Camping at Mount Sinai
- 1 The people of Israel reached the Sinai Desert a month and a half after they left Egypt.1
- 2 They moved their camp from Rephidim2 to the Sinai Desert, in front of the mountain.3
- 3 Moses started climbing the mountain, toward God. The LORD spoke to him there: “I want you to give this message to the descendants of Jacob, to all the people of Israel.4
- 4 ‘You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. And you watched me lift you out of Egypt, like an eagle carrying you away.
- 5 Here’s what’s going to happen. If you do what I say and you honor the agreement I’m going to make with you, I’m going to single you out as my people. Of all the groups of people in the world, you’ll belong to me.
- 6 You’ll become a nation of priests because you’ll all be devoted to me, which will make you holy in my eyes.’
That’s what I want you to tell the people.”
Get ready for God to come
- 7 Moses went back to camp and called a meeting of the elder leaders. He told them what the LORD said.
- 8 The people answered, “We’ll do everything the LORD said.”
- 9 Then the LORD told Moses, “Listen closely. I’m going to come to you in a thick cloud and I’m going to speak in a voice the people can hear. I’ll do this so they’ll trust you from now on.” Moses told the LORD that the people had agreed to do whatever he said.
- 10 The LORD said, “Tell the people to purify5 themselves. Have them wash their clothes.
- 11 They need to be ready by day after tomorrow. That’s when the LORD will come down Mount Sinai, with the people watching.
- 12 I want you to set up a boundary marker. Tell the people not to cross it. They’re not allowed to touch even the edge of the other side. And they’re not to climb the mountain. Anyone who touches the mountain must be executed.
- 13 Anything that sets food on the mountain must stoned to death or shot to death with arrows, whether it’s a person or an animal. However, when the ram’s horn blows, they should walk past the boundary marker and come up to the mountain.”
- 14 So Moses went back down the mountain, to the campsite. He had the people purify themselves and wash their clothes.
- 15 He also told the people, “Get ready for day after tomorrow. Don’t have sex during this purification time.”
Everyone shakes with fear
- 16 When the day came, morning broke with thunder and bolts of lightning. A thick cloud rolled in on the mountain, as a ram’s horn blasted so loudly that everyone in camp shook with fear.
- 17 Moses led the people out of the camp. When they reached the foot of the mountain, they stood and waited to meet God.
- 18 The LORD came down as fire on the mountain, while smoke roiled up from Mount Sinai like billows of a kiln. The mountain shook with a violent tremor.
- 19 The ram’s horn blasted louder. Then louder again. Moses spoke. And God thundered his answer.
- 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to join him there. Moses climbed the mountain.
- 21 The LORD told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to sneak through and try to see me. If they do, many will die.
- 22 And tell the priests that if they want to approach the LORD, they have to purify themselves. If they don’t, the LORD will deal with them.”
- 23 Moses told the LORD, “But no one can come up to Mount Sinai. You told me to set up boundary markers and make people stay away from this holy site.”
- 24 The LORD told him, “Go down and bring Aaron with you. But don’t let the priests or anyone else come with you. If they do, the LORD will deal with them.”
- 25 Moses went back down and told the people what the LORD said.
They arrived on the first day of the month of Sivan (corresponding with May-June), which was the third new moon after they left Egypt. Numbers 33:3 reports that they left the city of Rameses in Egypt in the middle of the first month of the new Hebrew calendar. The first month is Nisan (March-April). Israelites followed a lunar calendar, with every month starting at the first tiny crescent after the new moon. A new moon is when the moon is hidden behind earth’s shadow for one day. The sun, moon, and earth are aligned, with earth in the middle. Nisan is the name of the first Jewish month of the year. It’s when Jews celebrate one of their most revered holidays: Passover.
Location of Rephidim is unknown. But it seems to have been close to Mount Sinai, because Moses walked from Rephidim to Sinai to get water from a rock there (Exodus 17:1-7).
The Israelites would camp there for almost a year (Numbers 11:11-12).
“Israel” was a new name God gave to Jacob (Genesis 32:28). Jacob’s descendants later adopted it as the name of their extended family of clans and tribes, which grew into a nation.
Purification involved at least washing clothes and not having sexual intercourse (19:15). Anything else it may involve isn’t mentioned. Later, purification rituals included a waiting period, a ritual bath, and a sacrificial offering (Leviticus 15).