(First published in newsletter # 17/18 July 1997)
Down through the ages, the location of Midian as being in Arabia has been recognized by numerous writers and scholars. Ron’s theory that Midian and Mt. Sinai were in northwestern Saudi Arabia was not “all that farfetched”, as Rene Noorbergen wrote in “Treasures of the Lost Races”.
“…The Biblical references connecting Sinai with Mount Seir, Edom and the land of Midian seem clearly to indicate this region east of the Aelanitic Gulf (Gulf of Akaba) as pointed out by Beke (1834), Walllhausen (1886), Sayce (1894), Moore (1895), Shede (1897), Gall (1898), Gunkel (1903), Edward Meyer (1906), Schmidt (1908), Gressmann (1913), Haupt (1914) and by Alois Musil in ‘The Northern Hegaz’ (1911).” (“On the Track of the Exodus” by C. C. Robertson, Artisan Sales, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 1990, p. 87).
But what many seem not to realize is that Mt. Sinai was also in Midian:
EXO 3:1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed… 12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.
The most obvious Biblical reference to the location of Mt. Sinai is the statement by the Apostle Paul, when presenting the “allegory” of the 2 covenants:
GAL 4:25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
Some tried to “explain” this with the claim that during the time of Moses, the Sinai Peninsula was considered “Arabia”. But Ancient Egyptian evidence proves that this desolate region was always under the control of Egypt:
“…the land west of a line from the Wady of Egypt to the Elanitic Gulf [the Gulf of Aqaba] has always belonged to the Egyptian political sphere, and actually that is the present boundary of Egypt…. the South-Arabians called the same region Msr, i.e. Misraim, Egypt.” (“Arabia and the Bible” by James A Montgomery, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1934, p. 31.)
When Ron was at Jebel el Lawz in 1985, he learned first-hand of the traditions among the inhabitants of the region which placed Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Numerous other visitors to the area also have been told of the legends about Jethro and his family living around Al-Bad, which is located southwest of Jebel el Lawz, about 10 miles from the Gulf of Aqaba.
I could go on and on with references that support the traditions of Jethro and Moses in the region, but tradition is limited in it’s usefulness. The Jews, the Arabs, and the Christians all had different traditions as to where Noah’s Ark came to rest. The proof comes from the evidence. And there is NO doubt that Jebel el Lawz is the site of the Holy Mountain, Mt. Sinai. The evidence Ron saw at the mountain is overwhelming enough, but the other evidence in the region fits the Biblical account precisely.
From the Red Sea to Mt. Sinai
With the discovery of Mt. Sinai, there remained one question- what route did they take from the sea to the mountain? At first glance, it seemed an easy answer because there is a large wadi (or canyon)- Wadi al Hasha- which leads from the large shore on the Arabian side directly to the large wadi which circles around and leads right into the main area of the Jebel el Lawz range. Then, when Rephidim, the last encampment before going to Mt. Sinai, was located, it too was in a straight line with the wadi leading from the sea. But there was one verse which indicated that the multitude had NOT gone directly to the mountain- Numbers 33:10 says that they left Elim, the 2nd stop mentioned after crossing the Red Sea, and THEN “encamped by the Red Sea”.
Ron had asked our friends in Saudi Arabia, who had filmed the mountain for us, if they would “scout out” the entire region. They returned to the region many, many times and provided us with wonderful footage of their journeys, including their travels in the wadis. From their journeys and our maps, we had precise information about the region and finally believe we have been able to trace their journey, at least on a broad scale.
Rephidim was the last encampment before reaching Mt. Sinai, and later you will see the evidence which we believe proves the location of this site. The Bible mentions 4 other locations prior to reaching Rephidim- Marah, Elim, Dophkah and Alush. We aren’t given enough information to be able to locate Marah with any certainty, which was where they encountered “bitter water”- was it a stream, or a lake? Neither the account in Exodus 15:23-26 or Numbers 33:8-9 makes this clear. We are given a better description of Elim:
NUM 33:9 And they removed from Marah, and came unto Elim: and in Elim were twelve fountains of water, and threescore and ten palm trees; and they pitched there.
Our friends had stated that one thing that surprised them about the entire region of NW Saudi Arabia was the lack of palm trees, especially considering how plentiful they are in Egypt. This would certainly make an oasis with palm trees, such as Elim, quite noticeable. But there were no palm trees to be found throughout the large wadis which led from the seashore directly east. From this, we concluded that they did not take this direct route, but instead another. And the Biblical account provides more information which also indicates that they did not travel directly east from the sea:
NUM 33:10 And they removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red sea.
For a long time, I puzzled over this- did it mean the great multitude traveled awhile, then went back to the same shore of the Red Sea? That doesn’t seem likely. Instead, it indicates that they traveled either north or south, then ended up at the sea shore, although at a different location. If they went north, they would be leaving the area of the Jebel el Lawz range. But they could have gone south and still remained in the general vicinity. Although the Arabian shore at the crossing site is even larger than the beach at Nuweiba on the Egyptian side, it too is completely blocked to the south by mountains which extend out to the sea. These mountains continue along the shore for over 15 miles to the south. Then, open-shore again appears. And within these mountains are several wadis which extend through them in a north/south direction, beginning at the shore where the crossing took place and ending at the wadi to the south which again leads to the sea.
There are 2 north/south wadis in this range that are large enough to be traveled. They both end to the south where they meet with an east/west wadi. And where these 3 wadis intersect, there is an extremely large oasis with hundreds of palm trees, and 12 wells of water. The oasis is so large that it extends all the way across the width of the wadi. The wells are randomly located and today still provide water. They have recently been walled up with concrete sides. We have no doubt that this is the Biblical “Elim”. The 70 palm trees have proliferated and there are now hundreds of their descendants thriving in this extremely desolate and arid region.
It was now clear what path Moses and the multitude had taken. When they left the sea after the crossing, they did NOT take the direct route which would have led them directly to Rephidim- they instead took a wadi which turned SOUTH and went THROUGH the mountains that lined the shore. The question is WHY?
Why Didn’t They Take the Direct Route?
They were NOT being led by Moses, but the Divine “pillar of fire” by night and “cloud” by day. When they left Egypt, instead the direct route, God led them another way because of the danger of the Philistines:
EXO 13:17 …when Pharaoh had let the people go, …God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: 18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea:…
Though they were now free of any danger from the Philistines, there was another danger- the Amalekites. This fierce, warring people were the descendants of Esau’s grandson, Amalek. Had the people of Israel taken the
main wadi, they would have soon been in an open plain, completely vulnerable on all sides. By taking them through the mountains in a southerly direction, I believe God was shielding them from this enemy. At least for a while.
They replenish their water supplies at Elim and then “encamped by the Red Sea”, just a few miles to the west. When they again resumed their travels, they headed east, along another east/west wadi until they come to the main north/south wadi, Wadi Afal. Elim was located in a wadi which led to the east, but I believe they took the wadi below it, on the south side of the mountains that extend west to east (see the map.)The main part of Wadi Afal is in the open plain, but by taking the wadi south of Elim when they traveled west to the Wadi Afal, they were shielded to the north by 2 long mountain arms which “shoot” across the open plain, meeting the wadi on each side. One mountains extends from the Wadi Afal to the sea; the other is a long arm of the Jebel el Lawz range which extends westward from the Holy Mountain to the Wadi Afal. And south of this passage where the 2 mountains met, they were relatively safe from invading forces.
The Biblical account tells that they made 2 encampments before reaching Rephidim- Dophkah and Alush. The only clues we have to these locations come from the definitions of the words. Dophkah means “cattle driving” and this could well apply to the fact that many years earlier, Moses had led his flocks along the Wadi Afal from his home with Jethro at present-day Al-Bad to Mt. Sinai, where he heard the Lord speak to him in the burning bush.
Down through history, the inhabitants of the region of Al-Bad have preserved the memory of Jethro and his family, and still claim to this day that it was his home. Travelers through the region in the 1800s all recorded the tales told them about Jethro; the stone circles around Al-Bad are called “the circles of Jethro”:
“…From here my guide and I climbed up the cliff to visit the ‘circles’ of Jethro on the summit of Musalla ridge, from which we climbed down quite easily to our camp on the far side…. A cairn marked the spot where Jethro is supposed to have prayed, and all around it are numerous circles,… From here I had a magnificent view of the whole of the Midian mountain range, with Lauz [Jebel el Lawz] and its sister peaks in the northeast…” “The Land of Midian”, by H. St. John Philby, Ernest Bean Limited, London, p.222.
Al-Bad is the only large oasis in the NW Arabian plain near Jebel el Lawz- we firmly believe this was his home, and the home of Moses after he left Egypt. Dophkah and Alush were located between the encampment on the Red Sea and Rephidim, but we may never know their exact location as no information is given. We do know that they did not travel to Al-Bad, for later we learn that Jethro comes to meet Moses at Rephidim, bringing his family to him. I mention this because some people are of the opinion that Al-Bad was Elim.
After they traveled the Wadi Afal and passed between the mountains into the open plain, they immediately turned east into the foothills of the western side of Jebel el Lawz, where they soon reached Rephidim. They were now in an area of rugged hills, with the majestic range of Horeb blocking the east. But all that separated them from the open plain on the west were the foothills and hopes that they had arrived undetected.
It was at Rephidim that once again the people had become very angry at Moses because of the lack of any water source in the region.
EXO 17:4 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. 5 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
It is interesting to note that at Rephidim, the rock Moses is told to strike is stated to be “in Horeb”, whereas elsewhere “Horeb” refers to the “mountain of God” (as in Exo. 3:1), Mt. Sinai, or at the least, the area of the camp at Mt. Sinai. Yet, Rephidim is NOT the encampment at Mt. Sinai:
EXO 19:2 For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
Any difficulty one may have in understanding how they could be at Horeb while they were at Rephidim disappears when we again look at the map- Rephidim is on the WEST side of Mt. Sinai, while the encampment was on the EAST side. The 2nd photo below was taken from a vantage point of about half the way up the WEST side of Mt. Sinai. This “rock” IS at Mt. Sinai, or Horeb. It’s just on the opposite side of the range from the later encampment.
The Size of the Rock
The size of the rock is roughly 60 feet tall, while it is about 100 feet above ground level on the hill. It is one of the most fascinating objects I’ve ever seen and I still get chill bumps when I read Exodus 17:6- Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb;…
When viewed from just below, it is quite evident that a tremendous amount of water flowed from between the large crack.
See the photo below which is a close-up of the lower portion of the split and the rock just below it. The smooth, water-eroded section can be seen. Just beneath, is a channel cut into the rock from the water flow. This is positive evidence that a tremendous amount of water came out here, not just a trickling stream.
PSA 78:15 He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. 16 He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
In the photo (below) of the ground directly beneath the giant rock, we can see one of the channels cut into the earth where the water flowed down and out into the plain. Notice the large boulder setting astride the channel- we have seen a similar situation at Kadesh Barnea. At Kadesh, Moses also struck the rock and water flowed out from a large hole high in a mountain range. There is a very large channel cut much deeper into the rock in the mountainside, and in this deep channel a very large boulder was placed which appears to have been shaped to fit into the channel. The only logical reason for placing these stones could have been to slow or control the water flow.
Did the water cut the channel into the earth, or did they dig the channel? We can’t say, but it’s possible that they dug several trenches to direct the flow. Either way, there is no doubt that several large streams of water flowed out into this plain a long time ago- streams that left their indelible mark on the rocks and on the earth.
The Amalek Attack
After Moses struck the rock and water sprang forth, the Biblical account next tells of the Amalekites attacking the multitude. We earlier discussed our belief that God had led the people south to avoid vulnerability to the Amalekites in the open plain. Once at Rephidim, they were vulnerable only to the west, and as a result only those t the rear were smitten in the initial attack:
DEU 25:17 Remember what Amalekites did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; 18 How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.
But why had God allowed this to happen if He had led them about to protect from these very people? In Egypt, He had allowed the people to become enslaved; He then showed Pharaoh His might and His power by setting them free. Here, He allowed the Amalekites to attack, but not on the open plain where the multitude would have been easily defeated. He again demonstrated His power and delivered the people:
EXO 17:9 And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalekites: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. 10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalekites: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalekites prevailed. 12 But Moses hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua discomfited Amalekites and his people with the edge of the sword.
There could be no doubt who was responsible for the victory of Israel over the Amalekites, for only when Moses’ held up his arms with the rod of God in his hands, did they win. Again and again, God was conditioning His people to rely solely on Him, not only for food and water, but for every victory in every phase of their life. The saddest part of the Exodus account is how the people were constantly gripping and fearful, placing little reliance on the God Who had wrought the most spectacular miracles in all of the earth’s history for their benefit. Like many today, they believed the “promises” were for them, but they couldn’t be bothered with keeping their part of the bargain. They believed they were the “chosen people” and God would take care of them regardless. Yet, because of their lack of faith and cooperation, only 2 people who left Egypt originally were allowed to enter the “promised land”. The message is stern, that even though they were a “chosen people”, God is no “respecter of persons:
ACT 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
HEB 3:15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. 16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. 17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
With the defeat of Amalekites at Rephidim, Moses built an altar and called it “Jehovahnissi”, which means “Jehovah is my banner”. This altar is located just a few hundred yards from the “rock at Horeb”. We can only estimate it’s size based on our video footage, but it appears to be between 20 and 25 feet long and perhaps 15 feet deep. It’s height is 3 to 4 feet. We hope to get the exact measurements one day if our friends can safely return.
EXO 17:16 For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalekites from generation to generation.
There is no doubt in our minds that the structure in the photo at left is the altar Moses called “Jehovahnissi”. There is a great amount of ancient remains in the area, but this is the only structure that is solid throughout, and that is rectangular in shape.
The Amalek continued their fierce attacks against Israel for many hundreds of years. Finally, David seems to have broken them as a great power, although the last remnants were finally destroyed by Simeon during the reign of Hezekiah, about 700 years later.
An Ancient Encampment
All throughout the region of Rephidim there are hundreds, perhaps thousands (we haven’t counted) of ancient stone circles which are called “hut circles”. No one knows exactly how they were used, but the evidence indicates that they were employed as sleeping quarters for a single family. A larger stone was placed in the middle; then cloth or covering of some type was placed over this stone forming a tent. The smaller stones which form the circle were then placed along the edge of the covering where it met the ground. This provided protection to the family while they slept from the wild animals, as well as their own flocks. They were quick and easy to make- just gather the rocks, which were plentiful.
Jethro Meets Moses at Rephidim
The next event we are told about after Moses built the altar was the visit of Jethro:
EXO 18:1 When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father in law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt; 2 Then Jethro, Moses’ father in law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back, 3 And her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land: 4 And the name of the other was Eliezer; for the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh: 5 And Jethro, Moses’ father in law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God: 6 And he said unto Moses, I thy father in law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her. 7 And Moses went out to meet his father in law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent. 8 And Moses told his father in law all that the LORD had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the LORD delivered them.
There are several things to note in the above passage- first, Jethro went to see Moses at “the mount of God”. Yet, he was still at Rephidim. This confirms the fact that Rephidim at the foot of Mt. Sinai, albeit on the western side, whereas the later encampment, where God gave the Ten Commandments and the Sanctuary was built, was on the eastern side. The second point is the fact that they went into Moses’ tent- this confirms the presence of tents and the “hut circles”, which are consistent with temporary camp-sites.
To Mt. Sinai
EXO 19:2 For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
Though they were at the foot of Mt. Sinai while at Rephidim, they had a long journey to reach the camp which would become their home for almost a year. Leaving Rephidim, they traveled west, back to the Wadi Afal where they then turned north. They then turned east and followed the Wadi al Suraym until it met the Wadi Abyad. Taking Wadi Abyad, they followed it south until it curved back to the west, leading them directly to the highest peak of Mt. Sinai.
There, they found themselves enclosed within the majestic mountains, with plenty of open flat land for the entire multitude to set up camp. Directly below the highest peak was the area at the foot of the mountain designated by God as “holy”:
EXO 19:12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:
This was the first thing Moses was to undertake- the building of the “bounds”. In 1985, when Ron had seen a number of 18 foot diameter round columns with only a few inches extending above ground level, he had concluded that these were the bounds, and that dirt and debris had settled around and over them over the years. We discussed these in our earlier newsletter on Mt. Sinai, and how they are constructed with 2 walls, with smaller rocks used to fill in between the 2 walls.
We now believe we were in error about these columns. The bounds were erected to keep both man and beast from even touching the border of the mountain. The 18 foot diameter columns are spaced 5 feet apart. This would have served as a boundary only in the sense that it would mark the limit- but, it wouldn’t keep out children or unsuspecting animals who may wander through them. The Biblical account indicates that these “bounds” were constructed in such a manner that they were a physical barrier between the people (and animals) and the border of the mountain. After God had charged Moses to build the “bounds”, He called him up into the mountain and had Moses go back down and be sure that the people wouldn’t break through the “bounds”- the implication is that they were nearly riotous and were about to try to break through the “bounds”. Moses’ reply indicated that he though the “bounds” were secure, but God knew it was necessary for him to return and speak to the people about it:
EXO 19:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. 22 And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them. 23 And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it. 24 And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them. 25 So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.
After hundreds of hours of studying the photos and videos, we’ve found new evidence concerning the “bounds” and the columns which, to me, is very exciting. But we need to get an overview of the subject first. With that in mind, we will skip ahead and go on to the other features found at the site and the Biblical account. The evidence and the area is very large and it’s necessary to understand the main features before we discuss these subjects.
The Giving of the Law
The third day after the bounds were erected, the people were gathered “out of the camp, and they stood at the nether part of the mount” (Exo 19:17) where God met with His people:
EXO 19:18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
Then, God, Himself, spoke His great eternal Law, the Ten Commandments.
EXO 20:18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
The Blackened Peak
When standing at the foot of the mountain on the east side, looking west, the very top of the peak is blackened. Over 1,400 years later, Paul wrote: For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29).
Was he speaking in abstract terms, or literally? The Exodus account is very precise in the descriptions given of God’s presence upon the Holy Mountain:
EXO 24:17 And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
DEU 4:11 … and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.
DEU 5:4 The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,… 23 And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;
When the Presence of the Lord came down upon Mt. Sinai, it charred the top of the mountain. I don’t believe there is any other explanation. After many tries, our Saudi friends finally succeeded in climbing to the very top of Jebel el Lawz and provided us with wonderful photos and video of the incredible scene. To me, this is one of the most spectacular and Holy spots on the face of the earth- the very place where the Presence of God rested, and spoke the Ten Commandments.
H. St. John Philby spent a number of years exploring this region in the early part of this century, and he, too, not only noticed “the great massif of Lauz”, he equated the mountain range with Mt. Sinai. But in all his years in the region, he never climbed it: “…The basalt pyramid of Maqla’ looked climbable, but the sheer granite of the Lauz peaks would have needed more time and energy than I had at my disposal. So far as I know, they have never been climbed by any human being.” (The Land of Midian, by H. St. John B. Philby, Ernest Benn Ltd., London, 1957)
He apparently never saw the blackened peak because he viewed the mountain from the northwest: “…The main peak of Lauz, partly in cloud, rose to the south-east of our position…. on which there seemed to be a patch of snow. The guide confirmed that it was snow: and if so, it was the first and only time I have ever seen snow in Sa’udi Arabia…”. ibid.
To my knowledge, our friends’ photos are probably the only ones ever taken from the top of this mountain, and they may well be the only people who have ever climbed to the top, at least in the last few hundred years.
EXO 20:24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. 25 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. 26 Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
EXO 24:4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
The altar is located directly beneath, or “under” the high peak of Sinai. After Ron’s 1985 visit to the site, the entire area at the foot of the mountain was fenced in, a guard house built and a sign designating it as an off-limits archaeological site was erected. On one of their first trips there, our friends were allowed by the men guarding the site to go into the fenced-in area and look around. They actually stood upon the altar without realizing what it was. However, the bedouins who allowed them in, took their cameras while they were inside. The only photos we have are those made from the plateau above looking down, and those taken from the fence. The best ones are those taken from above.
As can be seen, the entire structure is “L” shaped. The altar is the lower “L”, which is of solid rock construction. The upper “L” consists of walls with what appears to be 2 entrance-ways into it.
The altar is about 40 to 45 inches high, between 50 and 60 feet long and roughly 25 to 30 feet wide. The “corral” is of an equivalent size, with its walls being a little over 3 feet thick. These measurements are rough estimates, based on Ron’s recollections, our friends’ (who examined it recently) estimates, and the known diameter and length of the broken pieces of marble columns around the altar, which we’ll discuss later. Of course, the altar and “corral” aren’t in perfect shape- the intervening 3,400+ years have taken their toll on the remains, which are a bit crumbled.
The entrance ways into the “corral” are what initially led us to believe it was foundation for a tent, such as the first tabernacle. But now that we have access to better photos, it can be seen that the upper “L” section contains walls that are about the same height as the altar, which then led to our conclusion that it wasn’t a foundation.
We then concluded that it was perhaps a “corral” for the sacrificial animals. The fact that it had a dividing wall down the lengthwise center of the “L” contributed to our theory that it was a pen for the animals, and that the sheep were on one side while the oxen or bullocks were on the other.
The “Corral”- A Final Conclusion
What was the purpose of the “corral”? Could it have been divided into 2 sections to separate the animals about to be sacrificed? At first, the idea seems tempting. But we must examine everything the Bible tells us about the early sacrifices.
At the time Moses built this altar, God hadn’t given him the details of the elaborate sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law. Until that point in time, the Bible speaks of 2 types of offerings: 1- “burnt offerings”, and 2- “peace offerings”, and we are given very little detail of how the offerings and sacrifices were made.
After Moses built the altar, the next verse states:
EXO 24:5 And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.
The verse states that the “peace offerings” were oxen. What were the “burnt offerings”? We can go to the story of Abraham, when he was called by God to offer Isaac:
GEN 22:8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
We now need to understand the circumstances and occasion of the sacrifices made at Mt. Sinai just after Moses built the altar:
EXO 24:8 And Moses… said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.
They were made to ratify the Covenant just after God had given them the Ten Commandments. But were the animals killed upon the altar, or before being placed on it? We have only one example of a “peace offering” prior to this time in which we are given details- in the story of Abraham:
GEN 22:9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
This indicates that the “burnt offering” in Abraham’s day, was killed upon the altar. But what about the peace offering of the ox or bullock? We really don’t know except for the fact that in the later sacrificial system, the blood of the bullock was poured at the bottom of the altar of the “burnt offering”:
LEV 4:7 … and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
When the Covenant was ratified at Mt. Sinai and the first sacrifices and offerings made upon the altar:
EXO 24:6 …Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. 8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.
This tells us that at the least, the blood of the bullocks was drained before they were placed on the altar as “peace offerings”. And perhaps the sheep, too, were drained of blood. We simply aren’t told. But the point of this discussion is to ascertain the purpose of the dividing wall down the lengthwise center of the “corral”. If the blood was drained from the animals prior to their being offered, there would be no need to separate the animals in the “corral”. Could there be another reason for the dividing wall?
As I have been writing this, I have plastered on the wall in front of me several enlargements of the area at Mt. Sinai. As prepared as I thought I was to finally present all the details of this subject to you, something quite astounding caught my eye last night while I was writing about the altar and “corral”. I had a very large blow-up of the altar in front of me, and as I glanced up, something caught my eye that I had never noticed before- something that I believe provided the answer to the question about the purpose of the “corral”.
“The blood thereof, shall ye not eat”
I took the photograph of the altar and placed it on my scanner, scanning it at a very high resolution. I then magnified the upper right corner of the altar and printed it out. The photo is very grainy, but you can see it at right. When Ron arrived home, I showed it to him and asked him if he had ever seen anything like it before. He stared at it for a while, and he knew exactly what I was talking about, as I will now explain…
These “U” shaped stones are sitting at the end of the “corral”.
The only place either of us have ever seen anything even remotely resembling these obviously hand-shaped rocks is near Noah’s Ark, at the ancient house we believe was Noah’s and his family’s. All around the house are fences where we believe he tended the precious cargo of the ark- the animals. And just below the house is a “complex” with a lot of stonework, and a very unique hewn stone, very similar to the one in the photo (above right) next to the Mt. Sinai altar.
In 1990, when we visited the site of Noah’s house and altar with Marv and Renetta Wilson, we saw another one of these “U” shaped stones just below the giant altar. It had recently been uncovered by some of the men from the village across the road as it apparently had been buried by dirt over the years. But what were these strange rocks?
Before I tell you what we believe they were, I want to mention something. Remember that after the flood, when the entire face of the earth was destroyed, God had given Noah permission to eat the meat of the clean animals. But He had made one very important stipulation:
GEN 9:4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
This meant that Noah, as well as all of God’s people, were to drain the blood from the animal before it was eaten. We believe the unique “U” shaped hewn stone below Noah’s house was part of the “complex” where the animals that were to be used for food were slaughtered. We have concluded that most probably their heads were placed in the “U” of the hewn stone and their throats then slit. There is one part of this process that I am loathe to mention but I must- their throats would have needed to be slit while the animal was still alive in order for the heart to continue to pump. Once dead, without the heart pumping, the animal would not bleed, at least not enough to completely drain it’s blood supply.
The “U” shaped hewn stone at Noah’s house has a hole cut in the rock beneath it which extends through the rock downward. I prefer to believe that they knocked the animal unconscious, then placed it’s head within the “U” shape and slit it’s throat. The blood poured from (most likely) the jugular vein, down into the bowl-like hole cut in the rock slab beneath it, then down through the smaller hole in the “bowl” into the ground. Or alternately, perhaps they positioned the animal in the “U” shape and then slit its throat.
But this was concerning the animals that they were going to eat- what about the animals they sacrificed? Did they also “bleed” them? As I mentioned, we found a similar stone just below the altar behind Noah’s house, high upon the mountain ridge. I cannot imagine that they would have prepared any animals to eat that far from the house, much less upon such a steep ascent. And prior to the giving of the “sacrificial system” of the Mosaic Law, there is no record that they ate the sacrifices, with the exception of the “Passover lamb” in Egypt. Therefore, because of the presence of this “U” shaped stone near the altar I can only conclude that they did indeed remove the blood from the sacrificial animals- at least, some of them.
Also, around Noah’s altar are a number of “pens” composed of large rocks of a size that would have held 3 or 4 sheep or bullocks. And next to these “pens” are 2 extremely large boulders with chiseled holes in them, positioned in a manner that would allow an animal, such as a sheep or bullock, to be led upon the boulder. The top of these boulders contain a slanted flat area with grooves leading off to the sides. These also appear to be for the purpose of draining the blood from an animal. It also would have allowed it to be collected in a container if the early sacrifices consisted of the patriarch (who acted as the family “priest”) sprinkling the blood or pouring it upon the ground by the altar as they later did.
In summary, the strange hewn rocks next to the altar at Sinai looked exactly like the 2 hewn stones at Noah’s house when I glanced at the photo. When I enlarged the photo to be sure of what I thought I was seeing, I was even more convinced. Then, I read that at the time they offered sacrifices on Moses’ altar just after God spoke the Ten Commandments, the blood WAS collected. The passage in Exodus states:
EXO 24:5 And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. 6 And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. 8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.
The “bleeding stones”, as I will call them, at the Mt. Sinai altar are at the end of the “corral”. After Ron and I carefully considered the situation, we concluded the following- but this is only our theory:
1- As the young men approached the altar with their animal to be offered, they laid it within the “bleeding stone”, knocked it unconscious, then slit its throat where it bled to death. As the blood gushed out, it was collected and poured into the “basons” of verse 6, above.
2- The person making the offering then picked up the lifeless body of their offering and entered the “corral”.
3- One at a time, they presented their sacrifice to Aaron and Moses who, depending upon whether it was a “peace offering” or a “burnt offering”, administered the sacrifice on the altar.
4- After the person had presented their animal, they then turned and walked towards the other “doorway” along the corridor on the other side of the dividing wall.
5- He then left the altar complex.
One final note- it would be impossible for a man to carry a full grown bull or even a very large sheep. The lambs offered for sacrifice were to be “of the first year” (Exo 12:5, 29:38, Lev 9:3). The bullock was “young” (Exo 29:1, Lev 4:3, 4:14, 16:3). I mention this only in case some may not be familiar with the fact that they offered young animals which they could easily carry after they were killed.
The Marble Columns Near the Altar
When Ron first went to the mountain in 1984, just before he was arrested, he saw a pieces of white marble glistening in the sun. In 1985, when he returned as the guest of Samran Al Moteri, he saw that these were pieces of a “shrine” that had once sat near the altar. There were at least 10 pieces of broken, round columns almost 23 inches in diameter. They varied in height from 8 inches to 26 inches. In addition, there were a large number of rectangular marble stones 8 1/4 inches by 16 ½ inches, from 10 to 26 inches long. These pieces were found around the altar, while others lay scattered at a greater distance, and are not included in our count.
Ron found an intact marble section with Archaic Hebrew writing on it which he discreetly buried. He knew he wouldn’t be allowed to remove it, and he feared if it was seen by the Saudis, they would destroy it. To our knowledge, this piece remains buried and it is doubtful if he will ever get to retrieve it. Ron believes this “shrine” was erected by King Solomon at the same time he erected the columns on each side of the Aqaba shore at the crossing site. The bedouins working with them said the marble “temple” (shrine) had been dismantled years earlier and the marble used in the construction of a mosque in Hagl (the town where Ron was imprisoned in 1984). They also mentioned something about “Suleyman” (the Turkish “Suleyman the Magnificent” of the 1500s), but Ron thinks they may have meant “Solomon”.
“Twelve Pillars According to the Twelve Tribes of Israel”
EXO 24:4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
In ancient times, a stone was many times erected as a memorial of a contract or covenant. The first Biblical example is that of Jacob the morning after he had seen the “ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven”:
GEN 28:12 … and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. 16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. 17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
When the children of Israel covenanted with God to be His people and to keep His Laws after He spoke His Ten Commandments, this was in essence a contract:
EXO 24:3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.
They had collectively made a vow. The next morning, Moses built the altar and erected the pillars. The pillars were a memorial of the contract. Twelve were erected to signify that the contract was with each of the twelve tribes.
Looking down from a plateau just above the altar, about 200 yards to the left are several extremely large boulders setting in a line. We believe these are the remains of those 12 pillars. In this area of millions of rocks, it’s difficult to be precise, but it appears that there are 4 at the original location (one is fallen), while there are 7 or 8 boulders of the same general size lying scattered in the “holy precinct”. It is quite logical to expect that over the years, some may have toppled due to seismic activity or any number of reasons. These “rocks” should be termed “boulders” because of their large size estimated to be at least 20 to 30 feet along their longest side.
“The Brook that Descended Out of the Mount”
DEU 9:21 And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount.
Though the Bible speaks a great deal about Moses striking the rock and bringing forth water at Rephidim and Kadesh Barnea, this is the only specific reference to a stream or “brook” that came from Mt. Sinai, and there is no mention that he struck the rock there. Today, there is no “brook”, or stream in the region, much less in this area. In fact, Saudi Arabia has no river at all, however, there is an awesome amount of evidence at Jebel el Lawz of not only a “brook” coming from the mountain, but of a very elaborate water supply system, complete with a lake and wells.
I earlier mentioned that at one time Ron had thought the double-walled “columns” they had found at the site in 1985 may have been the “bounds” set by Moses. Yet, he had questioned this identification simply because they looked like wells. When we had access to abundant photos and videos of the site, we saw that they were indeed wells.
The great multitude had just come from Egypt, a country very dependent on the ability to divert water into reservoirs and canals. And it makes perfect sense to think that they employed that technology at the place that would be their home for almost a year. There were at least a million people (conservative estimate) encamped at Mt. Sinai, probably closer to 2 -3 million (about the size of the 3rd or 4th largest city in the U.S.) They had flocks and herds. They needed water and a LOT of it every day.
I’ve filled in the area of the lake and the stream coming from the mountain with blue. Another stream fed into the lake on the far right, out of view in the above photo. The black “dots” mark the general location of the stone wells. To the far left is another row of wells though their location can’t be seen in this photo. A guard house and fence were erected after Ron showed the site to the Saudis and convinced them of it’s authenticity. It is located to the left in this photo, where the blue line feeds into the lake.
The below photo views the area from the front. The guard house is to the far right.
A Large Number of Wells
While exploring the site in 1985 with Samran and his work crew, they found a large number of very large stone “columns” with just a few inches extending above the ground. Because there was a line of these which extended along the lake bordering the “holy precinct”, Ron agreed that they probably were the “bounds” set by Moses. But there were several on the other side of the lake, opposite the “holy precinct”, and there was a line of them many hundred of feet from the lake, beyond where the guard shack is now located. Over the years, Ron pondered these, then when our friends provided us with the wonderful photos of the complex from the plateau above, the picture became clear.
The biggest question was “Why would they have gone to so much trouble to make the “columns” hollow with double walls if their sole purpose was to serve as a barrier”? A solid structure would have been much easier to construct and more durable. They were hollow for another reason.
Also, why were they buried in the earth? If enough debris had fallen over the years to cover them, why were there so many other ancient structures and remains in the immediate vicinity that we NOT covered at all? There is only one answer- they were wells.
They measure several of these and they were all approximately 18 foot in diameter. They completely dug out one along the bank of the lake and it rested on bedrock at 22 feet.
Water Filtration System
Based on their design, the fact that they extend to the bedrock, and their locations all around the lake, we believe they served as water filters. The dry lake bottom is rocky and sandy. As the water from the streams poured down the mountainside and rushed towards the reservoir or lake, a great deal of that water would have soaked into the dry, rocky soil along its banks. Some of it would have seeped under the double-walls of the wells, through the rock and sand which would have purified it to some extent.
The wells are buried in earthen embankments along much of the perimeter of the lake and their tops are not much higher than the lake level. Water seeks its level, so the water would rise in the wells.
There is also a line of wells beyond the guard shack and they are not adjacent to the lake- they are several hundred feet away. The fact that they are located so far from the lake means that they wouldn’t naturally fill up with water. This suggests strongly that a system was employed to divert some of the water to these wells. The multitude had been living in Egypt, a country which had great technical knowledge for building canals and diverting water. It would not have been a great undertaking for them to divert water to these wells. I believe if ever excavated, those wells beyond the guard shack would be found to be connected to some type of pipe or underground water diversion. But for now, it’s just theory. And it is very possible that there are other wells that we aren’t aware of.
After all, this encampment was home to a population of people roughly equal to the 4th or 5th largest cities in the United States. Now that we can see this very elaborate lake and well system, it makes perfect sense. They not only needed water for themselves, but they had many, many flocks which had to be watered. Which leads us to the next question: “Did the animals drink directly out of the lake”?
Watering the Animals
At first, I tended to believe that they built the wells as filtering devices because of the fact that the water was probably pretty murky from all the animals drinking out of it. But then, Marty Plott and I had a discussion; I never lived in the country or around animals in the field, but Marty did. He told me he really didn’t think it would have been possible for all the animals to have drunk out of the lake without ruining it. They put their legs in it; they beat down the earth where they tramp into the water. And now I tend to agree with him. But the bottom line is that we do not know, nor is there anyway we can resolve the question. There are Biblical texts which tells of sheep and cattle being watered at wells:
GEN 29:2 And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well’s mouth. 3 And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well’s mouth in his place.
Moses’ father-in-law’s flock were watered by his daughters who withdrew water from a well and poured it into troughs:
EXO 2:16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.
Jacob watered his flocks in troughs:
GEN 30:38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.
The Bounds Set by Moses
Looking down at the “sacred precinct”, a massive amount of crumbling stone walls constructed of dark stone is very visible. The blackish lines of the walls can be seen extending from one edge of the mountain, ending where the stream passes into the lake, then beginning on the other side and extending to the opposite side of the mountain. (I’ve highlighted them in orange). They also follow from the right edge of the mountain, then turn and follow the squared-off area along the side of the stream, continuing about halfway into the “holy precinct”. On the left side, these walls also follow the edge of the stream but aren’t as visible because of the angle. My estimate, by comparing them with objects of known size in the photo, is between 8 and 12 feet tall. Although most are completely crumbled, there is an almost intact section along the stream.
Also, along the left border of the mountain are crumbled walls which begin at the lake and follow the edge of the mountain all the way to the line of pillars.
There don’t appear to have been any walls on the mountain edge opposite the guard shack, but it probably was secure with the walls along the lake. There’s no entrance into the “holy precinct” from that side. The only entry, even today, is through the strip of land between the mountain and the lake by the guard shack.
“Sapphire” on Top of the Mountain?
After Moses built the altar and erected the pillars, and the sacrifices were made:
EXO 24:9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: 10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. 11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
We have had people ask if there is sapphire on the top of Mt. Sinai. There isn’t- it is black as coal. Note the Scripture- it doesn’t say the ground was sapphire, it say that “under His feet” was “as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone”. This is the same as saying “it looked something like…”. Also, remember that Ezekiel, too, saw God in vision:
EZE 10:1 Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. 2 And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight.
The Plateau above the “Holy Precinct”
While this group of men was on the mountain with Moses, they did not go to the top. Moses was then called further up into the mountain to receive the Table of Stone, while the others waited for him on the mountain:
EXO 24:12 And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. 13 And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God. 14 And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them.
Directly above the altar is a “plateau” that is quite large. On the plateau are 2 rocky “knolls” which can be seen when viewing the mountain from the front. “Knoll” is perhaps not the proper description for them since they are perhaps 75 feet tall. The “U”shape to the right of the knolls is where our friends were able to view the entire “sacred precinct” and photograph it.
Viewing these “knolls” from the lake in front of the “holy precinct” ,we can see that the one on the right has 2 giant boulders on its top with a tree between them. Below this is a cave, which may be the cave Elijah stayed in when he fled there to escape the wrath of Jezebel:
1KI 19:8 And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God. 9 and he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?
God again called Moses to come up into the mount, and Joshua went up with him. He told the elders to wait there for him, and that Aaron and Hur were “in charge”:
EXO 24:13 And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God. 14 And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them.
They went up into the mount, probably again to the plateau:
EXO 24:16 And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. 18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.
In the photo left, you can see the plateau in the center of the picture; the “sacred precinct” is just over the “U” next to the 2 knolls. The “glory of the Lord… in the midst of the cloud” rested on the very top of the mountain, charring it completely. Our friends were standing on the blackened top when they took this photo- the high, black pointed peak rises to the right.
While Joshua waited for Moses on the plateau, God gave Moses the directions for building Him a sanctuary:
EXO 25:8 And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. 9 According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.
EXO 31:18 And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
The Altar to the Golden Calf
But then, to Moses’ great shock, God suddenly became very angry with the people:
EXO 32:7 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
God’s anger was so great that He told Moses He was going to destroy them and “begin again”, calling Himself a “new” people of the family of Moses:
EXO 32:9 And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
But Moses pleaded with God for his people:
EXO 32:11 And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? 12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
Moses was a figure of Christ- a mediator who pleaded for the wicked, fallen race, even when God had offered to make of him a great nation.
EXO 32:14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Moses then started down the mountain:
EXO 32:15…, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. 16 And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
When he got to the plateau, Joshua had heard the noise far below, in the camp:
EXO 32:17 …he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. 18 And he [Moses] said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. 19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
In the photo below, taken from the “U” of the plateau, you can see a line Moses’ altar at the foot of the mountain (arrow) and the “altar to the golden calf. Many of these photos have been taken with high powered lenses, and though it may look relatively close, the golden calf altar is about 3 km. from the altar in the “holy precinct”.
I do not believe there is a human being alive who can imagine how Moses felt, seeing that altar, and the people dancing and singing, sacrificing to a statue of gold- after he had just left the Presence of God.
EXO 32:20 And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
In 1985, Ron stood upon some of the boulders of that altar. As he looked at it, still wet with the early morning dew which puddled in a rather large, smooth indentation on the top of one of the largest stones, something caught his eye. The puddle of water looked red, almost like blood- but it wasn’t blood. It was gold, ground gold, down in the very pores of the rock. Moses had ground the golden calf to powder on the top of the altar.
There was enough evidence to know that this was most likely the altar to the golden calf- it had 12 groups of petroglyphs of cows and bulls, all drawn in the Egyptian style. The archaeologist from Rhiyad University who came a few days later, stated that there was no other site in Saudi Arabia in which this style of Egyptian petroglyph was found. In fact, he was more excited about the altar than anything else they found at the mountain. It was enough evidence for the Saudi government to declare it a protected archaeological site and enclose it with an 8 foot fence.
Other Petroglyphs in the Immediate Area
There are a number of other rocks with petroglyphs, but there is one that I found very fascinating. It is not part of an altar- it’s on an arrangement of large rocks near the “sacred precinct”. Seen at left, it appears to be a “billboard” depicting scenes from their daily life.
It has 9 cows, 4 with their horns depicted like the Apis bull on the golden calf altar; 5 with their horns curved forward. One is being carried by a man, as if it perhaps fell in a crevice or got caught in some brush. There’s a number of goats with long horns; a camel, a sheep, several animals that look like dogs (which were probably used for herding cattle); one that looks like a wolf; a man with a bow and arrow, who appears to be aiming at the “wolf”, a snake, and 2 figures that look like cats.
The designs on the cattle are pure Egyptian. And the presence of dogs and cats is really no surprise- they are frequently depicted in the walls scenes of ancient Egyptian tombs. One of the petroglyphs on the golden calf altar has a cat standing on the back of a cow- cats were sacred in Egypt, representing the cat-headed goddess, Bast.
The evidence at this mountain is completely overwhelming. It gives us great insights into the lives of the great multitude that we have never had until now. But more than that, it gives us great and wonderful evidences of the precise accuracy and validity of the Biblical account. For those who want the Truth, these wonderful things will silence the voices from the seminaries and pulpits which proclaim the events at Sinai to be “legends”. He has given us the chance to see the very place where His Presence charred the very mountain; the place where He spoke to mankind with His Own lips.
PSA 89:34 My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.