Exodus 20:18–21

Exodus 20:18–21
Exodus 19:16–25 (ESV)
16  On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick
cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp
trembled. 17  Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took
their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke
because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a
kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19  And as the sound of the trumpet grew
louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20  The LORD came
down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of
the mountain, and Moses went up.
21  And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through
to the LORD to look and many of them perish. 22  Also let the priests who come near to the
LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” 23  And Moses said to
the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us,
saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’ ” 24  And the LORD said to him,
“Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the
people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.” 25  So
Moses went down to the people and told them.
We are told of the great and mighty event when God descended upon Mount Sinai. The
lightning, thunder, fire, smoke and the loud sounds were taking place because God had
descended to the top of the mountain.
These supernatural phenomena were going on the entire time Moses was receiving the Ten
These events did not begin and then end while Moses received the Commandments and
then start back up again. They were going on the entire time.

Exodus 20:18–21 (ESV)
18  Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the
sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled,
and they stood far off 19  and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do
not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20  Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has
come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21  The
people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
1. Fear, Trembling, and Stepping Back (20:18)
18  Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound
of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and
they stood far off
This concluding section shows us the response of the people to these events. The verse
doesn’t just tell us what happened but tells us about how the people responded to these
supernatural events.

So many commentators stop short when they explain this section. Now, of course it was
the sights and sounds that struck fear in them but I want us to consider something else.
There has been a change in the Israelites. What they feared was the Law connected to God
or God connected to the Law.
Remember their claim back in Chapter 19?
Exodus 19:8 (ESV)
8  All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.”
And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.
They said this without connecting all the pieces together. You can say things like this when
you don’t see the complete picture. This was just an Okay, sure sort of response. However,
once they saw the event and all the supernatural phenomena caused by God’s presence and
once, they heard God’s demands and that He will have their worship, obedience, and total
allegiance for their entire lives, their countenance changed. They went from confidence to
fear and trembling.
They were terrified at the total demand of the Law.
They were also afraid of the threat of judgement by God for not obeying the Law. This is a
life-threatening encounter with God and His Law. All the images that they saw coming
from the mountain were judgement images. These same signs will reappear at the final
judgement. The people were made to stand before the Judge of all sin. In the smoke and
the lightning and hearing the trumpet, the Israelites were brought into the vision of the end
time judgement that will fall on all who fail to keep all of God’s Law.
The terrible grandeur may also have been intended to suggest to the people the condemning
force of the Law. Not with sweet sound of harp, nor the song of angels, was the Law given; but
an awful voice from amid terrible burning…By reason of man’s sinfulness, the Law worketh
wrath; and to indicate this, it was made public with accompaniments of fear and death: the
battalions of Omnipotence marshaled upon the scene; the dread artillery of God, with awful
salvos, adding emphasis to every syllable. The tremendous scene at Sinai was also in some
respects a prophecy, if not a rehearsal, of the Day of Judgement. —Spurgeon
This is why they had such great fear. Not only did they witness the power of God but also
the demands of God given by the Law at Sinai and they were terrified.
They knew they were in big trouble and they cried out for a Mediator
2. Moses, You Speak to Us!!
19  and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us,
lest we die.” 20  Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that
the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21  The people stood far off,
while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Here in this passage the YOU is emphatic…Moses YOU speak to us. We don’t want God
speaking to us because they understood the great terror that is involved. It could kill us.
By the way how many times have you heard someone say, God told me…

God did not tell them anything. If He did, they would be dead. The Israelites had a
mediator, Moses. If someone ever had God speak to them without a Mediator they would
When an angel spoke to the guards they dropped over as dead men.
The Israelites desperately needed a Mediator. They had to have one if they were going to
receive additional instructions from God and live.
They needed someone to stand between God and themselves. Someone to bridge the gap
between divine and human. They needed someone to represent them to God and to
represent God to them. A go-between. They needed a spokesman for God because they
could not bear the sound of God’s voice.
Not only all that, but they needed someone to protect them from the curse of God that was
going to fall due to their disobedience to His Law.
Before they ever made the request for a Mediator, God had already provided Moses to be
that very thing.
Moses spoke to them for God…
20  Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of
him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
Here, the fear and terror of God was to serve as a restraint for sin. This is a very good point
for us to consider. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
Psalm 112:1 (ESV)
112  Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commandments!
Luke 1:50 (ESV)
50  And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
God’s Law was to work within the Jewish society to curb sin.
The Law was to show the Israelites their sin.
The Law was given for their obedience.
So, Moses served as the Mediator of the Old Covenant by going to God for the people and
going to the people from God. He also served them as He made sacrifices for the people.
After the sacrifices were made by the priests, Moses would sprinkle the saving blood on the
Exodus 24:5–8 (ESV)
5  And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and
sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6  And Moses took half of the blood and put
it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7  Then he took the Book of
the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD
has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8  And Moses took the blood and threw it
on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with
you in accordance with all these words.”

So, He spoke to God for the People…He spoke to the people for God…He sprinkled the
saving blood of the sacrifice on the people…he also prayed, interceded for the people.
Exodus 32:32 (ESV)
32  But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that
you have written.”
Through Moses’ service as mediator, he did a great many things. Ultimately, however all he
could do was offer Israel a temporary passing over of their sin. Moses, himself, was a
sinner too and so his ministry was limited.
Q. 82. Is any man able to keep the commandments of God perfectly?
No mere human person, since the fall, is able to keep the commandments of God
perfectly in this life, but breaks them daily in thought, word, and deed.
Here is the reality, if we can see it, the Law of God becomes our greatest threat in this life
and the life to come.
We know what we have to do…Keep every bit of God’s Law perfectly our entire life. The
problem lies in the fact that we cannot keep it. We cannot keep it for one day. Because we
cannot keep it, it serves only to condemn us and God becomes the God of judgement and
wrath. Fire, smoke, lightning and thunder, trumpets to announce judgment. That’s what
the Old Covenant offers mankind.
3. Jesus Christ the Superior Mediator
***Jesus is the superior Mediator because He is the Son and not a servant
Hebrews 3:3–6 (ESV)
3  For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as
the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4  (For every house is built
by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5  Now Moses was faithful in all God’s
house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6  but Christ is
faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our
confidence and our boasting in our hope.
***Jesus is the superior Mediator because His Covenant is based on greater promises
Hebrews 8:6 (ESV)
6  But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the
old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.
Jesus is the mediator or guarantor of the Covenant of grace. This covenant is far superior in
every way imaginable to the Covenant of Law. This is because it is founded on better
promises and backed by an oath between God and Jesus that it will be lasting and eternal.

Hebrews 7:21–25 (ESV)
21  but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’ ”
22  This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
23  The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death
from continuing in office, 24  but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he
continues forever. 25  Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw
near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
The New Covenant is not dependent on man as a cause-and-effect type of promise…obey
and you will live. The better promise is the Father declaring an oath to the Son. I will make
You an eternal Mediator of the New Covenant.
In fact, King David himself looked forward to this covenant and congratulated the
recipients, pronouncing a blessing on them “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.” ( Psalms 32:1-2, Romans 4:6-8 ).
Psalm 32:1–2 (ESV)
1  Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2  Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
***Jesus is the superior Mediator because His Covenant is based on a greater
Hebrews 10:1–10 (ESV)
10 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true
form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered
every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2  Otherwise, would they not have ceased
to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have
any consciousness of sins? 3  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every
year. 4  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.

7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ”
8  When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and
offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the
law), 9  then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first
in order to establish the second. 10  And by that will we have been sanctified through the
offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

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