“the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of a voice. When the people heard the voice, they begged not to hear another word, because they could not bear the order which said, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling and afraid!’ (Hebrews 12:19-21 GNB).
The restrictions that accompanied God’s descent upon Mount Sinai even included the animals that inhabited that area. Any contact with the mountain in the midst of God’s presence meant certain death for the person or creature that did so. This produced a highly instructive response in the hearts and minds of the ancient Israelites…
“God had been very severe in His restrictions regarding even the slightest touching of Mount Sinai (Ex 20:18–21). If even a beast should touch the mountain, they were forbidden to touch the beast, but must rather immediately stone it or shoot it with an arrow.
Such stringent regulations did not produce a proper, positive response in the hearts of the Israelites. Rather, they entreated God to call the whole thing off; and instead, they spoke to Moses privately. The verb (Gr paraiteomai) could also be translated to require or to beg. More significantly, it can also mean to refuse, which is its translation only several verses later: See that ye refuse not him that speaketh (vs. 25).” (1)
When confronted with the reality of God’s presence, it appears there were some among the Israelites who preferred to maintain their distance from Him. It also prompted them to approach Moses to act as an intermediary on their behalf. However, Moses was facing a concern of his own: “Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, ‘I am terrified and trembling'” (NLT).
So Moses received a privileged invitation to approach God on Mount Sinai. Yet even though God’s presence was veiled by billowing clouds of heavy smoke, Moses was still afraid. This brings us to an important question: if Moses trembled at the prospect of approaching God on Mount Sinai, how much more shall it be for those who are unprepared to meet Him?
This passage thus illustrates the privilege we enjoy under the New Covenant. As the author of Hebrews reminded us earlier…
“…since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess… Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16 NIV).
(1) Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 2578–2579