Exodus 20:18-26

Sunday Morning Bible Study

July 6, 2008


For the last couple of months we’ve zoomed in on the text and have been talking about the Ten Commandments.  We’ve looked in depth into each commandment and talked about how they affect us today. We need to zoom back out and remember what got us here.

The book of Exodus started in Egypt with the Israelites enslaved to the Egyptians.

We saw how God brought deliverance to Israel as God showed His superiority over the various Egyptian gods with the various “plagues” – things like turning the Nile into blood, frogs, bugs, disease, and finally the death of the firstborn in every Egyptian family.

When the people left Egypt, we saw how God led them into a sort of “trap”, a canyon that ended at the Red Sea.  With the Egyptian army behind them, the Israelites had nowhere else to go but to call on God.  God parted the Red Sea, the people crossed on dry land, the Egyptian army drowned, and the people were saved.

As the people made their way to Mount Sinai we talked about how God provided water in the desert with Moses striking the Rock and God made water gush out of this split rock.

After God led them around to the backside of this mountain known as Sinai (“thorny”) or Horeb (“desert”), and God Himself shows up.

(Exo 19:16-20 NKJV)  Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. {17} And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. {18} Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. {19} And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. {20} Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

It was at this point that God spoke the words we call “The Ten Commandments”.
This was when God began to speak and the people heard the Ten Commandments for the first time.

20:18-21 Afraid of God’s Presence

:18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.

It’s taken us three months to get through these events but it only was a matter of moments for the Israelites in their encounter with God.

thunderingsqowl – voice, sound, noise; this might be describing “thunder”, but it also might refer to the fact that the people have actually heard God speak.

lightning flasheslappiyd – torch

soundqowl – voice, sound, noise

trumpetshowphar – horn, ram’s horn

tremblednuwa‘– to quiver, totter, shake, reel, stagger, wander, move, sift, make move, wave, waver, tremble

Keep in mind, along with the noise and light show, these people have actually heard the voice of God.

(Deu 4:33-36 NKJV)  "Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? {34} "Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? {35} "To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. {36} "Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire.

:19 Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die."

The people are afraid to get too close to God.  They want someone to act as a “go-between”, a mediator between God and them.

The people were absolutely freaked out at hearing God speak to them.

(Deu 5:23-28 NKJV)  "So it was, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. {24} "And you said: 'Surely the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives. {25} 'Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God anymore, then we shall die. {26} 'For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? {27} 'You go near and hear all that the LORD our God may say, and tell us all that the LORD our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.' {28} "Then the LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me: 'I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken.

God said that the response of the people was the right one.  They did need a “mediator”, someone to stand between them and God.

We need a “mediator” like these people did.  We have Jesus.

(1 Tim 2:5-6 NKJV)  For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, {6} who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,
Jesus is the bridge to get us to God.  We can now go straight to God.

:20 And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin."

before youpaniym – face; in front of, before; the King James says, “that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.

fearyare’ – to fear; to stand in awe of; reverence, honor, respect

What’s interesting is that the people are told not to be afraid, and yet God wants His “fear” to be before them.

There is a “wrong fear” and a “right fear”


The wrong fear

There’s a “right fear” and a “wrong fear”.  God does not want us to have the “wrong fear”.
The phrases “do not fear” (51) and “fear not” (11) “do not be afraid” (50), are found easily over a 100 times God tells us not to be afraid of Him.

(Isa 41:10 NKJV)  Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'

In the New Testament we are told:

(Rom 8:15 NKJV)  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."

(1 John 4:18 NKJV)  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

The wrong fear drives you away from God.

Which fear is the right fear?

As a kid, when you saw the “Frankenstein” monster, you wanted to run away.  That’s the wrong fear.

As an adult, when you see a police officer in your rear view mirror, you want to drive correctly.  That’s the right fear.

Which one best describes what our fear of God should be?  It’s not the Frankenstein monster.

to test younacah – to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test

The word is used when Abraham is asked by God to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on mount Moriah.

Ge 22:1  Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham…

It’s used when God gave the people food every day in the desert, the “manna”, except on Saturdays.  God wanted the people to learn to trust Him and take a day off and prove that God would provide for them if they took their day off.

Ex 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.

Now God has shown up like never before.  These two million people have heard the voice of God.  They’ve seen the lightning, the mountain on fire, and the smoke.  They’ve heard the thunder, the shofar, and the actual voice of God.

God has not shown up to destroy them.  God wants to “test” them to see if they are going to obey Him or not.

that you may not sin

Last week I made the point that “Love causes obedience”. This week it’s:


Right fear causes obedience.

The right fear:
Drives you to God.
Helps you obey God.
Some have suggested it’s a fear “of displeasing” God.
God said in Deuteronomy after the people said that they wanted Moses to be their mediator:

(Deu 5:29-33 NKJV)  'Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! {30} 'Go and say to them, "Return to your tents." {31} 'But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.' {32} "Therefore you shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. {33} "You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.

God was saying that fearing Him properly would lead to their obedience.

Don’t think that the concept of fearing God is just a failed Old Testament concept. We are told many times in the New Testament that we need a healthy fear of God.
Jesus said,
(Luke 12:4-5 NKJV)  "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. {5} "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

Jesus is telling us to fear God.  He is the one who has the ability to send a person to hell.

Fear can be centered around what God could do to you. LOVE for God is based on what God HAS done for you.

When the church was born on the day of Pentecost, it was more than just speaking in tongues …
(Acts 2:43 NKJV)  Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
Paul writes that one of the results of being filled with the Holy Spirit is:
 (Eph 5:21 NKJV)  submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Peter writes,
(1 Pet 1:17-19 NKJV)  And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; {18} knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, {19} but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

Notice how Peter connects the fear of God with our “conduct”.  Notice also how he reminds us of what Christ has done for us.

Jude writes,
(Jude 1:22-23 NKJV)  And on some have compassion, making a distinction; {23} but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

Some people will respond to the love of God.  They will respond to your compassion.

Others will respond with fear – fear of “fire” (hell)

The writer of Hebrews uses the passage we’re in to make a point.

(Heb 12:18-29 NKJV)  For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, {19} and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. {20} (For they could not endure what was commanded: "And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow." {21} And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.")

The writer is reminding us of the awesome and terrifying encounter these people had with a holy, powerful God.

{22} But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, {23} to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, {24} to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

The people in Exodus came to Mount Sinai.  We get to come to Mount Zion (heaven).  We have a better mountain to go to.

{25} See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

If the people at Mount Sinai took God seriously when He spoke on earth, how much more should be take God seriously when He’s spoken from heaven?

{26} whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven." {27} Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. {28} Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. {29} For our God is a consuming fire.

We may not be coming to Mount Sinai (the Law) to be saved, but we are still coming before the same mighty God.

There is still a need to balance our walk with “fear”.


The love-fear tension

As healthy Christians we need to keep a healthy tension in our lives between the love of God and the fear of God.
It’s not “either/or”, it’s “both/and”
We have a door in our house that goes from the garage into our house.  On that door we have a “hydraulic door closer” .  It’s one of those cylindrical things that makes the door shut automatically.  It seems that every once in a while I have to adjust it to get it to work just right.  If I have it set too high, the door slams every time someone comes in the door.  If I have it set too low, the door doesn’t close all the way.

Tension – balance – makes it work right.

We need that balance of “love” and “fear”.

If we operate too much out of “fear”, we find ourselves always looking over our shoulder, worried that some little thing might displease God, almost becoming obsessive/compulsive about our relationship with God and operating out of legalism rather than grace.

My favorite detective show on TV is “Monk” – a guy who has serious emotional problems – obsessive/compulsive – always afraid of everything.  Kind of reminds me of myself at times.

Too much fear is like the garage door that slams every time someone opens it.

If we operate too much out of “love”, we run the risk of forgetting that God is more than just our “big buddy”, He is God almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

I can run the risk of letting some things slide in my life because after all, God is my big “buddy”.

Not enough fear to balance the love, and it’s like the garage door that never quite closes.

:21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 20:22 – 23:33 The Book of the Covenant

We start a section of scripture here at verse 22 and runs through the end of Exodus 23.

Moses describes this section as the “Book of the Covenant” (Ex. 24:7)

(Exo 24:7 NKJV)  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient."

This “Book of the Covenant” is going to give more details on what the Ten Commandments are all about.

The title of this section comes from how it is described in Exodus 24

(Exo 24:4-8 NKJV)  And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. {5} Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. {6} And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. {7} Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient." {8} And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words."

The people themselves heard God speak and give the Ten Commandments.

When the people decide they don’t want to be that close to God and Moses goes to hear more from God, we get these commandments that run from Exodus 20:22-23:33.
These commandments are an elaboration of the things covered in the Ten Commandments.

After Moses told the people all the things we’re about to cover in this “Book of the Covenant”, they would make the relationship between the Israelites and God an official contract, a “covenant”.

Then Moses will go back up to the mountain for forty days (Exodus 25-31) where he will get a copy of the Ten Commandments in stone, as well as more detailed instructions about the worship of God – about the building of the portable worship center the “Tabernacle”, and all about the priests.

When Moses returns after forty days, the people have already been backsliding (Ex. 32) and we’ll read about the “golden calf”, and Moses will break the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.  Moses spends time interceding for the people (Ex. 33-34), spending another forty days on the mountain.  Then Moses returns they build the Tabernacle, and the presence of Yahweh shows up at the Tabernacle (Ex. 35-40).

20:22-26 Altar Laws

:22 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.

:23 'You shall not make anything to be with Me; gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.

We’re going to get some more detail on the first couple of commandments:

(Exo 20:3-4 NKJV)  "You shall have no other gods before Me. {4} "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth

Now God puts it in perspective.  He has just spoken to them from heaven.  They have heard His voice.

Fashioning little “gods” out of silver or gold is man’s way of deciding what his “god” is going to be like.

But now that they’ve heard God’s voice, there is no longer any place for speculation about God.

We should no longer be making up our own silly ideas of what God is like.

All we need to do is to pay attention to what God has told us about Himself.

:24 'An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

altarmizbeach – altar; based on the word for “sacrificezabach – to slaughter, kill, sacrifice

Sacrifices and altars were not a new concept.

The word first appears when Noah builds an altar and presents a sacrifice to God after the flood (Gen. 8:20)
When God appears to Abram in the land of Canaan and promises to give the land to him and his descendants, Abram responds by building an altar (Gen. 12:7)
All through the book of Genesis, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are building altars and presenting sacrifices to God.
Moses has already built an altar, after the victory of Joshua over the Amalekites:
(Exo 17:15 NKJV)  And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner;

But now God gives a little bit of clarification as to what He wants an altar to look like.

earth ‘adamah – ground, land; the name of the first man made from the earth (“Adam”)

I find it interesting that when the pagan Gentile, Naaman, was healed of his leprosy by Elisha, he asked to take two mule-loads of “earth” (‘adamah) to build an altar to Yahweh back in Syria (2Ki. 5:17)

It’s also interesting that in the New Testament, Jesus is known as the “second Adam” (Rom. 5:18)

The first Adam’s act of sin resulted in all of us living under condemnation and death.
The second Adam’s act of sacrifice resulted in salvation being possible to all men.
(Rom 5:18 NKJV)  Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.

burnt offerings‘olah – whole burnt offering

peace offeringsshelem – peace offering, requital, sacrifice for alliance or friendship; voluntary sacrifice of thanks

Related to the word for “peace” (shalom) and the name of King Solomon.

recordzakar – (Hiphil) to cause to remember, remind; to make a memorial, make remembrance

At communion we are told to do this “in remembrance of Me”.

come … and bless

God will respond to the sacrifices of the people if they are done in the proper way at the proper place.

(Exo 20:24 NLT)  …Build altars in the places where I remind you who I am, and I will come and bless you there.

The Bible tells us that as a group of believers:

(1 Cor 3:16 NKJV)  Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

The Bible tells us that each of us is a Temple of God:

(1 Cor 6:19 NKJV)  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?


My worship brings blessing

It brings blessing to me.  It brings blessing to God.
God talks about “burnt offerings” and “peace offerings”.
A “burnt offering” was when the entire animal was burned on the altar.  The animal represented you.  It was a picture of consecration, of giving yourself completely to God.  It’s as if your entire life was being consumed on the altar and your entire being is being given to God.
A “peace offering” was a celebration of being right with God.  It was having a meal with God.  It was a little like “communion”.
We live in a fast-paced culture, but some things just ought to happen slowly. The book Final Salute tells the story of Major Steve Beck, a U.S. Marine whose heart-wrenching task is to inform the nearest of kin when a Marine is killed in Iraq. Beck doesn’t just break the sad news and then leave; for several days he may help the family through the process of the funeral. That includes supervising the Marine honor guard that stands near the fallen soldier’s body. The honor guard learns from Beck how to salute their fallen fellow-Marine as they leave or resume guard with a slow salute that isn’t taught in basic training. The slow salute requires a three second raising of the hand to the head, a three second hold, and then a three second lowering of the hand—a gesture of respect that takes about nine times longer than normal. Beck explains: “A salute to your fallen comrade should take time.” Indeed, those who die serving their country are worthy of great honor, worthy of a slow salute, worthy of extra time. To do some things fast, just to get them done so we can move on to the next thing in our lives, sends a subtle message of disrespect. So it is with our worship of God. God deserves a slow salute. The Savior who gave his life for us is worthy of our time.
Craig Brian Larson, editor of PreachingToday.com; source: Jim Sheeler, Final Salute (Penguin, 2008);
Paul wrote,
(Rom 12:1-2 NKJV)  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. {2} And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

This is truly the “altar-nate” lifestyle.  This is the blessed lifestyle.

God promises to “bless” the person who offers worship from an altar of dirt.
Some churches specialize in generating emotion. The platform people are experts at moving worshipers to laughter or tears. Attenders gradually learn to evaluate the service in terms of the emotion they feel. In time, however, the law of diminishing returns sets in. Prayers are offered in highly emotive style and bathed in background music. Stories have to get more dramatic, songs more sentimental, preaching more histrionic, to keep people having intense emotional experiences. Such worship is often shallow, sometimes artificial, and rarely reflective. Little attention is given to worshiping with the mind. It produces people who have little depth or rootedness. They may develop a "zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2). They become worship junkies, searching for whichever church can supply the best rush.
This is Scarecrow worship: it would be better if it only had a brain.
On the other hand, some churches focus keenly on cognitive correctness. They recite great creeds, distribute reams of exegetical information, craft careful prayers ahead of time. And yet the heart and spirit are not seized with the wonder and passion that characterize those in Scripture who must fall on their faces when they encounter the living God. No one is ever so moved that she actually moves. This is tragic because, as Dallas Willard writes, "to handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them." Those who attend such services may be competent to spot theological error, but the unspoken truth is they're also a little bored. Their worship is dry—it does not connect with their deepest hurts and desires. Rarely does it generate awe or healing, and never raucous joy.
This is Tin Man worship: if it only had a heart.
John Ortberg and Pam Howell, "Can You Engage Both Heart and Mind?" Leadership (4-1-99)
Somehow we need to find the balance.  We need the blessing of the heart and the mind.  We need to worship with all of us.  All on the altar.

:25 'And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it.

stone‘eben – stone (large or small)

hewn stonegaziyth – a cutting, hewing

usenuwph – (Hiphil) to swing, wield, wave

toolchereb – sword, knife

profanedchalal – (Piel) to profane, make common, defile, pollute; to violate the honor of, dishonor


The law isn’t against having cut stones for anything, just for the altar.

Solomon’s Temple would be made of stones that were cut in a quarry (1Ki. 6:7)
(1 Ki 6:7 NKJV)  And the temple, when it was being built, was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that no hammer or chisel or any iron tool was heard in the temple while it was being built.
But Solomon’s altar wasn’t made of cut stones; it was made of bronze, like the altar would be for the Tabernacle.

Why no cut stones? God didn’t want the attention on the altar, but on the sacrifice and the God to whom the sacrifice was being made.

:26 'Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.'

Some consider this to have been a temporary law.

At this point the garments for the priests haven’t been made yet.  Who knows what a priest might be wearing under his tunic?

Later, the garments of the priest would be quite specific, right down to the underwear.

In Ezekiel’s Temple, there will be steps going up to the altar (Eze. 43:16-17) – but the priests will be dressed appropriately (Eze. 44:18, linen “trousers”)

(Ezek 43:16-17 NKJV)  "The altar hearth is twelve cubits long, twelve wide, square at its four corners; {17} "the ledge, fourteen cubits long and fourteen wide on its four sides, with a rim of half a cubit around it; its base, one cubit all around; and its steps face toward the east."


The attention in worship goes on God, not me

I think that some of us like attention just a little too much.  If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of worshipping in a way that makes sure that everyone sees that WE’RE worshipping God.
J. Vernon McGee writes: “I have had very few real compliments since I have been a minister, but one I remember well. When I was a pastor as a student in Georgia, I used to preach in a church on the side of a red clay hill. One morning after the message everyone left but a country boy. He wore high yellow shoes that buttoned all the way, and he waited around, as timid as could be. Finally he came up to me with tears in his eyes. He took hold of my hand and said, “My, I did not know Jesus was so wonderful.” He wanted to say something else but he was too choked with emotion; so he turned and walked out of the little church. That church today is in the middle of a city, but in those days it was in the middle of a cotton patch. I watched that country boy walk across the cotton patch, and said to myself, “Oh God, let me so preach that people will know that Jesus is wonderful.” That was a compliment and I have not had many like it.”