…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.” (Exodus 20:18b-20)
The people saw great and terrible things coming from the mountain. God was safe when his sights were set on the Egyptians but there were no Egyptians in the wilderness, just a people who knew they had reason to fear the wrath and power of God. But Moses tells them not to fear. God had not met them at the mountain to consume them but to test them. He allowed them to catch a glimpse of his power to fill them with awe and reverence for him.
It might seem a strange thing that Moses says, “Do not fear,” but quickly follows with, “that the fear of him may be before you.” We are not to be people who are afraid of God. He is no whimsical tyrant, plaguing the cosmos at any small violation of his will, he is a loving Father to his people who tests them that they might live the way they were created to live.
That said, we live in a time when almost all we see of God is his mercy and grace. We need to see these. But sometimes we need to stand by Mount Sinai and hear the thunder roll and see the lightning flash, the flames of God’s presence erupting from the mountaintop.
Do not fear, God has called you to the best kind of life and has done everything necessary to bring you to that life. But when you are tempted to sin know with dreadful certainty that the God who sent his Son to die for sinners has also cast countless sinners into everlasting Hell.
By his mercy, obedience is a delightful thing. By his justice, the punishment for rebellion is more terrifying than any flash of lightning or crash of thunder. Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.