"THE LAW AT SINAI"
Given to Israel
[This chapter is based on Exodus 19 to 24.]
Soon after the encampment at Sinai, Moses was
called up into the mountain to meet with God. Alone he climbed the steep and
rugged path, and drew near to the cloud that marked the place of Jehovah's
presence. Israel was now to be taken into a close and peculiar relation to the
Most High--to be incorporated as a church and a nation under the government of
God. The message to Moses for the people was:
"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and
how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if
ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar
treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: and ye shall be
unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation."
Moses returned to the camp, and having summoned the
elders of Israel, he repeated to them the divine message. Their answer was, "All
that the Lord hath spoken we will do." Thus they entered into a solemn covenant
with God, pledging themselves to accept Him as their ruler, by which they
became, in a special sense, the subjects of His authority.
Again their leader ascended the mountain, and the
Lord said unto him, "Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may
hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee forever." When they met with
difficulties in the way, they were disposed to murmur against Moses and Aaron,
and accuse them of leading the hosts of Israel from Egypt to destroy them. The
Lord would honour Moses before them, that they might be led to confide in his
God purposed to make the occasion of speaking His
law a scene of awful grandeur, in keeping with its exalted character. The people
were to be impressed that everything connected with the service of God must be
regarded with the greatest reverence.
The Lord said to Moses, "Go unto the people, and
sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready
against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of
all the people upon Mount Sinai." During these intervening days all were to
occupy the time in solemn preparation to appear before God. Their person and
their clothing must be freed from impurity. And as Moses should point out their
sins, they were to devote themselves to humiliation, fasting, and prayer, that
their hearts might be cleansed from iniquity.
The preparations were made, according to the
command; and in obedience to a further injunction, Moses directed that a barrier
be placed about the mount, that neither man nor beast might intrude upon the
sacred precinct. If any ventured so much as to touch it, the penalty was instant
On the morning of the third day, as the eyes of all
the people were turned toward the mount, its summit was covered with a thick
cloud, which grew more black and dense, sweeping downward until the entire
mountain was wrapped in darkness and awful mystery. Then a sound as of a trumpet
was heard, summoning the people to meet with God; and Moses led them forth to
the base of the mountain. From the thick darkness flashed vivid lightnings,
while peals of thunder echoed and re-echoed among the surrounding heights. "And
Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in
fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole
mount quaked greatly." "The glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top
of the mount" in the sight of the assembled multitude. And "the voice of the
trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder." So terrible were the tokens
of Jehovah's presence that the hosts of Israel shook with fear, and fell upon
their faces before the Lord. Even Moses exclaimed, "I exceedingly fear and
quake." Hebrews 12:21.
And now the thunders ceased; the trumpet was no
longer heard; the earth was still. There was a period of solemn silence, and
then the voice of God was heard. Speaking out of the thick darkness that
enshrouded Him, as He stood upon the mount, surrounded by a retinue of angels,
the Lord made known His law. Moses, describing the scene, says: "The Lord came
from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran,
and He came with ten thousands of saints: from His right hand went a fiery law
for them. Yea, He loved the people; all His saints are in Thy hand: and they sat
down at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words." Deuteronomy 33:2, 3.
Jehovah revealed Himself, not alone in the awful
majesty of the judge and lawgiver, but as the compassionate guardian of His
people: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of
Egypt, out of the house of bondage." He whom they had already known as their
Guide and Deliverer, who had brought them forth from Egypt, making a way for
them through the sea, and overthrowing Pharaoh and his hosts, who had thus shown
Himself to be above all the gods of Egypt--He it was who now spoke His law.
The law was not spoken at this time exclusively
for the benefit of the Hebrews. God honoured them by making them the guardians
and keepers of His law, but it was to be held as a sacred trust for the whole
world. The precepts of the Decalogue are adapted to all mankind, and they
were given for the instruction and government of all. Ten precepts, brief,
comprehensive, and authoritative, cover the duty of man to God and to his fellow
man; and all based upon the great fundamental principle of love. "Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all
thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." Luke 10:27.
See also Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; Leviticus 19:18. In the Ten Commandments these
principles are carried out in detail, and made applicable to the condition and
circumstances of man.
"Thou shalt have no other
gods before Me."
Jehovah, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated One,
Himself the Source and Sustainer of all, is alone entitled to supreme reverence
and worship. Man is forbidden to give to any other object the first place in his
affections or his service. Whatever we cherish that tends to lessen our love for
God or to interfere with the service due Him, of that do we make a god.
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,
or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth
beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down
thyself to them, nor serve them."
The second commandment forbids the worship of the
true God by images or similitudes. Many heathen nations claimed that their
images were mere figures or symbols by which the Deity was worshiped, but God
has declared such worship to be sin. The attempt to represent the Eternal One by
material objects would lower man's conception of God. The mind, turned away from
the infinite perfection of Jehovah, would be attracted to the creature rather
than to the Creator. And as his conceptions of God were lowered, so would man
"I the Lord thy God am a jealous God."
The close and sacred relation of God to His people
is represented under the figure of marriage. Idolatry being spiritual adultery,
the displeasure of God against it is fitly called jealousy.
"Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the
children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me."
It is inevitable that children should suffer from
the consequences of parental wrongdoing, but they are not punished for the
parents' guilt, except as they participate in their sins. It is usually the
case, however, that children walk in the steps of their parents. By inheritance
and example the sons become partakers of the father's sin. Wrong tendencies,
perverted appetites, and debased morals, as well as physical disease and
degeneracy, are transmitted as a legacy from father to son, to the third and
fourth generation. This fearful truth should have a solemn power to restrain men
from following a course of sin.
"Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love
Me, and keep My commandments."
In prohibiting the worship of false gods, the
second commandment by implication enjoins the worship of the true God. And to
those who are faithful in His service, mercy is promised, not merely to the
third and fourth generation as is the wrath threatened against those who hate
Him, but to thousands of generations.
"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God
in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain."
This commandment not only prohibits false oaths and
common swearing, but it forbids us to use the name of God in a light or careless
manner, without regard to its awful significance. By the thoughtless mention of
God in common conversation, by appeals to Him in trivial matters, and by the
frequent and thoughtless repetition of His name, we dishonour Him. "Holy and
reverend is His name." Psalm 111:9. All should meditate upon His majesty, His
purity and holiness, that the heart may be impressed with a sense of His exalted
character; and His holy name should be uttered with reverence and solemnity.
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six
days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath
of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor
thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy
stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and
earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore
the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it."
The Sabbath is not introduced as a new institution
but as having been founded at creation. It is to be remembered and observed as
the memorial of the Creator's work. Pointing to God as the Maker of the heavens
and the earth, it distinguishes the true God from all false gods. All who keep
the seventh day signify by this act that they are worshipers of Jehovah. Thus
the Sabbath is the sign of man's allegiance to God as long as there are any upon
the earth to serve Him. The fourth commandment is the only one of all the ten in
which are found both the name and the title of the Lawgiver. It is the only one
that shows by whose authority the law is given. Thus it contains the seal of
God, affixed to His law as evidence of its authenticity and binding force.
God has given me six days wherein to labour, and He
requires that their own work be done in the six working days. Acts of necessity
and mercy are permitted on the Sabbath, the sick and suffering are at all times
to be cared for; but unnecessary labour is to be strictly avoided. "Turn away
thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the
Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and . . . honour Him, not
doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure." Isaiah 58:13. Nor does
the prohibition end here. "Nor speaking thine own words," says the prophet.
Those who discuss business matters or lay plans on the Sabbath are regarded by
God as though engaged in the actual transaction of business. To keep the Sabbath
holy, we should not even allow our minds to dwell upon things of a worldly
character. And the commandment includes all within our gates. The inmates of the
house are to lay aside their worldly business during the sacred hours. All
should unite to honour God by willing service upon His holy day.
"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days
may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."
Parents are entitled to a degree of love and
respect which is due to no other person. God Himself, who has placed upon them a
responsibility for the souls committed to their charge, has ordained that during
the earlier years of life, parents shall stand in the place of God to their
children. And he who rejects the rightful authority of his parents is rejecting
the authority of God. The fifth commandment requires children not only to yield
respect, submission, and obedience to their parents, but also to give them love
and tenderness, to lighten their cares, to guard their reputation, and to
succour and comfort them in old age. It also enjoins respect for ministers and
rulers and for all others to whom God has delegated authority.
This, says the apostle, "is the first commandment
with promise." Ephesians 6:2. To Israel, expecting soon to enter Canaan, it was
a pledge to the obedient, of long life in that good, land; but it has a wider
meaning, including all the Israel of God, and promising eternal life upon the
earth when it shall be freed from the curse of sin.
"Thou shalt not kill."
All acts of injustice that tend to shorten life;
the spirit of hatred and revenge, or the indulgence of any passion that leads to
injurious acts toward others, or causes us even to wish them harm (for
"whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer"); a selfish neglect of caring for
the needy or suffering; all self-indulgence or unnecessary deprivation or
excessive labour that tends to injure health--all these are, to a greater or
less degree, violations of the sixth commandment.
"Thou shalt not commit adultery."
This commandment forbids not only acts of impurity,
but sensual thoughts and desires, or any practice that tends to excite them.
Purity is demanded not only in the outward life but in the secret intents and
emotions of the heart. Christ, who taught the far-reaching obligation of the law
of God, declared the evil thought or look to be as truly sin as is the unlawful
"Thou shalt not steal."
Both public and private sins are included in this
prohibition. The eighth commandment condemns manstealing and slave dealing, and
forbids wars of conquest. It condemns theft and robbery. It demands strict
integrity in the minutest details of the affairs of life. It forbids
overreaching in trade, and requires the payment of just debts or wages. It
declares that every attempt to advantage oneself by the ignorance, weakness, or
misfortune of another is registered as fraud in the books of heaven.
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy
False speaking in any matter, every attempt or
purpose to deceive our neighbour, is here included. An intention to deceive is
what constitutes falsehood. By a glance of the eye, a motion of the hand, an
expression of the countenance, a falsehood may be told as effectually as by
words. All intentional overstatement, every hint or insinuation calculated to
convey an erroneous or exaggerated impression, even the statement of facts in
such a manner as to mislead, is falsehood. This precept forbids every effort to
injure our neighbour's reputation by misrepresentation or evil surmising, by
slander or tale bearing. Even the intentional suppression of truth, by which
injury may result to others, is a violation of the ninth commandment.
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou
shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant,
nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's."
The tenth commandment strikes at the very root of
all sins, prohibiting the selfish desire, from which springs the sinful act. He
who in obedience to God's law refrains from indulging even a sinful desire for
that which belongs to another will not be guilty of an act of wrong toward his
Such were the sacred precepts of the Decalogue,
spoken amid thunder and flame, and with a wonderful display of the power and
majesty of the great Lawgiver. God accompanied the proclamation of His law with
exhibitions of His power and glory, that His people might never forget the
scene, and that they might be impressed with profound veneration for the Author
of the law, the Creator of heaven and earth. He would also show to all men the
sacredness, the importance, and the permanence of His law.
The people of Israel were overwhelmed with terror.
The awful power of God's utterances seemed more than their trembling hearts
could bear. For as God's great rule of right was presented before them, they
realised as never before the offensive character of sin, and their own guilt in
the sight of a holy God. They shrank away from the mountain in fear and awe. The
multitude cried out to Moses, "Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not
God speak with us, lest we die." The leader answered, "Fear not: for God is come
to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not." The
people, however, remained at a distance, gazing in terror upon the scene, while
Moses "drew near unto the thick darkness where God was."
The minds of the people, blinded and debased by
slavery and heathenism, were not prepared to appreciate fully the far-reaching
principles of God's ten precepts. That the obligations of the Decalogue might be
more fully understood and enforced, additional precepts were given, illustrating
and applying the principles of the Ten Commandments. These laws were called
judgements, both because they were framed in infinite wisdom and equity and
because the magistrates were to give judgement according to them. Unlike the Ten
Commandments, they were delivered privately to Moses, who was to communicate
them to the people.
The first of these laws related to servants. In
ancient times criminals were sometimes sold into slavery by the judges; in some
cases, debtors were sold by their creditors; and poverty even led persons to
sell themselves or their children. But a Hebrew could not be sold as a slave for
life. His term of service was limited to six years; on the seventh he was to be
set at liberty. Manstealing, deliberate murder, and rebellion against parental
authority were to be punished with death. The holding of slaves not of
Israelitish birth was permitted, but their life and person were strictly
guarded. The murderer of a slave was to be punished; an injury inflicted upon
one by his master, though no more than the loss of a tooth, entitled him to his
The Israelites had lately been servants themselves,
and now that they were to have servants under them, they were to beware of
indulging the spirit of cruelty and exaction from which they had suffered under
their Egyptian taskmasters. The memory of their own bitter servitude should
enable them to put themselves in the servant's place, leading them to be kind
and compassionate, to deal with others as they would wish to be dealt with.
The rights of widows and orphans were especially
guarded, and a tender regard for their helpless condition was enjoined.
"If thou afflict them in any wise," the Lord
declared, "and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My
wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be
widows, and your children fatherless." Aliens who united themselves with Israel
were to be protected from wrong or oppression. "Thou shalt not oppress a
stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the
land of Egypt."
The taking of usury from the poor was forbidden. A
poor man's raiment or blanket taken as a pledge, must be restored to him at
nightfall. He who was guilty of theft was required to restore double. Respect
for magistrates and rulers was enjoined, and judges were warned against
perverting judgement, aiding a false cause, or receiving bribes. Calumny and
slander were prohibited, and acts of kindness enjoined, even toward personal
Again the people were reminded of the sacred
obligation of the Sabbath. Yearly feasts were appointed, at which all the men of
the nation were to assemble before the Lord, bringing to Him their offerings of
gratitude and the first fruits of His bounties. The object of all these
regulations was stated: they proceeded from no exercise of mere arbitrary
sovereignty; all were given for the good of Israel. The Lord said, "Ye shall be
holy men unto Me"--worthy to be acknowledged by a holy God.
These laws were to be recorded by Moses, and
carefully treasured as the foundation of the national law, and, with the ten
precepts which they were given to illustrate, the condition of the fulfilment of
God's promises to Israel.
The message was now given them from Jehovah:
"Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee
into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke
Him not; for He will not pardon your transgressions: for My name is in Him. But
if thou shalt indeed obey His voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an
enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries." During all
the wanderings of Israel, Christ, in the pillar of cloud and of fire, was their
Leader. While there were types pointing to a Saviour to come, there was also a
present Saviour, who gave commands to Moses for the people, and who was set
forth before them as the only channel of blessing.
Upon descending from the mountain, "Moses came and
told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgements: and all the
people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said
will we do." This pledge, together with the words of the Lord which it bound
them to obey, was written by Moses in a book.
Then followed the ratification of the covenant. An
altar was built at the foot of the mountain, and beside it twelve pillars were
set up, "according to the twelve tribes of Israel," as a testimony to their
acceptance of the covenant. Sacrifices were then presented by young men chosen
for the service.
Having sprinkled the altar with the blood of the
offerings, Moses "took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the
people." Thus the conditions of the covenant were solemnly repeated, and all
were at liberty to choose whether or not they would comply with them. They had
at the first promised to obey the voice of God; but they had since heard His law
proclaimed; and its principles had been particularised, that they might know how
much this covenant involved. Again the people answered with one accord, "All
that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient." "When Moses had spoken
every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood, . . .
and sprinkled both the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the
testament which God hath enjoined unto you." Hebrews 9:19, 20.
Arrangements were now to be made for the full
establishment of the chosen nation under Jehovah as their king. Moses had
received the command, "Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu,
and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off. And Moses alone
shall come near the Lord." While the people worshiped at its foot, these chosen
men were called up into the mount. The seventy elders were to assist Moses in
the government of Israel, and God put upon them His Spirit, and honoured them
with a view of His power and greatness. "And they saw the God of Israel: and
there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it
were the body of heaven in his clearness." They did not behold the Deity, but
they saw the glory of His presence. Before this they could not have endured such
a scene; but the exhibition of God's power had awed them to repentance; they had
been contemplating His glory, purity, and mercy, until they could approach
nearer to Him who was the subject of their meditations.
Moses and "his minister Joshua" were now summoned
to meet with God. And as they were to be some time absent, the leader appointed
Aaron and Hur, assisted by the elders, to act in his stead. "And Moses went up
into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount. And the glory of the Lord abode
upon Mount Sinai." For six days the cloud covered the mountain as a token of
God's special presence; yet there was no revelation of Himself or communication
of His will. During this time Moses remained in waiting for a summons to the
presence chamber of the Most High. He had been directed, "Come up to Me into the
mount, and be there," and though his patience and obedience were tested, he did
not grow weary of watching, or forsake his post. This period of waiting was to
him a time of preparation, of close self-examination. Even this favoured servant
of God could not at once approach into His presence and endure the exhibitions
of His glory. Six days must be employed in devoting himself to God by searching
of heart, meditation, and prayer before he could be prepared for direct
communication with his Maker.
Upon the seventh day, which was the Sabbath, Moses
was called up into the cloud. The thick cloud opened in the sight of all Israel,
and the glory of the Lord broke forth like devouring fire. "And Moses went into
the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount; and Moses was in the
mount forty days and forty nights." The forty days' tarry in the mount did not
include the six days of preparation. During the six days Joshua was with Moses,
and together they ate of the manna and drank of "the brook that descended out of
the mount." But Joshua did not enter with Moses into the cloud. He remained
without, and continued to eat and drink daily while awaiting the return of
Moses, but Moses fasted during the entire forty days.
During his stay in the mount, Moses received
directions for the building of a sanctuary in which the divine presence would be
specially manifested. "Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among
them" (Exodus 25:8), was the command of God. For the third time the observance
of the Sabbath was enjoined. "It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel
forever," the Lord declared, "that ye may know that I am Jehovah that doth
sanctify you. Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you. . .
. Whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his
people." Exodus 31:17, 13, 14. Directions had just been given for the
immediate erection of the tabernacle for the service of God; and now the people
might conclude, because the object had in view was the glory of God, and also
because of their great need of a place of worship, that they would be justified
in working at the building upon the Sabbath. To guard them from this error, the
warning was given. Even the sacredness and urgency of that special work for God
must not lead them to infringe upon His holy rest day.
Henceforth the people were to be honoured with the
abiding presence of their King. "I will dwell among the children of Israel, and
will be their God," "and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory" (Exodus
29:45, 43), was the assurance given to Moses. As the symbol of God's authority
and the embodiment of His will, there was delivered to Moses a copy of the
Decalogue engraved by the finger of God Himself upon two tables of stone
(Deuteronomy 9:10; Exodus 32:15, 16), to be sacredly enshrined in the sanctuary,
which, when made, was to be the visible centre of the nation's worship.
From a race of slaves the Israelites had been
exalted above all peoples to be the peculiar treasure of the King of kings. God
had separated them from the world, that He might commit to them a sacred trust.
He had made them the depositories of His law, and He purposed, through them, to
preserve among men the knowledge of Himself. Thus the light of heaven was to
shine out to a world enshrouded in darkness, and a voice was to be heard
appealing to all peoples to turn from their idolatry to serve the living God. If
the Israelites would be true to their trust, they would become a power in the
world. God would be their defence, and He would exalt them above all other
nations. His light and truth would be revealed through them, and they would
stand forth under His wise and holy rule as an example of the superiority of His
worship over every form of idolatry. From Patriarchs and Prophets Chapter 27