Israel was therefore not to forget the things which it had seen at Horeb with its own eyes.
“Only beware and take care of thyself.” To “keep the soul,” i.e., to take care of the soul as the seat of life, to defend one's life from danger and injury (Pro 13:3; Pro 19:16). “That thou do not forget אֶת־הַדְּבָרִים (the facts described in Ex 19-24), and that they do not depart from thy heart all the days of thy life,” i.e., are not forgotten as long as thou livest, “and thou makest them known to thy children and thy children's children.” These acts of God formed the foundation of the true religion, the real basis of the covenant legislation, and the firm guarantee of the objective truth and divinity of all the laws and ordinances which Moses gave to the people. And it was this which constituted the essential distinction between the religion of the Old Testament and all heathen religions, whose founders, it is true, professed to derive their doctrines and statutes from divine inspiration, but without giving any practical guarantee that their origin was truly divine.
In the words, “The day (הַיֹּום, adverbial accusative) “that thou stoodest before Jehovah thy God at Horeb,” etc., Moses reminds the people of the leading features of those grand events: first of all of the fact that God directed him to gather the people together, that He might make known His words to them (Exo 19:9.), that they were to learn to fear Him all their life long, and to teach their children also (יִרְאָה, inf., like שִׂנְאָה, Deu 1:27); and secondly (Deu 4:11), that they came near to the mountain which burned in fire (cf. Exo 19:17.). The expression, burning in fire “even to the heart of heaven,” i.e., quite into the sky, is a rhetorical description of the awful majesty of the pillar of fire, in which the glory of the Lord appeared upon Sinai, intended to impress deeply upon the minds of the people the remembrance of this manifestation of God. And the expression, “darkness, clouds, and thick darkness,” which is equivalent to the smoking of the great mountain (Exo 19:18), is employed with the same object. And lastly (Deu 4:12, Deu 4:13), he reminds them that the Lord spoke out of the midst of the fire, and adds this important remark, to prepare the way for what is to follow, “Ye heard the sound of the words, but ye did not see a shape,” which not only agrees most fully with Ex 24, where it is stated that the sight of the glory of Jehovah upon the mountain appeared to the people as they stood at the foot of the mountain “like devouring fire” (Deu 4:17), and that even the elders who “saw God” upon the mountain at the conclusion of the covenant saw no form of God (Deu 4:11), but also with Exo 33:20, Exo 33:23, according to which no man can see the face (פָּנִים) of God. Even the similitude (Temunah) of Jehovah, which Moses saw when the Lord spoke to him mouth to mouth (Num 12:8), was not the form of the essential being of God which was visible to his bodily eyes, but simply a manifestation of the glory of God answering to his own intuition and perceptive faculty, which is not to be regarded as a form of God which was an adequate representation of the divine nature. The true God has no such form which is visible to the human eye.
The Israelites, therefore, could not see a form of God, but could only hear the voice of His words, when the Lord proclaimed His covenant to them, and gave utterance to the ten words, which He afterwards gave to Moses written upon two tables of stone (Exo 20:1-14 , and Exo 31:18, compared with Exo 24:12). On the “tables of stone,” see at Exo 34:1.
When the Lord Himself had made known to the people in the ten words the covenant which He commanded them to do, He directed Moses to teach them laws and rights which they were to observe in Canaan, viz., the rights and statutes of the Sinaitic legislation, from Ex 21 onwards.