Hebrews 12:18-21 constitutes a warning against apostasy, especially departing from the gospel of Jesus Christ for Jewish legalism. The first of the seven things mentioned about Mount Sinai (here representing Old Testament law and worship, without Christ’s cross and mediation) in Hebrews 12:18-19 is that it is touchable, physical and material: "the mount that might be touched" (18). By contrast, the other mount, Mount Sion, is not touchable, physical or material (22). In keeping with the nature of Mount Sinai, as touchable, physical and material, the form of worship laid down at Sinai consisted of a "worldly sanctuary," i.e., the tabernacle (9:1); "carnal ordinances" (10); a physical altar; animal sacrifices; priestly garments made of linen; etc.
The second of the seven points made concerning Mount Sinai is that it "burned with fire" (12:18). Fire symbolizes God’s presence for He is a "consuming fire" (29). Particularly, fire represents God’s jealousy and His burning severity against sin and sinners. "For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God" (Deut. 4:24). God’s fiery judgment falls upon Judaism without Christ, Jews who apostatize from Christianity, all who depart from the gospel and all who know not the Lord Jesus.
The third and fourth phenomena at Mount Sinai are similar: "blackness, and darkness" (Heb. 12:18). Both "blackness, and darkness," as well as "fire," are mentioned in Exodus 19 andDeuteronomy 4-5. We could say that blackness is the colour of a thing and darkness is its effect upon others, so that the (all-encompassing) blackness causes darkness. There are two main ideas here: first, blackness and darkness terrify us (the fear of the dark!) and, second, they hinder or stop our beholding God’s glory. But how can there be both fire and darkness/blackness? Surely the fire would dispel the darkness to some degree? It is the same in hell which Scripture describes as a place of both darkness and fire. Both fire and darkness increase terror.
The fifth feature at Sinai is the "tempest" (Heb. 12:18). The tempest includes thunder and lightening in the sky above. This adds to the terrifying effect of God’s revelation at Mount Sinai to give the law. Do you really want to leave the gospel church of Jesus Christ? To go back to Old Testament law and worship? To Sinai? To this?
The sixth aspect of God’s revelation at Mount Sinai is "the sound of a trumpet" (19). There was no physical trumpet at Sinai, but Jehovah produced the sound of a trumpet, an "exceeding loud" sound (Ex. 19:16), growing "louder and louder" (19) as He came nearer to the mount. The dreadful sound of the trumpet announced the coming of Almighty God and summoned the people before Jehovah the judge. All this symbolizes the terror of the law convicting us of our manifold sins and sinfulness.
"The voice of words" is the seventh and last phenomenon at Mount Sinai (Heb. 12:19). God thundered the ten commandments with a deafening sound that struck fear into the hearts of the assembled people. What an awful event was the giving of the law! Think of what Israel saw: a mountain burning with fire and enveloped with blackness and darkness, with lightning streaking across the sky. And what did they hear? Thunder, a trumpet and the voice of God!
Look at the fearful response of the people at Sinai. They "intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more" (19). Why? "For they could not endure that which was commanded" (20). This is not to say that the people did wrong in begging God not to speak to them in this way any more. They were right and God agreed; from now on He would speak to them through Moses the mediator (Deut. 5:23-31). But Hebrews 12 is saying that God’s voice itself was terrible to their ears and that what it said condemned them, "For they could not endure that which was commanded" (20). By God’s thundering the law, all knew themselves to be guilty and condemned sinners, worthy of eternal destruction. This reminds us of Galatians 4:21: "Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" Thunder, trumpet, God’s terrifying voice and so on—this is what you get if you go back to Old Testament law and worship and forsake Jesus Christ and His New Testament church!
Mount Sinai even spelled destruction for livestock: "And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart" (Heb. 12:20). Do you hear what God is saying? "Keep your distance! You have no access to the mount! Keep out!" Not even animals are allowed to get close, never mind people. This is the message of Old Testament worship. The holy of holies is out of bounds for 99.999% of the people. Only the high priest gets in—briefly, once a year and he has to bring blood. God, whether at Sinai or in the most holy place, is shut off. No access! Keep your distance! Do you get the point? Jehovah is inaccessible by means of Old Testament law and worship. Only by the blood of Jesus Christ can we draw near to God. So do not return to the weak and beggarly elements of the law! And what happened to a beast, say a sheep or a calf, that strayed up the mount? The people were to kill it by stoning or by a dart (arrow). Why not by a knife? The Israelites must not get close; they must keep their distance even from the animal that touched Mount Sinai. If the Israelites were not to get too near to an animal that strayed onto the mount, they must surely keep their distance from the dreadful God revealed at Sinai!
Sinai was awful not only for the people and the beasts, but even for Moses: "And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake" (21). This was the Moses who had met God at the burning bush. He had stood before mighty Pharaoh, bringing Jehovah’s message of judgment upon him and his people time and time again. He had faced down Israelite rebellions and murmurings. He was the mediator! Yet even Moses shook in extreme fear. How much worse for those who turn away from the Lord Jesus and go back to salvation by works or return to the world!
- Volume: 13
- Issue: 4
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851