Did God speak to the entire Jewish people at Sinai?
Why did the Israelites say, ‘Speak to us and we will hear, but let not God speak
with us lest we die’?
God wrote the 10 Commandments. Moses told them to the Israelites. Moses stood between
the Israelites and the Lord to receive the words of the Lord and then passed them
on to them. Moses interceded for Israel after the Golden Calf sin.
Moses was the Mediator.
Moses the Mediator
According to Mr Norman the idea that God spoke only to Moses at Mount Sinai is a
mistaken one. He is dismissive of the 10 Commandments film which shows God speaking
to Moses not the entire Jewish people. ‘The Torah clearly states that God spoke
to the entire Jewish nation. The Torah reports that 600,000 adult males were present,
which means about 3,000,000 people in total. This means that the entire Jewish nation
momentarily was raised to prophecy because only the prophets were capable of directly
experiencing God’s communication.’ (Introduction p xxxi / 31). To back up this statement
he refers to Exodus 19.16-20, 20.1-3, 20.15, 19, 24.17, Deuteronomy 4.9-14, 4.32-35,
5.2-4, 5.19-22, 9.10, 10.4).
There are two accounts of the giving of the commandments at Sinai, one in Exodus
and one in Deuteronomy. The fuller account is in Exodus which describes the events
as they happened whereas Deuteronomy summarises them 40 years later for the generation
that had come through the wilderness and was about to enter the Promised Land.
In the book of Exodus the following happened. In chapter 19 we read that Israel
camped at the foot of the mountain and Moses went up the mountain in response to
God’s call (1-3). God told Moses that he should communicate to Israel the words
which the Lord commanded (4-6). The people would hear God speaking to Moses and
in response they should sanctify themselves in preparation for this revelation. The
Lord would come down on Sinai in the sight of the people, but bounds were to be set
up to prevent them from coming to the mount or even touching its base or border.
If they did so they would die. Moses went down from the mount to communicate this
message to the people (7-15).
On the third day as promised ‘Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord
descended upon it in fire (17)’. The people stood at the foot of the mountain and
were commanded by the Lord not to break through to the mountain or they would perish.
The Lord told Moses to go up to the top of the Mount and commanded him to charge
the people not to break through to the mount and for the priests to set bounds they
could not cross. Only Moses and Aaron were allowed on to the mount. Anyone who
disobeyed this would die. (16-25).
In chapter 20 God gave the 10 commandments – ‘And God spoke all these words…’ (1-17).
The people saw the awesome spectacle of thunder, lightning, the sound of the trumpet
and the mountain smoking and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us and we will hear, but let
not God speak with us lest we die.’ (19) Moses told the people not to be afraid,
but to stay afar off while he drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. (18-21).
The Lord approved of this and said to Moses ‘Thus you shall say to the children
of Israel: ‘You have seen that I have talked to you from heaven.’ (22).
In chapter 24 the Lord calls Moses to go up to the Lord again this time with Aaron,
Nadab and Abihu and 70 elders of Israel. They are to worship afar off, but Moses
alone was to come near the Lord. Moses then came to the people and told them all
the words of the Lord. He wrote these words and read them to the people. This written
word is referred to as the Book of the Covenant (24.7) which was sanctified by the
blood of sacrifices offered to the Lord. When the people heard the words of this
book (sepher) they said ‘All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient.’
Following this Moses goes up again to the mountain and remains there 40 days and
nights. The Israelites saw the glory of the Lord resting upon the mountain. Moses
receives further commandments concerning the Tabernacle and the Priesthood. Bezalel
with designated helpers to make the Tabernacle written in chapters 25-31.
In chapter 32 because of Moses’ delay to come down from the mountain the people committed
the great sin of The Golden Calf. The Lord sent Moses down from the mount and said
that He would consume them in His anger and make of Moses a great nation (7-10).
Moses interceded with the Lord and the Lord relented from His purpose to destroy
Israel. Moses then went before the Lord to seek atonement for their sin. (11-35).
In Deuteronomy this is what happened. Deuteronomy is a restatement of much of what
has happened before in Israel’s history for the benefit of the generation which has
lived 40 years in the wilderness after Israel’s rebellion at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers
13-14). It is to prepare them for their entrance into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy
4.9-14 God tells them to remember and teach to their children what happened at Sinai.
He says they came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, ‘and the Lord spoke
to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no
form, you only heard a voice.’ He commanded Moses to teach the Israelites his statutes
and judgements, a unique event, which has never happened before. They are the only
people to have heard God speaking out of the midst of the fire and to have lived,
the only people which God has ever taken from the midst of another people by great
signs and wonders (4.32-35). Chapter 5.4 does say ‘The LORD talked with you face
to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire.’ But the next verse states ‘I
(Moses) stood between the LORD and at that time to declare to you the word of the
Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.’
Following the repetition of the 10 words (commandments) the text does say that ‘These
words the Lord spoke to all your assembly.’ ‘And He wrote them on two tablets of
stone and gave them to me.’ (22). Following this the Israelites recognise the uniqueness
of this event that has happened and ask Moses ‘You go near and hear all that the
Lord our God may say, and tell us all that the Lord God says to you and we will hear
and do it.’ The Lord approves of this saying. He tells Moses that he should ‘stand
here by Me and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes and the judgements
which you shall teach them.’ (23-33).
Put all this together and the following conclusions have to be made:
All Israel heard the voice of God speaking on the mountain. It is not 100% clear
from the text whether they heard the voice but were not able to distinguish the words
or whether they actually heard the words of the 10 commandments.
The commandments were given to Moses and written down in a form which could then
be read to the Israelites. Reference is made to the tablets of stone and the Book
of the Covenant.
There was a clear distinction between Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites were
forbidden to come up to the mountain on pain of death, Moses was told to come up.
The Israelites beseeched Moses to stand between them and the Lord to receive the
words of the Lord and then pass them on to them.
Apart from the 10 commandments Moses received the additional commands of Exodus 21-23
and the instructions for the tabernacle and priesthood (25-32) without Israel being
When Israel sinned at the Golden Calf, the Lord was about to consume them. Only
Moses’ intercession saved them from perishing in the wilderness.
Therefore Moses acted as the mediator between the Lord and Israel and the film ‘The
10 Commandments’ was not so far from the truth as Asher Norman claims. While Israel’s
experience at Sinai was unique and wonderful and the Lord had chosen Israel to be
His covenant people, to say that the entire Jewish people was momentarily raised
to prophecy is not the case, because the words were communicated to and through Moses
as a prophet to the people. The people specifically asked Moses that God should
not speak directly to them (Exodus 20.18-19). When Israel sinned at the Golden Calf
it was Moses’ mediation with God that saved them from being consumed by Him.
It is clear from the text that Moses was the mediator through whom God’s word was
given and who interceded for Israel before the Lord. The scripture tells us that
‘The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’ (Exodus 33.11).
It describes how Moses went into the tabernacle ‘before the Lord to speak with
him … until he came out. And he came out and spoke unto the children of Israel that
which he was commanded (Exodus 34.34).’ A number of scriptures show Moses as the
one through whom the Lord spoke to Israel and the one who recorded the events from
the Exodus to the arrival at the Promised Land for the future generations of Israelites.
Exodus 33.7-11, 34.29-35, 40.18-38, Leviticus 1.1, Numbers 14.13-20, 21.4-9, Numbers
33.2, Deuteronomy 5.5, 5.23-27, 31.9-13, 31.24-29.
Moses recorded that the LORD said to him, ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet like
you from among their brethren, and will put My words in his mouth and he shall speak
to them all that I command him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear my words
which he speaks in my name, I will require it of him.’ Deuteronomy 18.18-19. The
New Testament speaks of Yeshua / Jesus as the Prophet like unto Moses who has brought
us the Word of the New Covenant (Acts 3.22). He is the one who intercedes for us
and has brought us to reconciliation with God through His once and for all sacrifice
for sin. (John 17, 1 Timothy 2.5, Hebrews 7.25, 8.6). Can this claim be justified
from the Bible? This is what Asher Norman denies, but what we say is the truth.
In this section of this website we will look at the issues he raises.