Hebrews 12:18-21

Hebrews 12:18‑21  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 9
From the unbelieving despisal of grace in Esau and from its sad issue, we turn on the one hand to a tremendous yet undeniable view of the law with its menacingly fatal accompaniments, and on the other to a comprehensive assemblage of the bright objects which grace will effect and display, into which faith even now introduces those who believe. Both parts of the contrast powerfully carry on the argument and aim of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Were any disposed to slip away from Christianity and return to the Levitical system of their fathers? Here they are invited to look on the two sides of the picture sketched by the unerring hand of the Holy Spirit, where every element is derived from scriptures which no Jew could dispute. 2 Corinthians gave a similar antithesis admirably suited to enlighten and admonish the church of God in the capital of Achaia, where Jewish boasting was at work to act on those who came from the Gentiles. Here the mode of dealing is not less skillfully directed to warn and win those of Israel who were tempted to return to Judaism. Let us look at the dark side which comes first.
“For ye have not come to [a mount]1 palpable and aglow with fire, and to gloom and darkness and tempest, and a trumpet's sound and voice of words, which [voice] they that heard entreated that no word more should be addressed to them: for they could not endure what was charged, And if so much as a beast touch the mount, it shall be stoned; and, so fearful was the appearance, Moses said, I am affrighted and trembling all over” (Heb. 12:18-2118For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, 19And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: 20(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: 21And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) (Hebrews 12:18‑21)).
The Christian position is not the Jewish one improved, but contrasted with it distinctly and fully. Israel did come to Sinai. There they received the law in which they boasted over the Gentiles who know not God, who have no polity from Him nor covenant with Him. As for the nations, their judgment and their dignity proceeded from themselves. Might and craft were their deities, and demons behind them. Therefore they sacrificed to their net; and burnt to their drag. The Jew, instructed out of the law, was sure he himself was a guide of the blind and a light of those in darkness; whereas in truth through his transgression of the law he habitually dishonored God. The name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the Jews, as their prophets attested.
But here we are given to see God in the most solemn way at Sinai intimating the end from the beginning. The law of God is and must be crushing to the pretensions of man as he is; for Israel were sinners as others, and the law could only be to such a ministry of death and condemnation. If law be the ground of action, how could God acquit the guilty? Here therefore our attention is drawn to the entire scene from the first as one of the most awful signs on God's part, of abject terror on His people's. The mount to which their fathers had approached was palpable, like the rest of their system, but, more than that, it was all aglow with fire, the symbol of God's destructive judgment. And, adding to the horror, gloom was there and darkness and tempest, not light and peace serene and bright, but just the opposite. Above the glare and the black obscurity and the storm, an unearthly trumpet sounded its alarm, and a voice of words more awful still: so that those who heard that voice deprecated its reaching them more.
Most ominous was that which is charged: who of mankind could endure, when even if a beast touched the mount it was to be stoned? If such must be the doom of the unconscious brutes, where should the sinner appear? Yea, the very mediator of the law, honored of God and familiar with His presence, could only say at that fearful vision, “I exceedingly fear and tremble.”
Such was the characteristic approach of Israel to God when about to hear the law. Their own scriptures declare this, and the like only, to have been God's aspect toward them—this their feeling and state before Him. Assuredly it is not so that the confessors of the Lord Jesus approached God in the gospel. There we hear of the gift of His love in His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth may have eternal life—in Him Who suffered for our sins on the cross. It was He Who bore the judgment and went down into death. The gospel reveals the Saviour as life and propitiation, God sending His own Son for both purposes; that as we live through Christ, so through His stripes are we healed. We are saved by grace; but the cost was God's through the reconciling death of His Son; and grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And if any of the Jews who confessed such a Saviour were growing weary and turning back to Judaism, let them weigh what they give up in the gospel, and to what they must return under the law.