and the Wilderness
God Speaks from the Mountain, Exodus 19-20
A couple of months out of Egypt, the people arrive at Mount Sinai and camp at the bottom of it, 19:1-2. God calls Moses up onto the mountain and tells him to prepare the people, and Moses does so, 19:3-15. On the third day, the mountain is engulfed with a thick cloud of smoke, and it is shaking. There is thunder, lightning, and the sound of a loud trumpet. Most impressive, though, is the voice of God, 19:16-25. Jehovah Himself speaks the Ten Commandments to the people, 20:1-17. Understandably, the people are in such awe that they are terrified, and they ask that God not speak to them directly, but only through Moses, 20:18-21. We can relate to Israel's reaction; this was a truly awe-inspiring occasion. However, as wonderful as it is, it is not nearly as wonderful as what has been revealed by Jesus Christ, and recorded in the New Testament: for this reason, it is all the more important for us to be obedient to what is taught in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:18-29). Unlike Mount Sinai, however, the Mountain of God cannot be seen with fleshly eyes; it is understood by faith (Hebrews 11:1). To those who have no faith, the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn is utterly unimpressive; to the saved, however, it is nothing short of awesome.
Although the people do not hear God's voice any more, He continues speaking with Moses. He delivers the entire law to Moses on the mountain. Moses then delivers it to the people, and they promise to abide by it, Exodus 24:1-8. (For His part, God promised that He would take care of them, and bless every aspect of their lives, if they would only obey Him faithfully, Deuteronomy 7:11-24.) While the Law of Moses presented a much higher moral standard than any other religion of its time, it did not represent God's true standard of behavior for man. Rather, it was designed to prepare a people from whom the Messiah - the Savior of all mankind - would come (Galatians 3:19-27). God's true moral standard, revealed by Jesus, is in fact much higher and deeper than the precepts of the Law. As an example of this, we observe that the Law of Moses tolerated polygamy and divorce, whereas God never wanted either of these things, as Jesus clearly states in Matthew 19:3-6. Another example is Jesus' teaching on murder, recorded in Matthew 5:21-24.
The Wandering in the Wilderness
Moses remains on the mountain with God for forty days and the people - the same people who were so awed by God's voice such a short time before - became impatient and wanted to make some idols, Exodus 32:1-3. It is important to note that they did not admit to worshiping a different deity. On the contrary, they claimed that the golden calf was in fact a representation of Jehovah, verses 4-5. However, this was in direct violation of the second Commandment, Exodus 20:4-6. God does not want any images made of Himself, Deuteronomy 4:15-18.
Sadly, the incident with the golden calf was neither the first nor the last time the people rebelled against God and Moses. On the contrary, they did it over and over and over again. In spite of all that God had done to demonstrate His love for them, they repeatedly accused Him of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness (e.g. Exodus 14:11-12; 16:3; etc.). Finally, as they near the land that God has promised to give them, they demonstrate a complete lack of faith. God instructs them to send twelve spies into the land, and they do. When the spies come back, they tell the people that the land is beautiful and abundant - just as God had promised. However, ten of them also say that the inhabitants of the land are too numerous and too powerful to overcome - thus exhibiting a complete lack of faith. Only two of the spies - Joshua and Caleb - insist that they can take the land, because God is with them. Characteristically, the people go along with the ten spies, and decide to pick a leader to bring them back to Egypt! They claim that God has brought them out to kill them, and that all of their children will die. As a consequence of this, God ordained that the entire adult population of Israel would die in the wilderness, and their children would enter the Promised Land instead. The people were consigned to a life of wandering in the wilderness for forty years - one year for every day the spies were in Canaan. The record of these events is in Numbers 13-14.
Throughout the wandering in the wilderness, God remained with His people. He took care of them every step of the way, Deuteronomy 8:1-6. God is a loving Father, and like every loving father, He disciplines His children, Hebrews 12:4-11.