Exodus 20:21
And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
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Exodus 20:21-23. While the people continued to stand afar off — Afraid of God’s wrath, Moses drew near unto the thick darkness — He was made to draw near; so the word is: Of himself he durst not have ventured into the thick darkness: if God had not called him, and encouraged him. And being gone into the thick darkness where God was, God there spoke, in his hearing only, all that follows from hence to the end of chapter 23., which is mostly an exposition of the ten commandments; and he was to transmit it to the people. The laws in these verses relate to God’s worship. Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven — Such was his wonderful condescension; ye shall not make gods of silver — This repetition of the second commandment comes in here, because they were more addicted to idolatry than to any other sin.

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). No text from Poole on this verse.

And the people stood afar off,.... Still kept their distance in their camp and tents; or the heads and elders of the people having had this conversation with Moses, returned to their tents as they were bid, Deuteronomy 5:30 and to the people in the camp, and there they continued while Moses went up to God with their request:

and Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was; the thick cloud, Exodus 19:9 as Jarchi interprets it, and who observes from their doctors that there were three enclosures about the divine Majesty, darkness, a cloud, and thick darkness; and so Moses passed through the darkness, and the cloud, to the thick darkness where Jehovah was, and where he is said to dwell when the temple was built, 1 Kings 8:8 and they have an observation that the word rendered "drew near" is transitive, and should be translated, "he was brought near" or, "made to draw nigh"; Michael and Gabriel being sent to him, took hold of his hands and brought him against his will unto the thick darkness (r); but if the word will admit of such a version, the sense is either that he was caused to draw near through the importunity of the people; or rather through the call of God to him, or an impulse of his upon his mind, which obliged him to it.

(r) Pirke Eliezer, c. 41.

And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
21. thick darkness] ‘ǎrâphel, the word, mostly poetical (Psalm 18:9, 1 Kings 8:12), used in Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:22 [Heb. 19].

With the preceding narrative, especially the parts that belong to E Exodus 9:16-19, Exodus 20:1-21), comp. the rhetorically amplified descriptions

Verse 21. - The people stood afar off. They retired from the base of Sinai to their tents, where they "stood," probably in their tent doors. And Moses drew near unto the thick darkness. As the people drew back, Moses drew near. The display which drove them off, attracted him. He did not even fear the "thick darkness" - a thing front which human nature commonly shrinks. Where God was, he would be.

CHAPTER 20:22-26 Exodus 20:21"So the people stood afar off" (as in Exodus 20:18), not "went far away," although, according to Deuteronomy 5:30, Moses was directed by God to tell the people to return to their tents. This is passed over here, and it is merely observed, for the purpose of closing the first act in the giving the law, and preparing the way for the second, that the people remained afar off, whereas Moses (and Aaron, cf. Exodus 19:24) drew near to the darkness where God was, to receive the further commands of the Lord.
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