18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
Verses 18–24 compare the giving of the law with the majesty of the New Covenant. Verses 18–21 demonstrate the giving of the law. The contrast is between the physical features of the Old Covenant of the law with the spiritual dynamics of the New Covenant of grace. These verses are an overall summary of the argument of Hebrews to this point—Jesus is “greater than.”
Verses 18–21 show the mountain that Israel did not approach, and verses 22–24 demonstrate the mountain that Christians can approach. The idea is to point out the superiority of the New Covenant by comparing it with the Old Covenant (Mount Sinai). There is a big difference between living under the law and under grace. One emphasizes God’s uncompromising holiness and the consequences of failing to meet that standard; the other shows how Christians can come boldly unto the throne of His grace (He 4:16).
The word “for” explains how the church is under the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant from the Old Testament. Christians operate under higher privileges.
you have not come to the mountain that may be touched
The “mountain” here is Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16–22; 20:18–21). It was a physical mountain where God gave the law. God commanded that Israel was not to touch the mountain because it was God’s dwelling place. It was the place of giving of the law.
and that burned with fire,
God descended on Mount Sinai with fire (Ex 19:18).
and to blackness and darkness and tempest,
The blackness and darkness came from the clouds forming around the mount.
and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words,
Israel trembled at the trumpet sound on the Mount (Ex 19:16; 20:18).
so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.
God spoke the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:19; 20:1; Deut 4:11–13). Israel implored Moses to not speak to them about God’s revelation anymore because of its exacting demands. This sets a contrast to the New Covenant (He 12:25).
(For they could not endure what was commanded:
Israel could not endure the mandate from God. God was so unapproachably holy that violation of His standards meant death.
“And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”
These words are a summary of Exodus 19:12, 13. God commanded Israel to avoid Mount Sinai.
And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said,
Moses expressed his apprehension about being in the presence of God (Deut 9:19).
“I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
Moses was afraid of God’s response to Israel’s worship of the golden calf (Ex 32:1–6). God’s voice was so overwhelming to Moses that he entered a state of fear and trembling.
The demands of the law put the responsibility on the believer rather than Christ.
The Jews of Hebrews were afraid that they might face persecution because of their belief in Christ. They were apprehensive of human judgment because they had their priorities wrong. They should have been afraid of God’s assessment of their situation. The purpose of Sinai was to make people come to grips with their sin. God’s law was a mirror whereby they could look at God and then look at themselves. It is fearful to take an honest look at our sin.
Those who want to go back to the law need to remember the demands of the law. It casts a pall on the soul who stands under its condemnation. The Christian stands under the grace given by Christ (John 1:16–17).