Exodus 20:20
And Moses said to the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that you sin not.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Moses said unto the people, Fear not.—God approved the people’s proposal, and directed that they should withdraw to their tents (Deuteronomy 5:28-30). Moses then “drew near” to Him, and entered into “the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21). It is worthy of notice that the same manifestation which repelled the people attracted Moses.

Exodus 20:20. Fear not — That is, Think not that this thunder and fire are designed to consume you. God is come to prove you — To try how they would like dealing with God immediately, without a mediator, and so to convince them how admirably well God had chosen for them in putting Moses into that office. Ever since Adam fled, upon hearing God’s voice in the garden, sinful man has not been able to bear either to speak to God, or hear from him immediately.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.

19. let not God speak with us, lest we die, &c.—The phenomena of thunder and lightning had been one of the plagues so fatal to Egypt, and as they heard God speaking to them now, they were apprehensive of instant death also. Even Moses himself, the mediator of the old covenant, did "exceedingly quake and fear" (Heb 12:21). But doubtless God spake what gave him relief—restored him to a frame of mind fit for the ministrations committed to him; and hence immediately after he was enabled to relieve and comfort them with the relief and comfort which he himself had received from God (2Co 1:4). To prove you, or try, or search you, whether you are innocent, and such as delight in my presence; or conscious of your guilt, and therefore afraid of my appearance; whether you have such a righteousness as can abide the trial of a severe Judge; or whether you are such as have cause to fear my wrath, and to flee to my grace and mercy; which of you are sincere and upright, and which are hypocrites and ungodly persons; or, to try whether this terrible appearance will produce in you that reverence, fear, and obedience which I call for; or, to give you a law, by which you will be proved whether you do indeed love and fear me, as you pretend you do, or whether you do not.

God’s fear is properly in men’s hearts; but here the sense seems to be this, That this fear, i.e. his dreadful manifestation of his majesty and justice, (the act being here put for the object,) may be now and ever before your eyes, and in your memories, as an effectual preservative from sin. And Moses said unto the people,.... By representatives and messengers, the heads of the tribes and elders:

fear not; be not afraid of God with a slavish fear; be not afraid of the thunders and lightnings, as if they were like one of the plagues of Egypt, which terrified Pharaoh and his people; be not afraid of being consumed by them, they will do you no hurt; be not afraid of dying by the hand of God, at his presence, and through the voice of his words spoken to you; be of good courage, for the design of God is not to destroy you, but to instruct you, and do you good:

for God is come to prove you; whether, being now freed by him from Egyptian bondage, they would take and own him for their King, and be subject to his laws and government; whether they would abide by what they had said, all that the Lord hath spoken will we do, Exodus 19:8, whether they thought they had purity and righteousness enough to answer to the divine law, and whether they imagined they had strength enough to fulfil it, and whether they needed a mediator between God and them or not: some Jewish writers (q) give a different sense of this clause, as if the coming of God to them in this grand and majestic manner was to exalt them, and make them great and honourable among the nations of the world; taking the word used to be derived from a root, which signifies to lift up, as a banner or ensign is lifted up on high: but the former sense is best:

and that his fear may be before your faces; not a slavish fear of death, of wrath, and damnation, before dehorted from; but a reverence of the divine Majesty, an awe of his greatness and glory, a serious regard to his commands, delivered in so grand a manner, and a carefulness to offend him by disobeying them:

that ye sin not: by breaking the law, and transgressing the precepts of it, which they might be deterred from, as it might be reasonably thought, when they reflected with what solemnity, and in what an awful manner it was delivered to them.

(q) Jarchi in loc. Medrash apud Kimchi in Sepher Shorash. rad. & Ben Melech in loc.

And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to {o} prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.

(o) Whether you will obey his precepts as you promised in Ex 19:8.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. to prove you] to put you to the proof (Exodus 16:4; cf. on Exodus 17:2), to the whether (Deuteronomy 8:2), as you have just said (v. 19), you will really obey Him, and in order to inspire you with the dread of offending Him.

and that his fear, &c.] That the fear which His presence creates may be ever before your eyes.Verse 20. - And Moses said unto the people. Not immediately - Moses first held colloquy with God. God declared that the people had "spoken well" (Deuteronomy 5:28); and authorised Moses to allow of their withdrawal (ib, 30). Fear not. Here Exodus is more full in its details than Deuteronomy. Moses, finding the people in a state of extreme alarm, pacified them - assured them that there was no cause for immediate fear - God had not now come in vengeance - the object of the terrors of Sinai was to "prove" them - i.e., to test them, whether they were inclined to submit themselves to God, or not - and to impress upon their minds permanently an awful fear of God, that they might he kept back from sin by dread of his almighty power. The motive of fear is, no doubt, a low one; but where we can appeal to nothing else, we must appeal to it. Israel was still a child, only fit for childish discipline; and had to be directed by the harsh voice of fear, until it had learnt to he guided by the tender accents of love. The other Five Words or commandments, which determine the duties to one's neighbour, are summed up in Leviticus 19:18 in the one word, "Love thy neighbour as thyself." The order in which they follow one another is the following: they first of all secure life, marriage, and property against active invasion or attack, and then, proceeding from deed to word and thought, they forbid false witness and coveting.

(Note: Luther has pointed out this mirum et aptum ordinem, and expounds it thus: Incipit prohibitio a majori usque ad minimum, nam maximum damnum est occisio hominis, deinde proximum violatio conjugis, tertium ablatio facultatis. Quod qui in iis nocere non possunt, saltem lingua nocent, ideo quartum est laesio famae. Quodsi in iis non praevalent omnibus, saltem corde laedunt proximum, cupiendo quae ejus sunt, in quo et invidia proprie consistit.)

If, therefore, the first three commandments in this table refer primarily to deeds; the subsequent advance to the prohibition of desire is a proof that the deed is not to be separated from the disposition, and that "the fulfilment of the law is only complete when the heart itself is sanctified" (Oehler). Accordingly, in the command, "Thou shalt not kill," not only is the accomplished fact of murder condemned, whether it proceed from open violence or stratagem (Exodus 21:12, Exodus 21:14, Exodus 21:18), but every act that endangers human life, whether it arise from carelessness (Deuteronomy 22:8) or wantonness (Leviticus 19:14), or from hatred, anger, and revenge (Leviticus 19:17-18). Life is placed at the head of these commandments, not as being the highest earthly possession, but because it is the basis of human existence, and in the life the personality is attacked, and in that the image of God (Genesis 9:6). The omission of the object still remains to be noticed, as showing that the prohibition includes not only the killing of a fellow-man, but the destruction of one's own life, or suicide. - The two following commandments are couched in equally general terms. Adultery, נאף, which is used in Leviticus 20:10 of both man and woman, signifies (as distinguished from זנה to commit fornication) the sexual intercourse of a husband with the wife of another, or of a wife with the husband of another. This prohibition is not only directed against any assault upon the husband's dearest possession, for the tenth commandment guards against that, but upholds the sacredness of marriage as the divine appointment for the propagation and multiplication of the human race; and although addressed primarily to the man, like all the commandments that were given to the whole nation, applies quite as much to the woman as to the man, just as we find in Leviticus 20:10 that adultery was to be punished with death in the case of both the man and the woman. - Property was to be equally inviolable. The command, "Thou shalt not steal," prohibited not only the secret or open removal of another person's property, but injury done to it, or fraudulent retention of it, through carelessness or indifference (Exodus 21:33; Exodus 22:13; Exodus 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4). - But lest these commandments should be understood as relating merely to the outward act as such, as they were by the Pharisees, in opposition to whom Christ set forth their true fulfilment (Matthew 5:21.), God added the further prohibition, "Thou shalt not answer as a false witness against thy neighbour," i.e., give false testimony against him. ענה and בּ: to answer or give evidence against a person (Genesis 30:33). עד is not evidence, but a witness. Instead of שׁקר עד, a witness of a lie, who consciously gives utterance to falsehood, we find שׁוא עד in Deuteronomy, one who says what is vain, worthless, unfounded (שׁוא שׁמע, Exodus 23:1; on שׁוא see Exodus 23:7). From this it is evident, that not only is lying prohibited, but false and unfounded evidence in general; and not only evidence before a judge, but false evidence of every kind, by which (according to the context) the life, married relation, or property of a neighbour might be endangered (cf. Exodus 23:1; Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Deuteronomy 22:13.). - The last or tenth commandment is directed against desiring (coveting), as the root from which every sin against a neighbour springs, whether it be in word or deed. The חמד, ἐπιθυμεῖν (lxx), coveting, proceeds from the heart (Proverbs 6:25), and brings forth sin, which "is finished" in the act (James 1:14-15). The repetition of the words, "Thou shalt not covet," does not prove that there are two different commandments, any more than the substitution of תּתאוּה in Deuteronomy 5:18 for the second תּחמד. חמד and התאוּה are synonyms, - the only difference between them being, that "the former denotes the desire as founded upon the perception of beauty, and therefore excited from without, the latter, desire originating at the very outset in the person himself, and arising from his own want or inclination" (Schultz). The repetition merely serves to strengthen and give the great emphasis to that which constitutes the very kernel of the command, and is just as much in harmony with the simple and appropriate language of the law, as the employment of a synonym in the place of the repetition of the same word is with the rhetorical character of Deuteronomy. Moreover, the objects of desire do not point to two different commandments. This is evident at once from the transposition of the house and wife in Deuteronomy. בּית (the house) is not merely the dwelling, but the entire household (as in Genesis 15:2; Job 8:15), either including the wife, or exclusive of her. In the text before us she is included; in Deuteronomy she is not, but is placed first as the crown of the man, and a possession more costly than pearls (Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 31:10). In this case, the idea of the "house" is restricted to the other property belonging to the domestic economy, which is classified in Deuteronomy as fields, servants, cattle, and whatever else a man may have; whereas in Exodus the "house" is divided into wife, servants, cattle, and the rest of the possessions.

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