eruption, except for the trumpet blast, but the text doesn’t say where the trumpet blast originates. God tells Moses to come to the top of the mountain. Then he is sent back down to tell the people not to “break through,” indicating that barricades have been placed around the foot of the mountain. The priests, too, are not to be allowed to approach God unless they are consecrated. Moses assures God that boundaries have been fixed and the people will not approach. God tells him to go back down and fetch Aaron, but none of the others are allowed to come up.
Reflect for a moment on times when you may have felt uneasy about approaching God in prayer. How grateful we are that, because of Jesus, we need never fear to enter into the presence of our heavenly Father.