We have been looking at the Ten Commandments, which were a big deal to the Israelites and remain a big deal to both Jews and Christians today. In the Book of Exodus, the Ten Commandments were delivered to Moses by God himself on the top of a mountain. What can we conclude from this?
We can conclude that God is holy. This means God is set apart, perfect, untouched by evil, worthy of devotion. This was an easy conclusion for the Israelites to draw, for God was hidden in a cloud on top of the mountain and it was death to set foot on that mountain uninvited. The concept of holiness is rarely talked about today, but humans have an instinctive need to worship something greater than themselves.
We can also conclude that God, despite his holiness, is accessible to and interested in mankind. A god who did not care about us would not bother to give us commandments. But God drew his people to the holy mountain for the purpose of instructing them. He did not remain in an impenetrable cloud, but invited Moses to the top of the mountain for a personal interview. God even came down from the mountain to a special “tent of meeting” erected outside the Israelites’ camp. There, God would speak to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:7-11).
We can also conclude that God’s delivery of the Ten Commandments was part of his overall plan for the salvation of the world. Exodus Chapter 33 begins with God’s instruction to leave the mountain and to proceed to the land originally promised to Abraham, in what is now the country of Israel. God had promised Abraham that he and his descendants would someday be a blessing to all people on earth. We have seen this plan unfold over many years with the gathering of the Israelites to be God’s special, chosen people and their escape from Egypt. The encounter with God at the mountain marks a new stage in the development of this people.
The Book of Exodus tell us that God gave the Israelites many rules about right behavior in addition to the Ten Commandments. There were also detailed instructions about building a tabernacle, a portable shrine that would serve as the focus of the Israelites’ religious worship while their wanderings continued. This shrine contained a box holding the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. We will hear more about this tabernacle, also called the Ark of the Covenant (“ark” means box) later on.
Next time we will follow the Israelites as they (finally!) make their way back to their homeland.