Exodus 20:18
And all the people saw the thunder, and the lightning, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
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(18-21) The delivery of the Ten Commandments by a voice manifestly superhuman impressed the people with an awful fear. They felt the near contact with God to be more than they could bear. Even Moses was so deeply moved that he exclaimed, “I exceedingly fear and quake” (Hebrews 12:21). The people were still more afraid, and felt compelled to withdraw to a distance, beyond the sound of the terrible voice. From Deuteronomy we learn that they retired within their tents (Deuteronomy 5:30), having first sent a deputation to Moses, with a request that he would thenceforth act as their intermediary. It pleased God to assent to this proposal; and the remainder of the Law was communicated by God to Moses, and by Moses to the Israelites.

(18) And all the people saw the thunderings

i.e., Perceived them. On the true character of the Sinaitic manifestation, see Note on Exodus 19:16-20.

They removed.—Moses had brought the representatives of the people as near to Sinai as possible—close to the foot of the great precipice of Ras Sufsâfeh (Exodus 19:17). The wide plain of Er-Rahah allowed of a removal to a considerable distance.

Exodus 20:18-19. They removed, and stood afar off — Before God began to speak, they were thrusting forward to gaze, but now they were effectually cured of their presumption, and taught to keep their distance. Speak thou with us — Hereby they obliged themselves to acquiesce in the mediation of Moses, they themselves nominating him as a fit person to deal between them and God, and promising to hearken to him as to God’s messenger.20:18-21 This law, which is so extensive that we cannot measure it, so spiritual that we cannot evade it, and so reasonable that we cannot find fault with it, will be the rule of the future judgment of God, as it is for the present conduct of man. If tried by this rule, we shall find our lives have been passed in transgressions. And with this holy law and an awful judgment before us, who can despise the gospel of Christ? And the knowledge of the law shows our need of repentance. In every believer's heart sin is dethroned and crucified, the law of God is written, and the image of God renewed. The Holy Spirit enables him to hate sin and flee from it, to love and keep this law in sincerity and truth; nor will he cease to repent.Compare Deuteronomy 5:22-31. Aaron Exodus 19:24 on this occasion accompanied Moses in drawing near to the thick darkness.

Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33 is a series of laws which we may identify with what was written by Moses in the book called the book of the covenant, and read by him in the audience of the people Exodus 24:7.

The document cannot be regarded as a strictly systematic whole. Portions of it were probably traditional rules handed down from the patriarchs, and retained by the Israelites in Egypt.

18-21. all the people saw the thunderings and the lightnings—They were eye and ear witnesses of the awful emblems of the Deity's descent. But they perceived not the Deity Himself. Saw the thunderings, i.e. heard them. One sense is oft put for another, as seeing, Genesis 42:1, for hearing, Acts 7:12.

They removed from the bottom of the mountain, where it seems they stood. And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings,.... That is, they heard the one, and saw the other; they heard the dreadful volleys of thunder, and saw the amazing flashes of lightning, which were like lamps and torches, as the word used signifies; by a communication of senses, one sense is put for another, and the sense of sight being the principal, as Ben Melech observes, it is put for the rest, and so in the following. It is an observation of Austin's (o) that to "see" is used of all of the five senses, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling:

and the noise the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: they the sound of the trumpet, which made them tremble and saw the mountain all in a smoke, which made it look very terrible. Though the words may be rendered, as they are by some, "they perceived the thunders", &c. (p); had a sensible perception of them with their eyes ears, which greatly affected them, and made strong impressions upon their minds, and filled them with fear and dread:

and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off; their minds were not only terrified and distressed, and their bodies shook with fear; but they could not stand their ground, but were obliged to retreat, who but just before were curious to draw near, and gaze and see what they could, to prevent which bounds were set; but now these were needless, what they saw and heard were sufficient to keep them at a distance, nay, obliged them to quit their places; they were at the lower part of the mount before, and now they removed a good way from it, even to their camp, and to their tents in it, see Deuteronomy 5:30. The Targum of Jonathan says, they removed twelve miles; and so Jarchi, who observes, that this was according to the length of their camp.

(o) Confess. l. 10. c. 35. (p) "percipiebant", Junius & Tremellius, "intelligebant"; so some in Drusius.

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
18. saw] Heb., more graphically, were seeing.

the thunderings (Heb. voices), &c.] see Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19.

and when, &c.] Heb. and the people saw and trembled, where ‘saw,’ after clausea, is tautologous. Read probably, with merely a change of vowel-points, and the people were afraid, and trembled (so Sam. LXX. Vulg.; cf. v. 20).

trembled] swayed to and fro, shook, is the meaning of the Heb. נוע: cf. Isaiah 7:2 ‘and his heart shook … as the trees of a forest shake with the wind’; Nahum 3:12. On the marg. it is rendered, not very expressively, were moved, as in Isaiah 6:4 RV., Isaiah 7:2 EVV., Isaiah 19:1 EVV.

18–21. The people, alarmed by the terrible accompaniments of the theophany, express a desire that in future Moses may speak to them instead of God. Their wish is implicitly granted. Cf. Deuteronomy 5:22-31.Verses 18-21. - WITHDRAWAL OF THE PEOPLE, AND NEARER APPROACH OF MOSES TO GOD. The effect produced upon the people by the accumulated terrors of Sinai - "the thunderings and the lightnings, the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking" - the cloud, and the voice out of the cloud - was an awful and terrible fear. They could not bear the manifestation of the near presence of God; and therefore "they removed and stood afar off." It seemed to them as if, on hearing the voice of God, speaking out of the thick darkness, they must die (ver. 19). Moses, upon their expressing these feelings, comforted them with an assurance that God had shown his terrors, not for their injury, but to put his fear in their hearts (ver. 20), and allowed them to retire to a distance from the mount, while he himself "drew near unto the thick darkness where God was" (ver. 21). Verse 18. - The people saw the thunderings. The use of a specific verb for a generic one, with terms to all of which it is not, strictly speaking, applicable, is common to many writers, and is known to grammarians as zengma. "Saw" here means "perceived, witnessed." The mountain smoking. Compare Exodus 19:18. In Deuteronomy 5:23 it is said that "the mountain did burn with fire." When the people saw it, they removed. It appears, from Deuteronomy 5:23, that. before retiring, the people sent a deputation of heads of tribes and elders up to Moses in the mount, to convey to him their wishes, and suggest that he should be their intermediary with God. Moses laid their wishes before God, and was directed to give them his sanction, whereupon they withdrew to their tents (ib, 30). The Fifth Word, "Honour thy father and thy mother," does not refer to fellow-men, but to "those who are the representatives (vicarii) of God. Therefore, as God is to be served with honour and fear, His representatives are to be so too" (Luther decem. praec.). This is placed beyond all doubt by Leviticus 19:3, where reverence towards parents is placed on an equality with the observance of the Sabbath, and תּירא (fear) is substituted for כּבּד (honour). It also follows from כּבּד, which, as Calvin correctly observes, nihil aliud est quam Deo et hominibus, qui dignitate pollent, justum honorem deferre. Fellow-men or neighbours (רע) are to be loved (Leviticus 19:18): parents, on the other hand, are to be honoured and feared; reverence is to be shown to them with heart, mouth, and hand - in thought, word, and deed. But by father and mother we are not to understand merely the authors and preservers of our bodily life, but also the founders, protectors, and promoters of our spiritual life, such as prophets and teachers, to whom sometimes the name of father is given (2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 13:14), whilst at other times paternity is ascribed to them by their scholars being called sons and daughters (Psalm 34:12; Psalm 45:11; Proverbs 1:8, Proverbs 1:10, Proverbs 1:15, etc.); also the guardians of our bodily and spiritual life, the powers ordained of God, to whom the names of father and mother (Genesis 45:8; Judges 5:7) may justly be applied, since all government has grown out of the relation of father and child, and draws its moral weight and stability, upon which the prosperity and well-being of a nation depends, from the reverence of children towards their parents.

(Note: "In this demand for reverence to parents, the fifth commandment lays the foundation for the sanctification of the whole social life, inasmuch as it thereby teaches us to acknowledge a divine authority in the same" (Oehler, Dekalog, p. 322).)

And the promise, "that thy days may be long (thou mayest live long) in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee," also points to this. There is a double promise here. So long as the nation rejoiced in the possession of obedient children, it was assured of a long life or existence in the land of Canaan; but there is also included the promise of a long life, i.e., a great age, to individuals (cf. Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 22:7), just as we find in 1 Kings 3:14 a good old age referred to as a special blessing from God. In Deuteronomy 5:16, the promise of long life is followed by the words, "and that it may be well with thee," which do not later the sense, but merely explain it more fully.

As the majesty of God was thus to be honoured and feared in parents, so the image of God was to be kept sacred in all men. This thought forms the transition to the rest of the commandments.

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