In this series, we are noticing that the highlights of God’s redemptive history are often connected with physical high points – the mountains of the Bible. This connection is no coincidence; the mountain experiences we read about in the Scriptures seem to have been arranged to elevate key events in the timeline of redemption and important disclosures of divine truth. And, among the mountains of the Bible, Sinai stands out as being particularly significant.(1)

Terrifying

The image of Mount Sinai is something which must have remained with the exodus generation for the rest of their lives, not simply because they spent nearly a year camped at its foot. The scene at Sinai was awesome. The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”(2)

Those who ascended the mountain must have felt as if they were entering heaven itself. Indeed, the mountain became synonymous with heaven.(3) For Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders who went up to ratify the covenant, it was as though the very throne room of God was nestled on top of Sinai.(4) That group of men was allowed to see the bedrock of lapis lazuli, as clear as the heavens, on which God’s feet were resting; for Moses, alone, the experience became even more intense, as he proceeded further up, into the cloud covering the top of the mountain, to converse with God ‘face to face’.(5)

For those who remained in the camp, the sight was no less striking. They assembled near to the foot of the mountain while it was shrouded in black clouds of thick, dark smoke, its top blazing to the heavens with what appeared to them to be a consuming fire. Meanwhile, a violent storm remained overhead, with peals of thunder and flashes of lightning. As God approached, they heard the blast of a trumpet growing ever louder until, finally, they heard the voice of God. And, at that voice, the whole mountain shook violently.(6) No wonder that everyone in the camp trembled!(7)

The presence of God

The record of Israel at Sinai testifies to the desire of God to be near His people. God descended to the top of Mount Sinai(8) – an event which pointed forward to the time when He would come from Sinai into his sanctuary,(9) fulfilling His desire to dwell among His chosen people.

For the generation of the exodus, Sinai was the place where God (unlike the gods of the nations(10)) became personal, accessible, near. At the same time, the terrifying signs that accompanied His condescension highlight the tension between His holiness and His immanence; they were a fitting testimony to the holiness of the God whose name became attached to this mountain,(11) inspiring reverent fear in His people.(12)

The voice of God

At Sinai, God further humbled Himself by speaking to His people face to face out of the fire(13) to give them His law and righteous regulations for divine worship (again, unlike the gods of the nations(14)). Indeed, it was the voice of God which most terrified the Israelites, such that they asked God to communicate His will for them through Moses.(15) The larger part of the Pentateuch is filled with the wonderful details of this divine disclosure.

The Covenant

Above all, Mount Sinai is the place where God entered into a covenant relationship with His people, Israel, and is later seen as symbolic of that covenant.(16) At Sinai, God bound Himself to Israel as ‘their God’; they bound themselves to Him as ‘his people’, a treasured possession out of all the nations of the world.(17) God had revealed Himself to His chosen people in spectacular fashion, but the covenant contained a promise of yet more wonders to come.(18)

References: (1) 117 references or allusions to Sinai in 91 verses (based on NIV/NASB), representing around 20% of all scriptural references to mountains. (2) Heb. 12:21 (3) Ex. 20:22; Neh. 9:13 (4) Ex. 24:9-10; cf Eze. 1:26 (5) Ex. 24:18; 33:11; 34:5 (6) Ex. 19:16-19; 20:18-21; 24:17; Deut. 4:11-12; Heb. 12:18–19 (7) Ex. 19:16 (8) Ex. 19:20 (9) Ps. 68:17 (10) Deut. 4:7 (11) Judg. 5:5; Ps. 68:8 (12) Ex. 20:20 (13) Deut. 5:4 (14) Deut. 4:8 (15) Ex. 20:19; Deut. 5:5; Heb. 12:19-20 (16) Gal. 4:24-25 (17) Ex. 19:5; 24:7-8; 34:27 (18) Ex. 34:10

Stephen Hickling, Birmingham, England

Bible quotations from NIV, 2011 Edition