They Could Not Endure
“For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear’” (Heb. 12:20–21).
One of the prevalent themes of the epistle to the Hebrews is the superiority of the new covenant to the old one. This superiority is due to the greatness of the new covenant Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus is far better than the angels or Moses (1:1–3:6). This Jesus is our Great High Priest from the order of Melchizedek (4:14–5:10; 6:13–7:28), and He has inaugurated the new covenant by the sacrifice of Himself (8:1–10:18). He was eagerly expected by old covenant saints who died in faith before seeing Him in the flesh (chap. 11).
In light of these facts, chapter 12 encourages us to press on in faith as we wait for Jesus to return and bring all things to consummation. Beginning in verse 18, the author again begins comparing the superiority of the new covenant to the inferiority of the old one in order to show us that our responsibility to be obedient to Jesus is greater now than it was under the old covenant. The arrival of the Great High Priest means that we must thankfully serve Him all of our lives.
Hebrews 12:20–21 makes reference to the same events as Exodus 19:12–25 does. The references to “blazing fire,” “darkness and gloom,” and “the sound of a trumpet and a voice” all clearly allude to the awesome manifestations of the presence of God at Mount Sinai. Interestingly, the accounts of these events in the Pentateuch do not directly quote Moses as telling God that he trembled with fear. However, we know that Moses must have said this since the inspired author of Hebrews tells us so and because it is in keeping with Moses’ response to God on other occasions (for example, Ex. 3:6).
The specific details themselves are not the most important thing to note about this description of Sinai. Rather, we must see that the details show that the ordinary person had little to no access to the direct presence of God under the old covenant. How ironic then that the original audience of Hebrews wanted to go back to those days before Christ had come and offered them something so much better. For Christ has granted access to the presence of the Father for all of His people (Heb. 10:19–22), and, therefore, His new covenant must be embraced more eagerly and faithfully than the inferior old one.
It is easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives and forget the tremendous benefits we have living under the new covenant. Unlike most of old covenant Israel, we have access into the very presence of God Himself. Take some time to meditate on the access we have into God’s presence, and thank Him for making a way for us to come in.
Passages for Further Study
- Ex. 19:24
- 2 Sam. 6:5–7
- John 14:6
- Heb. 6:19–20