At Mount Sinai, God shows Himself in mysterious ways. He is the God who is at once close at hand and far-away; He is in the world but not of it. He is the God who comes to meet us, but who will not be possessed.

On Mount Sinai, the truth of ‘who God is’ became the foundation and guarantee of the Covenant. Moses is given the Law.

But what is this Law? It is the Law of life and freedom. At the Red Sea, the people had experienced a great liberation. They had seen the power and fidelity of God; they had discovered that He is the God who does indeed set His people free as He had promised. But now on the heights of Sinai, this same God seals His love by making the Covenant that He will never renounce. If the people obey His Law, they will know freedom for ever.

The Exodus and the Covenant are not just events of the past; they are for ever the destiny of all God’s people.

The encounter of God and Moses on this Mountain enshrines at the heart of our religion the mystery of liberating obedience, which finds its fulfilment in the perfect obedience of Christ in the Incarnation and on the Cross.3 We too shall be truly free if we learn to obey as Jesus did.4

The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place.

Today as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations.

Today as always, they are the only future of the human family.

  • They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood.
  • They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery:
    • The love of self to the exclusion of God,
    • The greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbour.

If we turn from these false idols and follow the God who sets His people free and remains always with them, then we shall emerge like Moses, after forty days on the mountain, ‘shining with glory’5, ablaze with the light of God!

To keep the Commandments is be faithful to God, but it is also to be faithful to ourselves, to our true nature and our deepest aspirations.

Sinai finds its fulfilment on another mountain, the Mountain of the Transfiguration, where Jesus appears to His Apostles shining with the glory of God. Moses and Elijah stand with Him to testify that the fullness of God’s revelation is found in the glorified Christ.

On the Mountain of the Transfiguration, God speaks from the cloud, as He had done on Sinai. But there He says: ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him’ (Mk 9:7).

On the Mountain of the Transfiguration, God commands us to listen to His Son, because ‘no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him’ (Mt 11:27).

And so we learn that the true name of God is FATHER. The name which is beyond all other names: ABBA!6

And in Jesus we learn that our true name is SON, DAUGHTER. We learn that the God of the Exodus and the Covenant sets His people free because they are His sons and daughters, created not for slavery but for ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’.7

The person delivered by Jesus Christ into true freedom is aware of being bound not externally by a multitude of prescriptions, but internally by the love which has taken hold in the deepest recesses of his heart.

The Ten Commandments are the law of freedom: not the freedom to follow our blind passions, but the freedom to love, to choose what is good in every situation, even when to do so is a burden.

It is not an impersonal law that we obey; what is required is loving surrender to the Father through Christ Jesus in the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 6:14; Gal 5:18).

In revealing Himself on the Mountain and giving His Law, God revealed man to man himself. Sinai stands at the very heart of the truth about man and his destiny.


Adapted and edited from a Homily given by Pope Saint John Paul II at St Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, 26 February 2000.
3 cf. Phil 2:8; Heb 5:8-9
4 cf. Heb 5:8
5 Saint Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, II, 230
6 cf. Gal 4:6
7 Rom 8:21

This article can be found in Mirror 0218.