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In Exodus 19, God describes a number of preparations that Moses should make before He will descend to the top of Mount Sinai. One of them is to cordon off an area around the mountain:

You shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, ‘Beware of going up the mountain or touching the border of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death: o hand shall touch him, but he shall be either stoned or shot; beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.—Exodus 19:12-13 (NJPS)

But three days later, after God appeared on the mountain in fire:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down, warn the people not to break through to the Lord to gaze, lest many of them perish. The priests also, who come near the Lord, must stay pure, lest the Lord break out against them.”—Exodus 19:21-22 (NJPS)

Naturally, Moses expresses some confusion:

But Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and sanctify it.’” —Exodus 19:23 (NJPS)

So why did the Lord tell Moses to warn the people not to come near a second time? The text doesn't seem to support the idea that the Lord forgot about the first warning, but that sort of seems like what Moses implied.

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One reason for the redundancy is the unfaithfulness of the people. What we continually see in Exodus through Deuteronomy (interesting, huh, a second giving of the law) is that the people are incredibly unfaithful to God. There unfaithfulness is very repetitious; therefore God is repetitious in his commands. Plain and simple, they never listened the first time.

A second and possibly more important reason is the supreme holiness of God (his separateness, especially but not exclusively with regards to his righteousness). It is as in Isaiah 6, where he is pronounced thrice holy by beings who are themselves holy; or as in the Tabernacle, and later in the whole land of Israel, which was holy in itself but was more holy the closer one was to the seat of God's presence. In fact, throughout the book of the law there is a redundancy and seemingly ludicrous layering of ceremonies, all driving home the holiness of God. The endless repetition and impossibly burdensome nature of all the imperatives through the books of Moses serves to show the holiness of God (and therefore, their need for Jesus Christ).

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The torah repeats other commands (caring the widow, orphan, and stranger; not cooking a kid in its mother's milk; keeping shabbat; others); how much the moreso for a command involving direct exposure to God's force, which we learn from Nadav and Avihu in Leviticus has fatal consequences.

Further, when the revelation begins, the sensory impact is racheted up several notches -- thunder, fire, smoke, trembling, etc. A three-day-old warning followed by a much lower level of divine effects might be at risk of being forgotten amidst all that.

Just speculation; no sources.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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