A Far-Off Fear and A Draw Near Fear

Hovering over a few verses in Exodus 20 this morning. Thinking that, for me at least, I may be so fixated on making sure I take note again of the Ten Commandments that I lose sight of what was a pretty tense situation.

Mt. Sinai is lit up. The LORD has come down from heaven and the tip of His toe touches the earth with “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet” (Ex. 19:16). The top of the mountain is “wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire” (19:18b). And while the LORD tells Moses to invite His delivered people to the base of the mountain, no matter how much Moses is told to consecrate the people and prepare them, they aren’t prepared. Sure, their garments are clean, but they don’t know how to process what is seen.

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 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 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.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

(Exodus 20:18-21 ESV)

Noodling on the holy tension between Moses’ encouragement to the people to “fear not” and the expectation of God that “the fear of Him may be before you.” Chewing on the fear which causes the people to stand “far off” and a fear which prompts Moses to “draw near”.

It’s not like the people had never seen mighty signs and wonders from God before. Actually, they’d encountered them recently in Egypt. But there, they were terrifying. Destruction and death accompanied them. But fear not, Moses reminds them, amidst those was your deliverance. God having another purpose for them — that they would be Jehovah’s “treasured possession among all peoples . . . a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6).

Fear not the punishment of God for, by the blood of your lamb, judgment and wrath passed over you. Fear not the bondage of death, for He has delivered you. Delivering you from a fear which would cause you to stand far off.

Instead, the signs and wonders of Sinai were intended to “test them” that the “fear of Him” would be before them so that they might not sin. Rather than the fear of wrath and judgment, they would know the fear of an awesome God who had descended from heaven to be in their midst. One unlike them in any way. A holy God. A majestic God. A God of infinite greatness and glory. A God to be revered. A God to be taken seriously. And, in that sense, a God to be feared. Fear that would act as a restraint to faithlessness. A fear that would fuel a desire to obey His commandments. A fear that would, counter intuitively perhaps, beckon them to draw near.

Holy, reverent, jaw-dropping fear of God is a fear that prompts us to draw near to God.

A God who has come down calls us to bow down at His feet. A God who shows Himself glorious in our midst is a God who invites us to draw near into His presence.

Because we’ve been saved from the just wrath of a holy God, we have been released from the fear that keeps us far off.

Because we’ve been saved through the steadfast love of a holy, holy, holy God, we know a reverent fear which compels us to draw near.

Only by His grace. Only for His glory.

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