Travel & Egypt
Ascending The Mountain Where God Gave Moses The Ten Commandments
In my previous travel story, I wrote about my trip to the Holy Land, where I explored the life of Jesus in Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territory. After that trip, I crossed the border from Asia to the African continent to see Egypt.
Apart from Egyptians’ ancient civilization, which is immensely rich in culture, arts, and history. It was also one of the nations that were mentioned in the Bible, Quran, and Hebrew scriptures.
In the book of Exodus, Egypt’s Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb, was considered a holy mountain because it is where God talked to Moses and gave the Ten Commandments.
In this article, I would not only tell my experience climbing the holy mountain but also retell the tale of Moses in relation to Mount Sinai.
Moses and the Biblical Mountain
Mount Sinai lies in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, and rises 2,285 meters above sea level. In Arabic, it is called Jebel Musa, which means “Mount of Moses.”
Jewish, Muslims, and Christians believe Moses was a prophet and the messenger of God. And in Mount Sinai is where he had his one-on-one with God.
Moses: the deliverer of slaves
The second book in the Bible is Exodus, which means “exit.” The story solely focuses on how the Hebrews exited Egypt and were freed from slavery by the “deliverer” assigned by God. This person will lead the entire race to the promised land.
Since the Hebrews population in Egypt grew so much, the Egyptian Pharaoh got threatened that they would be outnumbered. Therefore, he ordered the slaying of all Hebrews’ newborn sons. But one child spared the wrath. And that baby was Moses.
His mother and older sister, Miriam, placed him in a basket and secretly sailed him into the Nile River. Miraculously, he was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter, she kept him, and raised him as her own. Moses grew up knowing he was a prince of Egypt.
When Moses later found out he is a Hebrew, he killed a high ranking Egyptian official. Consequently, he escaped Egypt and reached Midian. There he met the family of Jethro, and his seven daughters, one of which ended up Moses’ wife, Zipporah.
Some of the Median clans settled in the Sinai Peninsula, and it’s where Moses spent his forty years as a shepherd. While Moses is tending to Jethro’s herd, he led them to Mount Horeb (Sinai). He then saw a burning bush, but the plant per se was not burning up.
“So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw the he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (…) “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” — Exodus 3:3–6
Through the Burning Bush, God mandated Moses to head back to Egypt, free all the Hebrews, and guide them to Canaan. In today’s world, Canaan is Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and southern portions of Syria and Lebanon.
Moses managed to fulfill his task as the deliverer; the Hebrews left Egypt and traveled their way to the promised land. But before they reach their destination, which still took them forty years, they stopped at Mount Sinai. While the Hebrews were at the foot of the mountain, Moses stayed at the peak for forty days and forty nights until God gave him the Ten Commandments.
Judaism, Islam, and Christianity may have differences in views, beliefs, and practices, but all of them adhere to the core values of the Ten Commandments:
- Do not have any other gods.
- Do not make or worship idols.
- Do not disrespect or misuse God’s name.
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
- Honor your mother and father.
- Do not commit murder.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Do not steal.
- Do not tell lies
- Do not be envious of others.
My Journey To The Holy Mountain
When I was a child, I thought, these landmarks in the Bible such as Mount Sinai were either fantasy or already lost in time. Therefore, knowing that some of these places still exist today, I was thrilled to get to see them in real life.
According to our tour guide, it was breathtaking to watch the sunrise at Mount Sinai’s summit. From above, the sun looks too small, like it rises beneath your feet. So, to ensure I wouldn’t miss it, I woke up at midnight because the bus’s departure was at 1:00 a.m.
At the foot of the mountain
Since our accommodation was nearby Mount Sinai, our group arrived in less than thirty minutes. At the entrance there’s an ancient establishment that can be seen, it is the Saint Catherine Monastery (later in this article, I will reveal the importance of this monastery. So, keep reading, and stay tuned).
Ascending the mountain, tourists had to go through the Camel Trail. It is three miles one way to the top — a steady, not-too-steep, and wide trail where camels can pass through. Therefore, some tourists choose to ride a camel heading to the top of Sinai. However, most choose to trek it.
In my case, since we were in the middle of a dessert at midnight, it was cold and pitch dark, with only the mood guiding our path. I chose the safest, fastest, and easiest option, I rode a camel. And I paid 250 EGP ($15.00 USD) with a local Bedouin guiding our journey.
Taking photos at night while riding a camel requires caution. It was allowed but without the camera’s flash as this can distract the camels' vision. It is better to ask your Bedouin guide to take your photo, they’re the expert.
The Elijah’s Basin
Since I can’t see much in the dark, all I can reckon during the ride was the chilling breeze, the moon, and my white camel, Whiskey. For whatever reason, he loved giving way to other camels.
I remember talking to him then:
“Whiskey! Stop giving away our spot.”
Since Whiskey was such a generous camel, we ended up as the last one in our group to arrive at the Elijah’s Basin. Here, all camels stop and rest.
The Elijah’s Basin is 300m below the summit, and there are several small shops where tourists can buy snacks, hot and cold drinks. Here, you can also rent some blankets, which is helpful because it is freezing at the top of the mountain. From this place, everyone must take a steep series of 750 rocky and uneven steps to the top of Sinai.
Witnessing the Sunrise at the Top of Sinai
Since Whiskey carried me for two and a half hours, my legs undermined the 750 rocky steps. At the top of the mountain, there is a chapel and a mosque across from each other. But these two are kept locked.
Since our group reached the top at 5:00 a.m., we had to wait in the freezing dark. But some of the tourists there had been at the peak as early as midnight.
Rising beneath your feet
From afar, bright orange light can be seen. The sun was about to rise, and while it was gently moving up, it looks like a tiny yellow marble. Indeed, our guide was right, it was breathtaking, the sun seems so small that it looks rising beneath our feet.
While the sun was rising, some people started to pray; I did too. I made a wish. At that time, I already knew I passed a full scholarship to study post-grad in New Zealand. But I was praying that my first choice university, the University of Auckland, would soon reach out to me and accept my application. Apart from this wish, I thank God for such a phenomenal experience.
Also, in my thoughts, as I get to see what Mount Sinai looks like in the light, I was a bit teary-eyed. In my mind, I said:
“Dear Moses, I made it. I am here. I get to see what you have seen. I feel like I am closer to heaven. I am closer to HIM.”
The rocky Steps of Repentance
Since the sun is already up, and the beauty of Sinai is vivid. The rocky red mountain is literally in the midst of a desert. I neither saw any trees nor greens up there. I was also stunned by how high the summit is. It’s a different world up there.
I spent another hour at the peak and took more photos, including the chapel and the mosque, which were more camera-worthy in daylight.
Leaving the peak made me suddenly regret my earlier decision of riding a camel during the ascent because descending on foot was more difficult. Thus, I was wearing Chuck Taylor kicks (another wrong decision), so the struggles (and blisters) were real.
Heading down, tourists have to go through another path, the Steps of Repentance. It’s too steep and challenging that I nearly repent. But my sinful being can’t help complaining. I started to feel envious of those who can still afford to ride a camel for descent (I was on a tight budget).
On the other hand, if it wasn’t for that experience, I would not have a story to tell you about the Steps of Repentance. This gorge was laid by a monk as a form of repentance for his sins. Another trivia, Moses trekked this path when he was already 80 years old. So, when I found out about it, I stopped whining and continued walking.
The long and tedious walk took me for about three hours. I stopped frequently, but others managed to do it in two hours. Unlike them, I am unfit and unathletic. While trekking the Steps of Repentance I was fascinated by how quickly Bedouins go back and forth from Mount Sinai by only wearing slippers. Their skills and stamina are admirable.
Towards the end of the gorge is where the adventure all started, at the Saint Catherine Monastery. Basically, this landmark is the start and finish of the Mount Sinai journey.
The Burning Bush
The Saint Catherine Monastery was founded way back in 330 A.D. It is believed that this place is the exact spot where Moses had his revelation with God through a Burning Bush.
Inside the walled compound, there’s a corner that looks like a hanging plant. The locals believed it is the miraculous Burning Bush.
Since I was too slow descending the mountain, I wasn’t able to explore the monastery nor see the Burning Bush because our bus had to leave on time. And I cannot afford to be everyone’s cause of delay.
The monastery and surrounding area were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The monastery is named after Saint Catherine, the legendary martyr of Alexandria, who was tortured and then beheaded for her faith.
Her body was discovered by monks from the monastery around 300 years later, in a state of near-perfect preservation.
Watching the sunrise at the top of Mount Sinai was one of the best experiences I had. It was like making my childhood fantasy come true. It made me understand more about Moses and the book of Exodus. And like what I have said, it felt like I was closer to heaven.
You may believe in miracles or not, but the wish I prayed at the summit of Mount Sinai immediately fulfilled right after I got back to our hotel. As soon as I connected to the Wi-Fi, I received this email from the University of Auckland:
Some people who will read this may think it might be a simple coincidence, but for me, it was an instant answered prayer after climbing the mountain where God gave His Ten Commandments.
I want to remind you, that you don’t need to have any religion to appreciate the wonders of Mount Sinai. Climbing this iconic mountain is already one for the books. But I still suggest that when you plan to visit this place, read Moses’s life in the Bible, Quran, or Hebrew Scriptures, so you get to have a deeper appreciation of Egypt’s holy mountain.
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