NIB HEBREWS 12:18-29

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Posted: Sun, Feb 5 2012 10:00 AM

http://www.logos.com/product/8803/new-interpreters-bible

This wonderful resource only needs a few more orders to get it into production. Please consider this wonderful resource, now that it is at a very reasonable pre pub price.

-dan

HEBREWS 12:18-29, ZION, THE UNSHAKABLE KINGDOM

COMMENTARY

Chapter 12 concludes with two sharp contrasts, that which is palpable (can be touched) and that which is heavenly (vv. 18-24), and that which is shaken and that which cannot be shaken (vv. 25-29).

12:18-21. The first contrast is between Mount 

 

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Sinai and Mount Zion, even though Mount Sinai is not named (some MSS have “mountain” in v. 18). Details of the description of the theophany at Sinai are taken primarily from Exod 19:16-22; 20:18-21; Deut 4:11-12; 5:22-27; 9:19, although “gloom” is probably the writer's contribution to the scene, and “palpable” is borrowed from the description of the plague of darkness in Egypt (Exod 10:21; cf. Luke 24:39; 1 John 1:1). The condensation of the several accounts into one sentence (Greek text, vv. 18-21) makes the event even more terrifying. Of course, this is the effect desired by the writer. The traditional symbols of God's presence are all here—wind, fire, and thick darkness—but the net effect is that the people cannot bear it: “Do not let God speak to us or we shall die” (Exod 20:19). If even an animal barely touched the mountain, it would be stoned to death (Exod 19:13); the reader can conclude what the fate of a person would be. The writer's point is unavoidable: The conditions under which the old covenant was given were dread, fear, distance, and exclusion (Exod 19:23). The old tabernacle, with its curtain, preserved the features of distance, exclusion, and inaccessibility.

12:22-24. The second half of this first contrast opens with an expression parallel to v. 18: “You have not come. You have come.” The verb “come” (prose"rcomai proserchomai) is cultic, referring to one's approach in worship, and its tense is perfect, implying an action begun and continuing. If worship is the means of drawing near, no details of the modes or elements of worship are provided.

As impressive, however, as were the details of the description of Mount Sinai are the details of the destination of the pilgrim Christians. Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and heavenly Jerusalem are in reality a single eschatological reference. Since the time of David, Zion and Jerusalem were regarded as the location of God's presence, sometimes both being named, sometimes one or the other (Ps 2:6; Isa 8:18; Mic 4:1; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17). Of course, the writer has in mind the heavenly Jerusalem, the city for which the faithful long (11:10, 16). Within the heavenly city are “myriads of angels,” the thousands upon thousands of angels who fill God's court and attend God's self-disclosures (Deut 33:2; Ps 68:17-18; Dan 7:10; Rev 5:11). The angels are in “festal gathering;”147 that is, in joyous celebration (festivals were a staple in Israel's worship, Hos 9:5; Amos 5:21). The term “panegyric” (panh"guriv panegyris) occurs only here in the NT. The assembly (“congregation,” “church” 2:12) of the “firstborn” has two strong connotations: The firstborn receive the inheritance (12:16), an important theme in Hebrews; and they share in the benefits of him who is the Firstborn of God (1:6; cf. Col 1:15, 18). That they have been entered in God's registry is a familiar biblical image (Exod 32:32; Dan 12:1; Luke 10:20; Rev 13:18; 17:8). That “you have come” to “a judge, God of all” (a better rendering of the word order than “God, judge of all”) is in this context a positive and welcome experience. The judge is the God of all, and, therefore, the believers can anticipate fairness, impartiality, and vindication as well as condemnation. Those who trust God do not fear the day of judgment.

The spirits of the righteous being in the presence of God is a traditional figure (Wis 3:1; Rev 6:9-10), but to it the writer joins a familiar theme: perfection. This means the righteous dead have completed their pilgrimage, to be joined by the faithful readers who have been given access to God through the self-offering of Christ (10:14; 11:40), who was himself perfected through what he suffered (2:10). The final image in the list of the blessings to which the readers “have come” is that of Jesus and his sprinkled blood. The use of the name “Jesus” recalls his suffering humanity (2:9; 12:2); the entire expression evokes the imagery and argument of chaps. 8–9, where Jesus is portrayed as the mediator of the new covenant whose sprinkled blood cleanses our hearts (10:22) and completes the new covenant with God. That the blood of Jesus speaks a better word than that of Abel should not be read as a contrast but as a comparison. This is to say, the reference to Abel recalls 11:4, which refers to his acceptable sacrifice of an animal (Gen 4:4) rather than to Gen 4:10, which says that Abel's own spilled blood cried out for revenge against Cain. In this sense, the message of Christ's blood is “better than” (a favorite phrase of Hebrews) rather than “different from” Abel's.

 

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12:25. The vivid language of vv. 18-24 becomes the basis from which to launch a strong warning (“see to it,” “watch it”). The contrast between Sinai and Zion continues as a contrast between earth and heaven, between what will be shaken and what cannot be shaken. Such a warning is not new to Hebrews (3:12; and with a different word for “be watchful,” 12:15-16). At v. 19, Israel at Sinai begged that God speak no more to them; at v. 25, they reject the one speaking. The seriousness of that refusal and its warning to the readers is made even more clear by the recollection that the God of Hebrews is the One who speaks (1:1; 2:1-4; 3:7-8a; 4:12-13). In a now familiar argument from lesser to greater (2:2-4; 10:26-29), the author again contrasts Israel and the readers. The writer has earlier made it abundantly clear that the unbelieving and disobedient people did not escape God's punishment (2:3; 3:16-18; 4:11; 10:27-28). How unreasonable, then, to think that we will escape if we refuse the voice from heaven. In both cases the voice is God's, but the writer does not think it necessary to repeat the differences, both in benefits and in obligations, between the old and earthly and the new and heavenly (9:1-14, 23-28). To reject, to refuse, to turn away from recalls the warnings about apostasy in 6:6-8, 10:26-31, and perhaps 12:15-17.

12:26-27. The earth/heaven contrast becomes a then/now contrast, introducing the quotation of Hag 2:6. The theophany at Sinai caused the earth to shake (though not in Exodus 19:1–20; other references to the event include the language, Judg 5:4; Ps 68:8). The shaking of the earth became a common feature of descriptions of theophanies (Ps 18:7; Isa 6:4; Amos 9:5; Matt 27:51). Thus the language of “shaking,” used to introduce Hag 2:6, then found within the quotation itself, and finally in the homiletical exposition of the quotation, governs the closing lines of chap. 12. Haggai 2:6 was the prophet's word of assurance concerning the future splendor of the Temple in a time of great confusion and disappointment. The writer of Hebrews quotes only one-half of the verse, from the LXX and with slight modifications, to point to an eschatological shaking of the old universe, its totality being expressed as “not only the earth but also the heaven.”148 This, says the writer, is what God has “promised,” extending the meaning of Hag 2:6 beyond the shaking of the nations to the shaking of all creation (v. 27). To support this interpretation, the adverbial “yet once more” of the quotation is cited.

In the eschatological convulsion, all created things will be removed. Creation is here portrayed, not as evil or corrupt, but as temporal and transient, just as heaven and earth were portrayed in 1:10-12, in contrast to the eternality of God and God's Son. All that will remain will be that which cannot be shaken. Verses 26-27 do not seem to present the sequence of the end of the old heaven and earth and the beginning of the new as in some biblical writings (Isa 65:17; 1 Cor 7:21; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1). What is unshakable has been there all along but will be fully and finally evident after the removal of all that is temporary. This contrast again echoes Ps 102:25-27, cited at 1:10-12 and implied in the contrasts running through the central argument of the epistle. Those things that “remain” (v. 27), that are constant and unshakable, are God's Son (1:11), Christ the high priest like Melchizedek (5:6; 6:20; 7:3; 10:13-14), the lasting possession of those who remain faithful (10:34), and the city that abides forever (11:10, 16; 13:14). Christ's continuing priesthood and the benefits of that priesthood, which will accrue to those who endure, are unshakable because they are established in the unchangeable character and purpose of God (6:17-19).

12:28. The quotation of Hag 2:6 with homiletical commentary leads naturally into an exhortation: “Since we are receiving a kingdom [a phrase from Dan 7:10] that cannot be shaken” (ajsa"leutov asaleutos; strikingly the verb “are receiving” (paralamba"nontev paralambanontes) is present tense). Again the future is balanced with the present, because the event that determines the eschaton has already occurred and the community of faith is already participating in its benefits (4:14-16; 9:14; 10:19-22). From the community's perspective the access to God already available is lived out in their worship, and worship that pleases God (13:16, 21; recall Enoch, 11:5) is marked by gratitude, reverence, and awe. Giving thanks (e[cwmen ca"rin echomen charin; lit., “have gratitude”; cf. Luke 17:9; 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 1:3) is the overall framework for “offering service” (liturgical), an expression 

 

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already familiar (8:5; 9:9; 10:2). Reverence and awe inject into Christian worship reminders that it is God whom we approach. It was with reverence that Noah received the warning of a flood to come (11:7), and it was with reverence that Jesus cried out to the God who could save him from death (5:7). The word “awe” (deo"v deos) is even more sobering. It appears only here in the NT, but it occurs in the LXX in scenes of terror and trembling (2 Macc 3:17, 30; 12:22; 13:16; 15:23). Obviously the writer is thinking ahead to the next statement (v. 29), which reminds the reader that the reason for reverence and awe lies in an ancient portrayal of God that is not lightly to be dismissed on the grounds that we are Christians and not Israelites.

12:29. This verse is a quotation of Deut 4:24a, modified so as to address the present audience, among whom the writer is included (“our God” for “your God”). In biblical texts, fire is often associated with the presence of God (1:7; 12:18; Acts 2:3; Joel 2:3; Sir 45:19), and especially in scenes of judgment (6:8; Matt 25:41; 1 Cor 3:13; 2 Thess 1:7-8; 2 Pet 3:7). The writer apparently thought it appropriate to conclude this exhortation with the same stern voice with which 10:26-31 ended, not simply because of the nature of worship that reveres the awesomeness of God, but because of pastoral concern for a church plagued by neglect, apathy, absenteeism, retreat, and near the point of apostasy. But as is this preacher's custom, stern warnings are followed by more positive words of instruction and encouragement.

REFLECTIONS

1. Rhetoricians have long known that vivid contrasts are more effective as a communication strategy than are coordinated words and phrases. Contrasts can be dangerous, however, in that they invite overextension and loss of precision in the effort to have the greatest possible effect on the audience. Therefore, in dealing with passages, such as Heb 12:18-29, that are structured on a series of contrasts, the preacher will want to be careful. First, it is important to be reminded that both Sinai and Zion, the earthly and the heavenly, the then and the now, the shakable and the unshakable, have their source in God. This realization will serve as a guard against improper value judgments, such as evil and good, false and true, corrupt and pure. Second, one wants to locate the true points of contrast. For example, the author does not place in opposition the objective and the subjective, as though Israel's law and cultus were concerned only with things and with activities while the Christians attend to the heart. Nothing could be farther from the writer's message.

The author does sharply contrast the transient and the permanent. There is a transiency about all the order of creation, but there is another order of reality, apprehended by faith (11:1), that has its center in God and in God's Son, who has made available the believer's access to God. And the writer does sharply contrast those who have refused to listen to God and those who do listen. This contrast is presented, not to blame and to praise but to warn. Obstinacy is not confined to the past, nor is it a trait peculiar to persons at whom the finger can be pointed. The readers, therefore, are not to be proud by reason of some advantage; rather, they are to be humbled by the realization of greater responsibility borne by those to whom much is given.

2. The present and practical side to the grand eschatological image of God's dwelling place is the worship of the Christian community (v. 28). Worship is the means by which the church in its present life draws near to God. Worshipers approach God with confidence, knowing that in Jesus our priest we will find mercy and grace to help (4:14-16). This understanding infuses every word and act of worship with gratitude (v. 28). But never does the worshiper forget that it is God whom we approach and that, therefore, the service is offered in reverence and awe (v. 28). A service of worship is designed and implemented so as to be appropriate to the nature of God. Unless worshipers are informed and led in ways that have their reasons 

 

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in theology and christology, preferences in music, texts, and preaching, while satisfying certain appetites, may fall short of “acceptable worship.” The image of “a consuming fire” (v. 29), while jolting and distancing at first, reminds a congregation that has grown neglectful, apathetic, dull of hearing, and indifferent toward its own gatherings (10:25) that its life of worship is not to sink into that same carelessness. In fact, 12:28-29 may also be understood to imply that designing worship that abandons gratitude, reverence, and awe in order to please passing tastes may meet with some applause but fail in what is acceptable to God.

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Brother Mark | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Feb 5 2012 10:25 AM

 

Dear Lord, please help Logos move this resource out of Pre-pub before Dan either wears out his keyboard, exceeds his bandwidth allotment, or our patience. Amen!

Wink

"I read dead people..."

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Ted Hans | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Feb 5 2012 1:22 PM

Brother Mark:

 

Dear Lord, please help Logos move this resource out of Pre-pub before Dan either wears out his keyboard, exceeds his bandwidth allotment, or our patience. Amen!

Wink

Amen. I'm in Smile

 

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Michael Childs | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 6 2012 9:56 AM

I appreciate the wonderful job Dan had done in promoting this excellent resource.

Yes

"In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church," John Wesley

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Alexander | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 6 2012 10:17 AM

I'd be in if we could go back to the community pricing :D

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 6 2012 10:45 AM

Alexander Longacre:

I'd be in if we could go back to the community pricing :D

Community Pricing is only for public domain works, and initial pricing was scary full retail  price. now they are offering it at a very good deal.

 

-Dan

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