Not Hearing

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
~ Exodus 20:18

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
~ Exodus 19:16-19

And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
~ Exodus 20:22

Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?
~ Deuteronomy 4:33

According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.
~ Deuteronomy 18:16

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
~ Galatians 3:10

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
~ Romans 3:19-20

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
~ Exodus 19:16

And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
~ Exodus 19:19

And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
~ Isaiah 6:3-5

Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.
~ Daniel 10:8

My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.
~ Psalm 119:120

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
~ Revelation 1:17

A Commentary on Hebrews 12:19-21, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work.

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
~ Exodus 20:18-19

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: (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: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
~ Hebrews 12:19-21

SECONDLY, The last thing in this verse is the event of this sight and hearing on the part of the people. There was a voice of words; whereon it is said, “They that heard the voice entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.” The story hereof is recorded, Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:23-25.

1. Those spoken of are those that then heard that voice, that is, the whole assembly or congregation; of all which, those that were above the age of twenty years, and so able to understand the matter and personally engage in the covenant, except two persons, died in the wilderness under the displeasure of God. So that,

Obs. 5. No outward privilege, such as this was, to hear the voice of God, is sufficient of itself to preserve men from such sins and rebellions as shall render them obnoxious unto divine displeasure. For notwithstanding all the things that they had seen, all those signs and great miracles, “the LORD had not given them an heart to perceive, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear,” Deuteronomy 29:2-4. In hearing they heard not, in seeing they perceived not; and did therefore “alway err in their heart,” not knowing the ways of God, Hebrews 3:10. For unto a right improvement of such outward privileges it is moreover required that God should “circumcise our hearts, to love the LORD our God with all our heart, and all our soul,” Deuteronomy 30:6, by the administration of efficacious grace.

2. “They entreated that the word should not be spoken unto them any more;” or that the speech, namely, of God, should not be continued unto them immediately. The word here rendered by “entreated,” we express by “refusing,” verse 25. And in all other places it signifies to excuse one’s self from doing any thing, Luke 14:18; “to refuse,” Acts 25:11; “to decline, avoid and turn from,” 1 Timothy 4:7; 1Ti 5:11 , 2 Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:10. Wherefore such an entreaty is intended as included a declension and aversation of mind from what they spake about. They deprecated the hearing of the word in that manner any more. And they did this, no doubt, by their officers and elders. For both themselves being terrified, and observing the dread of the whole congregation, they made request for themselves and the rest unto Moses. And because they did it with a good intention, out of a reverence of the majesty of God, without any design of declining obedience, it was accepted and approved of by Deuteronomy 5:28-29.

“They entreated that the word might not be added to them.” Λόγος is both the speech and the thing spoken. And although they could not bear the latter either, as we shall see on the next verse, yet it is the former, the speech itself, or the immediate speaking of God himself unto them, which they did deprecate. So they express themselves, “If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die,” Deuteronomy 5:25. This voice, this word, this speech, proceeding immediately from God, out of the fire and darkness, was that which heightened their fear and dread to the utmost. And we may see,

Obs. 6. Then is the sinner utterly overwhelmed, when he hath a sense of the voice of God himself in the law. When he finds God himself speaking in and unto his conscience, he can no longer bear it.

Obs. 7. That the speaking of the law doth immediately discover the invincible necessity of a mediator between God and sinners The people quickly found that there was no dealing with God for them in their own persons, and therefore desired that there might be one to mediate between God and them. And, Obs. 8. If the giving of the law was so full of terror that the people could not bear it, but apprehended that they must die, if God continued to speak it to them; what will be the execution of its curse in a way of vengeance at the last day!

Hebrews 12:20-21 . ( Οὐκ ἔφερον γὰρ τὸ διαστελλόμενον· κἃν θηρίον θίγῃ τοῦ ὄρους , λιθοβοληθήσεται , ἤ βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται . Καί , οὕτω φοβερὸν η῏ν τὸ φανταζόμενον , Μωϋσῆς ει῏πεν , ῎Εκφοβός εἰμι καὶ ἔντρομος .)

Οὐκ ἔφερον . Vulg., “non portabant;” “they did not bear.” “Non ferebant,” Bez. Syr., לָא גֵּיר מֶשְׁכְּהִין הֲווּ לַמְסַיְבָרוּ , “for they were not able to sustain,” or “bear.” We, “to endure.”

Τὸ διαστελλόμενον . Vulg., “quod dicebatur,” “that which was spoken.” There is more in the word. Syr., “quod praecipiebatur;” “that was commanded, enjoined.” “Edicebatur,” “which was spoken out, enacted.” Bez., “interdicebatur,” “that was forbidden or interdicted,” referring it unto the following words. We, “was commanded.”

῎Η βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται . These words are omitted both in the Vulgar and in the Syriac and Arabic. But they are in all the best Greek copies; and they are necessary, as being a part of the original interdict. Nor is it absolutely true that such beasts should be stoned; for they were to be “stoned, or thrust through with a dart,” Exodus 19:12-13. These words, therefore, are necessary in this place. “Sagitta configetur.”

Τὸ φανταζόμενον . Vulg., “quod videbatur,” “that which was seen.” Syr., הֶזְוָא , “the vision.” Bez., “visum quod apparebat,” “the sight that appeared.” The sense of the whole sentence seems somewhat defective, for want of a note of connection between the parts of it: “And so terrible was the sight, Moses said, I exceedingly fear.” We supply that; “that Moses said.” Beza joins Moses immediately unto “and” in the beginning, putting a distinction between it and οὕτω , “so:” “Et Moses, adeo horrendum erat visum, dixit;” “And Moses, so terrible was the sight, said:” which is the true construction of the words.

῎Εχφοζος , “exterritus,” “expavefactus;” “I exceedingly fear,” or “I am (5) exceedingly afraid.”

(5) VARIOUS READING. ῎Η βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται are omitted by Bengel, Griesbach, Scholz, Lachmann, and Tischendorf. The insertion of them is contrary to the authority of all the uncial manuscripts, by far the most of the cursive manuscripts, and all the versions. EXPOSITION. No modern critic agrees with Owen in supposing τὰ διαστελλόμενον to be the law, and not the particular interdict immediately quoted. As to the exclamation attributed to Moses, in regard to which Owen appears somewhat at a loss, as it is not recorded in Old Testament history, Knapp, Tholuek, Ebrard, Conybeare and Howson, explain it by reference to the phrase of the Septuagint in Deuteronomy 9:19, ἐκφοβός εἰμι . “It was the remembrance,” observe the two last-mentioned authors, “of this terrible sight which caused Moses to say this; much more must he have been terrified by the reality.” ED.

Hebrews 12:20-21 . For they could not endure (bear) that which was commanded. And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned or thrust through with a dart. And so terrible (dreadful) was the sight (which appeared), (that) Moses said, I exceedingly fear and tremble.

The law about the beast is not distinct, as here proposed, but it is a part of the general prohibition: “Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death,” Exodus 19:12. This concerns the people only: but in the prescription of the manner of the death to be inflicted it is added, “There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through: whether it be beast or man, it shall not live,” verse 13. Which manner of its introduction we respect in our translation, “If so much as a beast;” which was not at first named, but added in the repetition of the law. The word בְּהֵמָה signifies all sorts of cattle; which the apostle renders by θηρίον , to include those also which were of a wild nature. No living creature was allowed to come to the mount.

For the opening of the words, we must inquire,

1. What it was that was commanded.

2. How they could not endure it.

3. What further evidences there were that it was not to be endured by them; which are added unto the assertion laid down in the beginning of the 20th verse.

First, “That which was commanded:” “The edict;” or as some, “the interdict.” For it may relate unto that which follows, that which was commanded, namely, that “if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it should be stoned, or thrust through with a dart.” Respect is had herein unto the whole charge given unto the people of not touching the mount or passing the bounds fixed unto them; wherein beasts also were included. And this, no doubt, was a great indication of severity, and might have occasioned danger unto the people, some or more of them. But this is not intended herein, nor hath this word respect unto what followeth, but unto what goeth before. For,

1. The note of connection, γάρ , “for,” intimates that a reason is given in these words of what was asserted before: “They entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: for they could not endure that which was commanded.”

2. The interdict of touching the mount was given three days before the fear and dread of the people, as is evident in the story: so as no respect could be had thereunto in what they said afterwards, when they were surprised with fear.

3. Though there was in it an intimation of the necessity of great reverence in their approach unto God, and of his severity in giving of the law, yet the people did not look on it as a matter of terror and dread, which they could not bear. For they came afterwards unto the bounds prescribed unto them, with confidence; nor did they begin to fear and tremble until the mount was all on fire, and they heard the voice of God out of the midst of it.

4. Even the words of Moses, repeated in the next verse, were before the people had declared their dread and terror.

So that both these things are added only as aggravating circumstances of the insupportableness of what was commanded.

“That,” therefore, “which was commanded,” was nothing but the law itself.

Secondly, Hereof it is said, “They could not endure it,” or, “They could not bear it,” or stand under it. And there were three things that concurred to convince them of their disability to bear the command:

1. The manner of its delivery; which they had a principal respect unto in their fear, and desire that it might be spoken unto them no more. This is plain in the story, and so they directly express themselves, Deuteronomy 5:23-26.

2. It was from the nature of the law itself, or the word that was spoken, with respect unto its end. For it was given as a rule of justification, and of acceptance with God: and hereon they might easily see how unable they were to beat it.

3. There was administered with it “a spirit of bondage unto fear,”

Romans 8:15, which aggravated the terror of it in their consciences.

These are the effects which a due apprehension of the nature, end, and use of the law, with the severity of God therein, will produce in the minds and consciences of sinners. Thus far the law brings us; and here it leaves us. Here are we shut up. There is no exception to be put in unto the law itself; it evidenceth itself to be holy, just, and good. There is no avoidance of its power, sentence, and sanction; it is given by God himself. The sinner could wish that he might never hear more of it. What is past with him against this law cannot be answered for; what is to come cannot be complied withal: wherefore, without relief in Christ, here the sinner must perish for ever. This, I say, is the last effect of the law on the consciences of sinners: It brings them to a determinate judgment that they cannot bear that which is commanded. Hereon they find themselves utterly lost; and so have no expectation but of fiery indignation to consume them. And accordingly they must eternally perish, if they betake not themselves unto the only relief and remedy.

Thirdly, Of this terror from the giving of the law, and the causes of it, the apostle gives a double illustration.

The first whereof is in the interdict given as unto the touching of the mount. For this was such as extended unto the very beasts: “Si vel bestia,” “And if so much as a beast.” For so was the divine constitution, “Whether it be beast or man, it shall not live,” Exodus 19:13. I doubt not but that divine Providence removed from it such brute creatures as were not under the power of men, such as might be wild about those mountainous deserts, or the fire consumed them, to the least creeping thing; but the prohibition respects the cattle of the people, which were under their power and at their disposal. And besides being an illustration of the absolute inaccessibleness of God, in and by the law, it seems to intimate the uncleanness of all things which sinners possess, by their relation unto them. For unto the impure all things are impure and defiled. Therefore doth the prohibition extend itself unto the beasts also.

The punishment of the beast that did touch the mount, was, that it should die. And the manner of its death (and so of men guilty in the like kind) was, that “it should be stoned, or thrust through with a dart? It is expressed in the prohibition, that no hand should touch that which had offended. It was to be slain at a distance with stones or darts. The heinousness of the offense, with the execrableness of the offender, is declared thereby. No hand was ever more to touch it; either to relieve it (which may be the sense of the word), or to slay it, lest it should be defiled thereby. And it showeth also at what distance we ought to keep ourselves from every thing that falls under the curse of the law.