Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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January 2011 • Volume XIII, Issue 9


Mount Sinai (1)

The book of Hebrews is a sustained warning against apostasy, the departure of professing believers from the Lord Jesus, the doctrines of God’s Word and the true church. More specifically, Hebrews was written (in the first instance) to Jewish converts to Christianity, in the first century after Christ, in order to warn them against apostasy, so that they do not leave the Lord Jesus to go back to a Christless Judaism. To this end, Hebrews repeatedly contrasts the Old Testament church economy with the New Testament church economy. Again and again, Hebrews testifies that the new covenant in Christ is a better covenant with better promises, for it has a better priesthood and better sacrifices on a better altar in a better tabernacle. Moreover, for anyone to go back from Jesus Christ to the bondage of the law is to perish under the fiery wrath of God!

The second half of Hebrews 12 (verses 18-29) summarises the main points of the book of Hebrews under the imagery of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Verses 18-21 treat Mount Sinai, verses 22-24 set forth Mount Zion and verses 25-29 are an exhortation not to return to Mount Sinai but to persevere with Mount Zion.

The two mountains, Mount Sinai (18-21) and Mount Zion (22-24), are sharply contrasted. Sinai is "Mount Doom," if you will. It is an unapproachable and terrifying mountain. Don’t go there! Zion is a blessed mount, for there dwell the Triune God, the holy angels, the faithful saints and the Lord Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. Stick with the heavenly Jerusalem, the true church of Christ!

In order to understand the idea or significance of Sinai, we must note that the Jews, especially in the apostolic age, boasted in their religious privileges. They had a wonderful shrine containing holy furniture: the tabernacle/temple. There the priesthood officiated, the family of Aaron served by the Levites. Prominent in the work of the priests (aided by the Levites) was the offering up of sacrifices. As well as the burnt offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and trespass offerings, there were the drink offerings, heave offerings, wave offerings, etc. The Jews also gloried in their laws. These statues, precepts, judgments, testimonies and commandments covered many areas: what you could eat or not eat (food laws) and what to do if you contract leprosy, as well as laws concerning religious festivals, ceremonial cleansing and all the rest. The Jews boasted in all these things (tabernacle/temple, priesthood, sacrifices, laws) because God gave these things to them. Jehovah gave these things to them out of love and mercy to them (rather than others) and He did this many hundreds of years ago, so that these forms of worship are very venerable and hoary with antiquity.

And where was Israel when God gave these things to His people? Mount Sinai! God gave the blueprint for the tabernacle and Moses built it at Sinai. The tribe of Levi was set apart at Sinai. The priests were first dedicated at Sinai. Rules concerning sacrifices were given at Sinai. At Sinai, God spoke to Israel from the mount. At Sinai, Jehovah gave Israel the ten commandments on two tables of stone. At Sinai, many other laws were given. At Sinai, God made Israel into a nation, His own covenant people.

Think too about Sinai in terms of the books of the Old Testament. From Exodus 18 to Numbers 10, Israel is camped at Mount Sinai. That’s over half of Exodus, all of Leviticus and about 30% of Numbers. Deuteronomy is in large part a repetition and application of laws given at Sinai. The rest of Old Testament history from Joshua onwards treats the blessings or cursings upon Israel according as they were faithful to God’s Word delivered at Sinai. Where did Elijah go to resign his office as prophet in the Northern Kingdom, a law-despising, covenant-breaking people (I Kings 19)? Sinai! Some of the Psalms reflect upon God’s revelation at Sinai (e.g., Ps. 68; 97). The Old Testament writing prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, called God’s redeemed people back to grateful obedience to His law delivered at Sinai.

In short, Sinai was the boast of the Jews because, unlike all other nations (with their false religions), Israel met God at Sinai and there they received their laws and distinctive form of worship from His hand. All this enables us to grasp the idea or significance of Sinai in Hebrews 12:18-21. Sinai here represents Old Testament law and worship, with its tabernacle/temple, priests, sacrifices, altar and plethora of commandments.

Now we need to understand what it is to "come" to Sinai in verse 18. "Come" is in the perfect tense and so it includes getting to Sinai and remaining or staying there. In other words, you first-century Jewish Christians have not come to and remained at Sinai—as it represents Old Testament law and worship, with its shadows and types, and without the mediation, sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ. This is the idea of Sinai here: resting content with the forms of Old Testament law and worship, without the forgiveness of sins in the cross of Christ.

This is the argument of Hebrews 12:18-21. Do you, Jewish Christians, want the Old Testament law and worship given at Sinai (without the sacrifice of the promised Messiah)? You ought to read Exodus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 4-5 again, for the Old Testament law and worship given at Sinai (considered in themselves and without the blood of Christ) merely reveal God’s holiness and wrath. Think of God’s revelation at Sinai! The heavens were filled with thunder and lightening; the mountain was robed with fire and darkness; the earth shook with an earthquake. This is what Sinai (Old Testament law and worship) means without the blood of the cross: "... the mount ... that burned with fire ... blackness, and darkness, and tempest ... 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 ... 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 ..." (Heb. 12:18-21). Is this what you want? Rev. Stewart

A Proper Use of Marijuana?

Question: "I have heard Paul’s statement that ‘every creature of God is good’ when it is ‘received with thanksgiving’ and ‘sanctified by the word and prayer’ used to justify the use of cannabis/marijuana. Is that a legitimate argument or a stretch of this principle?"

This question is prompted by an article in the last News where I discussed the proper use of alcoholic beverages. I made the point that wine and other alcoholic beverages are gifts of God to be received with thanksgiving and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (I Tim. 4:3-5). The reader now asks concerning marijuana: Does this principle hold true of marijuana also? Is there some way in which it can be put to a good use?

We are getting into an area here where it is not so easy to find one’s way. It seems to me that it is possible for things to be manufactured from things present in God’s world in today’s technologically advanced age that are used only for purposes of sin. I do not mean that these manufactured items are used for sin while they may also have a good purpose. An example of such a thing would be a computer, which, though used for vicious sins, can be and is used for God-honouring purposes. But I mean something manufactured which can be used only for sin. No good purpose can be found for it.

An example of something that can be used only to sin is the so-called "morning-after pill." So far as I know, this pill has no good purpose. It is manufactured for one purpose only, and that is to abort an unborn baby. That is clearly abortion and the murder of a person.

In the field of medicine, there may be certain "mind-altering" drugs, the sole purpose of these being to do things to the mind that are neither natural nor helpful, but can be used only for evil purposes. An example of this may be methadone. I know of no good purpose this drug serves; its use is and can be only to create a state of euphoria. That use is sinful.

Whether marijuana can be used only for evil purposes is another question. I am by no means an authority on the use of drugs, but I have read that marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes and can serve a good function in restoring to health.

The same may be true for heroin. I understand that some narcotics, such as morphine, can be manufactured from heroin; these help in the control of pain. I am quite sure this is true and that God gives us these gifts to help endure severe pain. There is no sin in that, and we may very well give thanks to God for such a gift.

However, as everyone knows, marijuana and heroin can be used (and usually are) for devilishly wrong reasons as well.

There is another remark that is worth making here. We live in an age when many, if not most, people live on pills. And doctors find pills for every ailment, every pain, every mental problem, every quirk of health, every sorrow or disappointment, every inability to sleep, etc. I find this extremely dangerous. The danger is underscored by several pages of possible "side effects" that could result from the particular drug being prescribed.

The evil of this is that people think this life ought to be a life of unrelieved happiness in which each person has exactly what he or she wants. They view their life in the world as one in which they deserve the very best; and when they cannot have what they consider the very best, they take refuge in pills to escape the difficulties of life. Their skies ought always to be blue and only breezes that cool and refresh ought to blow on them. They think it their just lot in life to walk a pathway along gurgling brooks, through grassy and flower-strewn meadows where they can skip and jump happily as they make their way in the world.

But life is not like that, for we live in a world of sin and death over which hangs the dark clouds of the judgment of a furious God who looks in scarcely controlled wrath upon the wickedness of men. The escape from this judgment of God, say some, lies in—of all things—pills. Take the right pills; take enough of them; take them regularly. In that way, all the agony of God’s fury against sin can be avoided; and perhaps, as some science fiction writers have portrayed it, man can live his life in perpetual bliss without a twinge of suffering—when the right pill is found.

To paraphrase Psalm 20:7: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, and others in pills ..." Every little twinge must be assuaged; every disappointment requires some medication to cope with it; every unpleasant experience must be averted or medicinally eased. I fear that sometimes God’s people fall into the same pattern of thinking. Side effects are risky, but tolerable in our mad pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of suffering. Asa, after all, though a God-fearing king in Judah, was chastened because he trusted in physicians and not in Jehovah (II Chron. 16:12).

I am not saying—and do not want to be interpreted as saying—that a Christian may take no medication, but must bear the afflictions of life as his just lot for his sins. He may (and must) seek such help as is possible from doctors. But doctors, for the most part, cannot be trusted to look at things as a Christian looks at them. The believer knows that the sufferings of this present time are sent by God to mould and shape him spiritually for his place in glory. And so, if medical assistance is available that will alleviate his suffering, he must make use of these things. And he must receive them with thanksgiving and sanctify them by the Word of God and prayer.

That is, he must receive them as gifts of God, not to escape what God is pleased to send, but to enable him to continue to perform the duties that arise from his responsibilities in his home, in the church and in the world in which he lives.

Of course, if the civil government forbids the use of marijuana, we are to obey the government (Rom. 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-17) and not use it even for medicinal purposes. Prof. Hanko

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