So far in the story of Exodus (Chapter 1-20), God has rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt through great signs, and finally, blood. Now the people are putting distance between them and the land of their slavery, in hopes they will soon possess the land God had promised to their fathers. But at this point in the story, they are in a wilderness somewhere between where they came from and where they are going.
It is here on a mountain called Sinai that God gave His people His good word, beginning with the 10 Commandments. These commandments were not given so that by keeping them they could redeem themselves; instead, these commands were given after they had already been redeemed, with the purpose of knowing how to live as redeemed people. As free people, they needed a new way to live, so God gave them His good law to live under.
But after God spoke His word to the people, something strange happened. Instead of drawing near to God, 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.” (Exodus 20:19) God had rescued them and brought them into a relationship with Himself, and the people responded by backing away from Him.
Then Moses addressed the people and said, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” And the Bible records these words, “The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:20-21)
What a shocking scene! God drew near to Israel and spoke His good word to her, and she walked away from God’s presence rather than leaning into it. In fact, Moses is the only one who drew near to God while the rest pulled away.
The reason the people withdrew from God’s presence was because of fear. That’s why Moses said, “Do not fear.” But then after Moses told them to not fear, he said they should have “fear of Him.” So which is it? Should they “fear not” or “fear Him”?
The answer is both. They should fear Him rightly and not fear Him wrongly. Fearing God wrongly means running away from His presence because you are scared of Him. That’s what Israel was doing. Fearing God rightly means running towards God’s presence, understanding He is holy and must be approached through repentance and faith. That’s what Moses was doing. He was fleeing towards God, embracing God’s love and mercy on His life.
In these final chapters of Exodus, we are going to see God’s grand mission has always included getting His presence back with His people. At the end of Exodus, God is going to fill the tabernacle so He can be with His people.
And of course God’s presence in the tabernacle points us towards something greater. It points us to the Christ event where God truly tabernacled among us in the person of Jesus Christ. So God’s goal has always been to be with us, partially in the tabernacle, then completely in Jesus.
So this last half of Exodus will be a story about God being with us, which leaves each of us with an important question…are we with Him?