12 August 2013Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
‘But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (v. 22)
Verses 18-19 are referring to Mount Sinai, as described in Exodus 19:12-13. This passage compares the approach of the Israelites to Mount Sinai with the approach of Christians to the heavenly Mount Zion; the city of God. Mount Sinai was where the old covenant between God and people was formed with the ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and Mount Zion is a picture of life in the new covenant created through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. In verse 22 this picture of the new covenant is named in three different ways (Mount Zion, the city of the living God and the heavenly Jerusalem) and all refer to the kingdom of heaven rather than to the earthly Mount Zion.
There is a strong contrast between the first mountain and the second mountain, which demonstrates the total significance of Jesus. The writer is, in a very visual and powerful way, aiming to convince his Jewish Christian audience of the worth of continuing with the Christian faith rather than reverting back to Judaism.
The descriptions of Mount Sinai in verses 18-19 also create an impression of impersonal forces such as fire, darkness and storm. The 'voice speaking words' is not given an identity in this passage, although we know from cross referencing with Exodus 19 that it was God. God is not seen by the people; their encounter is of a voice coming from a mountain enveloped in fire and smoke. Moses went to the top of the mountain and met who they were talking to, but for the rest of the Israelite people God was, at this point, both distant and unknowable.
On the other hand verse 22 speaks of the "city of the living God". God is alive and in the city - present, close and knowable. This description is full of person-centred details including names written down, countless angels, the spirits of the righteous made perfect (perhaps the people of faith listen in Hebrews 11) and the reader themselves, with the emotive words "you have come" repeated over and over. God and God's own family are together on the mountain.
- How do you feel about the descriptions of a place where God is as being "a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom and a tempest" (v. 18) and of the people wishing that from God "that not another word be spoken" (v. 19)?
- Picture yourself and God. After doing this go on to answer the question: Where was God in relation to you? Distant or close? Known or unknown?