And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they moved, and stood afar off.’ Exodus 20:18.
‘When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain’
In our last lesson, we saw how God cared for the tribes of Israel in the dusty desert, giving them food from the sky so that they would not die of hunger. We saw also how the Israelites provoked God time after time because of their lack of belief and
their lack of faithfulness.
In this lesson we are going to see how God appeared to the people of Israel in the desert and gave them
His holy law.
We are reading in the book of Exodus, chapter nineteen. It begins like this:
“In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day they came into the wilderness of Sin”.
Where were Moses and the Israelites now in their journey through the desert? They had come to the mountain of
Do you remember where Moses was when God first called him through the bush which was on fire but didn’t burn up? It was on that same mountain of Sinai. Do you remember the story? We heard how God spoke to Moses on
saying, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt . . . so I have come down to deliver them . . . Come, now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh … I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.” (Exod. 3:7,8,10,12)
Did God do for Moses what He had promised?
He surely did!
Where is Moses in our reading? We see Moses and the multitude of Israel
at the bottom of Mount Sinai,
just as God had promised Moses forty years earlier when He spoke to him in the burning bush, saying, “When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God
upon this mountain”.
Now let us continue reading to see how God reappeared to Moses and spoke to all the people of Israel
at Mount Sinai.
The Scripture says: (Exodus 19:3-8) “And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you unto myself.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for
all the earth is mine.
And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said,
All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.
And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord”.
Did you hear how the Israelites answered God? They said, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do”. Was what they said true?
God knew very well that the Israelites could not do everything that He commanded them. What God really wanted was that they recognize their inability to please God, acknowledge their sinful condition before Him, and believe the Good News concerning the Redeemer who was to come into the world to redeem sinners. God had forgiven the sins of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because of their
faith in God’s promises.
God wanted to forgive the people of Israel through faith alone also. God’s way of salvation has always been by faith alone—faith in God and His plan of salvation. The Scripture says:
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for the just shall live by faith.’” (Gal. 3:11)
However, up to this point, the people of Israel hoped that they could achieve righteousness before God through
their own efforts.
How foolish of them! They had forgotten how many times they had offended God! They did not yet realise just how great their sin was before God! In their thoughts, sin was not something very serious, but in the sight of God who must judge them, sin is very serious! God is holy and perfect;
However, up to this point, the Israelites had not yet recognized this. That is why they said (boldly), All that the Lord hath spoken we will do!” However, God had a plan by which He would show them that they could not do “everything the LORD has said!” Now let us continue in the Scriptures to see how God came down on Mount Sinai, revealed His glory and holiness, and gave to the tribes of Israel.
the Ten Commandments
The Scripture says: (Exod. 19:10-13,16-20) “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people … be ready on the third day; for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of al the people upon Mount Sinai. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it. Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: there shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man,
it shall not live:
when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mountain … And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceedingly loud, so that all the people that were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. And
Mount Sinai was altogether in a smoke,
because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and became louder and louder … the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai”
(Exodus 20) And God spoke all these words saying: I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (v.3)
2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any carved image … for I, [am] the Lord, thy God. (v.4,5)
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who taketh his name in vain. (v.7)
4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. (v.8)
5) Honour thy father and thy mother. (v.12)
6) Thou shalt not kill. (v.13)
7) Thou shalt not commit adultery. (v.14)
8) Thou shalt not steal. (v.15)
9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. (v.16)
10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to thy neighbour.” (v.17)
(18-21) “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they moved, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us,
lest we die.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear not; for God is come to test you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off ….”
This is where we will stop in the Scriptures. God willing, in the next lesson we will look at each of the Ten Commandments which God gave to the Israelites
on Mount Sinai.
But before we stop, there is something that God wants to teach us through what we have just read. What we must understand is this: God is Holy and we can never approach Him
based on our own efforts.
The Scriptures teach that “all men are like grass” (1 Pet. 1:24) and “God is a consuming fire!” (Heb. 12:29) We all know what happens to grass that happens to be in the path of a wild fire!
In the beginning of our lesson, the Israelites said to Moses, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” They said that because
they did not recognize the holiness of God.
They somehow thought that they could please God through their own efforts. However, after God had appeared to them on Mount Sinai, their thoughts changed drastically! When the Israelites witnessed the thunder, the lightning and the mountain erupting with smoke and heard the voice of the LORD echoing out to them with ten holy commandments, “they trembled with fear.
They stayed at a distance
and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die!’”
Thus the people of Israel began to recognize God’s absolute holiness and
their inability to approach Him.
At the base of Mount Sinai they became aware of the truth of Scripture: “All men are like grass” and “God is a consuming fire!” (1 Pet. 1:24; Heb. 12:29) In the presence of God the Holy One, could the Israelites honestly say, “No problem! Everything the LORD has said we will do!”? No, they could not! Now the Israelites recognized that they had a prob-lem; a very serious problem! They sensed the holiness of God and the strictness of His commandments; they sensed their own unholiness and inability to keep God’s perfect law.
They felt like dry grass in the path of a wild fire!
How about you? Do you recognize the holiness of the LORD? Do you see that God and His law are righteous and perfect? Do you realise that your heart and your works are unrighteous and imperfect before God? Or are you like the Israelites who thought, “No problem! We will do everything that God requires! We will draw near to God by our good deeds!” Truly, such thoughts do not agree with God’s thoughts. Can those who are filthy and stained with sin dwell with the One who is pure and holy?
No, they cannot!
Can God favor that which is half good and half evil? No, He cannot and He will not! God is holy and cannot tolerate that which is unholy! He demands perfection! Do you realise this? Or are you hoping that, in the Day of Judgement, your “good deeds” will somehow wipe out your evil deeds? If that were so, then God would not be a righteous judge! To illustrate, what would we think about a judge who tells a murderer, “You are guilty of murder, however, because of the good deeds that you have done in the past, I won’t sentence you. You may go free.” What would we say of a judge who did that? We would declare him to be an unrighteous, unjust judge. Friends, God is a righteous Judge!
He cannot overlook sin!
The Lord God who must judge the world can only do what is righteous! The righteousness of God demands a payment for sin. And that payment is death and eternal separation from God! The good works which we do cannot cancel our debt of sin. Concerning our good deeds, the Scripture says: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags!” (Isa. 64:6) God is like a consuming fire and the good works of the sons of Adam are like dry grass. In our own righteousness,
we cannot stand before the flame of God’s holy judgement!
Did the Israelites dare get close to the fire of God which descended on Mount Sinai? Did they try to climb the mountain up to where God was? Were they bold enough to approach the mountain which quaked and rumbled with thunder and lightning; the mountain from which billowed up smoke like smoke from a furnace? No! They did not approach it!
They stood afar off and trembled with fear!
Not one person among them dared to approach the mountain because of the fear they felt before the holiness of the LORD God and His awesome power. But
that fear was very good for them,
because the Word of God says: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge!” (Prov. 1:7)
Friends, we encourage you to remember this: that
God is holy and must judge people according to His standard of holiness.
God is holy and He cannot ignore sin. God is holy and we cannot approach Him on the merits of our own efforts!
In the next lesson, in the will of God, we will examine and interpret the Ten Commandments which God gave the Israelites there
on the mountain of Sinai.
God bless you and teach you as you think about this foundational truth from His Word:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge!” (Prov. 1:7)
We would invite you to answer the questions attached and send them together with any questions that you might have