MOSES ON MOUNT SINAI
It is interesting how we get impressions from Sunday School stories and from films. We all know that Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, because Cecil B. DeMille told us so. Actually, Moses got his exercise because he went up the mountain at least eight times. In Exodus chapters 19 through 34 there is no indication that the Lord came down to the foot of the mountain. On every occasion when Moses met with the Lord, he approached the thick darkness or approached the Lord, who was on top of the mountain.
The Children of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai on the first day of the third month of the Hebrew calendar, Sivan, just a few days before Pentecost. The Lord called Moses to the mountain (First Ascent1) and told him that the Children of Israel would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Moses returned to the people. They answered that they would do all that the Lord had spoken.
Moses returned to the mountain to bring back the words of the people (Second Ascent2). The Lord told Moses that He would speak to the people on the third day, and that they must consecrate themselves for the event. It appears that after the Lord gave Moses instructions to be ready on the third day, He gave him further instructions on the mountain. It is possible that the command to consecrate themselves and the further instructions were both at the same time.
Moses went down the mountain, and told the people the words of the Lord.
The Lord came down to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to Him (Third Ascent3). He was told again to warn the people about getting too close to the mountain. Moses again returned to the people to give them the warning.
The Lord then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelites and scared them to death4. They asked Moses to have the Lord speak through him rather than directly to them. According to Jewish tradition the speaking of the Ten Commandments came on Pentecost. Scripture does not give the date, but the timing is very close.
After the giving of the Commandments, Moses drew near to the thick darkness where the Lord was. Of course, this was on top of the mountain. (Fourth Ascent5) During this time the Lord gave Moses additional laws (over three chapters of Exodus) for the Children of Israel.
The next time Moses went up the mountain is very unique and interesting. The Lord told Moses to bring up Aaron, his two sons Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. (Fifth Ascent6) These men saw the Lord in Heaven. And yet they lived! (Scripture says that they ate and drank7, or in other words, they continued to live.) This party of seventy-four people returned to the camp. It is of interest that the Lord was gracious and did not cause these people to die because they had seen Him. It was the Fifth Ascent and five is the number of grace.
Again, the Lord called Moses and Joshua to the mountain (Sixth Ascent8) to receive instructions for the making of the tabernacle and priestly garments, and the consecration of the priests. After giving the instructions, the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments written by His own hand on tablets of stone. It was during this ascent that Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights, and the Israelites made the Golden Calf9. When he descended from the mountain, Moses was so angry that he threw down the Tablets of Stone and smashed them!
After destroying the Golden Calf and exacting retribution against the people, Moses told them that he would go to the Lord and try to make atonement for their great sin. So Moses again ascended the mountain (Seventh Ascent10). It was at this time that Moses offered himself in place of the people. Here, Moses was a type of Jesus, who offered himself in our stead.
According to Jewish tradition, when Moses returned to the people, it was Tishri 10 or the Day of Atonement. Again, Scripture does not indicate a date. If this is so, then Moses spent eighty days on the mountain, which is not an impossibility.
Finally, the Lord told Moses to go up on the mountain where Moses might see the presence of the Lord. He was also told to bring up two stone tablets to replace the ones he broke. This was the Eighth Ascent11. And again, Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain.
So Moses climbed Mount Sinai eight, or possibly nine, times. The real lesson for us in this story is to not just read over something that we think we are familiar with. When we do, we miss a lot of detail. I have focused on the ascents up the mountain, but there are many, many pictures and prophecies in this text. Praise the Lord for His Word!
1 - Exodus 19:3
2 - Exodus 19:8
3 - Exodus 19:20
4 - Exodus 20:1-19
5 - Exodus 20:21
6 - Exodus 24:9
7 - Exodus 24:11
8 - Exodus 24:12
9 - Exodus 32:1-4
10 - Exodus 32:31
11 - Exodus 34:2