Israel had accepted God’s offer to make them into a holy nation of priest who love and obey him. Pleased to make Israel his special treasure, God told Moses to prepare the people for a visitation. He would meet with Israel in three days to seal the agreement over dinner.
Moses descended the mountain and selected a committee to set up a boundary around Mt. Sinai. The camp was tidied up and swept clean. Then the people washed their clothes and anxiously awaited God’s arrival. The people thought they were ready to meet God.
THIRD TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP
June 5, 1462BC
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Exodus 19:16
Reading the Exodus account of God’s arrival paints a partial picture. Deborah and Barak’s song of praise to God sheds a little more light on what happened the day God came to Sinai.
“O LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel. Judges 5:4-5
On the third day, Israel awoke to a major thunderstorm. I can surmise what they were thinking. “Isn’t this great! Don’t you know it would rain today and ruin everything? We all took a bath and put on clean clothes. Now we have to walk through the mud to get to the mountain, and we’ll all be dirty again. God might even cancel!” They did not have to worry about God canceling because that storm was God and ten thousands of his saints or angels on their way to Mount Sinai.
As God settled on the mountaintop, thunder crashed, lighting flashed and rain poured so hard a river began to flow from the mountain. In addition to the thunderstorm, the arrival of God and his entourage created something akin to an earthquake. God had arrived to put his law into effect through the ten thousands of angels he brought with him. In addition to the thunder, lighting, downpour, a river suddenly rising and the earth quaking and shaking,
Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently,… Exodus 19:18
At this awesome sight everyone in the camp trembled with fear including Moses. The Hebrew word for tremble means to shudder with terror. The Greek word in the book of Hebrews that described Moses reaction to this sight means to be frightened out of ones wits. I’ve been in severe storms that made me anxious, but I’ve never shaken with fear and couldn’t think straight.
Israel was terrified because it was raining so hard a river flowed from the mountain and at the same time the mountain was on fire with smoke rising like it is pouring from a furnace. Why didn’t the rain put out the fire? I will come back and answer that question. Let’s finish painting this picture first.
God had already told Moses when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast the people may approach the mountain. When the trumpet blasted
…Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God and they stood at the foot of the mountain… … and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Exodus 19:17,19
As the trumpet blast grew in intensity, Moses spoke and the people heard God command Moses to come to the top of the mountain. If there was ever a doubt in any mind that Moses acted on God’s behalf, all reason to doubt melted away as Moses ascended the mountain. Moses approached the fire that could not be quenched and had an amusing conversation with God.
… the Lord said to him, Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Exodus 19:21
Force their way through “to see the Lord! The people at the foot of the mountain are frightened out of their wits, probably wondering what they got themselves into, perhaps even wishing God had never showed up. God is concerned someone will try to force their way up the mountain and get a peek at him! I can’t help but wonder if this was a little godly humor. Do you really think God did not know how scared they were? Or did God call Moses up and immediately send him back down as living proof his fire will not kill you.
Moses really had lost his wits. He told God they had set up a boundary and it wouldn’t be necessary to warn the people. If you have ever addressed God like he does not know what is going on take comfort! You are not the first.
The Lord replied, Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them. Exodus 19:24
God instructed Moses to go own to the camp and return with Aaron. When he returns with Aaron it will be Moses fourth trip and Aaron’s first.
Moses returned to the bottom of the mountain to obey God’s instructions. Before he returned with Aaron, God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel and
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance…Exodus 20:18
The people were more than happy to abide by God’s instructions. In fact they could not get away from the mountain far enough and fast enough. The King James says they removed and stood afar off. The Hebrew word for afar off can refer to both place and time. When the people saw the effect of God’s presence and heard his voice, they stood afar off in place and time. The Hebrew word for removed is nuwa` (noo’-ah) and it means to waver. Wavering kept Israel from drawing near to God, so what made the people waver? If you only read the Exodus account, you will never know.
The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) Deuteronomy 5:4-5
The people were afraid of the fire because this fire could not be quenched. This was no ordinary fire. It was fire that cannot be controlled.
When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me. And you said, “The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” Deuteronomy 5:23-27
Did you hear Israel wavering between two opinions? They said now we know “a man can live even if God speaks with him out of the fire.” In the next breath they said, “we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord any longer.” Then they told Moses to talk to God and tell us whatever he tells you. Wasn’t Moses a mortal man like they were? Moses can hear God’s voice speak to him out of the fire without dying but if Israel hears God’s voice they will die. They wavered. Make up your mind about God.
They can’t make up their mind because they don’t know God. God is not willing that anyone should perish. He was trying to love them and prove his presence won’t kill them, but all they can see is death because their minds are carnal. Why were they afraid God would kill them but not kill Moses?
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 KJV
They were afraid God would kill them, because they have no wisdom and their carnal minds made them unstable. They had no wisdom, because they had no faith. They had no faith, because they can’t make up their mind about God. They wavered between two opinions. They can’t make up their mind if God is for them or against them. God has not raised a hand to harm any of his people…yet.
Now let’s answer the question I left unanswered. Why didn’t the rain put out the fire? What was this great fire that can’t be controlled by water Israel feared would kill them.
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. … Song of Solomon 8:6-7
The people are wavering, double minded, unstable worshippers, because they are afraid to be loved! Their fear of death was not completely unfounded. Israel would have died in the fire – died to an old way of living and thinking about God that they might live a new life in Christ.
There are Christians who can’t find freedom from sin because they are afraid to see who they really are and let God prove he still loves and accepts them. Shutting your eyes to the truth doesn’t have anyone fooled but you.
The river flowing from the mountain is God’s judgment against us that cleanses our dirty robes. The rain cannot put out the fire because God’s judgments against us will never quench his love for us.
The meeting with God so unnerved Israel that Moses tried to comfort them.
Moses said to the people, Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. Exodus 20:20
Is this the truth or was this Moses opinion? It is true that Moses made this statement to Israel, but you must carefully consider who is talking. Consider what God has to say on the same subject before accepting something as fact about God.
Terror in the wilderness never kept Israel from sinning. Before the ink had time to dry on Moses copy of the covenant, Aaron led the people into a sin that broke the covenant. God was not trying to create an atmosphere of shock and awe so they would stop sinning. Israel proved that terror in the wilderness will not keep you from sin and its consequences.
Let’s compare Moses’ explanation with God’s.
The Lord said to Moses, 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. Exodus 19:9
God’s dealings with Moses are a shadow of better things to come. Everything God did in the Old Testament prepared the way for the fulfillment of the oath he swore to Abraham. God promised Abraham he would make his family into a great nation. The promise couldn’t be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime because a nation needs law. God raised Moses up as a servant to us teach his law. Then God spoke to Moses from the earth, so future generations would know that the man God speaks to can be trusted. If Israel had remembered their history, when God spoke to Jesus from heaven, they would have known Jesus could be trusted.
The law God gave to Moses cannot save us from sin. Israel broke the law and the curse came upon their nation. Moses taught them a law that produced death. Jesus teaches us how the same law gives life. Moses came first because you need to understand law before you will comprehend the depth of God’s love.
The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! Deuteronomy 5:28-29
Israel’s desire to trust the man God speaks to pleased God. Then God revealed his heart for all to see. He wished Israel would fear him and keep all his commands that it would go well with them and their children forever. Israel’s history proves that things have never gone well for them. If we could obey God’s every command, we would not need Jesus, but we do. Being blessed always and forever is impossible without Jesus.
FOURTH TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP
June 5, 1462BC
The people remained at a distance while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:21
In the presence of Aaron, who would become the nations first High Priest, God gave Moses the laws that govern the way priests should live. God also made it very clear that a priest should not make graven images. The last thing God said to Moses was,
… “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the LORD; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.” Exodus 24:1-2
God sent Moses and Aaron back down the mountain with instructions for Moses and Aaron to return with Aaron’s two eldest sons and seventy of the elders of Israel. Joshua would also be in this company. They were invited to have dinner with God. The last step to confirm they accept the covenant of law.
Before Moses and Aaron led the elders up the mountain, they held a business meeting.
When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Exodus 24:3
Israel did not dictate terms to God. God dictated the terms. Once again, the elders must decide. Do they want what God wants? God was very methodical in his dealings with Israel. First God offered to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They accepted God’s offer and promised to do everything God said. This time God gave them the laws a priest must live by. For the second time the elders said, Yes, “everything the Lord has said we will do.”
After every one agreed to accept God’s offer,
Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Exodus 24:4
After the business meeting concluded, Moses wrote down everything “ the Lord had said,” so they could remember what they agreed to do. Then Moses set his alarm clock to rise early and went to bed.
FIFTH TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP
June 6, 1462 BC
Early the next morning, Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain. In the presence of Aaron, God had instructed Moses to build an altar of earth to “honor my name” and God would meet anyone who comes to the altar and bless them. When Moses was gone the people were not alone. They had access to God at the altar Moses built. Sacrifices were made on the altar sealing the covenant with the blood of an animal. Moses sprinkled half the blood on the altar,
Then he took the Book of the Covenant (the book he was up late into the night writing) and read it to the people. They responded, We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey. Exodus 24:7
This was the third time in less than a week the elders agreed to do everything the Lord had said. The third time in less than a week that they said, “We will obey”!
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words. Exodus 24:8
It is done or in Jesus words “it is finished!” The people had a legal covenant sealed with blood. They not only had a covenant. They fully understand it because God revealed his desire one step at a time. They know what God wants. They have a copy of God’s will in writing. The elders said three times that the nation would abide by everything in the covenant. Now that they have a covenant with God there is one final step to be made. The leaders of Israel would enter God’s presence and dine.
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. Exodus 24:9-11
This is great, wonderful, but only shadows of better things. There was a problem with this covenant.
… Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. Exodus 24:2
The covenant of law only permitted Moses to come near and in the future only the High Priest could enter God’s presence once a year. Yes, under a covenant of law they saw God. They even ate and drank in his presence, but they could not come near.
Jesus came so God could change the priesthood and in so doing change the law. The new covenant is one of grace by which whosoever will can come near. For we did not stand at the foot of the mountain that could not be touched, that burned with fire in the midst of a storm, to hear the sound of a trumpet and words that we begged to hear no more. We have come to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant and the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things. 
After Aaron, his sons and the elders ate and drank in God’s presence, he said to Moses,
…Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instructions. Exodus 24:12
While Moses was up late writing down everything God said, God was up late writing down everything he said in stone!
The LORD gave me [Moses] two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the LORD proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. Deuternomy 9:10
God’s law requires every matter to be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. The copy Moses wrote is one witness. God’s copy written in stone is the second witness. But the old is a shadow of better things to come. Under the New Testament we move from the carnal to the spiritual. From things we can see, writing on a stone, to the unseen writing on human hearts. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant– not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, 6
The stone God wrote upon with his finger was a dead witness that did not change the hearts of the people in the wilderness or the hearts of their children. Under the new covenant God writes on our hearts making us living epistles of commendation to God’s power for all who read them because those who knew what we were cannot deny the transforming power of God’s love they see in us now.
Before we continue let’s pause to consider something important. Israel just spent three days cleaning up, but when God arrived all their human effort to be clean availed nothing because they stood at the foot of the mountain muddy. Jesus also described what happened when God arrived at Sinai.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27
God is the storm that washes away a house built on sand. The devil cannot wash away the truth and gains nothing by exposing a lie. God’s presence washes away the lies you have built your life on because the truth reveals the truth. If God’s presence causes your life to fall apart like Lot’s did when God visited him don’t get mad be glad. Now you know that you built your house on a lie and now you can rebuild on the truth. Unfortunately for some, like Jacob, a lifetime of labor gets washed away in one day. When you have worked so hard for so many years and never stopped worshipping God its hard to understand how you have done anything wrong disaster to come upon you. If you are not careful you will call the storm of God’s presence the devil.
 Deuteronomy 33:2 , Jude 14-16
 Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19, Jude vs14-15
 Exodus 19:16, Hebrews 12:21
 Hebrew #2729 charad
 Greek #1630 ekphobos
 Exodus 19:8
 Exodus 24:3
 Hebrews 7:19, 10:22; Ephesians 2:13-15; James 4:8
 Hebrews 12:18-24
 Deuteronomy 19:15, John 8:17, 2 Corinthians 13:1
 2 Corinthians 3:1-3