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19 They said to Moses, “You speak[a] to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you,[b] that the fear of him[c] may be before you so that you do not[d] sin.” 21 The people kept[e] their distance, but Moses drew near the thick darkness[f] where God was.[g]

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Footnotes

  1. Exodus 20:19 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. Exodus 20:20 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. Exodus 20:20 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. Exodus 20:20 tn The negative form לְבִלְתִּי (levilti) 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. Exodus 20:21 tn Heb “and they stood”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  6. Exodus 20:21 sn The word עֲרָפֶל (ʿarafel) 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. Exodus 20:21 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.
New English Translation (NET)

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