Moses, The Ten Commandments, Mt. Sinai and His Covenant with God

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Moses Comes Down from Mount Sinai
After crossing a long expanse of desert, travelling for nearly three months, Moses and the Israelites came to the Mountain of God (commonly said to be Mount Sinai). There, God appeared to Moses; "There was thunder and lightning and a dark cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, and all the people who were in the camp trembled...And Mount Sinai was all smoke because the Lord descended upon it in a fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln. And all the people trembled greatly. And as the trumpet blast grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the Lord answered him in thunder...Yahweh called Moses to the top of the mountain and Moses went up." [Source: Exodus 19:16-20]

When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, God gave them the Ten Commandments. Moses then ascended the mountain, where he stayed for 40 days and received further laws and instructions, which became the heart of the Torah. During Moses's 40 days on Mt. Sinai, God spoke to Moses again and told Moses about the covenant (agreement) between God and the Jews. God made a covenant Moses, declaring that the Israelites were his own people and that they must listen to God and obey His laws. These laws were the Ten Commandments which were which were inscribed on two tablets and given to Moses. These laws set out the basic principles that would govern the Israelites lives. God told Moses if the Jews kept the Ten Commandments, God would lead them to the Promised Land.

No less than eight Mt. Sinai's have been identified, two of which aren't even on the Sinai peninsula. The one most associated with Moses is a 7,497-foot purple granite peak called Gebel in the southern Sinai. The famous Byzantine Monastery of St. Catherine is located here on the spot where the burning bush incident is believed to have taken place. According to the BBC: “The precise location of the Mountain of God has always been a mystery. One suggestion is that it's Mount Sinai, the highest peak in the southern desert. Every night of the year, pilgrims and tourists set off in the cool hours of the morning to make the arduous three hour climb to the top. No-one really knows if this is the Mountain of God.|::|

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Judaism Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook Christianity: BBC on Christianity ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Biblical Images: Bible in Pictures ; Bible Blue Letter Images ; Biblical Images

God Comes to Moses at Mt. Sinai

Exodus 19:15 And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives. 19:16 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 exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. 19:17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. [Source: King James Version of the Bible,]

Mount Sinai

19:18 And mount Sinai was altogether on 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. 19:19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. 19:20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

19:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. 19:22 And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them. 19:23 And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it. 19:24 And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them.

Moses Ascends to Heaven in the Muslim Story

“Israelites then settled in a secure habitation provided with all amenities and comforts. After some time, Moses, accompanied by seventy of his followers, ascended to the heavens to see God, leaving his people in the charge of his brother, Aaron. He bade Aaron to have no dealings with evil-doers and to perform his task with 'an honest heart'. Moses had what the Quran describes as 'a communion with God for thirty nights'. Subsequently, ten more nights were added, to make forty nights in all, which was the appointed time of communication with the Lord. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009, |::|]

“When Moses came to the appointed place, the Lord blessed him. Moses prayed: 'O my Lord, let me look at You.' The Lord said, 'You cannot see Me when I manifest My glory. But look upon the mountain; if it stays firm in its place, then you shall see Me. Now turn towards it.' And in an instant the mountain crumbled and became dust. Seeing this, Moses fell down in a swoon. [7:143]|::|

“When Moses recovered, God enquired: 'Why have you come in such haste to Us?' 'My people have taken to the path shown by You, my Lord,' he replied. 'I have come to seek Your blessings.' 'In your absence your people have gone astray,' God told him. 'They have been misled by a person called al-Samiri.' Moses was grief-stricken. He begged God to forgive his followers and not to destroy them for their betrayal. God granted his wish and gave him tablets of stone bearing precepts that his people were to follow in order to achieve the best, both on earth and in the hereafter.|::|

Ten Commandments

In the Ten Commandments, Moses outlined a basis for morality which has lasted over 3,000 years and been embraced by two-thirds of the world's population. The most common form of the Ten Commandments is given in Exodus chapter 20 and Deuteronomy chapter 5.

The Ten Commandments are:
1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me
2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
4) Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy
5) Honour thy father and thy mother
6) Thou shalt not kill
7) Thou shalt not commit adultery
8) Thou shalt not steal
9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour
10) Thou shalt not covet any thing that is thy neighbour's|::|

The ban on graven images means that believers may not worship or bow down to idols or even images that attempt to capture the one true God. The understanding is that God is so powerful and overwhelming that he can not be conveyed in an image. He can be worshipped as a spirit.

The ban on using God’s name in vain is reminder that using God’s name is not something that should be taken lightly. Traditionally, Jews have not even used his name at all. Instead they referred to him as “Adonai” (The Lord) and “HaShem” (The Name).

Exodus on The Ten Commandments

Exodus 19:25 So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them. 20:1 And God spake all these words, saying, 20:2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. [Source: King James Version of the Bible,]

Ten Commandments in Austin, Texas

20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 20:10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. 20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

20:13 Thou shalt not kill.
20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
20:15 Thou shalt not steal.
20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

According to the BBC: “We know very little about the ten commandments. We don't know when or where they were written or who wrote them. One theory is that they could only have been written only when the Hebrews had settled in the Promised Land because only then could the commandments have been enforced. But the first commandment seems more likely to have come out of one man's meeting with his God in the desert. Moses himself could have been the author of some of the commandments. He had been taught to read and write in the royal nursery.” [Source: BBC]

More Commandments

There are more than 10 commandments. In all there 613 of them, covering every aspect of life including law, family, and personal hygiene and diet. [Source: BBC]

Exodus 20:18 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 removed, and stood afar off. 20:19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20:20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 20:21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. [Source: King James Version of the Bible,]

20:22 And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
20:23 Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
20:24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
20:25 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
20:26 Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
21:1 Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.

21:2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. 21:3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. 21:4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. 21:5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 21:6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

21:7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. 21:8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. 21:9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. 21:10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. 21:11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money. 21:12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

21:13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. 21:14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. 21:15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. 21:16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. 21:17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

21:18 And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: 21:19 If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed. 21:20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. 21:21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money. 21:22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

21:23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 21:24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 21:25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

21:26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake. 21:27 And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake. 21:28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. 21:29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

The list of Commandments then goes on for another 20 pages or so in Exodus alone.

First Covenant

God made his First Covenant with Abraham According to the BBC: “The ultimate test of Abraham's obedience, however, comes in Genesis 22 when he is asked to sacrifice his son by Sarah - Isaac. God had promised that Abraham's descendents would come through Isaac, so the level of faith he displays is quite astonishing. Abraham trusts God and takes his son, as directed, up a mountain. At the very last minute, God intervenes and spares Isaac's life by providing another animal (a ram) for sacrifice. The test is complete and God once more reiterates his promises to Abraham of land, descendents and a personal relationship. [Source: BBC, June 25, 2009 |::|]

“According to the Bible, Abraham is humanity's last chance to establish a relationship with God. At the beginning of the Bible in the creation narratives, Adam and Eve set in train a pattern of disobedience to God's commands which takes root. Even after the Great Flood, in which only Noah was saved, humanity once again comes perilously close to alienating themselves from their creator God. They build the tower of Babel (Genesis 11), a tower that seems like it will almost break through to the heavens and God again intervenes and scatters the people across the earth. |::|

“The covenant between God and the Jewish people is a thread running throughout the early parts of the Bible, and one of the vital pillars of Judaism. The first covenant was between God and Abraham. God asks Abraham to do certain things, in return for which he will take special care of them. The covenant between God and Jews is the basis for the idea of the Jews as the chosen people. Jewish men are circumcised as a symbol of this covenant. (You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. — Genesis 17) |::|

Second Covenant

Ar Mount Sinai, Moses secured a decree from God calling upon the Israelites to enter into a covenant with God. After this The Israelites experienced God's presence in the form of "thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn" (Exod. 19:16). Through Moses, God bestowed the Ten Commandments, proclaiming the people's duties to him and to other human beings as an obligation to the Covenant. Overwhelmed by the events and responsibilities, the Israelites begged Moses to serve as their mediator with God. He obliged and once again ascended Mt. Sinai, where he was given a huge body of divine decrees, which Moses submitted to the people and were recorded in books of law that became the Torah. This act cemented the covenant between God and his people.

The Second Covenant (also called the Mosaic Covenant after Moses, and the Sinaitic Covenant after Mt. Sinai is generally understood as an affirmation of the original covenant between God and Abraham, confirmed by his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, and the expansion of the Covenate to the entire House of Israel (the all the descendants of Abraham), the Tribes of Israel or all the Israelites. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

The Second Covenant reinforced the First Covenant that God had given to Abraham and told the Jews what they would have to do as their side of the covenant. God promised to stay with the Jews and never to abandon them, because they were his chosen people. Exodus 19: 1-8 reads: “...if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation... God told the Jewish People, that for their part, they must dedicate themselves to serving God for ever, and to making the world a better and holier place by obeying God's laws. The Jewish people agreed to do this by saying, All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Source: BBC, July 7, 2009 |::|]

The heart of the Second Covenant is the Ten Commandments. According to the BBC: The covenant at Sinai sets out in great detail the relationship between God and the Jews. Much of Judaism can be seen as the working out of this relationship and the development of the God's rules into a complete lifestyle. The covenant is made with the Jewish People as a whole, not with each individual Jew - and the result of this is that Jewish history is full of the Jews' attempts to create a good and just society. |::|

Ten Commandments in the Muslim Story of Moses

According to Muslim beliefs: “God imparted knowledge to Moses for the good of Israelites, and inscribed on the tablets 'detailed precepts' of faith in His oneness and the code of righteous conduct. In the tablets We have ordained laws concerning all matters, and We command you to hold to them firmly and be among those who are faithful to the best of the precepts they contain. [7:145] [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009, |::|]

“Moses warned his people that those who repudiated God's Signs and the judgment to come were bound to meet their doom; no one would be able to save them then. He also asked them to remember the grace of God, because of which prophets were raised among them and were made rulers. No other people in the world had had such benevolence from the Lord. God had assigned Palestine to them, and so Moses called on his followers to enter this holy land.|::|

“They hesitated and told Moses: 'How can we? The land is inhabited by a mighty people. Until they leave, we cannot possibly enter it.' However, two among them, who were brave and God-fearing, volunteered. Moses asked God for his direction. “He answered: To those who have defied your command, O Moses! this land is proscribed for forty years. They will wander around the world but will have no home of their own. You need not sorrow over them, for that is the fate of rebellious people. [5:29]|::|

“The Israelites were divided into twelve tribes: The Lord commanded Moses to strike the rock with his staff. No sooner was this done than twelve springs gushed forth. Each group then took its own spring to drink, and to each the Lord gave shades of cloud as cover and manna and quail to eat, and all other good things. But the unbelievers rebelled and did not follow the command; they only harmed themselves. The Lord is, indeed, above all harm. [7:160]|::|

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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