What does Hebrews 12:19 mean?
ESV: and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.
NIV: to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,
NASB: and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words, which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them.
CSB: to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them,
NLT: For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking.
KJV: And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
When Israel left Egypt, they were given a covenant by God at the mount of Sinai (Exodus 19:9–20). This event was miraculous and spectacular. It was also terrifying, as God used clouds, fire, the sound of trumpets, and a forbidden mountain to deliver His Words. This passage continues the consistent theme of the book of Hebrews: the new covenant is superior to the old covenant. In this case, the comparison is between how the covenant is presented to us.
The prior verse began to describe the intimidating nature of God's work at Mount Sinai. This depiction continues here, and its effects are given in later verses. The people were understandably shaken, as was God's intent. They were meant to see God as completely holy and One they could not approach in their sinful condition. As explained earlier in the book of Hebrews, the point of the old covenant was for mankind to understand their own sin and to turn to God as a result (Hebrews 9:8–12; Galatians 3:23–24). Another point made in this book is that the old covenant featured various physical components, which turned out to be symbols of the "real" covenant, which was to be spiritual. Here, in this section, a similar contrast is made between the physical events of Sinai and the spiritual nature of the new covenant.
Hebrews 12:18–29 summarizes the lessons given through chapters 11 and 12. Those living under the new covenant have the advantage of looking to Christ, rather than to the law. The Old Testament was given through ominous signs, dire messages, fire, and sacrifice; it involved material things in a material world. God presented Himself as unapproachable, symbolic of His holiness. The New Covenant offers something better, and something beyond rituals and earthly needs. Also symbolically, Christ gives us an ability to approach God which the old covenant could not grant. While prior things can be changed and destroyed, the destiny offered to believers in Christ cannot. That is the ''kingdom that cannot be shaken,'' and our worship for God ought to reflect reverence as a result.
Chapter 11 explained the victories of some of the Old Testament's greatest heroes. It also explained their sufferings and persecution. This chapter uses those examples as a ''cloud of witnesses'' to prove that God does not abandon us when we suffer. In many cases, He uses those experiences to ''train'' us, as if we were athletes, to make us stronger. In other cases, it's the same kind of discipline that a child receives from a loving father. Unlike the old covenant, which rightly inspired fear and dread, the new covenant offers us peace. As with any other matter of truth or falsehood, we should cling to what's true, so that we can be part of ''a kingdom that cannot be shaken.''
Hebrews chapter 12 builds on the example of the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. The main point of this lesson is that these figures endured suffering and hardship, yet held to their faith in God, which allowed them to achieve victory. Chapter 12, in particular, points out that earthly hardship is not a sign of God's displeasure, or abandonment. Rather, it's part of living in a fallen, godless world. And, in many cases, it's a form of ''training'' the Lord uses to mold us into more powerful instruments. This, as with other passages in Hebrews, leads into another explanation of why we should take these ideas seriously, and sets up a few final practical lessons in chapter 13.
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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