As the Israelites approached the mountain of God after their journey in the wilderness of sin, Moses is commanded by God to prepare the people for His revelation. They are to purify themselves before God will speak to them all, not just Moses. They are to wash their clothes and stay free from sexual engagement. They are also not to go up the mountain of God, but stay at the base in waiting.
On the third day, God descends upon the mountain in a cloud accompanied by thunder and lightning. The people are scared and draw back from the mountain. But Moses approaches God, and he is told what we know today as the 10 Commandments. There are many variations of the 10 commandments throughout Christianity. We even see two sets given in the Bible (Exodus and Deuteronomy). From a catholic perspective, the following are the 10 Commandments:
- I am the Lord your God, You shall have no other gods besides Me.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
- Keep holy the Sabbath Day.
- Honor your Mother and your Father.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
After these commandments were given to Moses, the people of Israel tell Moses that he alone should continue to talk to God. Upon seeing His veiled glory in the cloud of thunder and lightning, they feared death if they went any closer. Thus God lays out many more commandments for Moses to give to the people concerning social and religious matters. Then God gives Moses the rhythm of worship for the Jewish year. The foundations for the Jewish nation are complete, and God reaffirms His promise to deliver to them the promised land and be their protector as long as they abide by His laws.
To ratify the covenant, a sacrifice of oxen is made and it is sprinkled on the altar of God and on the people signifying the binding agreement of entering into God’s family. Then Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons and 70 elders of Israel enter into the cloud and behold God in his glory, and feast. Moses and Joshua then go further up the mountain to receive God’s commandments written in stone. Aaron and the elders are to watch over the people until Moses’ return.
In this awesome passage, God draws near to His people in a way that has not happened since the Garden of Eden. By giving them His laws, He is teaching them the disposition they need to be in to draw near to Him (what we had lost in Eden). If we examine the 10 commandments, we see that they are concerned with how we act to two groups of people.
The first is God. The first 3 commandments show us how we are to relate to God. He is to be the first thing in our lives, thus these commandments are first. And we are to treat Him and all things surrounding Him with reverence because they are holy. Finally, the day He gives us to be in rest with Him should be consecrated to Him. If we do not have this day, we are not entering into His life, but our living our own selfish life.
The second group is all other people. The final 7 commandments show us the basics on how we are to treat others. A society that is living in God does not kill, steal, lie, cheat, or desire others and their things. Yet, the Israelites came from a culture where many of these sins were accepted in everyday life. Through the Law, God is forming his people, but also gathering a place to place all sin. These laws are the foundation of being a part of God’s family. The blood of the sacrifice marks the entrance into the covenant and is a foreshadowing of the Blood of Christ.
The actions of the people of Israel in this section show us just how much sin makes us unworthy to be in God’s presence. The Israelites are given a chance to draw close to God, but refuse to do so out of fear of death. In today’s culture, we tend to see sin as not that big of a deal, or that it is understandable because we are a fallen people. Yet, we see that a people who have the opportunity to go near the God who had delivered them from Egypt and sustained them on their journey to the mountain, could not do so because of their sinfulness. Sin makes the soul unworthy and fearful of God. We must avoid sin at all cost if we want to draw near God. Otherwise, we will run from Him.
As Moses and Joshua go higher up the mountain, the people of Israel will quickly forget their covenantal promise to God. Yet, we know that it is because of the failures of the people that we will eventually receive the greatest gift from God, His Son who will be born into this new nation.