And it came to pass, when you heard the voice out of the middle of the darkness…
I. THE FACT OF TERROR. It is not unnatural that man should tremble in presence of any near manifestation of the Divine. The chief cause of this terror is the consciousness of sin. Guilty man fears his Judge. The text is an instance of this terror, but the same thing has often been witnessed.
1. In presence of unusual appearances of nature. Comets, eclipses, unusual darkness, thunderstorms, earthquakes, etc.
2. Under the powerful preaching of judgment. Felix under the preaching of Paul (Acts 24:25). Massillon bringing the French court to their feet in terror, as he described the Lord's coming. Whitfield's oratory and its effects.
3. In prospect of death. There are few in whom the approach of death does not awaken serious alarms. The effect is most conspicuous in times of sudden danger, as in shipwrecks, etc.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF TERROR. Usually, as here:
1. It extorts confession of the truth. The Israelites spoke of God in juster terms than ever they had done before, or perhaps ever did again. Terror draws from the soul strange acknowledgments. The white face of the scoffer shows how little, in his heart, he disbelieves in the God he would fain have disavowed. The self-righteous man is made suddenly aware of his sins. The blasphemer stops his oaths, and begins to pray. The liar for once finds himself speaking the truth.
2. It awakens the cry for a mediator. Thus we see it leading men to send for ministers or lay Christians to pray for them, or crying for mercy to the Savior or to saints.
3. It prompts to vows and promises. In their terrified moods, men are willing to promise anything - whatever they think will please or propitiate God (ver. 27). They will repent, will pray, will go to church, will make restitution for wrongs, will abandon vices, etc.
III. THE INEFFICACY OF TERROR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF CONVERSION. Terror, when excited by just views of sin, has its uses. It breaks up the hardened crust of indifference, ploughs into the nature, and prepares it for the reception of better teaching. But terror of itself cannot change the heart. It is the message of love which alone can exalt, renovate, and truly convert. Not the Law, but the cross. The Law is only useful when employed as a schoolmaster to bring to Christ. These Israelites soon forgot their terrors, and in less than forty days had made for themselves a golden calf. The jailor's terrors (Acts 16:27) would have wrought death, but the words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," etc. (ver. 31), made him live anew. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;