How many times did Moses climb Mt. Sinai? It appears that he was called up the mountain once to get stone tablets, then came down to deal with the golden calf situation = round trip # 1. 1
Then God called Big Mo back up the mountain to get a fresh set of tablets on which He carved the commandments; then came back down = round trip # 2. So the answer to our question seems to be two round trips.
Or did he make more trips? The fascinating answer seems to be more trips. Reading through Exodus, there appear to be four round trips up-and-down Mt. Sinai as follows:
Round Trip # 1 – Introductory Meeting – God & Moses God called Moses up the mountain in the great 19th chapter of Exodus. God was preparing to formalize His relationship with the nation of Israel. “Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain . . . . Exodus 19:3. “So Moses went back [down] and summoned the elders . . . .” Exodus 19:7 After Moses went down the mount, he spoke to the elders and the people, telling them what God had said to him (Exodus 19:7). This first round trip was before the nation was official adopted by God as His people and before the Ten Commandments were put on stone tablets.
Round Trip # 2 – Instructions for Preparation for Adoption “ . . . and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Exodus 19:11. Though the text does not specifically say, “Moses went up the mountain again,” this second trip up — also a preparatory trip – because he had to receive instructions to tell the people what to do to be ready for the official adoption on “the third day.” “After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them Exodus 19:14. This has to be a second round trip as Moses brought down the mountain instructions (wash your clothes, no bedroom privileges). Notice that Moses “had gone down the mountain” as per Exodus 19:14. Then Exodus 19:16 – 20 report some of the events of this “third day” — physical demonstrations of God’s power e.g. thunder, lightning, thick cloud.
Sensing the curiosity of the people, God told Moses to go down the mountain (second half of trip # 2) to warn the people to maintain a respectful distance. This is communicated in Exodus 19:20-25 which begins: “. . . The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain . . . and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through and see the Lord and many of them perish.” And verse 24 reads, “The Lord replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you . . . So Moses went down to the people and told them.” Exodus 19:25.
Round Trip # Three – Giving of the Law and Ten Commandments Exodus 20 is best understood as a third trip since God had instructed Moses to (1) “go down;” 19:21 and (2) bring “Aaron up” when the Ten Commandments would be put on stone;” 19:24.
The great 20th of Exodus fully sets forth the Ten Commandments. And then Exodus 21 – 31 gives God’s directions about many things (Hebrew servants, personal injury, protection of property, social responsibility, laws of justice and mercy, the sabbath and the construction of the tabernacle with its ark, table, lamp stand, priestly garments, altar of incense and other matters).
Moses had been gone for many days (40 days; Exodus 24:18), so the Israelites assumed he had been killed by fire, lightning, thunder and/or the wrath of God (Exodus 24:17; 32:1). Moses’s time up on Mount Sinai concluded with God telling him to go down and handle the golden calf fiasco.
Round Trip # Four – Getting New Ten Commandments Tablets “Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to Me there on top of the mountain (Exodus 33:2). Moses – having broken the first set of tablets — was required to chisel out his own set of tablets and carry this heavy load up the mountain. Another 40-day period went by as God and Moses were alone together (Exodus 34:28). The rest of Exodus provides details about the tabernacle and offerings.
Thus Moses – as best I can tell, but I would not be dogmatic – seems to have made four round trips up to the top of Sinai and back down.
1. In anger, Moses tossed down the tablets, so the first time the Ten Commandments were broken, they were all broken at once (Exodus 32:19).