7. At the Mount of God
Three months had come and gone since Israel came out of Egypt, and now the people were camped at the head of the fertile valley of Feiran, under the great Mount whence God was to give them His Law. On either side of the valley rose a wall of mighty cliffs; a sparkling stream babbled down the glen, through groves of palm-trees and green bushes; in front towered the giant mass of the great mountain, Serbal, its cliffs flushed with strange colours, purple, and black, and gold. Now when the camp had been pitched before the Holy Mount, the Lord called Moses to Him in the solitude of the mountain slopes and commanded that the people should prepare themselves to receive His Law.
For two days they were to purify themselves. Then on the third day, with clean-washed garments, they were to stand before the mount to pay attention to the voice of God. They were to be close to the mountain so that all might see and hear; but no one was to touch it, or set foot upon its slopes, on pain of death. The third day dawned; and on the crest of the mountain there hung a great, black cloud, and from the heart of it there broke forth lightning, and the rolling voice of thunder, and the high, shrill blast of a trumpet, sounding loud and long. Below in the valley the people of Israel trembled for fear; for the mighty rocks around them quivered and shook and sent forth flashes of fire, and the smoke rolled heavenwards from the hill like the smoke of a vast furnace. Once again the Lord called Moses to Him on the mountain-top to bid him warn the people, lest in vain curiosity they should break through the barriers encircling the mountain and so perish; and Moses did as the Lord commanded him.
Then, from the midst of the dark cloud that veiled the trembling mountain-peak, came the sound of an awesome voice. Thus spoke the LORD to His people:
The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20: 1 — 17
1 Then God delivered all these commandments:
2 “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
3 You shall not have other gods besides me.
4 You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;
5 you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation;
6 but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
9 Six days you may labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you.
11 In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.
13 “You shall not kill.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
As commandment after commandment pealed forth from the cloud encircled cliff above their heads, in the terror of trumpet blast and lightning and earthquake, the hearts of the people melted within them. In great dread they drew back from the mountain, and cried to Moses: “Be God’s messenger to us. God’s words we can hearken to, when you speak them; but let not God Himself speak to us, lest we die.” Their leader quieted them and told them that God did not mean to destroy them, but only to test them, that so, having seen His mighty power, they might ever stand in awe of Him, and might reverence Him.
So passed that wondrous day. Early next morning Moses arose, and built an altar to the Lord under the face of the cliff from where the thunder of the Law had rolled. It was flanked with twelve pillars, one for each of the tribes of Israel, and young men chosen from the tribes made a sacrifice of oxen thereon to the Lord. Half of the blood of the sacrifices Moses laid aside in basins; with the other half he sprinkled the altar. Taking then the roll on which he had written all that God had spoken the day before, he read it aloud in the hearing of the people; and all the men of Israel lifted their hands and made oath: “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” So Moses took the remainder of the blood that he had set apart, and with it he anointed the people. So was there a blood-covenant made between the Lord God and His people Israel, before the Mount of God in Sinai.
To consecrate the covenant the Lord called Moses to come up into the mountain, bringing with him Aaron and his sons, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of the nation. And to these men it was given to see something of the glory of the Most High; yet all that they could later report was that beneath the feet of the Eternal there seemed to stretch a pavement of sapphire, blue as the very vault of heaven itself. No harm came to them in that Almighty presence; but before the feet of God they ate of the covenant-sacrifice, and then went back down to the people again. But Moses remained upon the Mount of God, shrouded from the eyes of the people of Israel by a shining cloud that seemed to them the very glory of God. For six days he remained there; and then, at last, God spoke to him once more out of the glory, and for forty days and forty nights Moses dwelt with God on the mount, learning from communion with Him the manner in which the children of Israel should serve the Lord, and how they should bear themselves towards one another and towards those of other races. Many, and wise, and merciful were the laws which God taught to His servant, and Moses wrote them all in the book of the covenant that they might be an ordinance for Israel to all generations.