Hebrews 12:18-21 Commentary

Hebrews 12:18 For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: Ou gar proseleluthate (2SRAI) pselaphomeno (PPPNSD) kai kekaumeno (RPPNSD) puri kai gnopho kai zopho kai thuelle

Amplified: For you have not come [as did the Israelites in the wilderness] to a [material] mountain that can be touched, [a mountain] that is ablaze with fire, and to gloom and darkness and a raging storm, (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai when God gave them his laws. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Young's Literal: For ye came not near to the mount touched and scorched with fire, and to blackness, and darkness, and tempest,

FOR YOU HAVE NOT COME TO A MOUNTAIN THAT MAY BE TOUCHED: Ou gar proseleluthate (2SRAI: proserchomai = drawn near) pselaphomeno (PPPNSD):

For (gar) - pause and ponder this term of explanation.

In this next section Hebrews 12:18-24, the author again draws a contrast between the Old Covenant given by God to Moses at Mt Sinai and the New Covenant of grace through the shed blood of the Messiah.

See images of Mt Sinai

Come (4334) (proserchomai from prós = facing + érchomai = come) means literally to come facing toward and so to approach or come near. To come to visit or associate with. It describes the approach to or entry into a deity’s presence. In the Septuagint (LXX) proserchomai was the verb used to describe the approach of the priests to Jehovah for worship and to perform of their priestly (Levitical) functions. But here in Hebrews, under the New covenant, all seven uses of proserchomai refer to believers possessing the privilege of access to God the Father through Christ the Great High Priest.

Here are the seven uses of this proserchomai in Hebrews…

Hebrews 4:16 (note) Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (Comment: "Let us… " emphasizes that this privilege is always available to those under the New Covenant. Do we really comprehend and avail ourselves of the profundity of this privilege?)

Hebrews 7:25 (note) Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near (present tense = emphasizes continual activity) to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 10:1 (note) For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near.

Hebrews 10:22 (note) let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 11:6 (note) And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes (drawn near) to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews 12:18 (note) For you have not come (drawn near) to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,

Hebrews 12:22 (note) But you have come (drawn near) to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels

The thrust of this section is to stir up some frightful images in the minds of his Hebrew readers. Those Jewish hearers (as well as any modern day hearer who says for example he want to go to a Messianic Jewish congregation where they seek to keep the Law) who were tempted to return to the Old (conditional) Covenant of the Law needed to remember the terrifying circumstances attending the giving of the Law. In so doing they might be able to draw clear spiritual lessons that Sinai was not the way to life but the way to death. The writer knows the axiomatic truth that if the Law brings a person to the end of his or her self efforts to attain righteousness, it becomes like a teacher to lead them to seek the true righteousness (the Christ bestowed kind of righteousness, the only kind God accepts) and true life (even eternal life) found in the New Covenant in His blood. In this sense the Law is good, for it can lead the humble soul to grace. (Read Gal 3:24-25, Gal 2:19, Acts 13:38-39, Ro 3:20-22, Ro 7:7-9, Heb 7:18-19)

The scene was Mount Sinai, a literal, tangible mountain where the fire reached to heaven, the wind swirled as an angry tempest and thick clouds of darkness billowed up forming a backdrop for lightning and peals of thunder. This entire mountain was enveloped in a pall or veil that made everything seem indistinct, obscure, and nebulous. The writer of Hebrews is telling his readers that in contrast to this appropriately terrifying picture at Mt. Sinai, they who have become genuine possessors of life indeed by grace through faith in the New Covenant, have drawn near to the Heavenly City, Mt. Zion and to the throne of the living God and no longer needed to fear death's sting which the Law brings. Paul echoes this thought writing "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1Cor 15:55-57)

Although the writer describes Mt Sinai as one “that can be touched” he was not saying that the Israelites had permission to approach the mountain and touch it. The writer is using this as a figure of speech merely acknowledging that Mt Sinai was a material, earthly mountain that could be touched as opposed to the “heavenly” nature of the second mountain (Heb 11:22-note).

Spurgeon - We are joyfully reminded that we are not come to Mount Sinai and its overwhelming manifestations. After Israel had kept the feast of the Passover, God was pleased to give His people a sort of Pentecost, and more fully to manifest Himself and His law to them at Sinai. They were in the wilderness, with the solemn peaks of a desolate mountain as their center; and from the top thereof, in the midst of fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and with the sound of a trumpet, God spoke with them. Upon the believer’s spirit there rests not the slavish fear, the abject terror, the fainting alarm, which swayed the tribes of Israel; for the manifestation of God that he beholds, though not less majestic, is far more full of hope and joy. Over us there does not rest the impenetrable cloud of apprehension; we are not buried in a present darkness of despair; we are not tossed about with a tempest of horror; and, therefore, we do not exceedingly fear and quake. How thankful we should be for this!

AND TO A BLAZING FIRE AND TO DARKNESS AND GLOOM AND WHIRLWIND: kai kekaumeno (RPPNSD) puri kai gnopho kai zopho kai thuelle:

Blazing fire - see Moses' description below, especially "there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled." Take a moment and just imagine the scene -- the ground unsteady due to tremors, the sky black in deep darkness except for the radiating forks of lightning and fire blazing from the top of Sinai, celestial shophars (Ex 19:16, 19 = Shofar) blaring louder and louder and all of this in with the background of strong, swirling gusts of wind. Onto this "pulpit" Moses comes to speak and God answers him with a voice like thunder. What a awesome, fearful day this was! The people were visibly, physically assaulted with the holiness and majesty of God. The display of God's power on Sinai communicated far more than any sermon ever could and it was one all could comprehend! And why such a frightening scene? Clearly this was to teach the people that God is unapproachable by any sinful human being. God is holy, set apart and for the people to touch the symbol of His holiness meant certain death. And to emphasize His holiness, even an innocent animal accidentally contacted the Mount Sinai he would die! God's holiness is serious business! We forget that in our modern society. Sadly even true believers (I speak from personal experience) forget this truth! What effect might is have on our heart and mind if we were to frequently come back to meditate on Exodus 19? I think the Spirit would use the words of Moses to renew our sense of God's perfect holiness. May it be so Lord God. Amen.

Darkness (1105) (gnophos from néphos = a cloud) describes a thick dark cloud. It signifies half-darkness, gloom, nebulousness, as the darkness of evening or the gathering gloom of death. It is a darkness which does not entirely conceal color. Gnophos is half-darkness, gloom, nebulousness; as the darkness of evening or the gathering gloom of death. It is a darkness which does not entirely conceal colour. Thus dnophos the earlier and poetic form of gnophos, is used by Homer of water which appears dark against the underlying rock, or is tinged by mire.

Gloom (2217) (zophos) speaks of deep gloom. Friberg says zophos is used "as a designation for the underworld = thick darkness, gloomy hell."

Zophos - Heb 12:18; 2 Pet 2:4, 17; Jude 1:6, 13

Whirlwind (2366) (thuella form thúo = to rush on or along, speaking of wind or a storm or from thuein = to boil or foam) describes a storm characterized by strong and sudden winds, a tempest, a squall, or a whirlwind. There are sudden and violent gusts of winds, often from varied directions. It is a brief, violent, sudden, destructive blast, sometimes working upward and carrying objects into the upper air. Such is the description of Sinai which the writer to the Hebrews gives as a picture of the First Testament. He assures them that his readers, in drawing near to Messiah and His Cross, are not approaching such a place as Sinai.

Spurgeon - God’s presence made the mountain melt and flow down. “And Yahweh thundered from the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice with hail and coals of fire” (Ps 18:13). Sinai was “all wrapped in smoke” (Ex 19:18); innumerable lightnings flashed forth around the summit of the hill. The cloud on Sinai was so dark as to obscure the day, except that every now and then the lightning flash lit up the scene. What are we come to in contrast to that darkness? “To God the judge of all” (Heb 12:23). Possibly it does not strike you with joy when I mention it, but this is perhaps the most joyous of all the clauses of the passage. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5). What a contrast to the darkness of the law is a reconciled God! “But,” you say, “he is there as the Judge of all, and that makes us tremble.” Why? Why? It makes me stop trembling when I think that I have come “to God the judge of all,” that Christ has brought me near, even to the Judge, so that I have nothing to dread from Him. All over the top of Sinai there swept fierce winds and terrible tornadoes, for the Lord was there. All heaven seemed convulsed when God rent it and descended in majesty upon the sacred mount. But what do you and I see? The very reverse of tempest: “The spirits of righteous people made perfect” (Heb 12:23)—serenely resting. What more is there for them to do? They are perfect. They have fought the fight, they have run the race (2 Tim 4:7), they are crowned, and they are full of ecstatic bliss. The light of God is on their brows, and the glory of God is reflected from their faces. Everything like a tempest is far gone from them; they have reached the fair haven, and are tossed with tempest no more.

Essential to understanding the contrast, we must see that the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai was an awesome physical display (see below). The prelude to the divine fireworks at Sinai involved the people’s consecration as directed by God. They washed their clothing and abstained from sexual relations, so as to be ceremonially clean. They also observed God’s orders that no man or beast touch the mountain on pain of death by stoning or arrows.


Exodus 19:9 And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever." Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.

10 The LORD also said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments;

11 and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

12 "And you shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

13 'No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain."

14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments.

15 And he said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman."

16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.

19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.

20 And the LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

21 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down, warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.

22 "And also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them."

The tension built for three days. Then early on the morning of the third day, the people saw a thick cloud cover the top of Sinai illumined by gold veins of lightning with accompanying thunder rolling down the slopes, plus a deafening trumpet blast that reduced everyone to trembling. The giving of the Law was attended by “10,000 holy ones” (Dt 33:2, cp note Hebrews 2:2). This suggests that hundreds of thousands of angels hovered invisibly around and over Sinai. Take a moment and try to imagine all of the sights, sounds and smells that were literally bombarding the people of Israel! It congers up an awesome image and one that should strike fear in any thinking person's heart!

The phenomena listed are all associated with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai

Deut 4:11 "And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom.

Deut 5:22 "These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.

23 "And it came about, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders.

24 "And you said, 'Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.

25 'Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we shall die.

26 'For who is there of all flesh, who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?

Elsewhere the elements in this picture are clearly linked with the presence of God as seen in

1) Fire

For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. (Judges 13:20)

Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. (1Ki 18:38)

2) Darkness

Then Solomon said, "The LORD has said that He would dwell in the thick cloud (KJV = Darkness) (1Ki8:12)

3) Tempest

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet. (Nah 1:3)

4) The trumpet

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. (Ex 19:18-19)

The trumpet is also associated with the end time when God will manifest himself

And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Mt 24:51) (Comment: At the end of the Great Tribulation)

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1Cor 15:51-52)

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. (1 Th 4:16)

The picture the writer draws is one that strikes terror into the heart. The point of his description of Mt Sinai and the giving of the law is that the Old Covenant aroused unbearable fear. The sight of the burning mountain and the ever-increasing blare of a trumpet, the darkness, storm and fearful threats directed even toward dumb beasts, created such fear in the people that they begged Moses to plead with God for relief. Even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

This is a picture of the invariable end of efforts made to obey the law which requires perfect obedience. Fear of God’s just condemnation is overwhelming. Most people do not feel this fear because they do not take the law seriously, at least not until they reach the end of their lives and its fearful judgments lie immediately before them. All who seek earnestly to obey the law find themselves confronted with such personal failure that they soon despair of escaping God’s fearful condemnation. Mount Sinai stands as the symbol of this despair and fear.

Those professing Messiah are urged not to remain at the fearful Mt Sinai but to go on to Mt. Zion and not to linger under the old covenant but to enter fully into the New Covenant.

The salutary effect upon those at the foot of Sinai was substantial it instilled a proper fear of God. As Moses explained

God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning (Exodus 20:20)

To understand that God is holy and that one is a sinner is to stand at the threshold of grace. Moreover, the giving of the Ten Commandments in this awesome context and Israel’s failure to keep them served to emphasize the people’s impotence and doom, which is a further grace, however negative the experience may be.

But this said, the great problem with the trip to Sinai was that while men and women could come to see God’s holiness and their sinfulness, the Law provided no power to overcome sin.

To run and work the law commands,
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands.

Understanding this, the writer’s explanation that they have come to a better mountain than Sinai makes sense: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched.” Zion, to which they had come, is a spiritual mountain, whereas Sinai was a physical mountain that could be touched only at pain of death.

In effect, the writer is admonishing his people as they attempt to run with perseverance the race that is marked out for them to not listen to the voices of their old friends who are still immersed in the futile pursuit of attempting to live up to Sinai, but rather to do everything in their power to maintain a straight path to Zion’s grace.

There is an early passage in Pilgrim’s Progress in which Christian, amidst the difficulties of trying to walk the narrow path to Zion, is lured away by Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s counsel and directed toward the futility of Sinai. John Bunyan writes:

So Christian turned out of his way to go to Mr. Legality’s house for help; but, behold, when he was got now hard by the hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next the wayside did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture farther, lest the hill should fall on his head; wherefore there he stood still, and wotted not what to do. Also his burden now seemed heavier to him than while he was in his way. There came also flashes of fire out of the hill that made Christian afraid that he should be burnt: here, therefore, he sweat and did quake for fear. And now he began to be sorry that he had taken Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s counsel; and with that, he saw Evangelist coming to meet him, at the sight also of whom he began to blush for shame.

And, of course, Mr. Evangelist got him back on track, and the race continued on to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Today, few Christians, especially Gentiles, are in danger of turning back to Sinai per se and embracing the Levitical corpus of the Old Testament. Sinai, with its fiery mountain and its code, is simply too daunting. Instead, we fabricate our own mini-Sinais with a series of mini-laws which reflect nothing of the fiery presence and which are, we think, well within the reach of our unaided powers. our legalisms—our mini-Sinais are always reductionist, shrinking spirituality to a series of wooden laws which say, “If you will do those six or sixty or six hundred things, you will be godly.” And, of course, legalism is always judgmental. How easily our hearts imagine that our lists elevate us, while at the same time providing us with a convenient rack on which to stretch others in merciless judgment

Hebrews 12:19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: kai salpiggos echo kai phone rhematon, es oi akousantes (AAPMPN) paretesanto (3PAMI) me prostethenai (APN) autois logon

Amplified: And to the blast of a trumpet and a voice whose words make the listeners beg that nothing more be said to them. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice with a message so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Young's Literal: and a sound of a trumpet, and a voice of sayings, which those having heard did entreat that a word might not be added to them,

AND TO THE BLAST OF A TRUMPET AND THE SOUND OF WORDS WHICH [SOUND WAS SUCH THAT] THOSE WHO HEARD BEGGED THAT NO FURTHER WORD SHOULD BE SPOKEN TO THEM: kai salpiggos echo kai phone rhematon, es oi akousantes (AAPMPN) paretesanto (3PAMI) me prostethenai (APN) autois logon kai salpiggos echo:

Spurgeon on the blast of a trumpet - Clarion notes most clear and shrill rang out again and again the high commands of the thrice-holy God. You are not come to that. Instead of a trumpet, which signifies war and the stern summons of a king, you are come to “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (Heb 12:24), to the silver tones of “Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).

Blast (2279) (echos) is a sound and can also mean a loud or confused noise ("echo") or a roar.

Trumpet (4536) (salpigx) is a musical instrument which today would be the equivalent of a brass musical instrument with a flared bell and a bright, penetrating tone. The Jewish people were familiar with trumpets, because trumpets were used to declare war, to announce special times and seasons, and to gather the people for a journey (Nu 10). In the Roman Empire, trumpets were used to announce the arrival of a great person. When God gave the Law to Israel, the event was preceded by a trumpet blast

Exodus 19:13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live. When the ram's horn (Lxx = salpigx) sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.

Words (4487) (rhema from verb rheo = to speak - to say, speak or utter definite words) refers to the spoken word, especially a word as uttered by a living voice. Laleo is another word translated speak but it refers only to uttering a sound whereas rheo refers to uttering a definite intelligible word. Rhema refers to any sound produced by the voice which has a definite meaning. It focuses upon the content of the communication. For example in Luke we read "And they understood none of these things, and this saying (rhema) was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said. (Luke 18:34)

In the plural (as in Hebrews 12:19) rhema ("words"), means saying, speech or discourse.

Begged (3868) (paraiteomai from pará = aside and in this word gives a nuance of aversion or repudiation + aitéo = ask, beg) is literally to ask along side. To seek to turn aside by asking. As in Mark 15:6, this verb can mean to beg or request (a prisoner to be freed on the occasion of the Passover). In Luke 14:18, it conveys the sense of to beg off or of wanting to be excused from a positive response, in this verse one excusing himself for not accepting a wedding invitation. Finally, in the pastoral epistles (1,2 Timothy, Titus - see below), the meaning is to decline, refuse, to refuse to pay attention to, to shun, to avoid, to reject. In secular Greek a wrestler was declared the victor when his opponents declined to engage him upon seeing his unclothed physique.

The trumpet is spoken of repeatedly in connection with Sinai (Ex 19:13, 16, 19; 20:18). And on that occasion the people heard the voice of God (Dt 5:24). But the effect of it all was to terrify them, and they asked that they should hear God's voice no more (Ex 20:19; Dt 5:25-27). They were overcome with awe and wanted no further part in the wonderful events. Ex 20:19 Dt 5:25, 18:16,

Spurgeon - Together with the trumpet there sounded out a voice that was so terrible that they asked that they might not hear it again. They cowered down under it, like poor, frightened children, terrified by the penetrating sound. They could not endure another word; they begged that the voice would be silent. We have come to another voice—the voice of “the sprinkled blood that speaks better than Abel’s does” (Heb 12:24). There is a voice from Zion; there is a voice that rolls over the heads of the innumerable company of angels. A voice of the Lord that is full of majesty, and exceedingly comfortable to the “assembly of the firstborn” (Heb 12:23), who know the joyful sound. The blessed Word speaks life, pardon, reconciliation, acceptance, joy, eternal bliss!

Hebrews 12:20 For they could not bear the command, "IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED." (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: ouk epheron (3PIAI) gar to diastellomenon, (PPPNSA) Kan therion thige (3SAAS) tou orous, lithobolethesetai; (3SFPI)

Amplified: For they could not bear the command that was given: If even a wild animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: They staggered back under God's command: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death." (NLT - Tyndale House)

Wuest: For they could not bear that which was commanded. And if a wild beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned.

Young's Literal: for they were not bearing that which is commanded, 'And if a beast may touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or with an arrow shot through,'

FOR THEY COULD NOT BEAR THE COMMAND "IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN IT WILL BE STONED": ouk epheron (3PIAI) gar to diastellomenon, (PPPNSA) Kan therion thige (3SAAS) tou orous, lithobolethesetai; (3SFPI):

For (gar) - pause and ponder this term of explanation.

The command (1291) (diastellomai from diá = denoting transition, + stéllo = send) means to state with force and/or authority what others must do. The present tense presents the command as ringing constantly in their ears.

The command that nothing touch the mountain indicates the holiness and separateness of the mountain. Killing by stoning was prescribed so that those taking part in it would not need to touch the mountain themselves. They knew that if it meant death to a dumb, uncomprehending animal, how much more surely would it mean death to those who understood the warning.

Touch (2345)(thiggano) means to handle, touch with a view of ascertaining the quality of the object; to feel after, to grope. To touch so that one can exert a modifying influence on it.

Wuest - The word “touch” here is thiggano “to touch, handle.” It implies a touching or a grasping which affects the object. In classical Greek it is often used of touching or handling some sacred object which may be desecrated by the one who lays hands on it. Here, to touch the mountain, was to profane it.

Spurgeon - In the sacred worship of the tabernacle and the temple, the thought of distance must always have been prominent to the devout mind. The mass of the people did not even enter the outer court. Into the inner court none but the priests could ever dare to come; while into the innermost place, or the holy of holies, but once a year one person only ever entered. The Lord seemed ever to be saying to the whole of His people, with but a few exceptions, “Do not come near here.” It was the dispensation of distance, as if the Lord in those early ages would teach man that sin was so utterly loathsome to Him that He must treat men as lepers put without the camp. When He came nearest to them, He still made them feel the width of the separation between a holy God and the impure sinner. You cannot get nearer to God than that on the footing of works, for Mount Sinai is the symbol of works. Look to the flames that Moses saw, and shrink, and tremble, and despair. You cannot get to God that way. Calvary is the mountain.

Hebrews 12:21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling." (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: kai, outo phoberon en (3SIAI) to phantazomenon, (PPPNSN) Mouses eipen, (3SAAI) Ekphobos eimi (1SPAI) kai entromos.

Amplified: In fact, so awful and terrifying was the [phenomenal] sight that Moses said, I am terrified (aghast and trembling with fear). (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, "I am terrified and trembling." (NLT - Tyndale House)

Young's Literal: and, (so terrible was the sight,) Moses said, 'I am fearful exceedingly, and trembling.'

AND SO TERRIBLE WAS THE SIGHT, [THAT] MOSES SAID: kai outo phoberon en (3SISA) to phantazomenon (PPPNSN) Mouses eipen (3SAAI): (Ex 19:16,19 Ps 119:120 Isa 6:3-5 Da 10:8,17 Rev 1:17)


Play Our God is an Awesome God!

Keep in mind that what the writer is trying to convey to his Jewish readers who were being tempted to go back to the Law (ritual, sacrificial system, Levitical priesthood, etc) God under the Old Covenant was in essence "untouchable" and one could approach Him perilously and cautiously, but even then only from a distance (Ex 20:18-21, especially Ex 20:21 "So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God [was.]")

The words quoted by the author in Heb 12:21 are not found in the Sinai narrative but many think this quote refers to words Moses recorded in the context of his description of the golden calf (Dt 9:19). The picture is of an awful and overpowering occasion, one that affected all the people and terrified even Moses, the man of God, the servant of God, the one with whom God would speak “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend”. (Ex 33:11)

Terrible (5398) (phoberos from phobos= fear from phébomai = flee from) is an adjective which means causing or inspiring fear, frightful, formidable: fearful, dreadful, terrible, horrifying.

Phoberos is frequently used in the OT (Septuagint) to describe God as awesome (Dt 10:17, Neh 1:5, Neh 9:32, Ps 66:5, 89:7, 99:3, 111:9, Da 9:4) as well as His awesome deeds (Ps 66:3, 5, 106:22, 145:6)

Vine on phoberos - "fearful" (akin to A, No. 1 - phobos), is used only in the Active sense in the NT, i.e., causing "fear, terrible." (Fear, Fearful, Fearfulness - Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words)

Phoberos was used also in Hebrews 10 - "but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries" (Heb 10:27-note) and "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb 10:31-note)

Phoberos - 39v in the Septuagint - Gen 28:17; Dt 1:19; 2:7; 8:15; 10:17; Jdg 13:6; 1Chr 16:25; Neh 1:5; 4:14; 9:32; Esther 5:1; Ps 47:2; 66:3, 5; 76:7, 12; 89:7; 96:4; 99:3; 106:22; 111:9; 145:6; Pr 12:25; Isa 21:1; Dan 2:31; 4:1; 7:7, 19; 9:4; Hab 1:7;

Genesis 28:17 He was afraid and said, "How awesome (Heb - yare = to fear, be afraid, frightened; Lxx = phoberos) is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

Deuteronomy 1:19 (Dt 8:5 similar) "Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible (Heb - yare = to fear, be afraid, frightened; Lxx = phoberos) wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the LORD our God had commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea.

Deuteronomy 10:17 "For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome (Heb - yare = to fear, be afraid, frightened; Lxx = phoberos) God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.

Judges 13:6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, "A Man of God came to me and His appearance was like the appearance of the Angel of God (In context it was a pre-incarnate Christophany = Angel of the LORD - see Jdg 13:3), very awesome (Heb - yare = to fear, be afraid, frightened; Lxx = phoberos). And I did not ask Him where he came from, nor did He tell me His Name."

1 Chronicles 16:25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared (Literally "fearful He is" - Heb - yare = to fear, be afraid, frightened; Lxx = phoberos) above all gods.

Phoberos gives a further indication of the awesomeness of God and the solemnity life under the Law. The words quoted are not found in the Sinai narrative but do occur at the time of the golden calf (Dt 9:11-18) -

For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but the LORD listened to me that time also. (Dt 9:19).

The picture is of an awful and overpowering occasion, one that affected all the people and terrified even Moses, the man of God the one with whom God would speak “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend”. (Ex 33:11)

Spurgeon - The mount of God stood out in terrible sublimity against the sky, holding communion with the stars, but refusing to deal with men. It was sublime, but stern and tempest-beaten. God came upon Sinai with His law, and the dread mount became a type of what the law would be to us. It has given us a grand idea of holiness, but it has not offered us a pathway to it, nor furnished a weary heart with a resting place, nor supplied a hungry soul with spiritual food. It can never be the place where congregated multitudes erect a city for themselves and a temple for the living God. It is not the shrine of fellowship, but the throne of authority and justice.

"I AM FULL OF FEAR AND TREMBLING": Ekphobos eimi (1SPAI) kai entromos:

Think about this declaration by Moses. Moses is the one who had been granted "access" to the mountain, who had seen the burning bush (and live) and had received the tablets of the Law. Despite these incredible encounters with Yahweh, Moses still declares "I am continually (present tense) full of fear and trembling." Our God is an awesome (see phoberos above) God (keeping in mind that the noun "awe" is "an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime."

Full of fear (1630)(ekphobos from ek = out, used as an intensive + phobeo = to terrify, to frighten) is an adjective which means stricken with fear or terror, exceedingly frightened, terrified, intensely afraid.

Wuest notes that "the word “fear” is intensified as to its meaning by the prefixed preposition. It is ekphobos, literally, I am “frightened out or away.”

Ekphobos - 2x in NT

Mark 9:6 For he (Peter on the mountain at time of Jesus' transfiguration) did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.

Ekphobos - 1x in Septuagint

Deuteronomy 9:19 "For I was afraid ("ekphobos eimi") of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but the LORD listened to me that time also.

Trembling (1790)(entromos from en = in + tromos = trembling, quaking, from tremo = to tremble, especially with fear) means trembling with fear. It is a picturesque adjective which refers to "being in a quivering condition because of exposure to an overwhelming or threatening circumstance."

Entromos - 3x in the NT -

Acts 7:32 (quoting Exodus 3:6) 'I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC AND JACOB.' Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look.

Acts 16:29 And he (Philippian jailer) called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,

Hebrews 12:21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling."

Entromos - 3x in the Septuagint

Psalm 18:7 Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry.

Psalm 77:18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook.

Daniel 10:11 He said to me, "O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you." And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.

All this speaks eloquently of the nature and ministry of the Law, for the Law is a firstly a revelation of God’s righteous requirements and secondly is a revelation of His wrath against sin. The writer of Hebrews is trying to remind his readers that the purpose of the law was never to provide a way of salvation but even from the very inception was given that it might produce a knowledge of personal sin. The words "terrible… full of fear… trembling" all speak of the great gulf between the Holy God and sinful man. Indeed, the Law brought a ministry of condemnation, darkness, and gloom. Why would anyone in their right mind want to return to such a situation?

Wuest sums up Heb 12:20-21 - Their fear arose from God’s initial command in Exodus 19:12–13 (summarized rather than directly quoted in the words “if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned”), which isolated the mountain temporarily as a sacred area to which only Moses and Aaron were admitted. As a result, the Ten Commandments and the laws of the covenant were given to Moses to transmit to the people, who kept their distance so that they should not hear God’s voice and die (Ex 20:18–21; cf. Dt 5:23–27). Even Moses, who was granted privileged access to the mountain, was not immune to the terror of the occasion, according to our author, though the words quoted, “I am trembling with fear,” echo Deuteronomy 9:19. There Moses recalls not his initial approach to God at Sinai but his return to plead for the people after their idolatry with the golden calf, when the main cause of his fear was the Lord’s anger at what the people had done rather than the frightening physical phenomena. The story of Sinai and of the establishment of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh thus symbolizes for our author a religion of fear and separation, which is the very opposite of the confident approach to God that Christ has won for his people (Heb 10:19–23). The following verses speak of a religion where the worshiper is no longer kept at arm’s length but welcomed and included. (Hebrews - Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament)

Spurgeon - You who are under the law, you who are trying to win God’s favor by your good works, you who fancy that human merit can bring you salvation, look to the flames that Moses saw, and sink, and tremble, and despair. You who think that you can live as the law requires, and so attain to everlasting life, may well stand shivering and trembling before this almighty though invisible God. His lightnings blaze before your eyes, and His voice of thunder must alarm the stoutest heart. Terrible is the plight of the man who has to depend upon what Sinai can give him.