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18 All the people were seeing[a] the thundering and the lightning, and heard[b] the sound of the horn, and saw[c] the mountain smoking—and when[d] the people saw it they trembled with fear[e] and kept their distance.[f] 19 They said to Moses, “You speak[g] 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,[h] that the fear of him[i] may be before you so that you do not[j] sin.”

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  1. Exodus 20:18 tn The participle is used here for durative action in the past time (GKC 359 §116.o).
  2. Exodus 20:18 tn The verb “to see” (רָאָה, raʾah) refers to seeing with all the senses, or perceiving. W. C. Kaiser suggests that this is an example of the figure of speech called zeugma because the verb “saw” yokes together two objects, one that suits the verb and the other that does not. So, the verb “heard” is inserted here to clarify (“Exodus,” EBC 2:427).
  3. Exodus 20:18 tn The verb “saw” is supplied here because it is expected in English (see the previous note on “heard”).
  4. Exodus 20:18 tn The preterite with vav (ו) consecutive is here subordinated as a temporal clause to the following clause, which receives the prominence.
  5. Exodus 20:18 tn The meaning of נוּעַ (nuaʿ) is “to shake, sway to and fro” in fear. Cf. Isa 7:2 “and his heart shook…as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.”
  6. Exodus 20:18 tn Heb “and they stood from/at a distance.”
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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).
  10. 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.