George Fenn, Norwich
This mountain is among the better known ones in Scripture. Since it was the place where the law was given, 'Sinai' has become almost synonymous with 'law' in the minds of most believers; in considering this subject we shall accept this view.
The location, formation and characteristics of Sinai are very instructive. The mountain, which is in the wilderness that bears its name, illustrates the spiritual barrenness of mankind and of Israel in particular. Man is unable to carry out the precepts of the law and so he is left in wilderness conditions where God's blessing is largely unknown. The formation of Sinai is not without significance. Its name means 'cliff' and this description may be due to an unusual feature in its shape. Instead of a gradual slope, the mountain rose precipitously from the desert. In all probability it was seen from this angle by the Israelites when they encamped nearby. This reminds us of the great contrast between the height of God's holiness as seen in the law and the low level of human attainment. The flinty rock, which is characteristic of the mountain, illustrates the inflexibility of the law. To despise it meant death without mercy, when this had been discovered and proved, Heb. 10. 28. 'For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all', Jas. 2. 10.
Israel arrived at Sinai in Exodus 19. In this chapter God proposes to make a covenant with Israel. This covenant was to have three aspects which were manward, Godward and self-ward. Israel was to be 'a peculiar treasure', 'a kingdom of priests' and 'an holy nation'. To enjoy this relationship with God implicit obedience was required of the people. The conditions were accepted in self-confidence and the result was that darkness, distance and death immediately became associated with Sinai. These signs at Sinai should be a warning to us, 'Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall', 1 Cor. 10. 12. The apostle wrote these words when reviewing the history of the Israelites who were so ignorant of their own limitations. Peter showed the same self-confidence when he said, 'I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death', Luke 22. 33. Since grace was in operation, his faith did not fail because of the faithfulness of his divine Intercessor. The history of Sinai also illustrates the state of the believer before he appreciates the blessedness of his position in Christ. In Romans 7. 12 the law is described as being holy, just and good. It is holy as to its character, just as to its claims and it has man's good as its end. Therefore God said, '0 that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!', Deut. 5. 29. It has been suggested that the opening words of this verse arc in the form of a question, 'Who will give them a heart?'. If this is so, perhaps God was thinking of the time when He will take away the heart of stone and give His people a heart of flesh, Ezek. 11. 19.
Paul patiently reasoned with the believers in Galatia that the law is addressed to the natural man, that is, Saul of Tarsus. It is stated in Romans 7. 1 that the law only has dominion over a man while he liveth so that someone who has died is beyond its reach. For this reason Paul said, 'I am crucified with Christ'. The story is told of a court case which had to be adjourned until the following day. In the morning when the court reassembled it was announced, 'The prisoner has been called to a higher bar. We will proceed with the next case'. The poor man had died in his cell. When the full light of the Gospel dawns on the believer he says exultantly, 'For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death', Rom. 8. 2. So Paul adds, 'Nevertheless I live', Gal. 2. 20.
There are other dispensational differences to be learned under the shadow of Sinai. All the details that were given there in connection with the tabernacle and its ritual appeal to the senses of sight and smell, touch and taste and to the emotions or feelings. Unhappily, Christendom still places emphasis on these by having fine buildings, stained-glass windows, robed clergy and choirs. In Old Testament days things were outward and tangible but in the New Testament all is inward and spiritual. Since the Oxford Movement* which took place in the early part of last century, many denominations have shown a general trend towards Rome. A recognition of the differences between the present dispensation and the last would have prevented this.
It is a cause for deep regret that sometimes companies of the Lord's people, who profess to practise New Testament principles, seem to be influenced by practices in the religious world. But how good it is to be told, 'Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, . . . And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake', Heb. 12. 18, 21. This leads us to consider the subject of Sinai
and to exhort one another, 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage'. Gal. 5. 1. So whether it is Judaism or Paganism, both are described as 'weak and beggarly elements' in Galatians 4. 9 and 'rudiments of the world' in Colossians 2. 8. To refer back to that remarkable treatise on our liberty under grace, the epistle to the Galatians, Paul shows in chapter 2 that the law has now been outdated by the death of Christ and in chapter 3 that it was anteceded by the promises to Abraham. Grace supercedes the law in chapter 4 by bringing the minor to wear the toga of manhood and sonship and to enjoy the inheritance. From here Paul takes us to a domestic scene in an eastern tent where the female slave and her offspring are said to represent Sinai in Arabia with all its bondage. It is significant that the 'mocking' in Genesis 21. 9 becomes 'persecution' in Galatians 4. 29. In the same context the command of an indignant housewife becomes 'scripture' in the estimation of the Holy Spirit. The affections and lusts which the commandments of Sinai could not curb are now said in chapter 5 to be crucified by those who are Christ's. Finally, in chapter 6, the worldly system to which the flesh belongs has been crucified to the believer through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and he himself crucified to the world. What shall we then say to these things?
Sinai's awful thunder Hushed for aye hath been.
Now we gaze in wonder Love alone is seen.
• Namely the Tractarian Movement associated with J. H. Newman, not the Oxford Group Movement.