Two months after the rescue from Egypt, God leads his people to Mount Sinai. Speaking to Moses from the mountain, God tells him that out of all of the peoples on the earth, God wants to make a covenant with the Israelites. He wants them to be his special treasure, his people who follow him and his ways. The people unanimously agree—they will be his.
For two days, the people prepare themselves—clothes scrubbed, faces washed. The Most Holy God is going to speak to them. There is no room for impurity in the presence of the perfect.
On the morning of the third day, their knees knock as lightning strikes. Thunder claps. A loud trumpet blasts. Mount Sinai can hardly handle God’s glory as it violently shudders. God comes down in fire, and thick smoke billows.
In the midst of the thundering skies and the trembling knees, the Holy One speaks. God gives the people his holy ways—the Ten Commandments, commands about how to live. Overwhelmed by God’s power and presence, the people beg Moses to speak to God so they don’t have to. The Holy One is overwhelming.
The King’s Heart
“I am the God who chooses you,” God said to the childless Abraham. “I am the God of all power,” he said as he mocked Egypt’s false gods through the ten plagues. “I am the God who rescues you,” he said as he parted the sea and drowned the Egyptians. “I am the God who provides for you,” he said in the daily delivery of manna.
The people at the foot of Mount Sinai had been chosen, claimed, healed, fought for and provided for—all before they had ever heard or kept a single commandment.
The events of Mount Sinai are akin to a betrothal. God proposes that the people are to be his—in essence, to take his name. And while keeping commandments was a part of the covenant, it wasn’t the entirety of it. God does want his people to follow his ways. But keeping commandments is just outward evidence that their hearts are his.
We follow God’s ways because we love who he is. We love his character and his perfect goodness, and we trust him. Like the Israelites, we are not to live rightly in order to be God’s. We are to live rightly because we already are his.
Many Biblical scholars consider the scene at Mount Sinai to be a proposal—and the rest of Scripture as a record of God’s relationship with his people. It’s not a coincidence that our story ends in a wedding celebration (see Revelation 19:6-9).