Standing at the foot of Sinai, the people are warned not to go up to the mountain or even to touch it. There are flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, and a great booming voice (Ex. 19). The people are terrified and beg that God cease to speak directly to them (20:18– 21). They realize their need for a mediator, someone to stand between a sinful people and a holy God, who is of purer eyes than to look upon evil (Hab. 1:13). Essentially, the people request a prophetic mediator to speak God’s words to them. In response to this request, Moses states, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Ex. 20:20). Moses’ response can seem a bit puzzling, but essentially, he is assuring the people that God is not going to kill them while warning them never to forget their encounter with their God.
With the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy, the Lord comments on the people’s response at Sinai:
And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deut. 5:28–29)
In essence, God declares that the people are right to request a mediator and that He longs for them never to forget what it means to stand as sinners before a Holy God.
The exodus event and the wilderness wanderings form the context of the encouragements to remember and the warnings against forgetting found in Deuteronomy 8. Deuteronomy 8:1 commands the people to keep all of the commandments that the Lord has given them. In verses 2–11, the people are to remember the ways in which the Lord provided for them through various trials. These trials primarily relate to their daily care and provision. The trials that the people faced while wandering through the wilderness were intended to teach them lessons about God. Their garments did not wear out. Their feet did not swell. They ate manna from heaven. The provision of food in the wilderness is echoed in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This pattern of receiving daily bread was intended to instill in the people of God the truth that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (v. 3). This principle is reinforced even in the ways in which the manna was provided (Ex. 16). For five days, a single portion was to be gathered by the people and any that was stored overnight would not be edible the next morning. On the sixth day, the people were to gather enough for two days to prevent them from performing unnecessary work on the Sabbath. Unlike the other days’ manna, this manna remained fresh overnight. The entire process emphasized the Lord’s provision and illustrated that the pathway to blessing is through faithful obedience to His commands. All of this points to the importance of trusting the Lord for His faithful provision rather than looking to human efforts or labor. The Bible consistently teaches the futility of human toil apart from the blessing of God (Ps. 127; Matt. 6:25–34).
The importance of placing one’s trust in the Lord alone for even basic human needs is seen when Jesus, during a forty-day fast, quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 when tempted by Satan to command the stones to turn into bread (Matt. 4; Luke 4). The trials that the Israelites faced were intended to teach them to depend upon the Lord and to trust Him through every trial, knowing that the Lord disciplines those He loves as a father disciplines his son (Deut. 8:5; Heb. 12:7–11).