Home > Miscellaneous > Speculation, Some Thoughts, and a Question

Speculation, Some Thoughts, and a Question

Exodus 19:10-15

The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 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 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.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

A friend of mine mentioned the idea that YHWH wanted to act with all of Israel more directly at Sinai. I hadn’t really thought about it before, so I looked for the passages that seem to support this. I’m not completely convinced by the textual evidence, but certainly it appears to very much be a possibility. I’ll explain a little bit.

In the above passage in Exodus 19, there is definitely the idea that the Israelites need to stay away from the freaking mountain or its bad news for whoever touches it. YHWH wants them to stay away. But that’s only so that the can spend a couple of days consecrating themselves. First it’s “Take care not to go up into the mountain,” then after the trumpet blows, “come up to the mountain.” YHWH definitely wants them there to be in His presence.

The third day comes, the Israelites go to the foot of the mountain, Moses goes up and comes back down. Then, in chapter 20, before Moses goes back up the mountain into the thick darkness, while he is with the people at the foot of the mountain, God speaks the Ten Words of Exodus to the Israelites who are near the mountain. In our next scene, we find that Israel, sometime during God’s speaking to them, moved away from the mountai

They couldn’t stand to be in the presence of God. They were afraid. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” God spoke to them, and they trembled, and they didn’t want God to speak to them directly anymore. After hearing God’s voice, they wanted a mediator to separate them from God because of their fear. This aspect of the passage is not one I’ve heard before, but it does fit a lot of Scripture involving some sort of go-between for them and God, including their desire for a king. What is most interesting about this passage is how Moses responds to the Israelites not wanting God to speak to them.

He says, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” Then Moses goes into the thick darkness while the people continued to stand far off. But… what did he say? Israel was afraid, but Moses told them that they don’t have to be afraid because God wants you to have the fear of him before you. Um. Don’t be afraid, be afraid. These verses highlight this clear tension between the separate Biblical ideas of being afraid and of fearing God

There is some sort of distinction between fearing God and being afraid of God. This passage illuminates some elements of the difference. The fear that is negative, that Moses’ tells the Israelite not to have, seems to be the fear that causes them to withdraw far from the mountain after they catch a glimpse of God’s magnificent power and the fear that they have of His speaking directly to him. They are not to be afraid of closeness and intimacy with God. But they are to have the fear of God in them, and here, as in many of the places where having the fear of God is a good thing, the fear that is to be in them is directly linked with obedience. Do I have more observations on this distinction? Yes. But these seem to be all that are found in the passage.

How do you distinguish between fear and fear?

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Categories: Miscellaneous
  1. Joel Morgan
    August 9, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Fear is a respectful understanding of the difference in power between two persons or things. I think it implies a certain degree of humility. i.e. I Fear God.

    Being afraid is anxious, worry on the inside regarding specific action or consequences. i.e. I am afraid of the dark because the boogeyman might get me.

  2. August 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    I like your description of fear. Does it apply to relationships between human beings as well? Or only divine-human?

    The boogeyman isn’t real.

  3. August 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I don’t know if I fear any man. I respectfully understand the difference in position, but I don’t think that there is a power difference. I’m afraid of what a person could do, but not who that person is.

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