Online Bible Commentary
Come to the God of Grace
Hebrews 12:18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." (NIV)
In this passage, the writer of the book of Hebrews continues the warning that he began in verse fifteen. The warning was not to miss out on our salvation. Here, the writer recalls the giving of the Law by God on Mount Sinai, and its meaning. His purpose is to discourage the Hebrew Christians from forsaking Christianity and returning to the Law, to Judaism.
The time was shortly after the exodus of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. They had escaped the Egyptian army, crossing the Red Sea as God parted the waters. Now, they were on their forty year, round-about, journey to the Promised Land. They were traveling southward on the Sinai Peninsula.
The Sinai Peninsula is the western part of Egypt, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Red Sea to the east, south and west, and Israel to the northeast. Mount Sinai, aka Mount Horeb, is located towards the tip of the peninsula in the central part of the peninsula. It played a significant role in Moses’ life. It was the place of the burning bush, the rock that Moses struck to receive water, and the giving of the Ten Commandments.
The writer introduces this passage with the words “You have not come to” (v. 18a). He is reminding the Hebrew Christians that, as Christians, they have not come to the kind of God described in this passage. They have not come to the God that is portrayed on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Ten Commandments. There is another side of God.
The writer draws from Old Testament descriptions of the giving of the Law. At the time of the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moses, the writer describes Mount Sinai as “burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm” (v. 18). The writer is referring to Exodus 19:16-18: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently,” Also, Deuteronomy 4:11 describes the scene: “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness.”
Next, the writer describes “a trumpet blast” (v. 19a) and “such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned’ “ (vv. 19b-20).
Here, the writer is citing Exodus 20:18-19: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die’ “, and Exodus 19:12-13: “Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ “
“God was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear’ “ (v. 21). This is taken from Deut. 9:19a: “I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord.” This quote is from Moses’ interaction with God after the Israelites worshiped the Golden Calf, not at the giving of the Ten Commandments. However, it is another description of a judgmental and fearful God.
This passage portrays the full power of God. It was threatening, scary, not at all the picture of a loving God of grace, but instead a picture of a fearful God of punishment. This was the Old Covenant God, the God of the Jewish religion.
The writer did not want the story to end for his Hebrew Christian friends with this portrayal of God. He did not want them to see only this God, the God of the Torah. He did not want them to know God as being only a God of judgment and punishment. That was not the God that he knew. He knew the God of the New Covenant, which is written of in the New Testament. That is why he reminded them, in this passage, of the kind of God they would be returning to if they returned to Judaism.
As Christians, thankfully, we know God as more than a God of judgment and punishment. That side still exists, and we should always respect God for His power. But, we know God as a God of grace and goodness. We know God as a loving God who has a plan for us all, a plan to bless us and not to harm us, a plan to give us hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). We have not come to a God who only judges. We have come to the God of Grace.