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was a world of mountains outspread, peak after peak near and far away.
Below were the encamped multitudes. The words to Moses were,
“Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel : Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore 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 a holy nation."
He came down, and having assembled the elders,' delivered the message, which was then communicated generally, the people answering to it, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do."
Again Moses ascended; and now he was commanded to go down and to charge the people to be prepared, on the third day from that, to appear in clean garments and with pure hearts, to stand before God, who would then “come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.” He was also to have bounds prepared around the mountain; for neither man nor beast was to touch it: if they did so, it was to be at the peril of life. When the trumpet sounded they were to approach near to the mount.
The preparations were made according to this command.
The expectations of the people took every possible form; but in every case they were raised to the highest degree. The minds of the most obtuse among them were beginning to have glimmerings of God, but still in the degree of general ignorance, their surmisings of what was now to come took fantastic, and often degraded shapes.
But as, on the morning of the third day, all stood gazing toward the mountain, a thick cloud began to cover it. This increased in thickness and darkness; its black billowy forms rising and surging with tumultuous motion, while the solid earth shook and trembled as if with a convulsion that threatened destruction there and all around. Lightnings flashed from the cloud, and thunders pealed startling reverberations from multitudinous peaks far and near. “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.” At intervals in the lulls of the reverberations from the thunder, were sounds as of a trumpet, raised louder and louder, till it seemed to take almost the force of the thunder itself.
1 Probably the heads of tribes.
The people stood trembling, gazing in awe at the fearfulness of this manifestation of God's presence, a deep reverence filling their souls. It was a demonstration of the might and majesty of God suited well to their intellects.
“And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount."
Moses was called up, and was charged once more to go and see that the bounds were kept in order and the sanctity of the mountain observed; after which he and Aaron were to go upward toward its summit.
This was done; and then was delivered to them the set of laws which we call the Decalogue, beginning with that firm, clear, decisive command to man's soul,
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
The two men were above, veiled in that thick cloud and receiving those ten commandments which ever since have been a received rule for the world. The people below had shrunk away from about the mountain in awe and fear. The scene had overwhelmed them with its terrific majesty. They felt indeed that God was there; and when the Law was brought down to them, they knew that it was his. The words were strong and decisive, and were to last to the end of time; the demonstration accompanying them was equally strong.
When Moses and Aaron after their descent approached the people, the multitudes cried out to them,
“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 remainder, however, still crowded together in the distance, cowering and gazing in terror at the stupendous scene, while their leader ascended again and entered "the thick darkness, where God was.'
THE encampment remained at this place nearly a year;
stances, the whole law for the government of the nation was written out. The people were becoming gradually improved in mind and character, but it is not in one year, or indeed in any short series of years, that a nation brought from their condition in Egypt can be reformed. They were now still a base people, with crude intellects; and we have very soon a proof of the latent corruptions brought from their former home and servitude, and ready on all occasions to break out into action.
Moses and Aaron and Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders, were called up to the mountain summit, and there received manifestations of God, adapted to deepen the impressions of his greatness and glory; and then Moses and “his minister Joshua” were summoned to an especial communication at the same place. The Decalogue was to be delivered inscribed on two tables of stone, and also other laws were to be given ; and as the time of absence would be a long one, the leader had deputed his authority for that interval to Aaron and Hur, assisted by the elders, with the injunction, “Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto
1 Compare Num. x. 11, with Ex. xix. 1.
The two remained on the mountain forty days and nights, during which time many laws were given to the leader alone; among them one relating to "a sanctuary” which was to be prepared, in which God might show his especial presence in the future onward movements of the Israelites. Commandments were also given respecting the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priests' office, and to administrations at the sanctuary, when it should be ready. Finally, there was delivered to Moses “the testimony, or Ten Commandments," written out on both sides of two tables of stone.
Then he was warned to hasten baek to the camp; for the people, he was informed, had “corrupted themselves," and had turned already to the heathen worship. God said to him, “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.” But Moses cried, “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth ?" and he begged that the people for whom God had so signally manifested himself might be spared.
He rejoined Joshua; and as on their hurried way down, their ears caught sound of noises in the camp, the warriorinstincts of the latter suggested an attack by enemies: “ There is a noise of war in the camp.” But Moses answered, “It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.” A
very harrowing spectacle indeed met the eyes of the two men, as they came within sight of the camp. They saw a molten image of a calf: in a position to indicate that it had been worshipped, and before it the people were now engaged with music in sacred dances! It was all one scene of disgusting heathenism with the mirth used before heathen idols, and an approach to heathen obscenity in the idol-worship, for the Jewish men were quite divested of their garments.
Moses in his excited feeling dashed down the stone tables : for he felt to the depths of his soul that such a people were unworthy of any testimony from God; and the tables were broken. He summoned Aaron, and demanded of him an account of this disgusting spectacle. The great Lawgiver's rage was hot, -as it might well be, and his guilty brother cowered before him. The account which the latter gave was this that the people, alarmed at the protracted absence of Moses and Joshua, had at last come to him with the demand, "Make us gods which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him." He had then told them to collect the golden ear-rings among the people, and bring the gold to him: “then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” His account was disingenuous; for he omitted to state that he had “fashioned it with a graving tool,” after it had been cast; and that as they had cried before it, “ These be thy gods, O. Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” he himself had built an altar before it, and had made proclamation, “To-morrow is a feast to the Lord," which feast they were now holding before the image.