A spectacular sound and light show greeted the Israelites when the new nation encountered God for the first time at Mt. Sinai.1 The awesome display of divine presence and power so terrified the Children of Israel that they begged God not to appear to them again in person (Exodus 20:15). God’s initial appearance—a theophany—was certainly the most significant and dramatic event of the year following Israel’s liberation from Egypt. But what, according to the biblical authors, did the people actually experience?
The Bible records two different accounts, one in Exodus 19–24 and the other scattered throughout the Book of Deuteronomy.2 A careful reading of these texts may explain how—and why—this momentous occurrence was preserved for posterity twice.3