Exodus 20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
God does everything for a reason. The thunder and lightning and trumpet and smoke mentioned in the previous verses weren’t necessary in themselves, but they had a specific and important function, and that is what Moses is talking about here. As has come out several times recently, most of the people in Biblical times weren’t fully monotheistic, even when they worshiped Yahweh. Since they didn’t know enough of the world and the universe to grasp the idea of a transcendent Creator, God used elements in His creation, most of them entirely “natural,” to demonstrate that He was in control. Today we understand the mechanism of lightning and thunder and we consider it entirely natural, but that doesn’t mean God can’t use it at His will. The “trumpet” sounds strike me as more “supernatural,” and God may have used them to state to future generations who would understand natural science that He wasn’t limited by the normal rules of His creation. The Israelites were certainly what we would call superstitious, but the moment we dismiss the fear of the Lord as superstition we are in deep trouble. Just because people back then were what we would call ignorant today doesn’t mean that God was or is any less God, the omnipotent Creator and Judge. Many people today have lost that awareness, and they are far poorer for it. Just as Moses says here, fear can be a very good thing when it protects us from mortal danger. We aren’t to be “quaking in our shoes” all the time, but we are to remember that the One to whom we must give an account (Romans 14:12) is totally powerful and totally holy. We have a chance of salvation only because He is also love, and He has made a way through His Son, but we must not take that lightly or for granted.
Growing up in the home I did, surrounded by love on all levels, I perhaps came out of it with less fear than might have been helpful. I have been aware of God all my life, but fear of Him hasn’t kept me from sinning. I must not fall into the trap of Solomon, thinking that I am somehow worthy of the overwhelming blessings that are poured out on me. As I minister to others I must keep watch over myself, living out the truth I teach. I have never taken to “hell fire and brimstone” preaching, but I must never forget that Jesus talked about hell more than He talked about heaven, and that actions have consequences, for me and for everyone else. Failing to make that clear is not love, or even being polite.
Father, thank You for Your grace on every level. Help me never take that lightly, for myself or in my preaching and teaching, but grasp the magnitude of it all. May I fear You rightly and lead others to do likewise, to be protected from the lies of the devil so that we may walk in all that You intend for us, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!