Exploring Deuteronomy Week 4: The Marriage at Sinai
Pastor Dan’s sermon, “Law” in the Not by Bread Alone sermon series is available to watch online here.
This week Pastor Dan took us through Deuteronomy 5, which is a repetition of the 10 Commandments. Moses takes time to remind Israel of God’s law — His covenant — because it is so crucial to their relationship with Him. In this post, I want to take some time to return to Exodus 19-20, which is the very first time Israel hears the 10 Commandments.
What we see in Exodus 19-20 is actually a very amazing covenant process — in fact, the Jewish rabbis often pointed out that this ceremony was a marriage taking place between God and Israel. This language is quite common in the Bible — God is often called Israel’s husband (Jeremiah 31:32, Isaiah 54:5, Isaiah 62:5), and Israel a bride (Jeremiah 2:1).
Before Israel receives the 10 Commandments, God speaks to Moses:
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:4-6)
This is God’s proposal to Israel. He reminds her of what He has done, and then He reminds her that she is chosen. He is asking Israel to covenant with Him. So Moses goes and reports God’s proposal to the people. They respond, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” She says yes! Moses then brings their answer back to the Lord.
A betrothal period was common in ancient Judaism (this is what we see happening with Mary and Joseph in Matthew 1). It was a time of sanctification, a setting apart in order to prepare for the holy relationship of marriage. This is exactly what we see Israel doing in Exodus 19, before receiving the 10 Commandments. God says that the people are to consecrate themselves and wash their clothing to be ready for the Lord to come on the third day. I have heard it said that it is a Jewish custom to be married on the third day (Tuesdays). This is because in the creation account in Genesis, God sees that it is good twice on the third day. Must be an extra great day to get married! Fascinating, then, that God’s covenant ceremony with Israel in Exodus 19 is going to be on the third day. (Also, interesting to note that the wedding where Jesus turned water to wine was on the third day! Always pay attention to numbers and place names in the Bible — they are often adding to the story!)
On the morning of the third day, God descends on Mt. Sinai in a cloud of fire and smoke, accompanied by thunder, lightning, and the long blast of a trumpet. The entire mountain shakes, as do the people below. What an amazing sight — the holy God of all the universe has descended in order to enter into a covenant relationship with this small people group. This group of slaves will now be a royal priesthood of people whose identity is based on their unique relationship with Yahweh, the God of Israel.
This appearance of God has also been incorporated into Jewish wedding traditions — in ancient Israel, people carrying torches often walked with the wedding party, and still today Jewish bridesmaids sometimes carry candles instead of flowers. Fire, which almost always represents the presence of God in the Bible, will also accompany Christ’s return when He comes for His bride, the church.
A “ketubah” is a Jewish marriage contract, which detail the terms of the covenant. (Similar to modern-day vows.) This, then, is what we see when we get to Exodus 20–the 10 Commandments. God has laid out His vows — Israel has been saved and rescued, God will call them His own, He will make them His treasured possession. Israel then vows to remember the Lord their God who brought them out of Egypt, to worship Him alone, to avoid all idols, to keep His name sacred, to rest on the Sabbath, etc. Israel vows, and in Exodus 24, the covenant is confirmed. God and Israel are sealed. After this, Moses and the elders of Israel go up the mountain and the Bible says, “they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:11). Sounds like a wedding reception to me!
I got married in August, and it was honestly the best day of my life. I loved the ceremony — it was so beautiful to know that God was present in our midst, and that Andrew and I were covenanting, not only with one another, but also with Him. We said traditional vows and we wrote our own — we made promises to one another that we did not take lightly.
This, then, is what Moses reminds the Israelites of when he repeats the 10 Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. Is it as if he’s saying, “Remember your wedding day! Remember your vows!” The 10 Commandments are not just a list of rules to follow. It is a list of vows for God and Israel — the promises, the work, the effort, the commitment that this relationship will take.
How amazing that this event was recorded — that we can read about these intimate moments between God and Israel. As we know, the story doesn’t end there. Israel cheats on her husband — over and over again she ignores her vows and leaves the love of her youth. But we also know that God does something amazing — He sends His Son to bring a new covenant, one cut from His blood. And we, His bride, wait for His return and know that one day we, like Moses and the elders, will eat and drink with God at the wedding feast of the lamb! What a glorious day that will be!
* What stands out to you most when you think of the 10 Commandments?