Thursday, 4 August 2016

Hebrews 12:18-21 - The difference between the New and Old Testaments

Hebrews 12: 18-21
For you are not come to a mountain that might be touched, and a burning fire, and a whirlwind, and darkness, and storm, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words, which they that heard excused themselves, that the word might not be spoken to them: For they did not endure that which was said: And if so much as a beast shall touch the mount, it shall be stoned. And so terrible was that which was seen, Moses said: I am frighted, and tremble. 
 Non enim accessistis ad tractabilem montem, et accensibilem ignem, et turbinem, et caliginem, et procellam, et tubæ sonum, et vocem verborum, quam qui audierunt, excusaverunt se, ne eis fieret verbum. Non enim portabant quod dicebatur: Et si bestia tetigerit montem, lapidabitur.  Et ita terribile erat quod videbatur. Moyses dixit: Exterritus sum, et tremebundus. 
The Old vs the New Testaments: Having warned them to avoid the evils of guilt, the Apostle now assigns the reason, which is based on a comparison between the Old and New Testaments...it should be noted that, as Augustine says: ‘The slight difference between the Law and the Gospel is fear and love,’ for the Law was as our pedagogue in Christ. But children are influenced by fear; ‘The wicked man being scourged, the fool shall be wiser’. Therefore, the Apostle says here that when the Law was given, certain fearful things took place...

The zeal to punish is designated by fire: ...‘The Lord, your God, is a consuming fire, a jealous God’: ‘He is like a refining fire’. Hence, God frequently calls Himself jealous, because He does not let His spouse’s crime go unavenged: ‘I am the Lord, your God, mighty, jealous’; ‘The Lord, his name is Jealous’; ‘The jealousy and rage of the husband will not spare in the day of revenge'...But in the New Law the fire of the Holy Spirit was given (Ac. 2). For as the fire of emulation appeared to the Jews fifty days after their departure from Egypt, so the Holy Spirit’s fire, which could not be sensed, but perceived by the mind, appeared to the disciples on the fiftieth day after the resurrection: ‘From above he sent fire into my bones and has instructed me’. But that fire was infinite in nature and place, for ‘he inhabits light inaccessible’ and could not be approached.

The severity of the punishment is signified by the whirlwind:..Or it can refer to temptations. For the Law did not restrain concupiscence, because it did not give grace that would aid ex opere operato, but it only repressed the act; consequently, it generated a whirlwind of temptations.

The concealment of the lawgiver is signified by the darkness: which showed that the state of the Law was hidden, i.e., veiled: ‘Even to this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart’. But in the New Law that veil is removed: as a sign of this the veil of the temple was rent in Christ’s passion, because ‘we behold the glory of the Lord with open face’. Likewise, that darkness signifies the divine excellence. For just as that which is in the dark cannot be clearly seen, and a strong light blinds the eye, so He Who inhabits light inaccessible made Himself dark.

Storm: ...he mentions the things terrifying to the hearing on the part of the Law. Now there were three terrifying things to the Law, namely, the severity of the threats, the strictness of the precepts, and the large number of precepts...it signifies the strictness of the precepts, whose fulfillment was enjoined on man as though he were waging war against himself.

The voice of words signifies the vast number of precepts...

The reason why they excused themselves: namely, because they could not endure God’s words; hence, they could not endure the order that was given: ‘What is all flesh that it should hear the voice of the living God, who speaks out of the midst of the fire, as we have heard, and be able to live’. For God’s words are said to be unendurable either when they cannot be understood by the intellect or transcend the affections.

The threatened punishment:..‘Everyone that touches the mount, dying he shall die. No hands shall touch him, but he shall be stoned to death, or be shot through with arrows. Whether it be beast or man, he shall not live’ (Ex. 19:12). The Apostle, to heighten the terror, mentions here only the beasts which the Law commands to be killed, in order to show the gravity of sin. Yet mystically the mountain is the loftiness of the divine mysteries, and the beast is a man living bestially...This indicates the difference between the New and Old Testaments, because the Old Testament was given in terror to terrify the hearts of Jews, who were prone to idolatry; but the New was given in love: ‘You have not received the spirit of slavery again in fear, but you have received the spirit of the adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba: Father’. Hence Christ did not begin His preaching with fearful things, but promised the kingdom of heaven: ‘Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’; ‘The law of clemency is on his tongue’.

The yoke of the law: ...Now if Moses himself in giving the Law was so frightened as to say, I am frightened inwardly and I tremble outwardly, and he was more perfect than the rest, this was a sign that the Law was terrifying even to the perfect: because it did not give grace but merely disclosed guilt. Hence, it was a heavy yoke of which Peter says: ‘which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.’ But Christ’s law is a sweet yoke, because ‘the charity of God has been poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’. 

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