The People's Reaction to God
vs. 18 - 21 vs. 22 - 26
When God gave the Law, He apparently made His presence manifest to the people waiting at the foot of the mount. Remember the Lord’s instructions to Moses prior to his going up? Exodus 19:12-13
“And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain” (ESV).
Not exactly conducive to a state of comfort, was it? And so from vs. 19, it is clear that the Hebrews are in a state of high anxiety. God certainly made His presence visible in a way that would reinforce the people’s fear and awe. As I’ve said before, I think one of the great losses of the modern evangelical church is the apparent lack of the reverential awe, fear of the Lord. We just have made God too much of a “pal.” By stressing His role as our Father, which He is, we have downgraded His role as the Righteous and Holy, infinite God.
Remember what we said about this appearance of God back in the previous chapter? “God’s appearance on the mountain caused fear and awe in the nation. The giving of the law was a terrifying time for the people. Its seriousness is not to be misunderstood. The “… appearance here … ” is reminiscent of the death of Christ on the cross with the darkness and the thunder, etc. (see Matt 27:45, 51)
It is interesting that here, we see the giving of the law. And at the cross was the freeing from the consequence of breaking that same law,. but the surrounding incidents are very similar. The sounds heard are like those of a trumpet. The presence of God was manifested before the people. God appeared in the midst of smoke and fire, and Moses spoke to God.
The people’s reaction was great fear. In fact the Latin Vulgate translates this as “Terrified and panic-struck.” One cannot face the living God untouched. John the “beloved” disciple tells us of his confrontation with the risen Christ in Revelation 1:17.
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (ESV).
Remember, this is the disciple of whom we read
“One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side” (John 13:23 ESV).
The fact is no one can stand before the One who is our Creator, who is our Savior, without fear and awe. Do you ever think of God in a context the generates fear or awe? Is this an appropriate reaction to God for the believer?
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV).
How do you feel a more appropriate response to God can be developed?
So the people were panic-stricken. In fact, they told Moses they didn’t even want to hear God directly. They preferred Moses continue to act as intermediary for them, as direct confrontation would lead to their death, or at least so they believed.
It is clear God intended Moses to fill this role and, as we already saw, there was the warning of death for those who set foot on the mount.
Hebrews 12:28-39 (NIV)
“18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”[https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews+12&version=NIV#fen-NIV-30233c] 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”[https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews+12&version=NIV#fen-NIV-30234d]
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled bloodthat speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens..”[https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews+12&version=NIV#fen-NIV-30239e] 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”[https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews+12&version=NIV#fen-NIV-30242f]
We, too, need a mediator before we can approach God. And Christ is our mediator. Now we can come before God. We have access to an enduring kingdom, one not shaken by earthquakes and thunderings.
Moses then pointed out that God had appeared to test them. He desired them to fear Him for, as we already noted, with fear comes obedience. We, too, must obey the Lord. Though we do so primarily out of love and a desire to please Him, we must recognize that even for us fear, awe,\ is appropriate. Webster defines awe – “ a mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something sublime, etc.”
If the people recognize God for who He is, one would hope this would lead to their obedience, not rebellion. John also spoke for God to us, as believers, toward the same end;
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 ESV).
We will see that the Law was given to show men they could not live up to God’s standards. And the sacrificial system was given to provide a ritual fulfillment of Christ’s role as “the advocate” for sin. The point is made clear here, as with the rest of Scripture that God’s standard really is that men do not sin.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV).
We must recognize this as believers, and the unbeliever must come to realize it also, if he is to be saved.
The unbeliever doesn’t want to accept that there is a God who would send men to eternal damnation for not being perfect, but again, what is God’s standard? “… That you may not sin.” Christ had to die because we can’t meet God’s standards. God, by His very nature, can not excuse us from His standards, but loving us, He was wiling to take on human form to pay the price for mankind’s failure, in order to meet the level of perfection necessary to be saved.
So the people stood back, away from the “front lines,” leaving Moses to face God alone. And yes, this was consistent with the role given to Moses. So he approached the cloud which was the visual manifestation of the presence of God.
In the context of the giving of the Law, Moses makes it quite clear God was providing the legislation by which the nation was expected to live within the Land. One may wonder how they felt at this time, hearing what was expected of them, and probably realizing that there was no way that they could.
How do you react to the idea that God expects us not to sin?
What is our advantage over these people at the time we are looking at? If we are truly called to not sin, then what do we need to do, to at least attempt to meet this standard?
As far the these people go, I suspect that the Hebrews were already aware of the need for a sacrifice for sin, though there was not the elaborate system that God was to provide in conjunction with the construction of the Tabernacle. Remember that all who are saved, including the Old Testament saints, are saved through the Sacrifice, that is the Lamb of God, through the death of Christ.
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).