Wednesday, 24 April 2019
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, Hebrews 12:18
What seems like an unlikely transition, the author now goes from the account of Esau to the reception of the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai. But he has not changed his focus at all. The word, “For,” demonstrates that he is still referring to what he said earlier. In verse 14, he says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” It is exactly this thought that he is conveying now.
Before the giving of the Ten Commandments, this was seen in Exodus 19 –
“‘“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. 11 And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.”’” Exodus 19:10-13
The people had to be consecrated and thus “holy” in order to “see the Lord,” which is what it says in verse 20 of that chapter with the words, “Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai.” At this time the people were utterly overwhelmed by the awesome display their eyes beheld. That will be partly described in the verses ahead, and Moses’ reaction will also be revealed by the author. The entire display was both remarkable and fearful to the people.
The author’s words now begin to relay the thought that, “If that was so overwhelming, how much more remarkable is that which has occurred in the coming of Christ, who is the Lord.” This thought will continue through the rest of the chapter. However, and with that understanding, he now says, “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched.”
That is speaking of Mount Sinai. It is a physical mountain that could be touched, seen, climbed, etc. In contrast to that is the risen and now ascended Lord who is the same Lord who descended on Mount Sinai. When He came to Sinai, even though the mountain could be touched, once He came, it could no longer be touched (as noted in Exodus 19:12 above). This was then reiterated to Moses several times before the ending of the chapter.
The mountain could be physically touched, but it could no longer be so touched when the holiness of the Lord came upon it. If this is the case with Sinai, how much more so with “touching” that which the Lord has now sanctified. The contrast is between Sinai, meaning the Law of Moses, and Mount Zion, meaning the New Covenant.
The author then continues with, “and that burned with fire.” This was the state of Sinai. It burned with fire, as described in the chapter. And then the author says, “and to blackness and darkness and tempest.”
The superlative words describe what occurred at Sinai. They show the awesome nature of the Lord who had come to give His people the law which would be for the conduct of their lives, and which would guide their interactions with the Lord for 1500 years. However, that law ended, and the interaction which occurred through that law ended with it. The author will continue referring to this event, using the words of Exodus, to build up his case concerning the absolute exceeding majesty of what occurred in Christ in comparison to that majestic display which occurred at Sinai.
Life application: The enormity of the display at Sinai demonstrated the severity of what was to come. God was ensuring that what the people heard, they would never forget. The law was to be taken as the holy word which it is, and from the perfectly holy God who spoke it. It can be assumed that any infraction of the words to come would carry a terrible penalty simply by the display that accompanied it. And so it was, as testified throughout the rest of the Old Testament. The law brought fear, and the law brought death. Such is the harshness of the law. Thanks be to God for grace and mercy which came through Christ Jesus our Lord!
Lord, when we read difficult passages that show the severity of violating Your word, help us to keep them in context and to remember what they are teaching us and why. In the end, we all deserve death and condemnation, but You sent Jesus to take our place. How thankful we are for grace and mercy instead of law and punishment! Thank You for Jesus our Lord. Amen.