How many times did Moses go up Mount Sinai?Though we often think about Moses going up Mount Sinai once and receiving the Law of God for the Israelites, Moses ascended Mount Sinai about eight times. Mount Sinai was also where Moses received the call from God to go to Egypt (Exodus 3:1–6, 12). Let's look at each of his ascents to learn what happened during each one.
Ascent 1 (Exodus 19:1–8): After the Israelites left Egypt, in the third month, they arrived at Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:12). Moses ascended the mountain and God offered a covenant between Himself and the Israelites. Moses was to tell the people these words from the LORD: "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:4–6). Moses did as instructed, implying he descended the mountain. The Israelites agreed to this covenant (Exodus 19:7–8).
Ascent 2 (Exodus 19:8–9): Moses reported the Israelites' response back to God, implying he ascended Mount Sinai again. God replied, "Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever" (Exodus 19:9). This conveyed the message that Moses was God's anointed leader for the people of Israel. Moses reported this to the people, implying he descended the mountain.
Ascent 3 (Exodus 19:10–19): Some scholars believe that God speaking to Moses in Exodus 19:10 is part of the earlier conversation. Exodus 19:14 says that Moses descended the mountain, which could be the descent implied in Exodus 19:9 or a separate descent. Whatever the case, God tells Moses to consecrate the Israelites and set boundaries around the mountain because He is going to make an appearance. Moses does as instructed. On the third day, "Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder" (Exodus 19:17–19).
Ascent 4 (Exodus 19:20—20:20): From the thunder, God asks Moses to ascend the mountain again and advises that Moses go back down and warn the people not to break the barriers. Moses replies that the people cannot come up because they have set limits and have been warned. God tells Moses to go back down and bring his brother Aaron back up with him. Moses goes down and tells the people (Exodus 19:25). It seems that Moses is at the bottom of the mountain with the people when God delivers the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1—17). "When all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die'" (Exodus 20:18–19). Moses tells them not to be afraid "for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin" (Exodus 20:20). The people keep their distance and Moses draws near to the manifest presence of God (Exodus 20:21).
Ascent 5 (Exodus 20:21—23:33): On this ascent, Moses "approached the thick darkness where God was" (Exodus 20:21), and God gives him a collection of laws to share with the people of Israel, as well as a promise to send an angel with them and give them the land of Canaan (Exodus 23:20–33).
Ascent 6 (Exodus 24—31): Moses is again summoned to ascend Mount Sinai. This time, in addition to Aaron, he is also instructed to bring Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel with him.
The next day, Moses builds an altar and erects twelve stone pillars to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. He offers burnt offerings to God and reads the Book of the Covenant (the laws he had been given on Mount Sinai) to the Israelites, who agree that they will obey what God had commanded (Exodus 24:4–8).
Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders ascend the mountain. God reveals Himself to Moses and all the men he brought with him. They "saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank" (Exodus 24:10–11).
God commands Moses to come further up Mount Sinai and leave the other men behind. Joshua, Moses' assistant and the future leader of the Israelites into Canaan, was allowed to come up part of the way (Exodus 24:12–13). God summons Moses into the cloud at the top of the mountain where Moses stayed for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:15–18).
During this time, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone by God Himself (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 34:1, 28). He also gives Moses instructions on how to build the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, and the altar, as well as specific instructions for the priestly garments and their consecration (Exodus 24–31). Too, He tells Moses to emphasize the Sabbath as a sign between the people of Israel and the Lord (Exodus 31:12–17).
When Moses and Joshua come back down the mountain, they are greeted by the idolatry of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 32). God had told Moses this was happening, and Moses interceded with God for the people. When Moses goes down the mountain and sees for himself, his "anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain" (Exodus 32:19). He also destroyed the golden calf and disciplined the Israelites. (Exodus 32:20–29).
Ascent 7 (Exodus 32:30–35): Moses returns to the Lord at Mount Sinai to intercede on behalf of the Israelites and "make atonement for [their] sin" (Exodus 32:30), that God might grant them mercy. In a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, Moses offers his own life in exchange for those of the Israelites (Exodus 32:32). God does not take him up on his offer, but sends a plague on the Israelites. God then commands they depart and that He will give them the land of the Canaanites but will not go with them. "When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments" (Exodus 33:4). Moses, again, intercedes and pleads for God's presence to go with them (Exodus 33:12–23). God agrees, even to Moses' request to show him His glory.
Ascent 8 (Exodus 34): On this final ascent, God has Moses remake stone tables and then rewrites the Ten Commandments on them, replacing the ones Moses had broken in his anger (Exodus 34:1–2, 28). God describes Himself to Moses as "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6–7). Moses stays on the mountain with God for another forty days and forty nights, miraculously "he neither ate bread nor drank water" (Exodus 34:28).
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him" (Exodus 34:29–30).
The ascents to Mount Sinai were powerful in that they showcase the process of God making a covenant with Israel, creating a covenant and laws, and speaking with Moses and through Moses to the people. The giving of the Law shows the holiness of God and what sin is (Romans 7:7); the Law served as the placeholder before Jesus' life, death, and resurrection (Galatians 3:24–25); and Moses speaking to God on behalf of the people was a great look at how Jesus intercedes to God on our behalf (Deuteronomy 18:18; Romans 8:34). The ascents to Mount Sinai show that God is a fully righteous and loving God who is desirous of a relationship with His people.
Who was Moses in the Bible?
In what ways was Moses similar to Jesus?
What are the Ten Commandments and why are they important?
Why did the Israelites worship a golden calf in Exodus 32?
What can Christians learn from the Mosaic law?
Truth about Everything Else