“You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)” (Hebrews 12:18 – 21)
In the Old Testament Mount Sinai was the literal and theological gathering point for Israel and Judah. From here the Ten Commandments were sent out. From this place the Lord God spoke to Moses and Moses relayed the message to the people gathered below. The Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt could not endure the Voice of the Almighty and were frightened in hearing even the echoes from the mountain. I imagine it felt not unlike a severe scolding from someone in a higher authority. And maybe the memory of the overlords in Egypt was still too vivid to hear other voices of authority. They did not know this Lord God personally – at least not like Moses did. Everything was raw and new.
But . . . . Paul says coming now to the Divine is not like that. Not like hearing the stern reverberations of the Divine? Not hearing the absolutes that the called and chosen people needed to live by? So, what is it like now?
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Verses 22 – 24)
And this is different how? And remember, beloved reader, this is Paul speaking. Do not be fooled into thinking this is the easier road!! That tranquility and consistency will be experienced now. Nor that nothing more will be said and revealed from Mount Zion.
“See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven. This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (25 – 27)
In a reversal of what is the norm, the biblical commentators (yes, I have been tracking what they say about this passage) water down Paul’s exhortations – sort of. The one who warned them on earth was Moses – a “mere” man. And in only one location, Mount Sinai. The One who warns from heaven is the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. You might think that would consist of a great deal of “rumbling”; however, the Divine “speaks by every message of mercy; by every invitation; by every tender appeal. [The Divine] spake by [the Divine’s] Son; . . by the Holy Spirit, and . . . by calls and warnings in the gospel. “ (Albert Barnes, slightly paraphrased for inclusive language. ) As to the “ yet once more” shaking, that is taken to mean a new style of worship and understanding of the Divine that was introduced and initiated by Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul sets in terms that make the reader shudder at the newness. But was new then to them is established to us. Even more precisely, it was new to Paul.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” (Verse 28)
So, where to we come out in our modern times? Oh beloved reader! That is a loaded question! For those who are authentic, firm, devoted readers – it confirms what we knew. For new believers it leads and invites them to a new way of living that is full of blessing and compassion. But . . . . for those who undoubtedly Paul would exhort most vehemently . . . it probably would shake up their world. And maybe, beloved reader, that is why they do not want to hear it!
May you, beloved reader, gather on the gently slopes of Mount Zion and hear the gentle words of the Divine usher you into an more devote way of living. Selah!