Congratulations to Mike Kibbe who successfully defended on Friday his dissertation, "Godly Fear or Ungodly Failure? Hebrews 12:18–29 and the Sinai Narratives," at Wheaton College, under the direction of Douglas Moo.
A cursory glance at Hebrews’ critique of Israel’s fear at Sinai in Heb 12:18–29 suggests that the author has misunderstood or manipulated his sources. In the Pentateuch, the appointment of Moses as Israel’s mediator following their unwillingness to stand too close to YHWH receives explicit approval (Deut 5:28), while Heb 12:25 labels that request for mediation a “refusal” to heed the word of God spoken to them from the mountain. In this dissertation I argue that Hebrews’ use of the Sinai narratives resides on a complex trajectory established by four points: the Sinai covenant according to Exodus, the reenactment of that covenant according to Deuteronomy, the call for a new covenant according to Jeremiah, and the present reality of that new covenant established by God and mediated by Jesus Christ.
The basis for Hebrews’ critique arises from its insight that Israel’s request established covenant-from-a-distance, whereas Jesus demonstrates that true covenant mediation brings two parties into a single space rather than perpetually crossing the gap between them. The shortcomings of this arrangement are demonstrated by the golden calf incident; the relationship between this event and the earlier request for a mediator are hinted at in Exodus, made clear in Deuteronomy, and fully exploited in Hebrews.
The purpose for Hebrews’ critique lies in its summons to Zion, the mountain on which Jesus sits at the right hand of God as the forerunner of eschatological humanity and the high priestly mediator of the new covenant. To flee from Zion as Israel fled from Sinai is to reject one’s inheritance as Esau did (12:16–17); it is to deny one’s own sibling relationship to Jesus. Zion is the gateway to the eschaton—the only gateway. Israel’s rejection of God gave way to the making of a new covenant wherein those sins were done away with (9:15), but to reject the new covenant and turn away from its celebration leads not to further provision, but to the wrath of God, the judge of all (12:22) and a consuming fire (12:29).