Old Testament Lesson 17 (Exodus 18–20)
April 18–24


Jethro Counsels Moses on Delegation

Exodus 18:1–12  Jethro, his daughter (Moses’ wife) and Moses’ children joined him at Horeb (Mt. Sinai).

Exodus 18:13–23  When he saw Moses’ great burden, Jethro counseled Moses to delegate to others in leading the children of Israel.

Exodus 18:16–20  The responsibilities of a prophet are enumerated here:

— Be a judge for the people (v. 16).
— Represent the people before God (v. 19).
— “Teach them ordinances and laws” (v. 20).
— “[Show] them the way wherein they must walk” (v. 20).
— “[Show] them (v. 20). . . the work that they must do”.

Exodus 18:24–27  Moses appointed leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.


The Proposed Covenant

Exodus 19:1–9  At Mt. Sinai, Israel covenanted with the Lord to become a holy people.

— The Lord promised if they would be obedient he would make them “a peculiar treasure, . . . a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” Today the word “peculiar” is used to mean something odd or peculiar. The original word in both Hebrew and Greek means “select, precious, endeared; something exceedingly prized and [diligently preserved”.

Deut. 7:6; 14:1–2; 1 Peter 2:9  This means that Israel would become the Lord’s own special people or treasure, favored above all others and chosen to bear the priesthood and the gospel to all people. These are the same promises given to Enoch’s people, and they are the same conditions as will be in the Millennium.

Exodus 19:5–8  The Lord’s requirement for the people was obedience (v. 5). And Israel’s answer was “We will!” (v. 8).


● Three things were necessary for God to elevate the people of Israel to a “Zion” status:

— They would have to be sanctified—cleansed from their worldly ways (D&C 84:23).
— They would need to receive the Melchizedek priesthood (Exodus 19:6).
— They would need to construct a temple and receive its ordinances (Exodus 25:8).

Exodus 19:9–12  From Mt. Sinai, the Lord gave Israel a Warning: “Don’t come up yet, because you are not yet sufficiently pure.” Three days of sanctification were required. But a great revelation offered: God will come down in the sight of all the people and speak to Moses in their hearing (v9).

Exodus 19:16–25  The Lord descended upon Mt Sinai and Moses went up the mountain alone. Great manifestations of power were seen on the mountain. The curious wanted to come up also. So the Lord told Moses to go down and warn them again not to come up.

Exodus 20:1–17  Moses then went back up the mountain to receive commandments. The Ten Commandments were given with all Israel hearing God’s voice thundering from the top of the mountain.


● The Ten Commandments are not the “Law of Moses.”

● The Ten Commandments are not the “Lesser Law” we often refer to.

● They are the “Laws of the Gospel” and have been given in every dispensation.

● The Ten Commandments are found in three of the four standard works of the Church:

—Old Testament (Exodus 20:1–26; Deut. 5:5–21).
—Book of Mormon (Mosiah 12:33–36; 13:12–24).
—New Testament (Matthew 5:17–37).
—Doctrine & Covenants (D&C 42:18–29; 59:5–16).

● Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, [The Ten Commandments] “have not been abrogated; they have not been modified and are binding upon the people with all the force which accompanied them when first uttered.”1

● Mark E. Petersen said, “By his own finger the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. They represent the basic law of the Almighty and have formed the underlying elements of civil and religious law ever since. They are fundamental to our relationships with God. They are an integral part of the restored gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and are essential to our becoming perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. . . . Variations of these laws are given in the rules laid down in Leviticus and Deuteronomy as they are applied to specific matters, but generally they form the foundation for all proper human conduct.”2

● The first four commandments show us our proper relationship to God:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

● The fifth commandment establishes the importance of family and proper family relationships.

5. Honor thy father and mother.

● The last five commandments regulate our relationships with others:

6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

Exodus 20:19–21   Israel’s Reaction to this Marvelous Revelation

● Having heard the voice of God, Israel’s reaction became, “We don’t want this!” (v. 19).

● Moses reasoned with them, saying, “God is proving you” (v. 21).

● Moses then went back up into the cloud to receive more. From modern revelation we know that what he was then receiving were the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood and of the temple.

The Golden Calf

Exodus 32:1–4  Moses was gone 40 days (5 weeks)—34 days after he left Joshua on the mountainside, who waited.

Exodus 34:28; Deut. 9:9  Moses fasted from all food and water for 40 days while transfigured before the Lord.

Exodus 32:1–9  While he was gone, the Israelites turned to idolatry—old and familiar practices they learned in Egypt. They made and worshiped a golden calf. This worship included nakedness and adulterous public sexual intercourse in worship of fertility—which the calf represented.

Exodus 32:10; Deut 9:4  God was angry and wanted to destroy them—then raise up a people through Moses.

Exodus 32:11–14  Moses dissuaded God from destroying the Israelites. However, God did not “repent;” the people needed to repent to avoid destruction (JST Exodus 32:12–14).

The Wicked Are Destroyed

Exodus 32:6, 17–20  Moses returned and found the Israelites engaged in gross sins. He broke the tablets knowing he could not share such sacred things with so wicked a people.

Exodus 32:21–25; Deut 9:20  Aaron was reproved for his part in this event. Moses later said that Aaron was nearly destroyed and was saved only through Moses’ intercession.

Exodus 32:26–29   3,000 were slain by earthquake and fire.

● Moses sought out those who were “on the Lord’s side” from those whom Aaron had made “naked” . . . The tribe of Levi responded, and Moses called upon them to slay all those guilty of this great sin. They did so.


The Lord Imposes Sanctions on the Israelites

Exodus 32:30–34  Moses returned to the Holy Mount to plead with the Lord on Israel’s behalf. The Lord agreed not to destroy them, if they would fully repent.

Exodus 33:2–4  The Lord said he would no longer lead the camp of Israel personally. They would receive only the ministering of an angel (an Aaronic priesthood level of revelation).

Exodus 33:7–10  Moses pitched a temporary tabernacle outside the camp. This “tent” was not the Tabernacle described in Exodus 25–30. It was a tent belonging to Moses, which was made into a temporary sanctuary where the pillar of cloud came down upon it, and Jehovah talked with Moses.

The “Lesser Law” Is Provided

Exodus 34:1  The Lord provided a second set of tablets.
— These were to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant forever (Deut. 10:5).
— The JST makes it clear these were replacement tablets with a lesser law (JST Exodus 34:1).

Exodus 34:2–4  Moses was gone—and fasted—for another 40 days to receive these new laws. While he was gone, the Israelites lost their faith again.

Exodus 34:10–16  The Lord warns the Israelites not to adopt the idolatrous ways of the Canaanites when they enter the Land of Promise.

Exodus 34:29–35  Moses radiated after seeing God, and wore a veil.

— “After such prolonged time and such experiences in God’s presence, it is no wonder that Moses’ face shone with divine glory when he returned, and the people fell back in fear of him. This phenomenon of light radiating from heavenly beings and earthly beings who are under heavenly influence is not unique here. [Joseph Smith showed similar effects multiple times while receiving revelation]. . . . The Hebrew word here rendered ‘shone’ is qaran, a . . . verb from a noun meaning ‘horn,’ [meaning] ‘radial beams of light,’ like the ‘horns’ or rays of morning seen over the horizon before the sun rises . . . A mistranslation from Hebrew to Latin caused Michelangelo to put actual horns on the head of his . . . statue of Moses!”3

What the Israelites Lost Through Disobedience

Galatians 3:16–18, 24–25  The law of Moses was given 430 years after the full covenants of exaltation were given to Abraham.

● The law of Moses did not replace the commandments, covenants, or principles of the gospel. Rather, it provided “a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty (Mosiah 13:29–30; Galatians 3:23–24; Alma 25:15–16; D&C 84:19–27).”

Exodus 25:8; 29:43  The Lord had intended to dwell with Israel personally, as he did with Enoch’s people and as he will at the New Jerusalem.

— When the Lord originally spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai, he revealed a law that included the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 84:19–23).

— The Israelites’ idolatrous behavior showed that they were not ready to live the fulness of the gospel (D&C 84:24; Exodus 32:1–9).

— Because they forgot the Lord so quickly, he withdrew the Melchizedek Priesthood from them and revealed a lesser law—the law of Moses (D&C 84:23–27; JST Exodus 34:1–2; Mosiah 13:29–30).

● We might well imagine what changes we would see in the Church today if the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood were removed:

— Loss of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
— Loss of spiritual blessings.
— Loss of most temple ordinances, etc.

● The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned.”4


1.  Seek Ye Earnestly, 159.
2.  Peterson, Mark E., Moses, 110.
3.  Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 2 vols. [1972], 1:95.
4.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 322.