It is interesting how you can read something many times and never see everything that is written in what you are reading. I had that happen to me this morning. I just noticed something reading through Exodus this time. I have lost track of how many times I have read the Book of Exodus, but I have never noticed this before. It is so interesting that I think I will take you on a journey through Exodus and let you see it for yourself rather than just telling you about it. We will start when the Israelites first arrive at the Mountain of God – Mount Horeb, or as we know it better – Mount Sinai.
“On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
“Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
“So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.” (Exodus 19:1-8 NIV)
To set the stage: They are at Mount Sinai, Moses has gone up onto the mountain and God has started talking to the people. As we will see, Moses is already starting his many trips up and down the mountain taking messages back and forth between God and the people even though, as we will soon see, God didn’t need Moses to speak for Him.
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, “Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.” Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.'” (Exodus 19:10-13)
God has Moses get the people ready for the “Big Reveal” – the day He would reveal Himself to them and speak directly to them.
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
“The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’
“Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, “Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.”‘
“The Lord replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.’
“So Moses went down to the people and told them.
“And God spoke all these words:
“‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“‘You shall have no other gods before me. . . .'” (Exodus 19:16-20:3)
“‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.'”
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’
“Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’
“The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites this: “You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.
“‘”Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.”‘
“‘These are the laws you are to set before them:
“‘”If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.”‘” (Exodus 20:17-21:2)
God is still speaking to the people, but now He is speaking through Moses at the request of the people. But in spite of the interruption, God continues to give them the terms of His covenant with them. And He continues:
“‘Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.
“‘Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
“‘No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
‘”Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.
“‘Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
“‘Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.” (Exodus 23:14-17)
And then He closes the covenant with a promise:
“‘See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.” (Exodus 23:20-23)
“‘I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.'”
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.’
“When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do.’ Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.'”
“He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.’
“Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’
“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.'” (Exodus 23:31-24:12)
Did you notice anything in the above passage? Moses has received the entirety of the Covenant (or the Law as everyone likes to call it) and HE WROTE IT DOWN IN A BOOK and read it to the people. After that, the people agreed to the terms of the Covenant and Moses sprinkled them with the “Blood of the Covenant”! BUT, THERE ARE NO TABLETS OF STONE YET! The Covenant has been “signed, sealed and delivered” without the “tablets of stone”. And now that everything has been taken care of legally, God tells Moses, “Come back up here and I will give you the “hard copy” of the Covenant!” And now comes the interesting part. Moses goes back up on the Mountain. What most people will tell you is that God is going to spend the next 40 days giving him the Law and then God will give him “the stone tablets” with the Law written on them, but that is not what happens. As we have just seen, Moses and Israel have ALREADY received the Covenant Law, so what is it that God and Moses talk about for forty days?
“When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
“‘Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.'” (Exodus 24:15-25:9)
They spent the time discussing the building of the Tabernacle! Not one mention of the Law! The stone tablets do not even show up until the very last day.
“When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18)
Finally! The stone tablets have shown up. However, notice that God has finished talking to Moses, but there has been no mention of the Law in all their talking for the last 40 days. Now, that Moses has the tablets, they get put in a nice box and preserved for the following generations right? Well let’s see what happens next.
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’
“Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'” (Exodus 31:18-32:4)
After swearing that “‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” Israel made it a total of 47 days before they decided they no longer wanted to do things God’s way – a whole 47 days! Wow! But then do we do any better?
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”‘” (Exodus 32:7-8)
“Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. . . . When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.” (Exodus 32:15-16 & 19)
And now Moses has finally gotten the two stone tablets with the covenant law written on them, but they only survive the time it takes him to get down to the foot of the mountain. As soon as he gets there he throws them down and breaks them. But, they were never used by Moses or anyone else as part of the covenant ceremony – how they could have – they didn’t exist when the covenant was made! They were written about 7 weeks later. So the stone tablets were NEVER part of the covenant. The covenant law that Israel swore to follow was written in a book by Moses 48 days earlier.
Here is the timeline:
- It all starts on the 1rst day of the third month after they left Egypt – What we now call the month of Sivan.
- God called Moses up on the mountain and told him, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” He then goes on to tell him to have the people spend the rest of that day and the next two days washing their clothes and consecrating themselves because on the third day God was going to come down on the mountain and meet with them.
- On the 4th of Sivan God descended on the mountain and gave the Israelites the Covenant Law. Moses spends the rest of the day writing everything down.
- On the morning of the 5th (50 days after Passover by the way) Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve pillars – one for each of the 12 tribes. After offering a bunch of sacrifices, Moses read the Covenant Law to the people from the Book he had just written – the people agree to the covenant and Moses sprinkles them with the Blood of the Covenant.
- Then Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two oldest sons, and the 70 elders go up on the mountain to “see God”. They have a meal and then God calls Moses to come up further on the mountain alone to talk to Him and receive the stone tablets.
- Moses starts up, but God stops him and makes him wait for six days. On the next day He summons Moses to come on up. So Moses finishes ascending the mountain on 12 Sivan.
- They spend the next 40 days discussing the construction of the Tabernacle. Moses receives the Stone Tablets on the 40th day – the 22nd of Tammuz, and promptly breaks them.
Rather fascinating don’t you think? So just WHEN did they get the “stone tablets”? Well, for that we need to read on – for quite a few days worth of records it turns out. We will pick up the story right after Moses broke the tables of stone that God wrote on.
“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him.
“Then he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.”‘ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, ‘You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.'” (Exodus 32:25-29)
The Levites kill 3000 people but that isn’t the final judgment. The next day, once things have had a chance to settled down a bit more, Moses talks to the people and says he is going to try and intercede with God for them. However, things don’t work out all that well.
“The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’
“So Moses went back to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.’
“The Lord replied to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.’
“And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” (Exodus 32:30-34)
So it seems that the Levites killing 3000 people didn’t take care of everything. God caused a plague to fall on the people, we are not told how many died from it. But that wasn’t the only result of their actions. God has more to say.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants.” I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.’
“When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites, “You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.”‘ So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.” (Exodus 33:1-6)
God says that He is going to leave them to their own devices because if He stays with them He would most likely end up killing them all because they are so unwilling to do what He commands. Moses has a rather interesting response to that.
“Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’
“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
“Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’
“Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’
“And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’
“Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.’
“So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation'” (Exodus 33:12-34:7)
Moses “talks” God into staying with them and guiding them on their journey, and then asks to see God’s Glory – a rather bold request given the violent displays that God has already put on! And finally we come to the stone tablets. However, this time Moses is the one to cut them out of the rock and shape them not God. Then with the tablets in hand he returns to the mountain where God shows him His Goodness.
“Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.’
“Then the Lord said: ‘I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.'” (Exodus 34:8-11)
Once again God makes His covenant with Israel. This time there are several differences. He is only talking to Moses, the “terms of the covenant” are very abbreviated, and there is one other – major – difference.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34:27-28)
Moses is the one who wrote on the stone tablets this time! And between God showing him His Goodness (which I would imagine took quite awhile) and Moses slowly chiseling out the words of the covenant, once again he was up there for 40 days and nights. So all together, it has been at least 88 days, maybe even a couple of days longer since Moses sprinkled the “Blood of the Covenant” on the Israelites and when they finally received the stone tablets!
Oh, one last thought. Well, you check it out and see what you think. (NOTE: the following verses are quoted continuously. The bold numbers are added to make my point, but do not skip any text.)
“Then the Lord said: ‘I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
1 “‘Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
2 “‘Do not make any idols.
3 ‘”‘Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
4 “‘The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.
5 “‘No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
6 “‘Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
7 “‘Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
8 “‘Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.
9 “‘Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
10 “‘Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.'”
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34:10-28 Emphasis and bold numbers are mine.)