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The Bible Story
Volume 1, Chapters 21-30
The Exodus Begins
THE ruler of Egypt would have been much more troubled if he could have known about the woes to come shortly. God instructed His people through Moses to ask their Egyptian neighbors to pay for the many services the friendly Israelites had provided them over the years. Most Egyptians were generous in this matter. They freely gave of their jewels, gold and silver. Their liberality reflected the esteem with which they regarded Moses, who was remembered for his former days as a high ranking Egyptian officer and later respected for his sensible dealings in behalf of his people.
Israel Observes the Passover
Gathering some wealth was only a small part of preparations to leave. Pharaoh yet had to be in favor of it. Moses relayed God's remarks about what to do. On the tenth day of that first month, named Abib (Ex. 12:3), every family was to pick a healthy lamb to be roasted so that it could be eaten on the fourteenth day. When it was killed, its blood was to be smeared on the doors of the Israelites' residences to protect the firstborn males from the death angel God would send to take the lives of all Egyptian firstborn males. This was to be the tenth plague.
"Henceforth the fourteenth day of this month will be known as the Passover," God told Moses. "It will show My mercy toward the people I have chosen to carry out a plan I have for people on Earth. It will prove to the Egyptians that I am the all-powerful God."
God explained further that Passover would become a memorial to be observed forever. On the fifteenth day they were to observe an annual Sabbath. Also, no leavening was to be in their homes for a week.
"The last day of that week shall be another holy day for you," God continued. "On that twenty-first day you shall do no work. except prepare food." (Verses 15-20.)
God went on to explain that leavening symbolized sin, and abstaining from it was like being free of idol-worshiping Egypt. (Ex. 13:3-10.) He made it plain that anyone, Israelite or not, who used leavening during the time of unleavened bread, would not be allowed to go with the chosen people to freedom in a land prepared for them.
On learning these things, the Israelites prepared for the holy days to come. Thousands of families prepared the lambs. If they didn't have lambs, they were allowed to use young goats. Their homes were marked with blood for the Passover. As the fourteenth day of the month began, they were dressed for sudden travel, as instructed, and then hastily ate their dinners of meat and vegetables.
What the Passover Represents
God's Son, often spoken of as the Lamb of God, was also slain as a sacrifice on the Passover many hundreds of years later. And as God had made the weekly Sabbath a holy day, He did the same now for the annual Sabbaths. These holy times were and are signs between God and the people chosen to carry out His plans.
For centuries there have been disobedient kings, priests, ministers, politicians, dictators and other leaders who have sought to change or blot out the days made special by their Creator. Many have succeeded in misleading people by convincing them that it isn't necessary to obey God in these matters.
Most people today don't know what the Passover is. Some think it is some kind of Jewish custom that developed into an Easter service. What these people don't know is that the Jews, as a separate nation, didn't come on the scene in the Bible until long after the Passover started. The first scriptural reference to the Jews speaks of them being at war with their brother nation Israel. (II Kings 16:6.)
The word Easter was never written in the original text of the Bible, but is incorrectly found in some old English translations. Translators felt or were told long ago that Passover should be connected with pagan worship of the ancient Germanic goddess of spring, Oester.
Obedient Christians follow Christ's example by observing the date of the first Passover on that same date Christ was killed. They eat broken, unleavened bread, which stands for the sinless body of Christ, broken by whipping. Wine is used as a symbol of His blood, spilled so our sins would be blotted out.
God gives understanding to those who seek to please Him. Gradually He opens their minds to grasp special knowledge and wisdom. They learn how important and rewarding it is to observe God's sacred times and customs. His plan for a wonderful future will then be more plainly revealed to them.
One would think that that plan would be taught in most churches that claim they are Christian, but it isn't. The fact that it isn't fits into God's way of working. Of the more than four billion people in this world, only a few score thousand know how God is using them to help prepare much of humanity for glorious things to come.
God Again Punishes Egypt
During the night of the Passover, the Israelites stayed in their homes behind blood-marked doors. (Ex. 12:23.) The night passed with nothing unusual happening to them. But there was great misery among the Egyptians. All their first-born dropped dead. (Verse 29.)
There was soon loud mourning in the land. This awakened other people, who got out of their beds to find their firstborn males dead. The custom was to wail when there was a death. The wailing spread everywhere, making Egypt the most mournful nation in the world.
As for Pharaoh, he was stunned when he found his oldest son lifeless in bed. If he could have considered Moses and Aaron responsible, he would have demanded their lives, but he fearfully realized this was God's doing. At last he was ready to act sincerely.
Israel Ordered Out of Egypt
"Send my swiftest messenger to Moses and Aaron with my command for all Israelites to leave Egypt at once with their animals!" Pharaoh barked at an aide, who wheeled and hurried out.
"Wait!" Pharaoh called after the man. "Tell the messenger to tell Moses and Aaron to pray to their God to have mercy on me!" (Verses 31-32.)
A mounted messenger rode swiftly up to Moses' home, who was waiting to see what would develop. Moses' face brightened as the messenger spoke to him.
"This is it!" Moses called to a gathering of elders. "Get word to our people to assemble as we have planned! We should be on our way out of Egypt as soon as possible!"
The departure wasn't made with hasty disorder. Moses, Aaron and many leading Israelites, at God's direction, had worked out details of the start of the Exodus. Because of being dressed for travel, they were almost ready to leave.
This tenth and last plague was too much for the Egyptians, many of whom had previously asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Even the firstborn of their animals fell dead. This further troubled an animal worshiping nation. Many Egyptians urged the Israelites to leave hurriedly before another woe developed. This the Israelites were already starting to do. They loaded their animals with what they could hold, and the people carried what they could. This included the treasures the Egyptians had furnished as well as unleavened bread dough.
They moved promptly toward the Goshen city of Ramses. By nightfall of the fifteenth of Abib they arrived at points east of the city. That night they held a joyous festival, as God told them they should. It was a tremendous encampment. There were about six hundred thousand men plus their families and the people of other nationalities who wished to join them. All these added up to at least two and a half million persons.
It had been a great day for the weary Israelites. They were at last on their way to being free. It was four hundred and thirty years since God had made His covenant with Abraham, their ancestor, that his descendants would inherit a land of their own. They had much to thank God for on that eventful night of the fifteenth day of Abib, the first annual Sabbath that was long to be remembered. God told them that they should tell their descendants about it down through their generations, so that the Israelites wouldn't forget how He had miraculously freed them. (Ex. 13:3-10.) Centuries later, the people of God's Church around the world still observe that evening.
The Israelites divided themselves into their twelve tribes, formed rough ranks, and started on their way. With them were taken the bones of Jacob and his twelve sons, according to Jacob's wish many years previously.
Toward the Red Sea
Instead of taking the most direct route northeastward to Canaan, the travelers went on eastward. God directed them toward a longer route because He didn't want His people troubled by unfriendly Philistines who lived close to the shorter route. (Verse 17.)
That morning a miraculous thing occurred. A small, vertical cloud moved from the eastern sky to grow larger and descend toward the Israelites. It could plainly be seen by all at both ends of their ranks, which were several miles apart from front to rear. The people were awed to learn that this cloud was to be their guide! When it moved, they were to move. When it halted, they were to do the same. (Verses 21-22.)
Never before or since has there been the sight of over two million people led by a cloud that seemed to stand on one end. It didn't move faster than the small children, flocks, herds and loaded animals could travel. By the end of the day the vast column had moved past the area of green vegetation and into a more arid region. There, near sundown, the cloud ceased moving. This was the signal to halt and encamp. Thus ended the first day of a journey that was going to last much longer and be more eventful than the people imagined.
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As NIGHT came, another miracle took place. The cloud glowed! The darker the sky became, the brighter the cloud turned, until it was like a giant flame overhead. To add to the astonishment of the Israelites, a lesser glow extended back from the flame to spread a soft radiance for the campers!
Next Morning's Events
At dawn the extended light gradually turned into a cooling vapor just heavy enough to shield the marchers from the sunlight that later in the day would otherwise produce misery and even injury. Their next camp was on the border of Egypt in Etham.
A little while after the column left Etham, people were surprised to see the cloud swerve directly southward. Knowing this wasn't the direction of Canaan, some of the leading men contacted Moses to concernedly remind him that they were going the wrong way. Moses patiently explained that God was leading the way, and that any who failed to follow the cloud were risking being lost.
"But following that cloud south will put us on the west shore of the Red Sea!" the concerned ones argued. "We'll be cut off from ever getting to Canaan!"
Moses knew that it looked that way, but he trusted God. Man has always, apart from some exceptions, struggled against God's directions. He has generally chosen to go in the ways that appear best to him. Many sincere leaders throughout history have taken others in wrong directions by relying on their limited, unreliable, human reasoning. The beginning of wisdom and knowledge is fear of God. (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7, 9:10.) Fear and respect can be shown by obedience and reliance.
The Israelites who complained didn't agree with Moses, but they didn't want to turn back by themselves. The column moved on past the town of Migdol and was then lead to the southwest. A few miles ahead loomed a range of barren, arid mountains. Off to the left was the Red Sea, fifteen miles across. It appeared the column was marching into an impassable spot in Egypt.
Back in his palace at Memphis, the disturbed Pharaoh's mind was on the Israelites. Already he was beginning to regret letting them go. He had heard of how his people had given liberally of their wealth to the Israelites. This irritated him as much as did Israel's taking all their livestock with them. He considered pursuing them to retrieve these losses, but he was fearful that his chariots would become stuck in the sands of the Etham desert, just east of Egypt, where he imagined they were at the time.
His reverie was interrupted by the entrance of one of the spies he had sent previously to see what the Israelites would do.
"They didn't go into the Etham desert," the spy disclosed to the surprised king. "Their trail led east for a few miles and then turned south along the west shore of the Red Sea!"
"If this isn't true, you'll die!" Pharaoh snapped, jumping excitedly to his feet.
A short while later hundreds of war chariots and cavalrymen thundered out of Memphis, headed by Pharaoh and his top officers. The excited king wanted desperately to take advantage of direction change by the Israelites to overtake them as soon as possible.
At the Red Sea
Meanwhile, the Israelites arrived at a point near the Red Sea where ominous mountain peaks jutted up like a giant, unfriendly wall. In spite of this, the cloud continued to move as though beckoning them to come into the narrow spaces between the mountains. Again some of the elders came to warn Moses not to go on.
"This is madness!" they declared. "Even if we manage to get through the mountains, the wider the Red Sea will be between us and Canaan!"
With Aaron's help Moses calmly assured the protesters that as long as the people obediently looked to God, matters would turn out in their favor. While heads shook in doubt, a mounted Israelite swiftly rode up, gesturing excitedly to the north.
"The Egyptians are coming!" he yelled. "How do you know?" Aaron asked. "I saw a huge dust cloud off to the north as I was rounding up some of my stray animals far behind the column!" the man panted as agitated men swarmed around. "I rode as fast as I could to tell you!"
"Do others know about this?" Moses inquired. "Of course!" was the answer. "I shouted the alarm all the way down the column! People were naturally upset!"
The babble of voices around grew greater. Moses and Aaron were the only ones to remain calm. They had learned from God hours before that Pharaoh and his army would pursue.
"On your way back to the rear, spread the word to the people that God has told me He will take care of us," Moses told the man. (Ex. 14:13-14.)
The dismayed crowd dispersed. Just as the sun slid behind the peaks, the cloud halted. As the troubled people prepared to camp, a messenger from Moses rode back along the column to tell the people to move forward as far as possible without crowding.
Several miles to the north the Egyptians were excited to see the rear of the Israelite column. Pharaoh was jubilant. He was anxious to close in on his intended victims, but darkness was rapidly coming on.
"We'll have to stay here for the night," an officer told the king. "No need to worry about the Israelites getting away from us. They're trapped between the mountains and the sea!"
Pharaoh couldn't have been more pleased. The frantic, jostling, wearing dash by chariots for over fifty miles was worth it to know the Israelites couldn't escape. He eagerly looked forward to next morning, when he could seize their property and avenge his son's death by slaughtering the Israelites, most of whom at that moment were in a state of terror while trying to settle down to a rest for the night. A great part of them believed Moses was to blame for their being endangered. These made the early part of the night miserable by wailing and loudly voicing their emotions.
"We never wanted to leave Egypt!" they yelled. "We would be better off there than murdered here!" (Ex. 14:10-12.)
Moses Stills the People
Those who didn't have this attitude prayed as the bitter shouting increased. Among them was Moses. After asking God for help, he climbed to an elevation from where many could hear him.
"This display of fear, complaint and confusion is displeasing to God!" he called out. "The only voices He wants to hear now are those asking for His protection! Don't be afraid! Be patient and see how your Creator will rescue you! Those of you who have looked back to see the Egyptians approaching have seen them for the last time!" (Verse 13.)
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THOSE who heard Moses speak wondered exactly what he meant by saying the Egyptians wouldn't appear again. Then they were surprised to see the cloud move low to a point between the Egyptians and Israelites. (Ex. 14:19-20.)
The Long Night Begins
Most of the Israelites felt safer when they saw what was happening, but the Egyptians were perturbed. While the Israelites saw light from the cloud, Pharaoh and his men found themselves in a heavy fog. Even if they had chosen to attack, it would have been impossible. Not being able to see the campfires of the Israelites was very irritating to Pharaoh.
"More dramatic tactics of Moses and his God!" the king snarled. "This is intended to discourage us so that we'll go back to Memphis. But we won't!"
Not much later, in his last conscious moments, Pharaoh was to wish that he had returned to Memphis. While he tossed and turned, anxious to see daylight end, something awesome was happening only a few miles away. Moses was stretching his shepherd's rod out toward the sea. A dry, warming, east wind immediately sprang up. It grew in intensity as the night wore on. It was a peculiar kind of wind that moved in such a way that it bored into the waters with a force that divided the narrow sea in two, exposing a wide path of mud, sand and rocks!
Before dawn Moses sent men along the column of Israelites to tell the people to pack up and be ready to follow the cloud when it moved. To the consternation of most, the cloud moved overhead to the east and floated out over the sea! Complaints filled the air. Those who obediently walked to the beach were amazed to see, by the light of the cloud, an unbelievable water-walled corridor leading eastward across the sea!
Though puzzled by this phenomenon and troubled by the howling winds, they forged on in their strong desire to get away from the Egyptians. For close to fifteen miles they doggedly plodded on between the two walls of water along a path that had been rendered dry by the arid wind.
Crossing the Red Sea
Making this descent into a sea bed wasn't simple. It wasn't easy to herd shying livestock past walls of water surging up and down and appearing to momentarily give way and come thundering down from its pile-up of up to three hundred feet. People and animals here increased their pace to make the crossing as short as possible over the rough, exposed ground strewn with all kinds of sea life. These objects would have been much more interesting to people who weren't fleeing for their lives.
Back at the Egyptian camp, men were puzzled by the sound of the strong wind. As day dawned, the fog lifted. Free to move, the chariots and cavalry rushed to the area where the Israelites had camped. Pharaoh was furious when he saw no signs of his quarry except burned-out campfires and innumerable tracks. It was evident that the Israelites had gone toward the sea, but there weren't any of them in sight along the shore.
Not until then did the Egyptians notice the startling path into the sea. They stared in disbelief. Then someone spotted the rear of the Israelites' column retreating several miles distant in the mammoth water ditch. Pharaoh's desire to have his army overtake Israel was so intense that it exceeded his wonder and caution.
Egyptians Plunge Ahead
"After them!" he bellowed. "If they can do it, so can you, only faster!"
His men were fearful of nearing the walls of water, now kept erect by a mysterious force other than the wind, but none dared hesitate. Pounding hoofs and rattling wheels set up a din again as the army charged down the beach and into the yawning space in the water. (Ex. 14:23.)
Though the exposed sea bed was dry enough on the surface for safe walking, there was soft below-surface mud. This, along with dips and ridges, forced the chariots and horses to quickly slow down. Even so, they gained steadily on the Israelites. It appeared that in only a matter of minutes the Egyptians would be able to attack.
Several miles to the east the front of the Israelites' column emerged from the trough in the sea and moved southward along the east shore. It was a great relief to reach higher ground, although the people were aware that the Egyptians were approaching. Those in the rear of the column were almost frantic with fear when the Egyptians were almost on them. Miraculously the cloud moved back over the would-be attackers, there to dump tons of water on them in a cloudburst. Almost immediately the exposed sea bed turned to mud. Chariots, horses and men smashed together in a helpless mass. Pharaoh's shouted orders to move on were lost in the noisy melee. What had been a powerful fighting force quickly became an impotent, directionless clutter of men and animals. (Verses 24-25.)
There were frenzied shouts from frightened Egyptian officers ordering their men to retreat on foot regardless of Pharaoh's mad shrieks to continue after the Israelites.
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WHILE the Egyptians struggled in the mud, the rear of the Israelite column emerged from the trough in the sea. A mounted messenger took word to Moses that the last of the people had crossed over. Moses thereupon obeyed God's order to hold his hands out toward the sea.
The Army of Egypt Perishes
At that moment the long walls of water collapsed and rushed together with the monstrous force of two gigantic jaws. They snapped together on the Egyptians, destroying all of them at once. (Verse 28.) Thus was the sudden end of the army of the man who had schemed to wipe out a people God had chosen for a special task in His plan for the future. Pharaoh's role in those events meant that he and his men had also been a part of that plan, but in a much different and limited way.
Moving to the south along the east shore of the sea, the Israelites were startled to see the water abruptly recede from the shore. At the same time there was a thunderous roar. A giant curtain of foam spewed skyward all along the area where they had crossed the gulf. They were too far away to notice the men, horses and chariots in that gushing water. They didn't know how their pursuers had died until later when they found carcasses strewn along the shore.
When they realized, in part, what had happened, they were thankful that God had performed mighty miracles for their protection. Then they regretted doubting God's power and complaining so bitterly to Moses.
For their benefit, they were glad to see more than corpses come out of the sea. Chariots were washed up equipped with arms, leather and metal, all of which would prove to be of great resource on a trip that was to last much longer than they expected.
Moses Assembles the People
Before going farther, the Israelites gathered together, at Moses' direction, to thank God for bringing them out of Egypt. A special hymn of gratitude and praise was sung and played. This was undoubtedly the greatest and most volumed expression of thanks ever to be given to God from a crowd. (Ex. 15:1-19.) Even appropriate dancing, led by Miriam, a sister of Moses and Aaron, was used as a part of the worship. (Verses 20-21.)
Moving into the Desert
Water was plentiful where the people had assembled. They watered their animals well and filled all empty containers because they were headed toward arid territory on the west edge of the Sinai peninsula. On the first night on the east side of the Red Sea they camped on uncomfortably warm sand and rock where there was no sign of water.
Next day the water supply dwindled rapidly during the march through even more arid territory. When they camped for the second night, it appeared that getting through a third day without finding water would be at the risk of illness and the loss of many animals.
The next afternoon was even more miserable than the one before. Just when many were becoming too thirsty and discouraged to force themselves or their animals on, a grove of palm trees was sighted in the distance. It turned out to be, to the encouragement of those foremost in the column, an old oasis called Marah. As the people moved closer, they were overjoyed to see a pool of water in the midst of the trees. Some of them rushed forward to fall down at the pool and wildly scoop water into their mouths.
The avid gulping stopped as abruptly as it had started. The water was too bitter to keep on swallowing!
The crowd around the well grew swiftly. Everyone had to test the water for himself and spit it out. This disappointment brought loud complaints, and the complainers accused Moses of being to blame. (Verse 24.) Moses was so dismayed that he pleaded with God to intervene in the matter.
The Water Becomes Sweet
"There is an unusual tree you will find growing by the pool," God told Moses. "Cut it down and toss it into the water."
On seeing their leader hack down a tree and throw it into the pool, many in the growing crowd must have wondered at such peculiar behavior. But from that moment on, those who tasted the water could be seen obviously to be enjoying it.
"This water is as good as that of the Nile!" someone exclaimed. "Why are so many people saying it's bitter?"
This remark led to a rush of people to the pool. In spite of the heavy demand for water for hours, the springs under the pool continued the supply. This additional miracle strengthened Moses' faith in God. One would suppose it would have done the same for all the Israelites, but there were those who felt that matters were going too roughly for them.
"Tell the people that as long as they obey Me I will be their healer and keep them in good health," God instructed Moses. (Verse 26.)
Since that time only a small part of the world's people have observed God's laws, although millions claim to be Christians. The relatively small number of obedient ones have enjoyed the protection and healing God back then promised His followers. In the near future, when vast throngs will be keeping God's laws, good health and prosperity will spread over the Earth. God always keeps His promises.
On to Sinai
Refreshed with water and rest, the Israelites and their animals continued south. At Elim, about twenty miles from Marah, they found twelve water wells, one for each of the tribes. That and a grove of seventy (the number of Israelite elders) palm trees made the place pleasant for camping.
A few miles south of Elim they were guided a little more to the east to go deeper into the desert. At this stage of the journey many of the people started much complaining again. Moses and Aaron were blamed for a lack of food. More than a few contended it would be better to be dead back in Egypt. (Ex. 16:3.) As before, Moses had to look to God for a miracle to calm the grumblers.
God Acts for Moses
"I have heard the complaints of the people," God told Moses. "Remind them that I am aware of their needs. I shall supply them with bread in the morning and flesh in the evening. The bread they must gather for themselves every day except on My holy Sabbath. To take care of that day, they must gather twice as much on the sixth day." (Ex. 16:4-5.)
God gave Moses instructions for helping keep the people under control. This information was passed on to Aaron, who reminded the Israelites how merciful, generous and patient God had been to them even after their impatience and grumbling.
As Aaron spoke, eyes were drawn to the guiding cloud, which had come to a halt. In the month it had been above and ahead of the column, it had become as commonplace to the people as was the sun, which should at any time cause awe. They watched in wonder as the cloud pulsated and glowed in vivid colors. When it became so brilliant that it began to hurt their eyes, they became apprehensive.
A booming sound like the voice of a mighty giant burst out of the brilliance. It lasted just long enough for the listeners to know that they had heard a syllable of sound from the throat of their Creator or one of His angels. The cloud ceased glowing and moved on, leaving the fearfilled millions sobered and regretful because of their disrespectful attitudes.
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THAT evening the Israelites were surprised to see the sky darkened by vast flocks of birds. This appeared to be an unusual migration of fowl to a more satisfactory climate.
Suddenly the birds swooped groundward, alighting right among the people! Because the birds were weary from what had obviously been a long flight, they were very easy to catch. Within minutes uncounted thousands of these plump quail, excellent for eating, were being prepared for dinner.
Next day there was another miracle. During the night dew had settled on the plants around the camps. Instead of being covered with moisture next morning, the plants were decked with small, flaky white particles. This was puzzling until Moses made the surprising announcement that it was the bread God had promised.
"Early every morning three quarts of this food should be gathered for every person," Moses disclosed. "If it isn't taken in early, it will melt on the plants under the hot sun. And don't try to keep it overnight, or it will spoil."
The people swarmed out around their camps to easily gather the food, which they later named "manna". To their enjoyment, they found it tasted like fresh bread and honey. Those who were late in gathering it found little. Most of it had melted. In spite of Moses' warning about keeping it overnight, some did just that, only to find that it became disgustingly odorous and worm-infected. (Verse 20.)
The Sabbath Commanded
One day not long after the manna first showed up, Moses told the people to gather twice as much the next morning. Two days later no manna appeared. That day was the weekly Sabbath. Furthermore, the extra manna gathered for the seventh day miraculously remained fresh and pure as it was when collected. (Verses 24-26.)
Observing the Sabbath day properly was important to God and man. Nevertheless, some spent much of the morning hours of the Sabbath searching for manna that wasn't there. This was so displeasing to God that He instructed Moses to tell the people to stay close to their tents on the Sabbath and refrain from working. After that, for a time, there was more obedience in this matter.
The cloud continued to lead southeast and into a mountain range. A hot, upgrade march faced the people just at a time when their water supply was dangerously low. The next time the Israelites camped, a noisy crowd of them surrounded Moses' tent to loudly accuse their leader of purposely taking them into the desert to meet death. (Ex. 17:1-3.)
Water from a Rock!
Again Moses asked God to calm the complainers, who were only causing others to be troubled. God told Moses, who feared some of the angrier people would try to stone him to death, that he should take some of the elders and go on ahead to a certain large rock, which he was to strike with the shepherd's rod he had used in Egypt.
Moses did as he was told. Out gushed streams of clear water which coursed down toward the Israelites' camps! (Ex. 17:5-6.)
The sight of water flowing past their tents and on down toward the rear of the column brought joyful surprise to the excited people. At first the stream was murky from picking up dirt from the ground, but with each passing minute of the flow it became clearer and more drinkable. When the people learned from the elders who had accompanied Moses that the water was gushing from a boulder of granite where there had previously been no sign of it, they marveled at the miracle. Those who had threatened Moses regretted doing so. They wouldn't have acted so childishly if they had relied on God. (Verse 7.)
Because of the wonderful supply of water, the Israelites hoped they could stay a few days in that area, which was close to where Moses had shepherded flocks a few years previously. Days passed. The cloud continued to remain motionless, which was a sign to stay.
An Enemy Arrives
However, the Israelites would have been troubled greatly and might have wanted to move on if they could have known that from some nearby foothills, many pairs of crafty eyes were watching from time to time to determine their numbers and their possessions.
The attack on the Israelites came at night. Moses wasn't very surprised. He was aware that the region was roamed by bands of hostile desert bandits who used darkness and surprise to further trouble their victims. He also knew these men were Amalekites, descendants of Esau, twin brother of their forefather Jacob. Their attackers were therefore their distant cousins.
Joshua Comes on the Scene
After the Amalekites attacked and fled, one of Moses' officers, a young man named Joshua, was given the responsibility of mustering an army of defense from among the Israelites. The Amalekites were expected to attack in greater force next day. Joshua had little time to assemble the men. (Ex. 17:9.)
The Israelites' first battle with an enemy was an unusual one. Hordes of fierce, wily desert swordsmen charged in among thousands of untrained men armed mainly with ordinary knives, clubs and weapons taken from drowned Egyptians. Moses was up on a high ridge where he could view the fray. With him was Aaron and a brother-in-law, Hurl It appeared that the Israelites were facing certain defeat. Moses called to God for help, holding his shepherd's rod above him as he had done to signal divine power at the time of the plagues.
It was difficult to determine, in the first few minutes of fighting, which side was gaining the upper hand. Then it began to be obvious the Amalekites were falling into retreat. When Moses was certain of it, he relievedly lowered his arms, which were becoming weary. Almost immediately the situation changed. With renewed energy the Amalekites charged back, causing the Israelites to retreat.
Realizing his relaxed attitude affected the fighting, Moses again held the rod up. The startling result was that the tide of battle swung back in favor of his men. However, he was becoming too tired in his arms to maintain that prayerful position. Again he lowered the rod and again the Amalekites pushed the Israelites back!
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FROM that moment the Amalekites put such fury into their fighting that the Israelites lost more ground than they had gained. (Ex. 17:11.)
"I can see what's happening," Moses dismayedly muttered, "but I'm too tired to stand up here and hold out this rod any longer!"
Aaron and Hur quickly rolled a bench-height rock up behind Moses, who sank to a sitting posture. Each of them seized a sagging arm and jerked them upward. Thus helped, Moses continued his supplication while still grasping the shepherd's rod in an upright position. The three men carried on like this until sundown. (Ex. 17:12.)
By that time matters had changed back greatly in favor of the Israelites. The enemy was completely routed with little loss or injuries to the hastily-mustered army. God reminded Moses to record the day's events in the book he was writing about the Israelites, and to instruct Joshua to also write of the happenings. Moses later had an altar built to honor God for His protection.
On into the Mountains
After hovering for several weeks in the same place, the guiding cloud one morning began to move. The Israelites packed up, got their animals together and were ready to move when the cloud floated to the southeast. The mountains were even higher in that direction. There were those who complained at heading into such rugged terrain. To Moses it was like returning home because he had spent many peaceful years in that region tending flocks of sheep.
After two or three days of travel, the cloud came to a halt right over the highest peak. That was rocky Mount Sinai, a mountain of more than seven thousand feet.
Even the complainers had to admit that the numerous water springs, level areas for pitching tents and nearby patches of grass for grazing left little to be unhappy about. Moses advised the people that it would be wise to set up their camps for a long stay, inasmuch as he had more than just a feeling that they were at this particular place for more than just resting for two or three nights. (Ex. 19:1-2.)
Not long after the Israelites were settled in their new location, Moses received a divine request to come up Mount Sinai alone to receive instructions directly from the Creator. It wasn't an easy hike up the rock-strewn shoulders, but Moses was spry for his eighty years. God wouldn't have asked him to do something impossible. He had to go up the mountain only far enough to be removed from the people.
Suddenly a clear, booming voice came from somewhere above on Mount Sinai:
"Moses, you will deliver a message to the Israelites in the valley below!" the Voice spoke out. "Remind them that I, the Creator of all, have freed them from the Egyptians and have brought them safely here. Tell them that if they obey My laws, they will become a special people I will treasure above others. They shall become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation!" (Verses 3-6.)
Trembling with fear and awe, Moses remained prostrate for a time where he had fallen when he had first heard the voice. When he felt that nothing more was going to be said, he stood up and hurried back down the mountain. Immediately he called the elders to repeat God's words to them and tell them to tell the people.
The awed elders complied. The excited people solemnly agreed to obey whatever God asked of them. Later, after learning of their unanimous agreement to obey God (verse 8), Moses went back up to report what had taken place. Of course God already was aware of it, but He had further instructions for the people He wanted to convey through Moses, who was told that God would come down unusually close to the people in three days, and that they should be clean physically at that time, and that even their clothing should be washed and unsoiled. Barricades would have to be set up to prevent people or their animals from straying too far up the mountain. Otherwise they would be subject to death because of coming too near God's holy presence on sacred ground.
After three days had passed, the more than two million people on the valley floor out from and below the mountain nervously wondered what would happen. The first thing unusual was that thick, dark clouds formed to obscure all but the base slopes of Mount Sinai. The clouds weren't merely masses of water vapor. There was much smoke mixed in, causing growing alarm to the onlookers. Flashes of lightning, followed by stunning peals of thunder, caused every man, woman and child to tremble.
The trembling was greater at the startlingly clear blast of what sounded like a giant trumpet announcing that God was descending to Mount Sinai! (Verse 19.)
As the thunder and lightning subsided, the clouds lifted, exposing most of the mountain to the searching gazes of millions of eyes. Abruptly the peak broke out into towering flames. The top of the mountain appeared to be consumed in a giant holocaust! Pillars of lighted smoke spiraled skyward. The higher elevations seemed about to explode in an awesome burst of eye-paining light!
People shielded their faces. Many of them fell to the ground, which was beginning to quiver from a rumbling earth tremor. The quake loosened huge boulders that crashed down into the ravines. Clouds of dust and smoke floated up from the ground as tons of smaller rock cascaded down to blanket the mountain's base.
Like the others, Moses trembled at this display of divine power, though he had some awareness that it was far from what God was capable of doing, such as causing giant planets to collide or fusing whole suns in celestial cataclysms penetrating billions of miles of space.
The ground stopped shaking and the blasting trumpet sound faded to a silence that was more terrible than the noise, because it caused people to be more fearfully expectant of what would happen next. Suddenly a thunderous voice cracked down from above the mountain, echoing terrifyingly across the valley. It spoke in Hebrew, the mother tongue of the Israelites, though its booming quality might have purposely made it difficult to be understood by anyone except Moses.
"Come up the mountain, Moses!" the Voice thundered. "Come alone! Don't allow anyone to follow you!"
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SEEING their leader walk out of sight up smoking Mount Sinai had a strange effect on many of the people. Even though quaking with awe, their curiosity was so strong that they wanted to follow Moses. Before he could get very far up the mountain, God ordered him back.
Moses Rushes Down
"People are trying to follow you," God informed him. "Return at once and warn them against trespassing on holy ground. If they come too close, they will die. You may bring Aaron when you come back, but no one else." (Ex. 19:24.)
On his way down, Moses loudly warned those approaching the barricades to turn back.
"We don't mind you reprimanding us," some of them said, "but we don't want a reprimand from God. We might not live through it." (Ex. 20:19.)
The people having been warned, there were more terrifying sights and sounds, followed by dramatic silence again. Then out of the silence broke the most awesome of sounds.
The Voice of the Eternal Booms Out the Ten Commandments
"I am the Eternal, your God, who brought you out of slavery in Egypt!"
This pronouncement from the One known as Jesus Christ was followed by more disturbing silence. An ear-splitting trumpet blast then preceded God's thundering out His ten great laws -- THE TEN COMMANDMENTS!
"YOU SHALL HAVE NO GODS BUT ME!" boomed the thunderous voice after the echoes of the trumpet had died away. This wasn't the Father in Heaven speaking. It was the Spokesman who became Jesus Christ, speaking in the name of the Supremely Divine God Family. (Eph. 3:15 and John 1:18.)
Moses, Aaron and the seventy elders, huddled back from the barricades, hardly dared glance up at the brilliant light above them. After a short silence a second Commandment rumbled from the sky:
"YOU SHALL NOT CARVE IMAGES OF THINGS IN HEAVEN OR ON EARTH FOR THE PURPOSE OF BOWING DOWN TO THEM IN WORSHIP! I AM A JEALOUS GOD! I PUNISH THOSE WHO HATE ME DOWN TO THEIR THIRD AND FOURTH GENERATIONS, BUT I SHOW CONSTANT LOVE TO THOUSANDS WHO LOVE ME AND OBEY MY LAWS!"
Again there was a short period of utter silence. Then: "YOU SHALL NOT USE THE NAME OF THE ETERNAL YOUR GOD IN ANY WRONG OR USELESS MANNER! I WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO UTTER MY NAME WITHOUT RESPECT AND REVERENCE!"
Intense silence prevailed shortly, to be broken by the tremendous Voice giving a fourth Commandment:
"REMEMBER TO OBSERVE THE HOLY SABBATH! YOU SHALL LABOR AND DO ALL YOUR BUSINESS ONLY ON THE FIRST SIX DAYS OF THE WEEK! THE SEVENTH IS A HOLY DAY IN HONOR TO YOUR GOD. ON THAT DAY YOU SHALL DO NO SERVILE WORK! NEITHER SHALL ANY OF YOUR FAMILY, YOUR SERVANTS, YOUR ANIMALS NOR ANY PERSON LIVING WITH YOU! YOUR GOD REBUILT THE EARTH IN SIX DAYS AND RESTED ON THE SEVENTH! HE THEREFORE MADE THE SEVENTH DAY HOLY TIME!"
The next silence was longer than the others because it was the division between the four Commandments that have to do with man's duty to his Creator and the six that show his duty toward his fellow man. All ten add up to perfect love for God and man. The last six were separated by short spans of silence.
"GIVE SPECIAL RESPECT TO YOUR PARENTS, THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG IN THE LAND YOUR GOD GIVES YOU AS A GIFT!"
"YOU SHALL NOT MURDER!" "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY!" "YOU SHALL NOT STEAL!" "YOU SHALL NOT LIE ABOUT ANYONE!" "YOU SHALL NOT DESIRE TO WRONGFULLY OWN THE HOME OF ANOTHER PERSON! YOU SHALL NOT COVET HIS WIFE, SERVANTS OR ANY OF HIS POSSESSIONS!"(Ex. 20:1-17.)
The trumpet sounded again, signaling the conclusion to the uttering of the Ten Commandments. These were and are the vital laws through which an all-wise and all-loving God reveals to mankind the way to find happiness, good health, protection and prosperity.
In Force from the Beginning
The ten holy laws had been in effect long before then. Adam and Eve knew about them, and bitterly regretted breaking several. Men of ancient times, including Abraham, were aware of and obeyed them. (Gen. 26:5.) Down through the centuries pagan ways had become so mixed in with God's laws that God chose this time at Mount Sinai to distinctly set forth His rules for living in a clear way to His people.
They were meant for all human beings. Obedience to them results in the best of everything. If all people kept the Commandments, there would be no war, poverty, sickness, misery, jails, asylums or unhappiness!
Down through time most people have chosen not to follow God's laws. They have foolishly believed man's ways are easier and better. However, man isn't capable of successfully leading a long and happy life without obeying God's spiritual and physical laws.
Millions of people have never so much as heard of God, mostly because their ancestors chose to ignore their Creator. The result has been six thousand years of suffering, poverty and unhappiness for a lot of people. Today the opportunities to find out about God are greater in some nations than they were in the past, though pagan beliefs are again increasingly mixed with so-called Christianity. One of the most harmful, taught even by respected church leaders, is that keeping the Ten Commandments isn't necessary. The Bible states that "false shepherds" will spring up to try to hide the truth. (Acts 20:29, 30 and II Peter 2:1.)
Moses Returns Atop Sinai
When finally Moses and Aaron got up from where they had been kneeling, the strong light above them had dimmed and the guiding cloud still obscured the mountain's peak. The seventy elders walked away to tell the people that Moses would go up the mountain to hear more from God. This relieved the crowd, which had become increasingly fearful of God's closeness and His voice.
When he was well up Mount Sinai and obscured by the cloud, Moses was informed of many things he was to tell the elders to pass on to the people.
"They need further rules to spare them from trouble," God said to Moses. "Remember these judgments I will give you."
Thereupon Moses was given rules covering many circumstances and situations requiring God's wisdom. They included how to deal with murderers, thieves, sorcerers and the disorderly, how to settle various charges and claims, how to observe God's yearly Sabbaths and even how to handle vicious animals. (Ex. 21, 22 and 23.) It was pointed out that rebellion was a serious sin, but that willing obedience would result in helpful miracles.
"You will be confronted with nations of idol-worshipers when you near Caanan," God continued. "I shall weaken their armies with swarms of hornets, so that you will take the land bounded by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the deserts of Arabia and the Euphrates River. I shall free you from sickness and disease, cause your women to bear many children and your flocks and herds to multiply greatly. I will not allow other peoples to remain in your land, lest you mingle with them and serve their gods." (Ex. 23:28-33.)
Moses returned to the valley to tell the elders what he had been told. The elders passed the information on to the people, who readily agreed to abide by it. Moses recorded the rules and conditions of this agreement between the Israelites and their Creator.
The Making of the Covenant at Sinai
Next morning Moses directed the building of an altar on a slope of Mount Sinai. Around it were placed twelve large stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Young men prepared animals for peace offerings placed on wood on the altar. Moses took half of the blood from the animals and sprinkled it over the wood fuel. As flames crackled through the wood, he read aloud the newly-written agreement before the people.
"So be it!" the elders exclaimed after the reading. "We will be obedient to whatever God asks!"
"So be it!" the people chorused. "We will obey God!" "Then witness this blood of agreement with our Creator!" Moses proclaimed as he sprinkled the other half of the blood on the elders who represented the people. (Ex. 24:4-8.)
Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Hur, Aaron's two oldest sons and several elders, later went up Mount Sinai. Part way up, as they paused to rest, the guiding cloud lowered to envelop the upper part of the mountain. An alarming darkness resulted, out of which grew a strange light. The climbers looked above to take in an awesome sight. The cloud had vanished, leaving a sapphire-like expanse flecked with beautiful beams of light. (Ex. 24:10.) The men fell on their faces when they realized they were staring up at a radiant Being in that blue translucency!
"God has come down to us!" Moses declared to the astonished onlookers, who could scarcely believe they were seeing one of the God Family who later appeared as Jesus Christ. (I John 4:12.)
At first the men were afraid, but gradually such a relaxing exhilaration came on them they were able to rest and even eat in the presence of the One who had created the universe! (Verse 11.) This was a very special privilege few men have experienced. Most people fail to realize it is also a special privilege to talk to the Creator, something that can be done simply by a proper attitude and prayer.
After a while the view faded and the cloud reappeared to cover the peak of the mountain. God's voice rumbled out of the cloud, telling Moses to come on up to receive tablets of stone on which God had written the Ten Commandments to take to the people. Realizing he might be gone quite a while, Moses told the men to wait until a certain time and then go back down if he hadn't returned. He chose Joshua to continue upward with him. Farther up, their progress was stopped by the increasing density of the cloud, through which strange, flickering beams of light could be seen.
What Was the Covenant?
The covenant or agreement made at Mount Sinai between God and Israel was nothing to be taken lightly. It was later referred to in the Bible as a sacred marriage contract between God, as the husband, and Israel as the wife. It was a binding promise God would always take care of His wife, Israel, who would always be faithful and never have anything to do with the false gods of other nations.
The rules of the marriage covenant were the Ten Commandments and the civil laws later given on Mount Sinai. The terms were that Israel was to remain faithful by obeying God's laws to insure happiness, good health, many children and prosperity. Unfaithfulness would mean misery, disease, poverty and possible DIVORCE.
To better understand about the old covenant, it's necessary to jump ahead in the chain of events and divulge that Israel failed to live up to its terms. The covenant was broken. Israel was punished and divorced and sent out of the Promised Land. (Jer. 3:6-10.)
Centuries later, when Jesus Christ came to Earth, He drew up terms for a new marriage agreement with Israel. He became the mediator or agent of a proposed new covenant, much as Moses was the agent or go-between of the old covenant. The new covenant won't be completed until Jesus returns to rule the world. (Heb. 8:8.) After proposing the new covenant, Jesus died, thus freeing Israel from the first marriage contract. Even though God (Jesus Christ) divorced Israel, that nation was still bound to Him until His death.
Many religious denominations teach that because the old covenant is broken and dead, the Ten Commandments are dead and not to be obeyed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Belief in that lie has caused much misery to mankind. The Ten Commandments were the basis of the old covenant. They are living, unchanged spiritual laws, staying in effect as does God's physical law of gravity, regardless of what anyone has to say about it. Those ten spiritual laws are meant for all men in all nations down through time. The breaking of the covenant didn't lessen their effect. They existed before the old covenant was made. They are the main spiritual laws of the new covenant. Jesus had to die because they were broken. The ceremonial and ritual laws after the old covenant agreement to remind the Israelites of their sins were no part of the Ten Commandments. (Jer. 7:22 and Gal. 3:19.)
For six days Moses and Joshua waited in the heavy vapor. There were times when they had the urge to try to return to the valley, but they patiently waited for whatever God expected of them. On the seventh day a voice called for Moses to proceed upward. Moses asked Joshua to wait for him, and disappeared into the mist, which opened just enough to show the way.
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THOUSANDS of Israelites had watched up Mount Sinai from the time Moses had gone up with a few men. They had seen the cloud come down to cover the summit, and had stared in awe at the long, multi-colored flames shooting up from the mountain and through the cloud as though from a belching volcano. Some were still watching when some of the men returned.
Then there was growing concern. People wondered how the two men could remain on a mountain that was afire. Many decided they had become lost or had fallen into some deep ravine.
"God will protect them," was Aaron's assurance. Days passed into weeks. Probably the most concerned person was Joshua, who didn't dare try going up to look for Moses nor groping his way down through the mist. During the first days he felt almost like a prisoner, but there was something about being so close to the Creator that soon imparted to him a feeling of warm satisfaction. As for his physical needs, there was a small brook close by and a fresh supply of manna six days a week.
Rebellion Against God's Law
Regardless of the miracles God had performed for Israel in the time of adversity, some of the people desired to cling to the habits of idol worship they had acquired in Egypt. Even while fire and smoke on Mount Sinai proclaimed God's presence, these people complained that Moses' absence showed God had forgotten them.
"We need a leader to take us to a better place!" the rebellious ones declared. "And we need a god we can see and who will do more for us!"
This outbreak of feeling was quickly taken up by those who were critical and disorderly. Within only a few days the complainers had created such confusion in the camps that thousands were stirred into an angry pitch. Aaron and Hur sent officers to seek out the offenders, but too late. A sullen crowd surrounded the tents of the Israelite leaders. Aaron and Hur could scarcely believe so many men were so anxious to cause unrest and trouble.
"I'll try to calm them down until Moses and Joshua return," Aaron told Hur.
Silently praying that he could talk the unruly crowd into returning home, Aaron strode in among the men and held up his hands for quiet.
"I hear you are dissatisfied with matters!" he declared. "Why are you unthankful for the protection you have received?"
A loud babble erupted from the crowd as everyone tried to voice his opinion. One man managed to out-shout the others, who quieted a little.
"When we were back in Egypt, both the Egyptians and the Israelites had all kinds of food and drink!" the man yelled. "Yet the Egyptians didn't worship the invisible God you keep talking about! We want a god like one of theirs! We want one we can see and that doesn't have a lot of laws!"
"But the Egyptian gods are powerless!" Aaron exclaimed. "They are anything from oxen to lifeless pebbles! Why would you want such things to worship?"
"Because we want something we understand and don't fear!" someone shouted, and the crowd sounded loud approval.
Aaron was dismayed. It was obvious these demanding people didn't intend to give up until they were at least promised something, no matter how ridiculous.
"Would you be satisfied with some kind of animal image made of gold?" Aaron queried.
Silence followed. Aaron was about to suggest something else equally absurd when shouts of agreement started ringing out. This was small relief to Aaron, who realized those around him were actually expecting him to build an idol for them!
"Make it now!" someone bellowed, followed by a loud chorus of accord.
Aaron Makes a Golden Statue
"Then bring me all the gold earrings you can find," Aaron uneasily told the noisy crowd. "I will have the gold fused together to make you the false god you insist you want making for you. But I won't do this willingly. Only a few days ago you promised to obey the one real God. Going back on that promise could be most unwise!"
A volley of angry shouts swelled up from the crowd. The people moved in even closer, glowering menacingly at Aaron and the officers who stood with him. Aaron held up his hands and nodded his head in consent.
"I shall arrange for your idol to be made," he told them in a faltering voice. "But you will have to help. Every man, woman and child wearing golden earrings must take them off and bring them here. We will fashion them into one piece, and from that gold will come the metal calf you desire for your god."
Aaron hoped that the Israelites would refuse to give up their ear jewelry, thereby sparing him from his promise to create a golden calf. But his hope faded when he later witnessed the long lines of people filing up to give their earrings.
He sent for carpenters, metal workers, designers and sculptors to come from the multitude, who took only a few days, to completely build the large mold in which to pour the hot, melted gold to make a molten gold calf. (Exodus 32:1-4.)
Aaron then ordered a large altar built in front of the tent in which the calf image stood. When it was finished, he sent out messengers to all the people to proclaim that the next day would be a feast day to God.
He hoped that the people would change their minds and make their offerings to God instead of the golden calf. But it was a rather futile wish, what with an altar built so close to the idol.
Early next morning people started thronging toward the calf idol, bringing animals for burnt offerings and peace offerings. The creatures were slaughtered not far from the altar that had just been built, and before long the idol was loaded with their carcasses.
When Aaron saw men about to set fire to the altar wood under the intended offerings, he hurried out before the altar and raised his hands in protest.
"This is a feast to the God of Israel!" he shouted to the crowd. "These carcasses belong on the other altar -- the one over there by the twelve stone pillars!"
"If you don't want us to sacrifice here, then why did you make this golden idol and the altar before it?" some of the rebellious leaders demanded in loud voices.
"Because I knew that so many of you wanted it so badly that you would get it one way or another," Aaron replied. "I had hoped that Moses would return before the idol could be finished, or that you would realize how wrong it was and would give up the mad idea of serving and worshipping an idol!"
"We know what we want!" the men shouted back, pointing to the idol. "THIS represents the god who brought us out of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:4.)
Aaron walked slowly back to his tent, where he turned to watch a plume of smoke billow upward from the crackling fire. Looking out over the crowd, he shuddered to witness thousands bowing before the calf image, which now appeared to him as something very ugly and evil.
The People Declare a Holiday
A short time later many of the people were consuming meat from the altar. As many more people arrived and more carcasses were placed on the altar, a spirit of revelry was developing. It was obvious that the altar before the calf image would be busy all day roasting animals and birds for the hungry crowd.
The careless mood caught on with most of the people standing in line waiting to sacrifice. Large groups, moved by the music of musicians banding together, began to dance. Contagious laughter broke out. Profanity from lower characters erupted. By the middle of the afternoon there was such misconduct that thousands of other Israelites stood back to avoid being embroiled. (Ex. 32:6.)
One might wonder how those people would dare conduct themselves so carelessly with God so close. One might wonder also how professed Christians today often allow themselves to live carelessly. As back at Mount Sinai, it's still a matter of lack of fear of, and respect for, God, who is present everywhere.
Moses Talks with God
To go back a few weeks to when Moses left Joshua to go on up Mount Sinai, Moses found that the higher he climbed, the less tired and more exhilarated he became. As he neared the summit, he could sense the powerful presence of the Almighty Creator of the universe.
"Stay where you are, Moses!" a strong Voice called out. Startled, Moses halted and looked around. He was on a fairly flat area out of which jutted massive rock pinnacles. Although the shining aura from above wiped out shadows, visibility extended only a few yards.
"You will remain here while I tell you more to speak to the Israelites and other things you are to do," the Voice continued.
Moses fearfully bowed his head to the ground until God told him to seat himself.
During the next forty days Moses spent many hours listening closely to God's instructions. Every word and vision was etched sharply into his mind, made especially alert by God's presence, without which he would have at times been miserably cold, thirsty and hungry. An unusual energy from the Creator supplanted the need for heat, food and water. (Deuteronomy 9:9.)
Among the things Moses learned he must do was remember the instruction for building a portable tabernacle in which contact with God could be made during the trip to Canaan. He learned that Aaron and Aaron's sons were to be the chief priests, whose duties and equipment were explained. (Ex. 25-31.)
Sabbath Command Repeated
God stressed the importance of Sabbath observance, referring to both weekly and annual Sabbaths.
"My Sabbaths are holy," God reminded Moses. "They are a sign forever between Me and you who observe them that I am your God and you are My church, a people chosen for a very special task. It shall remain a sign throughout every generation forever. It is an everlasting agreement that your people will be blessed as long as they obey Me in respect to My holy days. Those who refuse to obey will die!" (Ex. 31:12-17.)
On the fortieth day near the top of the mountain, God ended the meeting by producing two slabs of elegant stone, on both sides of which were beautifully engraved the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 31:18 and 32:15-16.)
"Leave here now!" God commanded Moses. "Hurry back to your camps!"
Puzzled that God would request such a hasty departure, Moses firmly gripped the stone slabs and strode swiftly down the trail. As he hurried on, God's voice followed him with the startling information that the Israelites below were at that moment breaking the covenant by indulging in riotous deportment around a metal idol. Moses was so dismayed that he dropped to his knees to beg God to be merciful to the people.
"I know your people!" God thundered. "They are unruly and stubborn! From you, who have been a faithful servant, I can still produce a great nation. As for most of the Israelites, I should wipe them out with a shower of fire in the valley!" (Ex. 32:7-10.)
"In your mercy you have brought them this far. Please don't give the Egyptians reason to say that you used your power to deliver them from Egypt only to slay them at Mount Sinai!" Moses pleaded. "Remember your promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! You told them their offspring would number as the stars! You promised Canaan to their children! How can they receive it if you destroy them?" (Verses 11-13.)
There was a short, awful silence. To Moses' relief, God then spoke in a less wrathful tone.
"You deal with those who have committed idolatry today!" God told Moses. "Seek them out and punish them! If you fail, I will destroy them!"
Moses hesitated only long enough to express his gratitude. In a short while he reached the spot where he had left Joshua forty days previously. He hardly expected Joshua to still be there, but Joshua was still waiting, and naturally happy to see him. When Joshua asked what had happened and what he was carrying, Moses hardly heard him.
"I'll explain matters later," Moses told Joshua. "We must hurry down to the valley to stop a terrible thing happening there!"
The Return to Camp
At that moment the loud voices of the reveling people reached Moses' and Joshua's ears. Assuming that only a state of war would produce such loud yelling, Joshua observed that the Amalekites must be attacking again.
"Unfortunately, that's not the situation," Moses answered gravely. "Hear that singing?"
Without further talk the two continued down the trail. A few hundred feet below they emerged from the cloud. They could see a large throng grouped together, but they were too distant to make out what the people were doing.
In a tent down there, Aaron and his family sat in glum silence while celebrants laughed and chanted wildly. Suddenly an officer outside the tent called to Aaron.
"There is a report that Moses and Joshua have been seen coming down the mountain!"
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As MOSES and Joshua walked up to the edge of the crowd, people who saw them quieted down and stared in silence. Moses was shocked and angry when he saw and heard so many, bowing, parading, dancing and singing around the gold-covered calf statue. Still carrying the stone tablets, he grimly elbowed his way through surprised onlookers to a spot in front of the pagan altar.
"Engraved here is the agreement we made with the Creator only a few weeks ago!" he shouted, holding the tablets aloft. "You promised to keep it, but you are already breaking it!"
Because there was so much noise, only those who were closest looked for the source of the new voice. When they recognized Moses, they quickly directed the attention of others to him. Within seconds silence ensued. Thousands of pairs of eyes stared with unbelief. A murmur of awe rumbled up from the people.
Moses was too filled with fury to say more. For the moment he lost control of his temper.
Tables of Stone Broken
He hurled the stone tablets down with such force they shattered on the altar, the fragments flying in all directions. (Ex. 32:19.) Even before the rash act was finished, he realized how impetuous he was acting by breaking something holy that had come from God.
Onlookers stared soberly and began to slink back toward their camps. Before long the throng had dissolved. The few who remained, being mostly of those who had prevailed on Aaron to produce the idol, gathered in sullen groups. Aaron, Hur and the officers and elders had little to say, and stood uncomfortably by. It was obvious to Moses that they deeply regretted having handled matters poorly.
"Build a roaring fire around the statue!" Moses suddenly commanded. "Melt down all the gold in it! As soon as it cools, pick every bit of it out of the ashes and grind it into fine powder! Then dump that powder into every source of water the people use!"
Most of the Israelites were relieved to see the image melt to the ground, though there were many who bitterly resented seeing their idol come to such a swift end. Hours later, it was impossible to draw water from any natural sources without including much gold dust. Those who had to drink it who weren't guilty were warned by the pollution of the folly of idolatry. Those who were guilty were reminded of their sin. (Ex. 32:20.)
"How did the people manage to talk you into this terrible situation?" Moses asked Aaron after matters were in hand.
"You know how the people are," Aaron answered. "They so often want to do the wrong thing."
Moses considered that a poor answer, and Aaron wasn't anxious to explain all about how he had tried to stall for time. Moses was far from happy with Aaron's eventual account. "If I could have delayed the idol's construction one more day," Aaron weakly pointed out, "you would have arrived in time to prevent most of the trouble."
Feeling that further words to the shame-faced Aaron would be of little value at a time when other things needed accomplishing quickly, Moses sent officers through the camps to find the men who had staunchly refused to have anything to do with worship of the golden calf. Later, a crowd of men was brought to the camp where Moses' tent was pitched.
"These are the ones who claim loyalty to God," Moses was informed. "They are of the tribe of Levi, and are anxious to do anything to please God." (Ex. 32:26.)
"Good!" Moses said. "I have great need of them. God expects the covenant breakers to be punished. He will do it through the swords of these dedicated Levites!"
The Levites stared in uncomfortable silence. "I know how you men must feel," Moses went on. "Some of you may be friends of the guilty, but God intends for them to die by your weapons. No blood will be on your heads, because you will be carrying out divine justice."
This was a difficult and grisly task for the Levites to carry out, but they were determined to be obedient. By the end of the day about three thousand men had been arrested and executed. (Verses 27-28.)
Next day, during mourning for the dead, Moses called the elders.
"Go remind your people what a great crime has taken place here," he instructed them. "Though the guiltiest have died, God is angry with all the people for allowing it. I will climb back up the mountain to plead with Him not to bring punishment that will be too severe."
By this time, Aaron had become so conscious of his weak role in things that he was busy doing his own praying.
Moses Returns Atop Sinai
"My people have sinned more than I realized at first," Moses told God when he was again up the mountain. "I beg you to forgive them. If you don't intend to, I pray that you will take my life instead of dealing harshly with them!"
"I shall not cause the innocent to suffer," God answered. "Neither shall the guilty escape my anger. Go back and tell the people that because of breaking my covenant, I will no longer remain close to them, lest I blot them out if again they so carelessly break my laws. I shall send an angel to do the leading to Canaan, and will decide how to deal with them after I find out how much they regret their sins." (Ex. 33:1 -3.)
The people were unhappy at learning God was going to remove Himself from them somewhat. To show their regret for the idolatry that had taken place, they denied themselves the use of their jewelry and ornate clothing, having been instructed by Moses that they should show humility. (Ex. 33:4-6.) God was so moved by this spirit of repentance that He withheld the punishment He had in mind.
In past weeks, Moses had gone to a special tent outside the camp when he needed to talk to God. People would know when he was doing this, because the guiding cloud would descend over the tent. But after God decided not to be so close to the Israelites, Moses had to have the tent moved away quite a distance before God would meet him in the cloud. The people noticed this, and were perturbed, but they were thankful that Moses and God didn't leave entirely.
Plans for the Future
In one of his visits with God, Moses boldly inquired how he should go about getting the Israelites started again toward Canaan. God was pleased by Moses' concern for the people. He rewarded him by the welcome news that He would continue helping guide the Israelites. Moses had a sudden strong desire to see what this merciful Creator looked like, but God informed him that it wouldn't be possible to see His face.
"I want you to bring two stone tables up Mount Sinai for Me to write the Ten Commandments on again," God said. "When you do, I shall pass very near to you, and you shall see My presence."
Next day Moses forcefully warned Aaron, Joshua and Hur he would be gone for a time, and that it would be up to them to preserve order in the camps or risk the lives of all the Israelites. Taking the expertly-cut tablets, he went up Mount Sinai early next morning. At the same time the cloud floated down to cover the peak of the mountain.
"Conceal yourself in the small cave here on the ledge," a voice instructed. "Do not emerge until your God has passed by the cave."
Moses stepped into the opening in the solid rock and waited. Suddenly he found himself shaking nervously. There was a dazzling light. The Creator of the universe -- the One who later became Jesus -- was approaching!
"I am the Eternal God!" The tremendous voice, seeming to come from all directions, cracked like lightning without being unduly loud. The growing brilliance became so strong it stabbed through Moses' closed eyelids. In another instant it became so dazzling Moses could make out a rather indefinite figure standing back to him. It lasted only for a moment, and was gone before he could clap his hands over his closed eyes to protect them. (Ex. 34:5-6.)
"I am merciful and gracious," the Voice continued. "I am slow to anger, loving and faithful. My love for thousands is not to be swayed. I forgive men of their sins, but I will punish those who continue in their guilt. I will bring punishment on their children, their grandchildren and even their great grandchildren."
Trembling and almost blinded temporarily, Moses stumbled out of the little cave and dropped face downward.
"If I have found favor with you, forgive the sins of my stubborn people!" Moses exclaimed. "Dwell with us! Don't cut us off from your protection and blessings!" (Verses 7-9.)
"I will renew the covenant!" God said after a short period of silence. "I will do great and marvelous things for your people that have never been done before!"
God went on to repeat many of the plans He had already disclosed during Moses' previous forty days and nights on the mountain. Moses stayed again for the same time, fasting and being sustained by divine power. For the second time God engraved the Ten Commandments on stone. When at last Moses returned to camp, he was happy to find no trouble there and pleased to bring the new tablets and the promise of a renewed covenant. (Verses 27-28; Deut. 10:1-5.)
On reaching the slopes of the mountain, he was startled because the first people to meet him stared and backed away in fright.
"Look at his face!" they muttered fearfully.
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WHY ARE you people staring?" Moses asked. "Don't you recognize me?"
No one answered. The wide-eyed onlookers silently kept backing away from him. As Moses increased his pace, the crowd retreated faster. Suddenly Moses spotted Aaron, and beckoned to him. Even Aaron seemed hesitant to approach.
"Why is everyone backing off?" Moses asked Aaron. Soon it was evident to both men that closeness to God had caused Moses' skin to shine with such a divine radiance that his facial features were hardly discernible. It was necessary for him to cover his head to prevent onlookers from becoming alarmed.
Moses Summons the Elders
Next morning he gathered the elders to tell them what had happened. Because his skin still glowed brightly, he kept a veil over his face. This was necessary, especially later when he addressed crowds, to keep children from becoming upset. When he talked to all the people, he reminded them they should faithfully and carefully observe the Sabbaths.
"They are eternal signs that God is our God and we are His people," Moses pointed out. "I have news of a special work we must carry out right away. Some of you will feel so ambitious about it you will be tempted to work on it on the Sabbath. God knows this. He has instructed me no fire shall be kindled on a Sabbath for the purpose of sharpening tools, melting metals or anything having to do with unnecessary work. God is aware of your needs. He doesn't forbid the use of fires on the Sabbath for light, heat or other necessities." (Ex. 35:1-3.)
Moses had been discouraged by the way many Israelites had failed to obey the Fourth Commandment. Probably he would have been dismayed if he could have foreseen how so-called spiritual leaders of the future would distort and even ignore that law.
How Men Misrepresent God's Law
Posing as ministers of God, such men proclaim that it isn't possible to obey these eternal spiritual laws, and that those who try to are placing themselves under a curse. One of the arguments is that it isn't possible to observe the Fourth Commandment because people can't live without kindling a fire every day.
"Jesus nailed the Ten Commandments to the cross," they claim.
The Ten Commandments weren't nailed to the cross. Christ was nailed there to pay for people's sins by dying instead. Because He was the supreme sacrifice, the temporary laws having to do with the sacrifices are no longer necessary. They were given in Moses' day to remind man of his sin and of his coming Saviour. Since Christ has already come, we don't need them today. (Gal. 3:19 and Heb. 10:3-4.) But the Ten Commandments are everlasting. They're spiritual, not ceremonial.
Eternal life, a gift from God, can't be earned, and God won't give it without obedience to Him. There must be repentance of sins, which is a deep regret for wrong things done. Every human being has sinned. That is failing to obey God's sacred laws, the foremost being the Ten Commandments.
On repentance, God is pleased to forgive and remove sin by blotting out all past mistakes, but to gain everlasting life, one must live from then on by the Creator's rules, which are for happiness, good health and success. Often they are difficult to obey, but God gives ability to overcome and a growing hope of becoming a spirit being. (Matthew 10:22.)
When one considers that most so-called Christian churches teach the opposite of many things God shows through the Bible, one begins to realize how carefully the remarks of self-styled spiritual leaders must be regarded. The matter of "kindling fire" may not at first appear of great importance, but it's just one example of how some will vainly try to eliminate the Ten Commandments.
Having warned the people of the importance of observing the Sabbath, Moses outlined for them the wonderful plan for a place in which God could be with them as they moved toward Canaan.
"Even though we have sinned greatly, our God has promised to stay in our midst as long as we obey Him," Moses told the Israelites.
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