Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin."
What is Moses saying here? It sounds like he is speaking self- negating advice: “Don’t fear for God wants you to fear.” The situation was unique. This passage (there is more detail to come further in the text) is a summary of how Israel received their first ever revelation from God for the entire nation. The Law was delivered on Sinai, and Moses brought back the initial message that was received with fear. Why? Well, the people saw Moses walk up a mountain that shook, smoked, and was covered in sheer darkness. It looked like a natural disaster up there. And they had just witnessed what God could do with darkness, storms, plagues, and death in Egypt. Hadn’t they just been grumbling against Moses? Yikes. I think they thought they were in trouble.
But the fear they needed was just exactly what Moses was advising them to have. It was a fear of God that would be faithful to obey His commands. God was testing their resolve with the display of His might, and He would test and approve their character as a nation by obedience to the law. The goal: that the nation might emerge as His holy people. Moses put it this way: “that you may not sin”.
So fear of God is a good thing. Being afraid of God is another issue. Fearing God meant knowing that God could judge sin. That is a good thing. Being afraid of God as a force of judgment was one thing, being mindful to respect Him and obey Him was another. Moses is calling people to see the fear of the Lord as a good experience because it inclined them to follow and obey Him. He reminded them that this listen would serve them well. If they kept this experience of being in awe of a mighty, fearful power of God, they could more easily heed and obey the word of God, and that would benefit them all. God would be pleased with His people, and the nation would not sin.