Christian Churches of God
Moses and the Israelites
Move on to Sinai
(Edition 2.0 20040701-20061122
In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt they came to the desert of Sinai. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 24-27 of The Bible Story Volume I by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press, and Pentecost at Sinai (No. 115) published by CCG.
Moses and the Israelites Move on to Sinai
We will continue here from the paper Moses and the Exodus (No. CB16). In that paper we saw how the Angel of the Presence, in the cloud, brought the Israelites safely out of Egypt and across the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses. The Egyptians who pursued them perished in the waters of the Red Sea. The journey from Egypt was a plan to take the Israelites to Sinai to receive God’s Law. It was through this Angel that God chose to reveal His Law. We can see in Judges 2:1-4, the Angel of Yahovah speaks of the covenant he mediated between God and the children of Israel.
This was the same Angel in the bush that spoke to Moses (Acts 7:30,35). This Angel of Yahovah, or Messenger of God, was the Being who was later to become Jesus Christ, the Messiah. He acted under instructions from God through the Holy Spirit. He was known as the Messenger of God.
It is not correct to say God spoke to Moses at Sinai. Moses did not see God the Father at Sinai, or at any time during the Exodus; or ever. He spoke to His messenger the Angel of Yahovah who was God’s Presence and who carried God’s name and who spoke for God (Acts 7:38,53; Gal. 3:19). In Exodus 23:20-21 God said, through the Angel, that He would send His Angel to guard Israel during the Exodus.
Having come safely through the Red Sea crossing, and before going further, Moses gathered the Israelites together to thank God for bringing them out of Egypt. The crowd then sung a special hymn of gratitude and praise (Ex. 15:1-19). Then Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand and all the women followed her with tambourines and dancing (vv. 20-21).
Water was plentiful where the people had first assembled. They watered their animals well and filled all the empty containers because they were headed toward the Desert of Shur, located east of Egypt (see Gen. 25:18). On the first night on the east side of the Red Sea they camped on uncomfortably warm sand and rock where there was no sign of water.
Next day the water supply dwindled rapidly during the march through even more arid territory. When they camped for the second night, it appeared that getting through a third day without finding water would place people at the risk of illness and the loss of many animals.
The next afternoon was even more miserable than the one before. Just when many were becoming too thirsty and discouraged to force themselves or their animals on, a grove of palm trees was sighted in the distance. It turned out to be an old oasis called Marah, which means bitter. As the people moved closer, they were overjoyed to see a pool of water in the midst of the trees. Some of them rushed forward to the pool and wildly scooped water into their mouths.
But they soon stopped gulping, as the water was too bitter to keep on swallowing. The crowd around the well grew. Everyone had to test the water for himself and spit it out. This disappointment brought loud complaints, and the people blamed Moses (Ex. 15:22-24). Moses then pleaded with God to intervene in the matter.
Moses cried out to God, and was shown a tree. He threw it into the water and the water became sweet (v. 25).
Soon those who tasted the water could be seen to be enjoying it. In spite of the heavy demand for water for hours, the springs under the pool continued the supply. This additional miracle strengthened Moses’ faith in God. One would suppose it would have done the same for all the Israelites, but there were those who felt that matters were not going too smoothly for them.
“Tell the people that as long as they obey Me I will be their healer and keep them in good health,” the Angel instructed Moses (v. 26). Since that time only a small part of the world’s people have observed God’s Laws, although millions claim to be Christians. A relatively small number of obedient people have enjoyed the protection and healing that God promised His followers back then. In the Millennium, when everyone alive will be keeping God’s Laws, good health and prosperity will spread over the Earth. God always keeps His promises.
Refreshed with water and rest, the Israelites and their animals continued south. At Elim, about twenty miles from Marah, they found twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water (v. 27).
The twelve springs were to symbolise that each of the twelve tribes fed from a spring. These springs were to be the twelve judges of Israel. The seventy palm trees were to symbolise the seventy elders of Israel (Ex. 24:1,9).
A few miles south of Elim they were guided to go deeper into the desert. At this stage of the journey many of the people started to complain again. Moses and Aaron were blamed for a lack of food. More than a few contended it would be better to be dead back in Egypt (Ex. 16:3). As before, Moses had to look to God for a miracle to calm the grumblers.
“I have heard the complaints of the people,” the Lord told Moses. “Remind them that I am aware of their needs. I shall supply them with bread in the morning and flesh in the evening. The bread they must gather for themselves every day except on my holy Sabbath. To take care of that day, they must gather twice as much on the sixth day” (Ex. 16:4-5).
Moses was given instructions for helping to keep the people under control. This information was passed on to Aaron, who reminded the Israelites how merciful, generous and patient God had been to them even after their impatience and grumbling.
As Aaron spoke, eyes were drawn to the guiding cloud, which had come to a halt. During the month it had been above and ahead of the column, and it had become as commonplace to the people as the sun. They looked towards the desert, and there was the glory (or presence) of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God’” (v. 11).
That evening the Israelites were surprised to see the sky darkened by vast flocks of birds. Suddenly the birds swooped down right among the people. Because the birds were weary from what had obviously been a long flight, they were very easy to catch. Within minutes uncounted thousands of these plump quail, excellent for eating, were being prepared for dinner.
Next day there was another miracle. During the night dew had settled on the plants around the camps. Instead of being covered with moisture next morning, the plants were decked with small, flaky white particles. This was puzzling until Moses made the surprising announcement that it was the bread God had promised.
“Early every morning three quarts of this food should be gathered for every person,” Moses said. “If it isn’t taken in early, it will melt on the plants under the hot sun. And don’t try to keep it overnight, or it will spoil.”
The people swarmed out around their camps to easily gather the food, which they later named manna. To their enjoyment, they found it tasted like fresh bread and honey. Those who were late in gathering it found little as most of it had melted. In spite of Moses’ warning about keeping it overnight, some did just that, only to find that it became disgustingly odorous and worm-infested (v. 20).
One day, not long after the manna first showed up, Moses told the people to gather twice as much the next morning. Two days later no manna appeared. That day was the weekly Sabbath. Furthermore, the extra manna gathered for the seventh day miraculously remained as fresh and pure as it was when collected (vv. 24-26).
Observing the Sabbath day properly was important to God and man. Nevertheless, some spent much of the morning hours of the Sabbath searching for manna that wasn’t there. This was so displeasing to God that He instructed Moses to tell the people to stay close to their tents on the Sabbath and refrain from working. After that, for a time, there was more obedience in this matter.
The cloud continued to lead south-east and into a mountain range. A hot, upgrade march faced the people just at a time when their water supply was dangerously low. The next time the Israelites camped, a noisy crowd of them surrounded Moses’ tent to loudly accuse their leader of purposely taking them into the desert to meet death (Ex. 17:1-3).
Again Moses asked God to calm the complainers, who were only causing others to be troubled. Moses was told to take some of the elders and go on ahead to a certain large rock, which he was to strike with the shepherd’s rod that he had used in Egypt. When Moses struck the rock out gushed streams of clear water, which coursed down toward the Israelites’ camps (vv. 5-6).
The sight of water flowing past their tents and on down toward the rear of the column brought joyful surprise to the excited people. At first the stream was murky from picking up dirt from the ground, but with each passing minute of the flow it became clearer and more drinkable. When the people learned from the elders who had accompanied Moses, that the water was gushing from a boulder of granite where there had previously been no sign of it, they marvelled at the miracle. Those who had threatened Moses regretted doing so. They wouldn’t have acted so childishly if they had relied on God (v. 7).
Because of the wonderful supply of water, the Israelites hoped they could stay a few days in that area, which was close to where Moses had shepherded flocks a few years previously. Days passed. The cloud continued to remain motionless, which was a sign to stay.
However, the Israelites would have been troubled greatly and might have wanted to move on if they could have known that, from some nearby foothills, many pairs of crafty eyes were watching from time to time to determine their numbers and their possessions.
The attack on the Israelites came at night. Moses wasn’t very surprised. He was aware that the region was roamed by bands of hostile desert bandits who used darkness and surprise to further trouble their victims. He also knew these men were Amalekites, descendants of Esau, twin brother of their forefather Jacob. Their attackers were therefore their distant cousins.
After the Amalekites attacked and fled, one of Moses’ officers, a young man named Joshua, was given the responsibility of mustering an army of defence from among the Israelites. The Amalekites were expected to attack in greater force next day. Joshua had little time to assemble the men (v. 9).
The Israelites’ first battle with an enemy was an unusual one. Hordes of fierce, wily desert swordsmen charged in among the thousands of untrained Israelite men who were armed mainly with ordinary knives, clubs and weapons taken from drowned Egyptians. Moses was up on a high ridge where he could view the fray. With him were Aaron and his brother-in-law, Hur. It appeared that the Israelites were facing certain defeat. Moses called to God for help, holding his shepherd’s rod above him as he had done to signal divine power at the time of the plagues.
In the first few minutes of fighting, it was difficult to determine which side was gaining the upper hand. Then it began to be obvious the Amalekites were falling into retreat. When Moses was certain of it, he lowered his arms, which were becoming weary. Almost immediately the situation changed. With renewed energy the Amalekites charged back, causing the Israelites to retreat.
Realising his relaxed attitude affected the fighting Moses again held the rod up. The startling result was that the tide of battle swung back in favour of his men. However, he was becoming too tired in his arms to maintain that prayerful position. Again he lowered the rod and again the Amalekites pushed the Israelites back.
From that moment the Amalekites put such fury into their fighting that the Israelites lost more ground than they had gained (v. 11). “I can see what’s happening,” Moses muttered, “but I’m too tired to stand up here and hold out this rod any longer.”
Aaron and Hur quickly rolled a bench-height rock up behind Moses, who sank to a sitting posture. Each of them seized a sagging arm and jerked it upward. Thus, with their help Moses continued his supplication while still grasping the shepherd’s rod in an upright position. The three men carried on like this until sundown (v. 12).
By that time matters had changed back greatly in favour of the Israelites. The enemy was completely routed with little loss or injuries to the hastily-mustered army. God reminded Moses to record the day’s events in the book he was writing about the Israelites, and to instruct Joshua to also write of the happenings. Moses later had an altar built to honour God for His protection.
Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, and father-in-law of Moses, heard about all that God had done for the people of Israel. Moses had previously sent his wife Zipporah and their two sons back to her father. So Jethro came, together with Moses’ wife and his two sons to meet him in the desert.
Of course Moses was happy to see them all and he told Jethro everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake. Jethro praised God and offered sacrifices for the safety of Moses and the Israelites.
Jethro also gave Moses instruction and advice on how to delegate duties to other capable men, rather than take all the responsibility for the people himself. So Moses listened to this advice and did everything Jethro said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. Then Jethro returned to his own country (Ex. 18:1-27).
After hovering for several weeks in the same place, the guiding cloud began to move one morning. The Israelites packed up, got their animals together and were ready to move when the cloud floated to the south-east. The mountains were even higher in that direction. There were those who complained at heading into such rugged terrain. To Moses it was like returning home because he had spent many peaceful years in that region tending flocks of sheep.
After two or three days of travel, the cloud came to a halt right over the highest peak. That was rocky Mount Sinai, a mountain of more than seven thousand feet in height.
Even the complainers had to admit that the numerous water springs, level areas for pitching tents and nearby patches of grass for grazing left little to be unhappy about. Moses advised the people that it would be wise to set up their camps for a long stay, inasmuch as he had a strong feeling that they were going to be at this particular place for more than just two or three nights’ rest (Ex. 19:1-2).
Not long after the Israelites were settled in their new location, Moses received a divine request to come up Mount Sinai alone, to receive instructions directly from the Lord, the Angel of Yahovah acting as a spokesman for God. It wasn’t an easy hike up the mountain, but Moses was spry for his eighty years. God wouldn’t have asked him to do something impossible. He had to go up the mountain only far enough to be removed from the people.
Suddenly a clear, booming voice came from somewhere above on Mount Sinai: “Moses, you will deliver a message to the Israelites. Remind them that I have freed them from the Egyptians and have brought them safely here. If they obey me fully and keep my covenant, they will become a special people I will treasure above all other nations. They shall become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (vv. 3-6).
Moses remained prostrate for a time where he had fallen when he had first heard the voice. When he felt that nothing more was going to be said, he stood up and hurried back down the mountain. Immediately he called the elders and repeated all the words the Lord had commanded him to tell the people (v. 7).
The excited people solemnly agreed to obey whatever the Lord asked of them. Later, Moses went back up to report what had taken place (v. 8). Of course the Lord already was aware of it, but he had further instructions for the people he wanted to convey through Moses. He said, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Moses was told to consecrate the people for two days and have them wash their clothes so all would be ready by the third day when the Lord would come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
Barricades would have to be set up to prevent people or their animals from straying too far up the mountain. Otherwise they would be subject to death because of coming too near the holy Presence on sacred ground.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightening, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Mount Sinai was covered in smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire. The whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of the Lord, the Angel of the Covenant, answered him (vv. 16-19).
“Come up the mountain, Moses!” the voice thundered. “Come alone! Don’t allow anyone to follow you.”
Seeing their leader walk out of sight up smoking Mount Sinai had a strange effect on many of the people. Their curiosity was so strong that they wanted to follow Moses. Before he could get very far up the mountain, God ordered him back.
Moses rushes down
“People are trying to follow you,” the Angel informed him. “Return at once and warn them against trespassing on holy ground. If they come too close, they will die. You may bring Aaron when you come back, but no one else.” So Moses went down to the people and told them (Ex. 19:24-25).
On his way down, Moses loudly warned those approaching the barricades to turn back. “We don’t mind you reprimanding us,” some of them said, “but we don’t want a reprimand from God. We might not live through it” (Ex. 20:19).
The people having been warned, there were more terrifying sights and sounds, followed by dramatic silence again. Then out of the silence broke the most awesome of sounds.
The Ten Commandments
And the Lord spoke all these words of the Ten Commandments. The actual pronouncement was made by the Angel of the Covenant, the being who became the man Jesus, the Messiah. For an explanation of the Ten Commandments see the paper The Ten Commandments (No. CB17).
The trumpet sounded again, signalling the conclusion to the uttering of the Ten Commandments. These were and are the vital core laws through which an all-wise and all-loving God reveals to mankind the way to find happiness, good health, protection and prosperity. These Ten Commandments are part of the two Great Commandments on which hang all the Law and the prophets of God.
In force from the beginning
The Law of God represented by the Ten Commandments had been in effect long before this time. Adam and Eve knew about them, and bitterly regretted breaking several. Men of ancient times (including Abraham) were aware of and obeyed God’s Laws (Gen. 26:5). Down through the centuries pagan ways had become so mixed in with God’s Laws that God chose this time at Mount Sinai to distinctly set forth to His people His rules for living in a clear way.
They were meant for all human beings. Obedience to them results in the best of everything. If all people kept the commandments, there would be no war, poverty, sickness, misery, jails, or unhappiness.
Down through time most people have chosen not to follow God’s Laws. They have foolishly believed man’s ways are easier and better. However, man isn’t capable of successfully leading a long and happy life without obeying God’s spiritual and physical laws.
Millions of people have never so much as heard of God, mostly because their ancestors chose to ignore their Creator. The result has been six thousand years of suffering, poverty and unhappiness for a lot of people. Today the opportunities to find out about God are greater in some nations than they were in the past, though pagan beliefs are again increasingly mixed with so-called Christianity. One of the most harmful, taught even by respected church leaders, is that keeping the Ten Commandments and the Law of God isn’t necessary. The Bible states that “false shepherds” will spring up to try to hide the truth (Acts 20:29, 30 and 2Pet. 2:1).
When finally Moses and Aaron got up from where they had been kneeling, the strong light above them had dimmed and the guiding cloud still obscured the mountain’s peak. The seventy elders walked away to tell the people that Moses would go up the mountain to hear more from the Angel of God. This relieved the crowd, which had become increasingly fearful of the Lord’s closeness and his voice.
When he was well up Mount Sinai and obscured by the cloud, Moses was informed of many things he was to tell the elders to pass on to the people.
Thereupon Moses was given rules covering many circumstances and situations. They included how to deal with murderers, thieves, sorcerers and the disorderly, how to settle various charges and claims, how to observe God’s annual Feasts and even how to handle vicious animals (Exodus chapters 21, 22 and 23). It was pointed out that rebellion was a serious sin, but that willing obedience would result in helpful miracles.
Moses returned to the valley to tell the elders what he had been told. The elders passed the information on to the people, who readily agreed to abide by it. Moses recorded the rules and conditions of this agreement between the Israelites and their Creator.
Next morning Moses directed the building of an altar on a slope of Mount Sinai. Around it were placed twelve large stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Young men prepared animals for peace offerings placed on wood on the altar. Moses took half of the blood from the animals and sprinkled it over the wood fuel. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.
They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”
“Then witness this blood of agreement with our Creator,” Moses proclaimed as he sprinkled the other half of the blood on the elders who represented the people (Ex. 24:4-8).
The division of the blood points to the twofold aspect of the covenant. We will learn more about this in paper CB41. The blood on the altar symbolises God's forgiveness and His acceptance of the offering. The blood on the elders, who represented the people, points to an oath that binds them in obedience to God.
Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel later went up Mount Sinai and saw the Angel of God. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire clear as the sky itself (vv. 9-10). The men fell on their faces when they realised they were seeing the Angel of Yahovah who later appeared as Jesus Christ (1Jn. 4:12; 1Cor. 10:4).
At first the men were afraid, but gradually they were able to rest and even eat and drink (v. 11). Being able to speak directly with the Angel of God was a special privilege few men have experienced. Most people fail to realise it is also a very special privilege to talk to God the Father simply by prayer in a proper attitude.
The voice rumbled out of the cloud, telling Moses to come on up to receive tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments to take to the people. Realising he might be gone quite a while, Moses told the men to wait until a certain time and then go back down if he hadn’t returned. He chose Joshua to continue upward with him.
When Moses went up on the mountain the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went up on the mountain. He stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (Ex. 24:15-18).
To learn more about Moses and the Israelites at Mt Sinai, see the paper Rebellion Against God’s Laws (No. CB41).