The common way of reading this understanding of the acceptance of the Torah (for instance, Ben's take and see also Dov Bear's) is that God forced us into it, but we accepted it later during the story of Esther. The problems with this are abound. I'm not going to bother going into the problems, but rather a much simpler read - a read that I deem more true to the sages' words.וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ, בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָרRava said, "Even though that may be so, the generation in the days of Ahashverosh accepted it, as it is written, 'the Jews kept up and they accepted' - they continued what they had already accepted.""And they stood at the foot of the mountain" (Ex. 19:17).א"ר אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקב"ה עליהם את ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכםRabbi Avdimi, son of Hama, son of Hasa, said, "[This] teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He cupped upon them the mountain like a tub (or a vat), and said to them, 'If you accept the Torah, then good. And if not, here will be your grave.'"א"ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתאRabbi Aha, son of Ya'akov, said, "From here, this is a great way out of the Torah." (I apologize for that translation, but basically one party would be able to get out of fulfilling their contractual obligations due to coercion of agreement. Thus, Israel would be able to say they were coerced into the agreement.)אמר רבא אעפ"כ הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב (אסתר ט) קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר
What Rabbi Avdimi, son of Hama, son of Hasa was trying to accomplish in his explanation of that verse is not any sort of theological or philosophical agenda, but rather he's trying to explain the word "at the foot of (תחתית)". To him, it's not simply "under" the mountain, but rather inside of the mountain. The word תחתית bears a close relationship with תחת, just as ציצית bears a close relationship with ציץ (there may be other Biblical examples, but I'm blanking right now). However, the two words are not the same (sorry, Rashi), but rather תחתית means something more like inside (such as inside a hollow). If it were to merely be under the mountain, why would Rabbi Avdimi, son of Hama, son of Hasa have said "like a tub"? He wouldn't have needed to say that at all. Furthermore, he didn't mean to imply that Israel accepted the Torah against their will and would have had their way out of it.
A generation or two later, Rabbi Aha, son of Ya'akov, comes along and demonstrates a philosophical problem with his elder's read: the Jews would have had a way out of the Torah. At this point, the problem stands and Rabbi Avdimi, son of Hama, son of Hasa's read is in jeopardy.
However, Rava, not so long after him, comes along and actually supports that read by saying that the Jews, while having been coerced into it initially, actually accepted it later (albeit by taking a verse out of context, the original of which was regarding the special things the Jews did on Purim).
Does this mean the Jews actually were forced into it? Obviously, according to the simple read of the Biblical text(s), no, not at all. If one asked Rabbi Avdimi, son of Hama, son of Hasa, it's not clear what he would have said, as he was merely speaking about an exegetical point based on a close read of the language employed in Exodus. Even according to Rabbi Aha, son of Ya'akov, he also probably would have said no, because he had a problem with that idea. It is only with Rava (the greatest figure in the Babylonian Talmud) that one gets that sense.
Tags: Torah, matan Torah, receiving of the Torah, giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai, Har Sinai, Judaism, Talmud