Reading from Exodus 19-20:

Ex 19:24 Then the LORD said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, or He will break forth upon them.” 25So Moses went down to the people and told them. Ex 20:1Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.....

At the conclusion of chapter 19, Moses has been told by Yahweh to go back down the mountain, and then come back up again, and hence Moses has gone down and told them. I had always assumed he went back up the mountain again, but here it does not explicitly state this.

The fact that the commandments finish with the people complaining to Moses implies he has not yet gone back up?

Ex. 20:18All the people perceived the 1thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”

So do I understand correctly, the ten commandments are delivered by Yahweh on the mountain, while Moses is still at the bottom of the mountain?

NB: Deuteronomy 5:5 places Moses in-between Yahweh and the people, but at least in the English language its not clear exactly where this would have been yes?

Deut 5:5 while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.

2 Answers 2

  1. The fact that the commandments finish with the people complaining to Moses implies he has not yet gone back up?

  2. So do I understand correctly, the ten commandments are delivered by Yahweh on the mountain, while Moses is still at the bottom of the mountain?

  3. Where is "between the LORD and you[the people]"?

First let's address the second question in case the answer may change our understanding of #1 or #3, depending whether you believe that this is Moses speaking the words God just spoke to him on the mountain, or whether you believe God is speaking the commandments directly to the people.

Version #1 - Moses is just the messenger

So Moses went down to the people and told them. "And God spoke all these words, saying,..." (ESV Quotes added by me)

If we read from Ex. 19:25 straight through to 20:1 you might conclude that it is part of what "Moses told them" (19:25) and 20:1 is just Moses speaking.

So Moses tells them the ten commandments that God told them, just as he has repeated many messages before and after this that God told him in private.

In this case, Moses would have to be with the people, and would most likely be at the front. One could imagine the natural "front" of the crowd would be facing the mountain, delivering the message he received from and about the God that is currently covering said mountain, and thereby "between" God and the people.

It could also be that God begins to speak and the people cannot bear it. Deut 5:4-5 could read that Moses stood between them in order to declare the word of the LORD because they were afraid of the fire. And it is Moses speaking when 5:5 says "He said", telling the people what God told him.

Version #2 - God spoke to all Israel

God gave Moses instructions in 19:21-24 and in v25 Moses goes down the mountain to tell the Israelites (them), reminding them to stay off the mountain.

Now that the people are ready, God himself speaks to the people (20:1 "God Spoke"). As they are listening, they see the cloud and the storm and are so frightened they ask Moses to speak to God for them.

Moses has not had time to go back up, with or without Aaron, as he is still with the people. It is still easy to imagine Moses being right in front, either having just come down, or simply being in front of the people as their leader.

Moses is with the people

So it seems, either way, Moses is with the people immediately after the giving of the ten commandments.

Does Moses go back up in 20:21? It is my opinion that Ex. 20:21 is not a full ascent and descent, but rather God speaking to Moses through the cloud, possibly at the foot of the mountain which the cloud is covering. I believe this because the verbiage changes. Moses "draws near" in 20:21 instead of "going up" ('alah). Also, he then goes to tell the people what he has been told in 24:3 but it is not "go down" yarad but simply a basic verb for come/go/enter ([bow'][3]) with no directional reference (except maybe "in"), be it up or down. Also this clarifies the confusion over the command to bring Aaron next time Moses goes up. If this is not an ascent then we see that the next time Moses goes up in Ex.24:9, he does indeed bring Aaron and so he is faithful to God's command.

What does he mean by Between?

We should not assume that "between" in Deut 5:5 means only Moses' physical position , but perhaps is also describing his relational position, his role.

Moses was a mediator between God and the Israelites throughout their time at Mt. Sinai and continuing in the wilderness. Later in Moses' monologue in Deut. 10:10, he reminds them that he interceded for the people and the LORD did not destroy them. So maybe he is likewise reminding them in Deut 5:5 how he stepped in and spoke to God for them, assuming a mediating position between them.

Galatians 3:19 does not name Moses as the mediator, but most commentaries (see link for some) understand the reference of the giving of the law as being Moses.


  1. Moses is still with the people, not going up with Aaron yet
  2. Yahweh delivers the commandments with Moses with the people.
  3. Moses has taken a physical position between God on the mountain and the Israelites, but he has also taken a relational position between God and man. He is mediating between God in heaven and on the mountain and the people below, communicating and interceding.

As to where Moses was during the deliverance of the commandments, we read that God told Moses to go down and come back up in Exo 19:24 "And the LORD said to him, "Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you."

So it would stand to reason that Moses did indeed go back up for the commandment portion of the delivering of Law by God as there would be no reason to interpret otherwise.

I think that the confusion rest on where he was during the conclusion of the fundamental law as opposed to the introduction of each, we know as the 10 commandments.

For the later part, we are told that the people no longer felt they could live if they heard the voice of God anymore. Therefore they requested Moses go and retrieve the law from God and deliver it to them. And I n return, they would obey. We find this in Deuteronomy 5:22-31

This was what Moses meant in Deut. 5:5 when he said he stood between them and God. The meaning was more spiritual than literal. This simply meant that Moses interceded on behalf of the people. This, as we know was the function of Moses.

  • Thanks for your answer. I have been reflecting on this, doesn't him having to go up so they don't have to listen to Yahweh imply he initially hadn't gone up. You might find interesting the answer provided here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/59508/…
    – Jay
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 0:54
  • 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
    – S2C
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 11:27

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