Mount Sinai. There are differences of opinion concerning the location of this mountain. It is sometimes called Horeb (Ex.3:1; 17:6. etc.). All the Old Testament references to it clearly indicate that it was in the vicinity of Edom and connect it with Mt. Seir (Deut.33:3; Judg.5:4-5). Several points have been put forward as the probable site, but there can not now be any certainty as to the exact location. All the evidence both of the scripture and of the discoveries of archaeologists seem to point to one of the southwestern spurs of Mt. Seir as the sacred mountain. The differences of opinion as to location do not affect the historical reality of the mountain nor the certainty that at its base there took place the most important event in the history of the Hebrew people.
The Sinaitic Covenant. At the foot of Sinai and in the midst of grandly impressive manifestations of Jehovah, Israel entered into solemn covenant relations with Him. It was a covenant of blood and was the most sacred and inviolable ceremony known to the ancient peoples. Half of the blood was sprinkled on the alter and half upon the people, thus signifying that all had consented to the terms of the covenant. In this covenant Israel is obligated to loyalty, service and worship, while Jehovah is to continue to protect and deliver them. This covenant is commonly called |The Law of Moses.| All the rest of the Old Testament is a development of this fundamental law and shows the application of it in the experience of Israel.
The Purpose of the Mosaic Law. It should be observed that the rewards and punishments of this law were mainly confined to this life. Instead of leading them to believe that outward obedience to it would bring personal salvation and, therefore, instead of superseding the plan of salvation through a redeemer, that had been announced to Adam and Eve, and confirmed in the covenant with Abraham, it pointed to the Savior. The sacrifices foreshadowed the substitution of the Lamb of God as a means of their deliverance for sin and its punishment.
There are probably two purposes in promulgating this law. (1) To preserve the Israelites as a separate and peculiar people. To the weld the scattered fugitives from Egypt into a nation, distinct from other nations, required laws that would make them different in customs, religion and government. (2) A second purpose was to provide additional spiritual light, that they might know the way of salvation more perfectly.
The Several Parts of the Law. On the whole the law contains three parts. (1) The Law of Duty. This is given in the form of ten commandments (Ex. ch.20) and relates to individual obligations, (a) The first four define one's obligations to God. (b) The fifth defines our relation to parents, (c) The last five define our relation to the other members of society. These ten words define religion in terms of life and deed as well as worship. They reach the very highest standard and, in the last command, trace crime back to the motive even to the thought in the mind of man. They point out duties arising out of the unchangeable distinctions of right and wrong.
(2) The law of Mercy. This law is found in the instructions concerning the priesthood and the sacrifices. Through these were seen; (a) the need of an atonement for the sinner's guilt; (b) the need of inward cleansing on the part of all; (c) the redemption of the forfeited life of the sinner by another life being substituted in its stead and only by that means; (d) the fact that God would punish wrong-doing and reward righteousness. This is also called |The Law of Holiness| or |The Ceremonial Law| and was intended to show Israel man's sinfulness and how a sinful people could approach a holy God and themselves become holy. It, therefore, deals with such matters as personal chastity, unlawful marriages and general social purity and the religious behavior by which they were to be absolved from all impurity and symbolically to be made pure again.
(3) The Law of Justice. This is composed of miscellaneous civil, criminal, humane and sanitary laws, calculated to insure right treatment of one another and thus promote the highest happiness of all: (a) There was to be kindness and justice to each other including slaves, and also to domestic animals; This is beautifully shown in the provisions for the treatment of the poor, the aged and the afflicted; (b) The rights of property were to be sacredly regarded and all violations of such rights severely punished as in the case of fraud or theft; (c) Laws of sanitation and health guarded the imprudent against the contraction of disease and protected the wicked or careless against its spread and thereby saved Israel from epidemics of malignant disease. Thus the right of the innocent and helpless were insured; (d) The sanctity of the home and of personal virtue was held inviolable and every transgressor, such as the man who should commit adultery with another man's wife, was put to death; (e) Life was to be sacred. No man being able to give it was to take it from another and so the murderer was to pay the penalty by giving his life.
These laws were so amplified as to meet every demand of the domestic, social, civic and industrial relations of the nation. There could hardly be designed a happier life than the proper observance of all these laws would have brought to Israel. This legislation reached its noblest expression in the law of the neighbor: |Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself| (Lev.19:18). It is the final word in all right relation to others.
The Journey to Kadesh-Barnea. After camping before Sinai a little more than a year, during which tune they received the law and were gradually organized into a nation, the cloud by which they were always led from the time of their departure to their entrance to Canaan, arose from the tabernacle and set forward. It led them by a way that we cannot now trace but which Moses says was eleven days' journey from the sacred mountain. (Dt.1:2).
A few notable events of this journey are recorded. (1) The fire of Jehovah that burned in the camp because of their murmuring. (2) The appointing of seventy elders to share with Moses the burden of the people. (3) The sending of the quails and the destruction of those that lusted. (4) Miriam, the sister of Moses, was smitten with leprosy because with Aaron she rebelled against Moses and spoke disrespectfully of him.
The Twelve Spies. From Kadesh Moses sent out twelve men who should investigate the condition of Canaan. These men agreed that it was an attractive and well favored land. They brought back evidences of its fruitfulness. Only two of them, believed they could conquer it. The People yielded to the opinions of the majority and refused to attempt to enter Canaan and even worse they openly resolved to return to Egypt. For this disbelief and open rebellion they were sentenced to wander forty years in the wilderness and all of them who were above twenty years old except Joshua and Caleb were not only doomed not to be allowed to enter this promised land but were to die in the wilderness.
Lessons of the Period. The more important truths taught by the records of this period may be divided into three groups. (1) Those about man and his nature: (a) He is sinful, his whole nature is out of proper attitude toward God and is a fountain of evil; (b) He is, therefore, in need of redemption and cannot have the benefit of worship to God without it; (c) He owes obedience to God. (2) There are lessons about God: (a) He is shown to be a Holy God. who hates and punishes sin; (b) He is represented as a God of mercy and forgiveness; (c) He is seen as one of power and might, able to carry forward his plans and to change the whole destiny of a people. (3) There is a many sided view of redemption: (a) It is based on blood; The victim must shed its blood before redemption can come; (b) It is by Institution as is attested by all the sacrifices; (c) It is by imputation or the putting of one's sins upon the victim; (d) It is by death and that of an innocent creature. In all of this there is a revelation of Christ who puts away sin and brings the sinner into favor with God.
For Study and Discussion. (1) The awe-inspiring ways by which Jehovah made known his presence on Sinai. (2) The several things Israel covenanted to do. (3) The worship of the golden calf and the breaking of the tables of stone. (4) The three great divisions of the law. (5) The law of mercy or of Holiness, what it teaches, and its purpose. (6) Catalogue the different laws of justice according to the outline suggested above or make a new outline and catalogue them. (7) The present day conditions that could be met and changed for good by an application of these laws. (8) The tabernacle and its material. (9) The different kinds of offering, learn what was offered and how and by whom. (10) The different scared occasions, feasts, holidays, etc. (11) The different occasions of rebellion on the part of the people and what resulted. (12) The spirit of Moses as seen in his talks to the people and in his prayers to God. (13) The rebellion of Miriam and Aaron against Moses. (14) The results of wrong influences or reports as seen in the case of the spies. (15) The rewards of righteousness as seen in the entire period.