God wants His people to fear and obey Him.
To many people that doesn’t sound like the God they know. We’ve all heard the argument that the God of the Old Testament is harsh and judgmental, while the God of the New Testament is loving and gracious.
Here God says that fear and obedience to His commands will result in prosperity and long lives. It sounds like works. They could earn their reward by strictly following the laws God had just given them.
Does that mean grace was something God came up with thousands of years later? Did God change?
No. God’s grace is present in this passage. His grace put His people in a position to fear and obey Him. The Israelites needed an intermediary to tell them God’s commands. When He spoke directly to them from the heart of the fire, they should have died. God’s glory and greatness is more than any human can survive unless God Himself intervenes. They knew if it happened again, they would risk death. So they asked Moses to go stand between them and God.
That was right and necessary.
God’s awesome presence is so powerful, I die when I come into it. His fire consumes me; and only the intervention of His Son gives me life. Jesus is my intermediary. He brings me God’s message from the heart of the fire.
He brings me into a state of grace so that I can fear God and obey His commands. Without Jesus I would just wander in the wilderness of my own self-centered stubbornness and do what seems good to me, without questioning whether it is right or wrong.
Because of Jesus, I can survive the fire of God’s presence. I can fear and obey God and prosper.