Hebrews 12:18-29 – Marching to Zion

The writer of Hebrews concludes his book by using a common metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God – they are in the wilderness and coming to Mt. Sinai.  It is clear that the writer has Sinai in mind in verses 18-21, but he draws a strong contrast between the “mountain which could be touched” (Sinai) and Zion, a mountain which cannot be touched.  In order to describe this contrast between the two covenants, he contrasts the two mountains where the covenants were enacted.  He combines texts from Exodus and Deuteronomy which describe the theophany at Mt. Sinai as fearsome and then compares them to our heavenly destination, Mount Zion.

The writer begins saying that salvation in the present age is not at all like the Old Covenant.  Sinai was a  physical place, which can be touched, but it is a place burning with fire.  There may be a bit more referred to here than just the mountain itself.  The word for “touched” is to “make an effort, despite difficulties, to come to know something, when the chances of success in such an enterprise are not particularly great – ‘to feel around for, to grope for, to try to find.’” (Louw/Nida) It is used of a “groping about like a blind man” (LS)

When you read the passage from Exodus it is clear that there was a tangible “feeling” of the presence of God, but the people were not comforted by it at all, they were terrified.  The image is of a person robbed of sight, feeling around for something that cannot really grasp.

The story of the terror of Mt. Sinai is, for the writer, a summary of the Old Covenant, it could not bring a relationship with God, it could only bring fear and judgement.   The New Covenant, however, does not bring its participants to Mt Sinai, but rather to Mt. Zion.

In contrast to this terror, the New Covenant is associated with Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God.  While the physical Zion was the original name of the fortress captured by David in Jerusalem in 2 Samuel, Zion replaces Sinai as the focal point of Israel’s relationship with God in the prophets.  Isaiah 25, for example, describes Israel and all the nations gathering at Zion to eat the feast which the Lord has prepared there, rather than at Sinai.  Because the Lord “dwelt” in Zion, the place became a metaphor for heaven itself, the real dwelling place of God.  Here in Hebrews the City of God is called Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Instead of terror, our entry to Mount Zion is described as a joyful celebration.  There are thousands of angels in a joyful festival.  This “festival” (πανήγυρις).  The word is used only here in the New Testament and only four times in the LXX (Ez 46:11; Hos 2:13; 9:5; Am 5:21, all religious feasts). So too in classical Greek the word refers to a festal assembly in honor of some god.

But this is not only a “party,” the writer says that we are coming to God, the Judge of all men.  The entrance into heaven is to come into the presence of God.  God is described here as a Judge.  The word judge always has a negative connotation in our minds, though some take this word as meaning “vindicator” or “avenger.”  The entrance into God’s holy city is the ultimate vindication for our lives of suffering here on earth.

Salvation in the New Covenant therefore results in the glory of Heaven.  Instead of marching in the wilderness, we are Marching to Zion.

7 thoughts on “Hebrews 12:18-29 – Marching to Zion

  1. This post made a lot of things make sense as to why a Mormon keeps telling me to “remember Zion”. Who knew?

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  2. I find it very interesting the contrast between Mt. Sinai, and Mt. Zion. It puts a whole new perspective and outlook on the intended purpose of marching to Zion. Hebrews 12:1 makes mention to the cloud of witness, and to see the parallel structure of Mt. Zion to reading the Bible and Jobes validates this post. On the other side of spectrum, I haven’t done enough research to know why Sinai is such a terrible place. In reading the paragraph on the horrors of the place, one can conclude the real reason as to why it was horrible; which was because of the separation between God and his people and causing great fear and judgment. One, also, might wonder if that picture depicted on Mt. Sinai will be the one when Jesus comes back to judge those who still have yet to believe? In the story of Revelation about the Lake a Fire, my imagination sees parallels to fear and judgement and eternal separation. There is going to definitely be great fear and judgement when those who are not in the book of life or accepted get thrown into the Lake of Fire. Interesting post and connection blog.

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  3. I found it rather difficult to find some of the contrasts between the old covenant and the new, but this section really helped me personally put into perspective what the difference between the two different covenants are. The metaphor between the two mountains, one being a haunting and irredeemable path, and the other being a path of promise and new beginnings. Verse 28 gives the direct of application as well, that because of this gift, we need to worship God and to live that kind of lifestyle. The new covenant gives us that opportunity, and gives us the redemption for us when Jesus died on the cross.

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  4. I would agree with a lot of what Trent said. Its very interesting to think how differently Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion are described. My interpretation of why Mt. Sinai was so bad is that we know “God did what the law weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. (Romans 8:3). God knew the law would fail and he knew our sinful nature couldn’t be redeemed by the law but instead God becoming flesh. Marching towards Mt. Zion represents to the ultimate sacrifice and ultimate gift that God gives us. However there will be a judgment day and there will be a return of Jesus. The book of Revelation describes a lake of fire for all who don’t accept God’s free gift of eternal life. I would be interested in looking more into the connection of Mt. Zion and Mt.Sinai

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  5. As the previous commenters above, I, too am interested in the connection between Mt. Sinai and revelation, the last days, and the lake of fire. This is something that I never knew about Sinai. However I have heard a lot of things about Zion. I have heard Zion referred to as a type of promise land. Or the daughter of Zion referring to the church. Are these analogies correct? or are the loose interpretations of what the meaning of Zion actually is.

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