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William Shepard

Moses Ascends Mount Sinai and Receives Laws from God

Now Moses called the people together, and told them that he was going from them unto Mount Sinai, to converse with God; to receive from Him and to bring back with him a certain oracle. And he enjoined them to pitch their tents near the mountain. When he had said this, he went up to Mount Sinai, which is very difficult to be ascended by men, not only on account of its height, but because of its precipices also. And besides this, it was terrible on account of the belief that God dwelt there. The Israelites moved their tents, as Moses had bidden them, and took possession of the lowest parts of the mountain, and were glad to think that Moses would return from God with promises of the good things he had proposed to them. So they feasted, and put on themselves and on their wives and children their best raiment, and waited for their conductor. And they prayed to God that He would favorably receive Moses, and let him know what His will was, so that they might live in the way that was pleasing to Him.

In this manner they passed two days; but on the third day, before the sun was up, a cloud spread itself over the whole camp of the Hebrews, such as none had before seen, and encompassed the place where they had pitched their tents. And while all the rest of the air was clear, there came strong winds, that raised up showers of rain, which became a mighty tempest. There was also terrible lightning and thunder. This sight, and the amazing sound that came to their ears, greatly disturbed the Hebrews, for they were not such as they were accustomed to; and then the rumor that was spread abroad, how God frequented that mountain, made them more alarmed, so they sorrowfully stayed within their tents, fearing that Moses had been destroyed by the divine wrath, and expecting the like destruction for themselves.

While they were under these fears, Moses appeared coming down the mountain. And his face was joyful and greatly exalted. When they saw him, they were freed from their fear. The air also became clear and pure and the storm passed away. Then Moses called together all the people, and when they were gathered in a great multitude, he stood on an eminence, whence they might all hear him, and said,—

"God has received me graciously, O Israelites, as He has formerly done; and has suggested a happy method of living for you, and an order of government. And He is now present in the camp. I therefore charge you, for His sake, and the sake of His works, and what we have done by His means, that you do not put a low value on what I am going to say, because the commands do not come from me, Moses, the son of Amram and Jochebed, but from Him who obliged the Nile to run bloody for your sakes, and tamed the haughtiness of the Egyptians by various sorts of judgments; who provided a way through the sea for us; who contrived a method of sending us food from heaven, when we were distressed for want of it; who made the water to issue out of a rock, when we had very little of it before; by whose means Adam was made to partake of the fruits both of the land and of the sea; by whose means Noah escaped the deluge; by whose means our forefather Abraham, of a wandering pilgrim, was made the heir of the land of Canaan; by whose means Isaac was born of parents who were very old; by whose means Jacob was adorned with twelve virtuous sons; by whose means Joseph became a potent lord over the Egyptians: He it is who conveys these instructions to you by me as His interpreter. And let them be held by you in great respect; for if you will follow them, you will lead a happy life: the land will be fruitful, and the sea calm; you will be also terrible to your enemies; for I have been admitted into the presence of God, and been made a hearer of His incorruptible voice; so great is His concern for your nation and its duration."

When he had said this, he brought the people, with their wives and children, so near the mountain that they might hear God Himself speaking to them about the rules which they were to practise. And they all heard a voice that came from above, and spoke ten commandments.

The first commandment teaches us that there is but one God, and that we ought to worship Him only. The second commands us not to make the image of any living creature to worship it. The third, that we must not swear by God in a false matter. The fourth, that we must keep the seventh day, by resting from all sort of work. The fifth, that we must honor our parents. The sixth, that we must abstain from murder. The seventh, that we must not commit adultery. The eighth, that we must not be guilty of theft. The ninth, that we must not bear false witness. The tenth, that we must not admit of the desire of anything that is another's.

Now when the multitude had heard God Himself giving these precepts they rejoiced at what was said, and the congregation was dissolved. But on the following days they came to Moses's tent, and desired him to bring them other laws from God. Accordingly, he appointed such laws, and afterwards informed them in what manner they should act in all cases.

When matters were brought to this state, Moses went up again to Mount Sinai. He made his ascent in their sight, and stayed there so long a time (for he was absent from them forty days) that fear seized upon the Hebrews, lest Moses should have come to any harm; nor was there anything else so sad, and that so much troubled them, as this belief that Moses was perished. Now there was a variety of opinion about it: some saying that he was fallen among wild beasts, and others that he was departed and gone to God; but the wiser sort were quiet and waited, though they grieved sorely. And the camp durst not remove all this while, because Moses had bidden them to stay there.

But when the forty days and as many nights were over, Moses came down. He had tasted no food during all that time. His appearance filled the army with gladness, and he declared to them what care God had of them, and in what way they might live happily. He also informed them that during the days of his absence God had told him to build a tabernacle for Him. And God had said that he would descend into this tabernacle and be present at the prayers of the Israelites, and they should carry it about with them, and there would no longer be any occasion for Moses to go up to Mount Sinai. When he had said this, he showed them two tables of stone with the ten commandments engraven upon them, five upon each table; and the writing was by the hand of God.