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Exodus 20:19-22

Context
20:19 They said to Moses, “You speak 1  to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” 20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, 2  that the fear of him 3  may be before you so that you do not 4  sin.” 20:21 The people kept 5  their distance, but Moses drew near the thick darkness 6  where God was. 7 

The Altar

20:22 8 The Lord said 9  to Moses: “Thus you will tell the Israelites: ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken with you from heaven.

1 tn The verb is a Piel imperative. In this context it has more of the sense of a request than a command. The independent personal pronoun “you” emphasizes the subject and forms the contrast with God’s speaking.

2 tn נַסּוֹת (nassot) is the Piel infinitive construct; it forms the purpose of God’s coming with all the accompanying phenomena. The verb can mean “to try, test, prove.” The sense of “prove” fits this context best because the terrifying phenomena were intended to put the fear of God in their hearts so that they would obey. In other words, God was inspiring them to obey, not simply testing to see if they would.

3 tn The suffix on the noun is an objective genitive, referring to the fear that the people would have of God (GKC 439 §135.m).

4 tn The negative form לְבִלְתִּי (lÿvilti) is used here with the imperfect tense (see for other examples GKC 483 §152.x). This gives the imperfect the nuance of a final imperfect: that you might not sin. Others: to keep you from sin.

5 tn Heb “and they stood”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

6 sn The word עֲרָפֶל (’arafel) is used in poetry in Ps 18:9 and 1 Kgs 8:12; and it is used in Deut 4:11, 5:22 [19].

7 sn It will not be hard to expound the passage on the Ten Commandments once their place in scripture has been determined. They, for the most part, are reiterated in the NT, in one way or another, usually with a much higher standard that requires attention to the spirit of the laws. Thus, these laws reveal God’s standard of righteousness by revealing sin. No wonder the Israelites were afraid when they saw the manifestation of God and heard his laws. When the whole covenant is considered, preamble and all, then it becomes clear that the motivation for obeying the commands is the person and the work of the covenant God – the one who redeemed his people. Obedience then becomes a response of devotion and adoration to the Redeemer who set them free. It becomes loyal service, not enslavement to laws. The point could be worded this way: God requires that his covenant people, whom he has redeemed, and to whom he has revealed himself, give their absolute allegiance and obedience to him. This means they will worship and serve him and safeguard the well-being of each other.

8 sn Based on the revelation of the holy sovereign God, this pericope instructs Israel on the form of proper worship of such a God. It focuses on the altar, the centerpiece of worship. The point of the section is this: those who worship this holy God must preserve holiness in the way they worship – they worship where he permits, in the manner he prescribes, and with the blessings he promises. This paragraph is said to open the Book of the Covenant, which specifically rules on matters of life and worship.

9 tn Heb “and Yahweh said.”



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