For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR AND TREMBLING.” ~ Hebrews 12:18-21
In our next Old Testament quotes found in the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, the writer is moved to quote from the book of Exodus and events concerning the LORD’s presence descending upon Mount Sinai and Moses ascension up the mount to receive the Law. The context, which contains our quotes, is offered as means of contrasting the Old Covenant with the New.
The first reference is found in the context of Exodus 19:12-13. “And you shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ “
The second reference regarding Moses being “full of fear and trembling”, is typically attributed to Deuteronomy 9:19. However, a closer reading of that context in Deuteronomy finds Moses’ fear there is a reference to God’s wrath being poured out upon the Israelites for their rebellion and sin in the golden calf caper while he was on the Mountain, not in reference to God’s presence descending upon Mount Sinai, clearly the point of our text today from Hebrews chapter twelve.
So, is the writer wrong, is the Bible in error? NO! In the New Testament we have other quotes attributed to Old Testament personalities that are not actually contained in the Scriptural canon as we have received it. Sometimes the Holy Spirit decides to leave some information out while insuring we have enough to accomplish the purpose of God’s word going forth. How do we know that? “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31).
A quote we referenced a couple of weeks ago attributed to Enoch in the book of Jude (vss 13-14) isn’t in the Old Testament canon. How about the quote attributed to Jeremiah in the gospel of Matthew (Matt. 27:9-10) which was actually penned and preserved through the Holy Spirit via the prophet Zechariah. Does that mean jeremiah never said it? No. The Holy Spirit just didn’t record it at that time but insured we would know it by moving another writer to reveal it to us at the proper time for our edification. On to the lesson to be learned in the citing of these quotes.
Covenant at Mount Sinai
When the LORD descended upon Sinai in preparation for the covenant with the physical nation of Israel under Moses’ leadership, the picture presented in the Scripture is almost malevolent. In the midst of thunderstorm like conditions (thunder and lightening, Ex. 19:16) with thick gloomy clouds blocking the mountaintop (and likely a good portion of the sunlight), coupled with the sound of a trumpet blast so loud that the people trembled, Moses brought the nation out to the foot of the mountain. The Lord’s presence in the form of fire drops onto Sinai, the top smokes like it’s being burned off and the rest of the mountain begins to quake and that trumpet, it gets LOUDER!! Moses and the LORD somehow “converse” in the midst of all this, then Moses begins the slow ascent to the top of the mountain disappearing into the clouds. What’s racing through the minds of the Israelites? “Don’t touch the mountain! Don’t touch the mountain! Get back from the mountain! Everyone back from the mountain!” If someone tried to sneak a peak or attempt to draw closer, here comes an arrow or a stone, zinging forth from the presence of the LORD to take out the transgressor. One little misstep and BANG, you’re gone. Pretty scary. But the reminder is a good summary of the Old Covenant system in general. It could be pretty fearful, no mercy, and you weren’t able personally to draw near to the presence of the LORD.
Covenant at Mount Zion
Throughout the book of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit through the writer, has been steadily moving the reader to the proper understanding and appraisal of the spiritual by two means: physical foreshadows and the use of contrast.
The writer, following the graphic reminder of events at Mount Sinai, turns the Hebrew Christians attention to Mount Zion, but not the one that they knew, that they had probably ascended in Temple worship proceedings in past years. No, the Holy Spirit moves them to the true Mount Zion, the spiritual mount, the one located in heavenly Jerusalem, the realm of the unseen, untouched by human hands (Heb. 12:22-24). The writer then tells them what has happened in the realm of faith.
All the faithful have been raised up, redeemed by the spiritual blood offered in the true Holy of Holies upon true Mount Zion. No violent quaking or trembling, no fear, just peace between all faithful spiritual beings through the blood of Christ, gathered closely together, into the very presence of God and Christ Jesus. What a difference under this New Covenant! How awesome! God wants us to draw near to Him through Christ.
You, Christian, have not come to a mountain that can be touched! The only question that remains is: smoking or non-smoking mountain? Amen.