Hebrews 12:21

21 Indeed, 1so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear."

Hebrews 12:21 Meaning and Commentary

Hebrews 12:21

And so terrible was the sight
Of the smoke, fire, and lightnings; or of God himself, who descended on the mount; with which agrees the Arabic version, which renders the words, "and so terrible was he who vouchsafed himself to be seen"; not in the bush burning with fire; at which time Moses was afraid to look upon God, ( Exodus 3:6 ) but on Mount Sinai, when the law was given:

[that] Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:
perhaps he might say this, when he spake, and God answered him, ( Exodus 19:19 ) . These words are nowhere recorded in Scripture; wherefore the apostle had them either by divine revelation, or from tradition, confirmed by the former: for the Jews have a notion that Moses did quake and tremble, and when upon the mount; and that he expressed his fear and dread. They have such a tradition as this F5;

``when Moses ascended on high, the ministering angels said before the holy blessed God, Lord of the world, what has this man, born of a woman, to do among us? he said unto them, to receive the law he is come; they replied before him, that desirable treasure, which is treasured up with thee, nine hundred, and seventy, and four generations, before the world was created, dost thou seek to give to flesh and blood? "What is man, that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou visitest him? who hast set thy glory above the heavens!" The holy blessed God said to Moses, return them an answer; he said, before him, Lord of the world, (ane aryytm) , "I am afraid", lest they should burn, (or consume) me, with the breath of their mouth.''

Compare this last clause with ( 2 Thessalonians 2:8 ) and elsewhere F6 those words being cited, he called unto Moses, ( Exodus 25:16 ) it is observed:

``this Scripture comes not, but (wyle Myyal) "to terrify him"; that so the law might be given with fear, fervour, and trembling; as it is said, ( Psalms 2:11 ) ''

Once more F7,

``at the time that the holy blessed God said to Moses, "go, get thee down, for thy people have corrupted themselves", ( Exodus 32:7 ) (hvm ezedza) , "Moses trembled"; and he could not speak''

And again, it is said F8, that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, supplicating for the people of Israel, five destroying angels appeared, and immediately (hvm aryytn) , "Moses was afraid". Now this circumstance is mentioned by the apostle, to aggravate the terror of that dispensation; that Moses, a great and good man; and who had much familiarity with God; the general of the people of Israel; their leader and commander; a man of great courage and presence of mind; and was their mediator between God and them; and yet feared, and quaked: the best of men are not without sin; and the most holy man on earth cannot stand before a holy God, and his holy law, upon the foot of his own righteousness, without trembling: it is an awful thing to draw nigh to God; and there is no such thing as doing it without a Mediator; and that Mediator must be more than a creature: and it is our happiness that we have such a Mediator, who never feared, nor quaked; who failed not, nor was he discouraged.


F5 T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 88. 2. Yalkut, 2. par. 2. fol. 92.
F6 T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 4. 2.
F7 Zohar in Exod. fol. 84. 4.
F8 Midrash Kohelet, fol. 69. 4.

Hebrews 12:21 In-Context

19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.
20 For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned."
21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear."
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,

Cross References 1

  • 1. [Exodus 19:16; Deuteronomy 9:19]
The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.