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The Awe and Fear of the Old Covenant

18 For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, 19 to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, 20 for they could not bear what was commanded: If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned. (Hebrews 12:18-20)

Verses 18 to 24 show the superiority of the new covenant as opposed to the old. Verse 18 references when the Law was given at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:12-22 and 20:18-21. Exodus 19:12 is the mountain that was not to be touched, “Put boundaries for the people all around the mountain and say: Be careful that you don’t go up on the mountain or touch its base. Anyone who touches the mountain must be put to death.” This rule referred both to the Israelites present and their animals. The “blazing fire…darkness, gloom and storm,” was the presence of God enveloping Mount Sinai, as seen in Exodus 19:18-19, “Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the sound of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him in the thunder.”

The image and sounds that were heard when God gave the Law evoked awe and terror in the Israelites, as “those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them.” They were even surprised that they lived through the ordeal, as seen in Deuteronomy 5:24, “You said, ‘Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that God speaks with a person, yet he still lives.”

This historical event was brought up as a reminder to the divide between God and mankind due to sin. The Law showed the sinful nature within man and their unworthiness. Yet, as we have seen in previous chapters, the gospel, the new covenant, opens the ability for the people to approach God, not out of fear of judgment, but rather, out of love for His grace being poured out through His Son. But, if the rejection of the law brought such terror in the hearts of the hearers, how much more, then, would those who reject Christ on the day of Judgment? God is both loving and just.


Isaac De Guzman


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