Of all the theophanies in the OT, probably the most memorable one is the one that took place on Mount Sinai. In the OT, God appeared to several people in several forms. For example, He appeared to Abraham in the form of three men; to Moses He appeared in burning bush; and He wrestled with Jacob just like another human being. However, on Mount Sinai He appeared in an altogether different manner. The manifestation of God on Mount Sinai was accompanied by fire, smoke, lightening, thunder, earth quake and trumpet call. The presence of God was so frightening that people did not want God to directly talk to them. They entrusted Moses to converse with God on their behalf.
Why did God want to manifest Himself to the people in such a magnificent manner? The answer may be that God did not wants His people to forget that He is an awesome God, and that He should not be taken lightly. It is remarkable that God manifested Himself as a fearsome God as a prelude to the giving of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. It is as the most powerful and sovereign God that He gave His commandments to His people. Hence, people should be deadly serious about meticulously observing these commandments. Although God has spoken to the ancestors and prophets in dreams and visions, the singularity of the Ten Commandments is that they come directly from the mouth of God. While there are many laws in the OT books, the Decalogue has unique importance in that whereas these other laws derive from the authority of Moses or other prophets, Decalogue is issued by God Himself.
However, the uniqueness of the Decalogue is not an unquestionable idea. One major objection against the prominence of Sinai covenant and the Decalogue is that this covenant is not mentioned in most of the other books outside the Pentateuch. In Israel, the laws were given by prophets in view of their contemporary problems and situations and these laws were accepted by the people on account of the trustworthiness of the prophets. Hence, although the giving of the Decalogue is juxtaposed to the theophany on Mount Sinai, several scholars think that originally these were different traditions which were later brought together to relegate the laws given by the prophets. Decalogue, as it stands now, is the authoritative command of God in the light of which the validity and veracity of the prophetic pronouncements are to be determined.
“Obedience is better than sacrifice,” is a dictum in common parlance of the Christians. It is rightly so because many a time obedience is harder than sacrifice as it can mean the sacrifice of the self itself. Nevertheless, obedience is easier when we are asked to obey someone who really loves and cares for us. It is worth noting that the God who demands the unconditional allegiance and obedience of His people is a God who takes care of His people. He is the one who liberated them from the slavery of Egyptians. Before giving the commandments, God reminds His people that, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Ex 20:2). God who binds Israel with His laws is a God who liberated Israel from the laws of Egyptian slavery. On Mount Sinai God compares Himself to an eagle, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). Eagle is an image of powerful protection. It protects, carries, feeds and guides. God not only took Israel forcefully from Egypt, but also nurtured it all through their wilderness journey. God took Israel out of Egypt not just to another land, but to Himself as the above verse clarifies. God was taking the people from Pharaoh to Himself. What happened was a change of ownership. Now, the people belonged not to Pharaoh any more but to God Himself. The Decalogue is the new set of rules in view of belonging to God, the new master.
God’s act of liberating Israel from Egypt and choosing Israel as His own was an unconditional act of love. But, it was up to Israel to decide whether to remain as God’s own, for God says, “If you obey my voice…you shall be my treasured possession” (Ex 19:5). Our obedience or disobedience to the commandments determine whether we want to remain God’s own.