Hebrews 12:21
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
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(21) And so terrible was the sight that. . . .—Better, And (so fearful was the appearance) Moses said, I exceedingly fear and tremble. Deuteronomy 9:19, as it stands in the Greek translation, contains these words in part (“I exceedingly fear”); there, however, they belong to a later time, when Moses was “afraid of the anger and hot displeasure” of the Lord against the worshippers of the golden calf (Exodus 32). Various Jewish traditions speak of the terror of Moses as upon Mount Sinai he beheld the wonders of the heavenly world (see Hebrews 2:2); but no saying that has been preserved throws additional light on the words before us.

12:18-29 Mount Sinai, on which the Jewish church state was formed, was a mount such as might be touched, though forbidden to be so, a place that could be felt; so the Mosaic dispensation was much in outward and earthly things. The gospel state is kind and condescending, suited to our weak frame. Under the gospel all may come with boldness to God's presence. But the most holy must despair, if judged by the holy law given from Sinai, without a Saviour. The gospel church is called Mount Zion; there believers have clearer views of heaven, and more heavenly tempers of soul. All the children of God are heirs, and every one has the privileges of the first-born. Let a soul be supposed to join that glorious assembly and church above, that is yet unacquainted with God, still carnally-minded, loving this present world and state of things, looking back to it with a lingering eye, full of pride and guile, filled with lusts; such a soul would seem to have mistaken its way, place, state, and company. It would be uneasy to itself and all about it. Christ is the Mediator of this new covenant, between God and man, to bring them together in this covenant; to keep them together; to plead with God for us, and to plead with us for God; and at length to bring God and his people together in heaven. This covenant is made firm by the blood of Christ sprinkled upon our consciences, as the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled upon the altar and the victim. This blood of Christ speaks in behalf of sinners; it pleads not for vengeance, but for mercy. See then that you refuse not his gracious call and offered salvation. See that you do not refuse Him who speaketh from heaven, with infinite tenderness and love; for how can those escape, who turn from God in unbelief or apostacy, while he so graciously beseeches them to be reconciled, and to receive his everlasting favour! God's dealing with men under the gospel, in a way of grace, assures us, that he will deal with the despisers of the gospel, in a way of judgment. We cannot worship God acceptably, unless we worship him with reverence and godly fear. Only the grace of God enables us to worship God aright. God is the same just and righteous God under the gospel as under the law. The inheritance of believers is secured to them; and all things pertaining to salvation are freely given in answer to prayer. Let us seek for grace, that we may serve God with reverence and godly fear.And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said ... - This is not recorded in the account of the giving of the Law in Exodus, and it has been made a question on what authority the apostle made this declaration respecting Moses. In Deuteronomy 9:19, Moses indeed says, of himself, after he had come down from the mountain, and had broken the two tables of stone that were in his hand, that he was greatly afraid of the anger of the Lord on account of the sin of the people. "I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you;" and it has been supposed by many that this is the passage to which the apostle here alludes. But it is very evident that was spoken on a different occasion from the one which is referred to in the passage before us. That was after the Law was promulgated, and Moses had descended from the mount; and it was not said in view of the terrors of the scene when the Law was given, but of the apprehension of the wrath of God against the people for their sin in making the golden calf.

I know not how to explain this, except by the supposition that the apostle here refers to some tradition that the scene produced this effect on his mind. In itself it is not improbable that Moses thus trembled with alarm (compare Exodus 19:16), nor that the remembrance of it should have been handed down among the numerous traditions which the Jews transmitted from age to age. There must have been many things that occurred in their journey through the wilderness which are not recorded in the Books of Moses. Many of them would be preserved naturally in the memory of the people, and transmitted to their posterity; and though those truths might become intermingled with much that was fabulous, yet it is not irrational to suppose that an inspired writer may have adduced pertinent and true examples from these traditions of what actually occurred. It was one method of preserving "the truth," thus to select such instances of what actually took place from the mass of traditions which were destined to perish, at would be useful in future times. The circumstance here mentioned was greatly suited to increase the impression of the sublimity and fearfulness of the scene. Moses was accustomed to commune with God. He had met him at the "bush," and had been addressed by him face to face, and yet so awful were the scenes at Horeb that even he could not bear it with composure. What may we then suppose to have been the alarm of the body of the people, when the mind of the great leader himself was thus overpowered!

21. the sight—the vision of God's majesty.

quake—Greek, "I am in trembling"; "fear" affected his mind: "trembling," his body. Moses is not recorded in Exodus to have used these words. But Paul, by inspiration, supplies (compare Ac 20:35; 2Ti 3:8) this detail. We read in De 9:19, Septuagint, of similar words used by Moses after breaking the two tables, through fear of God's anger at the people's sin in making the golden calves. He doubtless similarly "feared" in hearing the ten commandments spoken by the voice of Jehovah.

It must needs be a dreadful, fearful, horrid, and astonishing apparition, and exhibition of the great Lawgiver here, that such a person as Moses, so sanctified by him, so favoured with familiarity with him, so constituted mediator between the people and God in this work for their good and comfort, so called and ordered by God to manage it, yet should cry to God to succour him, while he did quake and tremble at it; and was comforted and strengthened by God’s voice to him again, Exodus 19:19. Christians now have no call nor access to so terrible a dispensation of the covenant, but have immunity, exemption, and freedom from it, which was not so helpful to holiness as the gospel dispensation, to which now they have actual admission, having freed them from all the terrors and curses of the Mosaical one.

And so terrible was the sight,.... Of the smoke, fire, and lightnings; or of God himself, who descended on the mount; with which agrees the Arabic version, which renders the words, "and so terrible was he who vouchsafed himself to be seen"; not in the bush burning with fire; at which time Moses was afraid to look upon God, Exodus 3:6 but on Mount Sinai, when the law was given:

that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake: perhaps he might say this, when he spake, and God answered him, Exodus 19:19. These words are nowhere recorded in Scripture; wherefore the apostle had them either by divine revelation, or from tradition, confirmed by the former: for the Jews have a notion that Moses did quake and tremble, and when upon the mount; and that he expressed his fear and dread. They have such a tradition as this (e);

"when Moses ascended on high, the ministering angels said before the holy blessed God, Lord of the world, what has this man, born of a woman, to do among us? he said unto them, to receive the law he is come; they replied before him, that desirable treasure, which is treasured up with thee, nine hundred, and seventy, and four generations, before the world was created, dost thou seek to give to flesh and blood? "What is man, that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou visitest him? who hast set thy glory above the heavens!" The holy blessed God said to Moses, return them an answer; he said, before him, Lord of the world, , "I am afraid", lest they should burn, (or consume) me, with the breath of their mouth.''

Compare this last clause with 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and elsewhere (f) those words being cited, he called unto Moses, Exodus 25:16 it is observed:

"this Scripture comes not, but "to terrify him"; that so the law might be given with fear, fervour, and trembling; as it is said, Psalm 2:11''

Once more (g),

"at the time that the holy blessed God said to Moses, "go, get thee down, for thy people have corrupted themselves", Exodus 32:7 , "Moses trembled"; and he could not speak, &c.''

And again, it is said (h), that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, supplicating for the people of Israel, five destroying angels appeared, and immediately , "Moses was afraid". Now this circumstance is mentioned by the apostle, to aggravate the terror of that dispensation; that Moses, a great and good man; and who had much familiarity with God; the general of the people of Israel; their leader and commander; a man of great courage and presence of mind; and was their mediator between God and them; and yet feared, and quaked: the best of men are not without sin; and the most holy man on earth cannot stand before a holy God, and his holy law, upon the foot of his own righteousness, without trembling: it is an awful thing to draw nigh to God; and there is no such thing as doing it without a Mediator; and that Mediator must be more than a creature: and it is our happiness that we have such a Mediator, who never feared, nor quaked; who failed not, nor was he discouraged.

(e) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 88. 2. Yalkut, 2. par. 2. fol. 92. (f) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 4. 2.((g) Zohar in Exod. fol. 84. 4. (h) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 69. 4.

And so terrible was the {i} sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)

(i) The shape and form which he saw, which was no counterfeit and forged shape, but a true one.

Hebrews 12:21. Καί] is the ordinary conjunctive “and.” It belongs not to οὕτως φοβερὸν ἦν τὸ φανταζόμενον, in such wise that Μωϋσῆς εἶπεν κ.τ.λ. “is added by way of appendix, with an accentuation of the subject which renders any connecting particle unnecessary” (Hofmann), but to Μωϋσῆς εἶπεν, in such wise that οὕτως φοβερὸν ἦν τὸ φανταζόμενον forms an exclamation, inserted parenthetically within the greater parenthesis: and—so terrible was the appearing!

MOSES said, I am sore afraid and tremble. καί cannot be taken, with Jac. Cappellus, Carpzov, Schulz, Knapp, Böhme, Bloomfield, and others, for the enhancing “even.” For, from its position, it can only serve for the connection of the clauses, while for the indication of the sense alleged an additional καί immediately before Μωϋσῆς (or even an αὐτός before the same) would have been required. Yet the right feeling underlies this interpretation: that, regarded as a fact, Hebrews 12:21 contains an ascending gradation from Hebrews 12:20, inasmuch as the being seized with fear, which at Hebrews 12:20 was asserted of the people, is now in like manner predicated of Moses, the leader of the people.

τὸ φανταζόμενον] equivalent to τὸ φαινόμενον, the appearing, the visible covering in which the invisible God manifested Himself to the Israelites. Theodoret: φανταζόμενον δὲ εἶπεν, ἐπειδὴ οὐκ αὐτὸν ἑώρων τὸν τῶν ὅλων θεὸν ἀλλά τινα φαντασίαν τῆς θείας ἐπιφανείας

The verb φαντάζεσθαι, in the N. T. only here.

ἔκφοβός εἰμι καὶ ἔντρομος] In the accounts of the promulgation of the law given in the Pentateuch, an expression of this kind on the part of Moses is not met with. According to Zeger, Beza, Estius, Schlichting, Chr. Fr. Schmid [M‘Lean, with hesitation], Heinrichs, Stuart, Stein, and others, the author drew the same from tradition; according to Owen and Calov, he gained the knowledge even from immediate inspiration; while Carpzov will not have an actual utterance of Moses thought of at all, but, on the contrary, takes the formula: “Moses dicit: horreo et tremo,” as of the same meaning with the bare “Moses horret et tremit;” and Calvin has recourse to the not less violent expedient: “Mosem nomine populi sic loquutum, cujus mandata quasi internuntius ad Deum referebat. Fuit igitur haec communis totius populi querimonia; sed Moses inducitur, qui fuit veluti commune et omnium.” Without doubt the words of LXX. Deuteronomy 9:19 [cf. Hebrews 12:15] were present to the mind of the author, where in another connection Moses says: καὶ ἔκφοβός εἰμι. These words he then transferred, by virtue of an inexact reminiscence, to the time of the promulgation of the law.

21. the sight] “the splendour of the spectacle” (τὸ φανταζόμενον, here only in N.T.). The true punctuation of the verse is And—so fearful was the spectacle—Moses said …

I exceedingly fear and quake] No such speech of Moses at Sinai is recorded in the Pentateuch. The writer is either drawing from the Jewish Hagadah or (by a mode of citation not uncommon) is compressing two incidents into one. For in Deuteronomy 9:19 Moses, after the apostasy of Israel in worshipping the Golden Calf, said, “I was afraid (LXX. καὶ ἔκφοβός εἰμι) of the anger and hot displeasure of the Lord,” and in Acts 7:32 we find the words “becoming a-tremble” (ἔντρομος γενόμενος) to express the fear of Moses on seeing the Burning Bush (though here also there is no mention of any trembling in Exodus 3:6). The tradition of Moses’ terror is found in Jewish writings. In Shabbath f. 88. 2 he explains “Lord of the Universe I am afraid lest they (the Angels) should consume me with the breath of their mouths.” Comp. Midrash Koheleth f. 69. 4.

Hebrews 12:21. Τὸ φανταζόμενον, the sight) A most real sight is meant. Herodian, εἴτε ἀληθῶς ἐφαντάσθη τισὶν, , κ.τ.λ., whether it was really seen by some, or, etc.—Μωϋσῆς, Moses) who however was the only one admitted very near, and therefore saw and felt more than the rest. He indeed acted as the messenger between God and the people; but while the very words of the Ten Commandments were pronounced, he stood by as one of the hearers; Exodus 19:25; Exodus 20:16 (19).—ἔκφοβός εἰμι καὶ ἔντρομος) I am struck with fear of mind, and trembling of body. The words differ: 1 Corinthians 2:3, notes. In Deuteronomy 9:19, for יגרתי, “I was afraid,” the LXX. have ἔκφοβός εἰμι, in the present. The apostle adopts that version, and supplies, καὶ ἔντρομος. Thereby Moses shows his fear and trembling for the anger of God, which had been kindled by the misconduct of the people after the giving of the law: but the sight itself presented to the eyes of Moses, who was previously also reckoned one of the people, Exodus 19:23, in the word, בנו; ch. Exodus 34:27, rendered his fear the greater on account of the misconduct of the people, while the burning of the mountain still continued; Deuteronomy 9:15.

Hebrews 12:21The sight (τὸ φανταζόμενον)

N.T.o. lxx, Wisd. 6:16; Sir. 31:5. Rend. "the appearance": that which was made to appear.

I exceedingly fear and quake (ἐκφοβός εἰμι καὶ ἔντρομος)

Lit. I am frightened away (or out) and trembling. Ἑκφοβός only here and Mark 9:6. Comp. lxx, Deuteronomy 9:19. Ἔντρομος, only Acts 7:32; Acts 16:29. Rare in lxx.

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