Hebrews 12:20
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
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(20) There is no sufficient reason for enclosing this verse and the next in a parenthesis.

And if so much as.—Better, If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned (Exodus 19:12-13). The next clause, “or thrust through with a dart,” is absent from our best authorities; and has accidentally found its way into the text from Exodus 19:13.

Hebrews 12:20-21. For they could not endure that which was commanded — That is, either, 1st, The law itself, so strict and holy, and promulged amidst such terrors seen and heard: or, 2d, The sense is, they could not bear to hear the following charge, or endure the terror which seized them when they heard those words proclaimed, And if even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, &c. And so terrible was the sight — That manifestation of the divine presence, that even Moses — (Notwithstanding his office as a mediator, his great sanctity, and his having been frequently admitted to a very near intercourse with God, who had often spoken to him as a man speaketh to his friend;) said, I exceedingly fear and quake — This circumstance is not recorded in the history: but seeing the apostle mentions it here in this letter to the Hebrews as a thing known to them, it seems probable that they had it from tradition, or that it was recorded in some Jewish writing then extant. At other times Moses acted as a mediator between God and the people; but while the ten commandments were pronounced amidst blackness, darkness, and tempest, preceded by the sound of the trumpet waxing louder and louder, Moses stood as one of the hearers, Exodus 19:25; Exodus 20:19.

12:18-29 Mount Sinai, on which the Jewish church state was formed, was a mount such as might be touched, though forbidden to be so, a place that could be felt; so the Mosaic dispensation was much in outward and earthly things. The gospel state is kind and condescending, suited to our weak frame. Under the gospel all may come with boldness to God's presence. But the most holy must despair, if judged by the holy law given from Sinai, without a Saviour. The gospel church is called Mount Zion; there believers have clearer views of heaven, and more heavenly tempers of soul. All the children of God are heirs, and every one has the privileges of the first-born. Let a soul be supposed to join that glorious assembly and church above, that is yet unacquainted with God, still carnally-minded, loving this present world and state of things, looking back to it with a lingering eye, full of pride and guile, filled with lusts; such a soul would seem to have mistaken its way, place, state, and company. It would be uneasy to itself and all about it. Christ is the Mediator of this new covenant, between God and man, to bring them together in this covenant; to keep them together; to plead with God for us, and to plead with us for God; and at length to bring God and his people together in heaven. This covenant is made firm by the blood of Christ sprinkled upon our consciences, as the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled upon the altar and the victim. This blood of Christ speaks in behalf of sinners; it pleads not for vengeance, but for mercy. See then that you refuse not his gracious call and offered salvation. See that you do not refuse Him who speaketh from heaven, with infinite tenderness and love; for how can those escape, who turn from God in unbelief or apostacy, while he so graciously beseeches them to be reconciled, and to receive his everlasting favour! God's dealing with men under the gospel, in a way of grace, assures us, that he will deal with the despisers of the gospel, in a way of judgment. We cannot worship God acceptably, unless we worship him with reverence and godly fear. Only the grace of God enables us to worship God aright. God is the same just and righteous God under the gospel as under the law. The inheritance of believers is secured to them; and all things pertaining to salvation are freely given in answer to prayer. Let us seek for grace, that we may serve God with reverence and godly fear.For they could not endure that which was commanded - They could not sustain the awe produced by the fact that God uttered his commands himself. The meaning is not that the commands themselves were intolerable, but that the manner in which they were communicated inspired a terror which they could not bear. They feared that they should die; Exodus 20:19.

And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned - Exodus 19:13. The prohibition was, that neither beast nor man should touch it on pain of death. The punishment was to be either by stoning, or being "shot through."

Or thrust through with a dart - Exodus 19:13. "Or shot through." This phrase, however, though it is found in the common editions of the New Testament, is wanting in all the more valuable manuscripts; in all the ancient versions; and it occurs in none of the Greek ecclesiastical writers, with one exception. It is omitted now by almost all editors of the New Testament. It is beyond all doubt an addition of later times, taken from the Septuagint of Exodus 19:13. Its omission does not injure the sense.

20. that which was commanded—"the interdict" [Tittmann]. A stern interdictory mandate is meant.

And—rather, "Even if a beast (much more a man) touch," &c.

or thrust through with a dart—omitted in the oldest manuscripts. The full interdict in Ex 19:12, 13 is abbreviated here; the beast alone, being put for "whether man or beast"; the stoning, which applies to the human offender, alone being specified, the beast's punishment, namely, the being thrust through with a dart, being left to be understood.

The reason of the foregoing deprecation, and which adds to the terribleness of this covenant dispensation; for the voice surpassed their strength and capacity, that they must die if they heard it any more, so dreadful was the sound and matter of it; for the commandment and threatening was: That if any man or beast did but so much as touch the mountain, they should die for it, Exodus 19:12,13,21,23,24. Therefore was Moses so strictly charged to look to it, and to provide against it, showing the dreadfulness of that covenant dispensation, that if men did not keep their beasts from coming near, they should be stoned or darted to death; how much more themselves, if they should transgress the law, which, though it was designed to lead them unto Christ, yet was not generally so discerned or used by them! So that if the publication of it be so terrible, how much more the punishment for breaking it! Exodus 20:20.

For they could not endure that which was commanded,.... In the law; not that they disliked and despised the law, as unregenerate men do; but they could not endure it, or bear it, as a yoke, it being a yoke of bondage; nor as a covenant of works, it requiring perfect obedience, but giving no strength to perform; and as it showed them their sins, but did not direct them to a Saviour; as it was an accusing, cursing, and condemning law; and, as a fiery one, revealing wrath, and filling the conscience with it; unless this should have any respect to the following edict, more particularly:

and if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned or thrust through with a dart; and, if a beast, much more a man: and, how easily, through inadvertence, might this be done? and how terrible was the punishment? nothing less than death, by stoning, or being shot: and this they could not bear to hear, or think of: the last clause, "or thrust through with a dart", is wanting in the Alexandrian and Beza's Claromontane copies, in the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions; and yet is necessary to be retained, being in the original text, in Exodus 19:12.

(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
Hebrews 12:20-21 form a parenthesis, and γάρ adduces a reason for the thought of the terribleness of the mode of revelation under the Old Covenant. The words οὐκ ἔφερον γὰρ τὸ διαστελλόμενον, however, contain no independent statement, in such wise that τὸ διαστελλόμενον should refer back to that which is before mentioned (Oecumenius, Theophylact; comp. Schlichting). For in that case κἂν θηρίον κ.τ.λ. would stand without connection. Rather are the words an introductory formula for the citation immediately attached, τὸ διαστελλόμενον, further, does not stand in the sense of a middle: that which ordained, or the divine voice ordaining (Storr, Schulz, Heinrichs, Delitzsch), which is constrained, but in a passive sense: that which was ordained, the divine commandment. The sense is, consequently: for they endured not the mandate, “Though only a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned.”

The citation is freely reproduced from Exodus 19:12-13, in an abbreviated form, and one bringing out at once the gist of the narrative. In Exodus the words read: καὶ ἀφοριεῖς τὸν λαὸν κύκλῳ, λέγων· προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς τοῦ ἀναβῆναι εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ θίγειν τι αὐτοῦ· πᾶς ὁ ἁψάμενος τοῦ ὄρους θανάτῳ τελευτήσει. Οὐχ ἅψεται αὐτοῦ χείρ· ἐν γὰρ λίθοις λιθοβοληθήσεται ἢ βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται· ἐάν τε κτῆνος, ἐάν τε ἄνθρωπος, οὐ ζήσεται.

20. they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast …] Rather, “they endured not the injunction, If even a beast …” (Exodus 19:12-13). This injunction seemed to them to indicate an awful terror and sanctity in the environment of the mountain. It filled them with alarm. The Jewish Hagadah said that at the utterance of each commandment the Israelites recoiled twelve miles, and were only brought forward again by the ministering angels. St Paul, in different style, contrasts “the Mount Sinai which gendereth to bondage” with “the Jerusalem which is free and the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:24-26).

or thrust through with a dart] This clause is a gloss added from Exodus 19:13. Any man who touched the mountain was to be stoned, any beast to be transfixed (Exodus 19:13): but the quotation is here abbreviated, and the allusion is summary as in Hebrews 7:5; Acts 7:16.

Hebrews 12:20. Τὸ διαστελλόμενον, the interdict, that which was forbidden) that very command, Even if a beast, etc. The participle for the noun, as in the following verse.—κᾄν θηρίον θίγῃ τοῦ ὄρους, λιθοβοληθήσεται, if a beast should touch the mountain, he shall be stoned) The full text of Moses concerning the mountain is, “There shall not a hand touch it, for he shall surely be stoned or shot through with a dart; whether it be man or beast, he shall not live,” Exodus 19:13. Here we have a twofold proclamation, that the beast is to be put to death by a dart, man by stoning. The apostle, studying brevity, expresses the subject out of the one sentence, the predicate out of the other, and leaves the rest to be supplied from these very words which are expressed. The expression is elliptical almost in the same way as at ch. Hebrews 7:5; Acts 7:16, notes. It may be called a Semiduplex Oratio,[79] of which there are many examples in the Ordo tempor., p. 83, 88, 213 [Ed. ii. p. 73, 77, 187, 188]. The transcriber, not at all ancient, who added from the LXX. ἢ βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται,[80] did not consider that with equal justice he might have added from the LXX., λίθοις, with stones, which would correspond to a dart; but with greater justice he might have supplied κἂν ἄνθρωπος, and if a man: for stoning was properly applicable to a man, when guilty, rather than to a beast: shooting with a dart was properly applicable to a beast, rather than to a man.

[79] See App.

[80] Not a single uncial MS. supports this addition. ACDf Vulg. have simply λιθοβοληθήσεται.—ED.

Hebrews 12:20That which was commanded (τὸ διαστελλόμενον)

See on Mark 7:36; see on Acts 15:24.

Touch (θίγῃ)

Elsewhere in N.T. only Hebrews 11:28 and Colossians 2:21. lxx only Exodus 19:12. It implies a touching or grasping which affects the object (comp. Hebrews 12:18 on ψηλαφᾶν). In Class. often of touching or handling some sacred object which may be desecrated by the one who lays hands on it. See Soph. Philoct. 667; Oed. Tyr. 891, 899. So here, the touch of the mountain was profanation.

Shall be stoned (λιθοβολήσεται)

Found in Matthew, Luke, and Acts. In lxx see Exodus 19:13. Comp. ἐλιθάσθησαν, Hebrews 11:37. The correct text omits or thrust through with a dart.

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