The heart that dwells in Zion knows God in greater ways than the heart that dwells at Sinai ever could.
By Doug Reed
"For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 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. (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. And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel."
The writer of Hebrews speaks of two mountains. The first, Mount Sinai, was the place where Moses received various revelations from God such as the ten commandments and ordinances concerning the tabernacle and the Sabbath. The second is Mount Zion which refers to the temple mount in Jerusalem and also to the heavenly Jerusalem. We might ask what on earth do these two mountains have to do with our relationship with God? The answer is a great deal. We will look at why in this article.
The book of Hebrews is a book about covenants. It compares and contrasts the old and new covenants. The old testament is largely the story of the old covenant, and the new testament is the story of the new covenant. Jesus came to put away the old covenant and enact a new and more glorious covenant. When the new covenant came, relationship with God changed. God’s people went from a law based relationship to a grace based relationship.
The two mountains in Hebrews represent these two types of relationships, one based upon the Law and the other upon grace. In the first century it was vital that the early church understood their covenant with God. Hebrews exhorts them to leave behind Mount Sinai (the old covenant) for Mount Zion (the new covenant). Likewise, in our day, we need to understand our covenant with God. The heart that dwells in Zion comes to know God in far greater ways than the heart that dwells at Sinai ever could.
The old covenant was a Law based relationship with God. In other words, the amount of God’s blessings was determined by the people’s faithfulness. Just before the people entered into the promised land, God describes what such a relationship would be like.
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. 2And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. (Deut 28:1-8)"
Sounds pretty good, huh? It would be, but there were also curses for disobedience.
“But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country.
Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
The LORD will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me. The LORD will make the plague cling to you until He has consumed you from the land which you are going to possess. The LORD will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. The LORD will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed. (Deut 28:15-24)"
What God offered Israel is a “you get what you deserve” relationship with Him. Who among us would want this kind of relationship with God? How did it go for Israel? From the time of Moses to the time of Christ God’s people had the Law. This 1500 year period was for the most part a slow spiral downward. Finally, in the first century Rome destroyed apostate Israel.
From the very beginning there was signs of trouble. Recall what happened when Moses brought the Law down from Mount Sinai. While Moses was receiving the Law, Aaron and the rest were building an idol shaped like a golden calf. On that day 3000 men lost their lives due to the Lord’s anger. Some 1500 years later we see Peter stand up to preach on the day of Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost looked back to the day Moses brought God’s Law to the people. When Peter began to preach the glory of the new covenant, 3000 people were saved. This was a sure sign that something far greater and more glorious had come.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians tells us under the new covenant we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. If we were first century Jews reading this, certain things might strike us. We would see the promise of blessing, but we would notice it is different than when God spoke of blessing under Moses. There are no conditions. No, “if you obey....” We would see that our own faithfulness is not even mentioned—only the faithfulness of Christ.
Where does the faithfulness of Christ take us? In the old covenant the people’s faithfulness took them to Mt. Sinai. There they encountered a place so fearful that they did not dare touch it or come near. The faithfulness of Christ takes us to Mount Zion, to the glory of God’s presence, and to His infinite blessing.
There is something else a first century Jew might notice about Ephesians chapter one and the new covenant. There is no mention of a curse. Only blessing. We have escaped Mount Sinai, the place of the curse, and have come to Mount Zion the place of immeasurable blessing.
Back in the day the book of Hebrews was written, there was a great problem among believers. They would come to Christ, and then they would go back to a Mount Sinai type relationship with God where they got what they deserved. We Christians are not so different today. We come to Christ then we often try to walk with Him like we are still on mount Sinai. We still think we are under the old covenant blessings and curses. We think the measure of how much of God and His blessing we can have is based upon our faithfulness. Such a relationship did not work for the old covenant people of God, and it will not work for us.
Perhaps one reason so many today struggle in their relationship with God is the very preaching and teaching we hear. So much comes from Mount Sinai rather than Mount Zion. We hear messages that lay curses and blessings upon the congregation. Thus, we go back to Mount Sinai, the mount of “I get what I deserve.” Lord, let us preach from Mount Zion! Let us proclaim the deeds of Christ and not the glory of our own works.
Whenever grace is preached, objections occur. Some might say that they agree with the preeminence of Christ’s finished works, but they say that the new covenant also tells us to do many things. And they are right. For example, the book of Ephesians has six chapters, and the last three chapters are filled with all sorts of things to do. Husbands are to love their wives. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Children are to obey their parents, and all of us are to submit to those in authority. These are only a few of the commands Paul gives.
However, Ephesians does not begin with chapter four does it? It begins with chapters one through three. In these chapters Paul does not give us one thing to do or one thing not to do. Instead, he tells us about the faithfulness of Christ and what we have because of Him. The new covenant never begins with a command but with Christ. Obedience is first and foremost trusting in Him. In the new covenant obedience is always in the context of a relationship with Christ.
Because of Christ we can have all of God we want in our lives. We are not limited by our own deeds. The deeds of Christ have opened to door to every blessing God has. Doing the will of God follows the blessing not the other way around.
The writer of Hebrews uses imagery from the old testament exodus from Egypt and the journey to the promised land. In the first century there was another exodus going on that was just as real. Only, it was not a physical journey. It was a spiritual journey. It was the journey from mount Sinai to mount Zion, from trust in self to trust in Christ. God calls us to make a similar passage in our hearts as we walk with Him. He calls us to make the exodus from trust in our own faithfulness to trust in the faithfulness of Christ.
Other articles in this series: