Mount Sinai is famously remembered by people familiar with the Bible, as the mountain on which God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. It was located in the south of the Sinai Peninsula. Liberated from slavery in Egypt and three months into their journey towards the Promised Land of Canaan, the Israelites camped in the Wilderness of Sinai before the mountain (Exodus 19:1-2). It was here that God called Moses up to the mountain top and spoke with him at length about the ways of life and living that the Israelites were to inculcate from then on (Exodus 20 – 31). But, it was only Moses who could go up to the mountain; God did not permit anyone else to venture near Mount Sinai.
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Mount Zion was a hill in Jerusalem, located to the south of Mount Moriah. It attained prominence during the time of David when he conquered the stronghold of Zion from the Jebusites (1 Samuel 5:7) and called it the City of David. But, the significance of Mount Zion is not limited to the hill alone. The meaning of Zion expands much beyond that. In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews refers to Mount Zion as ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Hebrews 12:22).
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 48:1-2 –
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.”
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The physical existence of Mount Sinai and Mount Zion is symbolic of the way in which God has dealt with man – old covenant and new covenant relationships. Geographically, both the mountains were located far apart from each other. It took decades for the Israelites to traverse from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion (when it was ultimately conquered by David) – not because the places were so immensely distant, but because God took them through different experiences generation after generation, to draw His chosen people closer to Himself.
The transition from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion portrays a significant picture of God’s didactic ways towards man. There wasn’t a transition in God’s nature. His nature remains the same for all times. But, there was a shift in His dealings with men because of Jesus Christ – the mediator of the new covenant.
- From Wrath (Judgment) to Grace
Mount Sinai stood as a glaring testament of God’s wrath. Atop this mountain, God gave the Law to Moses – the statutes that the Israelites were to live by all the days of their lives – in obedience to God and as an example for other nations of the earth. Violation of the Law spelled God’s wrath, judgment and condemnation. “As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:20) Mount Zion, on the other hand, stands as a testament of God’s grace – the grace that was possible because of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the Law on behalf of men. Knowing well the stringent nature of the Law and the infirmity of man, Jesus stepped in to fill the gap. “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant . . .” (Hebrews 9:15) Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who place their trust in Christ. (Romans 8:1) Jesus is the pathway to the Zion of God’s grace.
- From Fire to Favour
Mount Sinai was a fiery spectacle when God descended on it. The Lord spoke to the Israelites on Mount Sinai ‘from the midst of the fire’ (Deuteronomy 5:4). “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace . . .” (Exodus 19:18). “The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain . . .” (Exodus 24:17). Mount Zion represents God’s favour. The brilliance of God’s glory remains the same, so much so that it is impossible to look up to Him. But, because Jesus Christ has become the righteousness of man (1 Corinthians 1:30), God shows His favour towards men.
- From Fear to Joy
Mount Sinai was the shadow of the covenant of fear. When God came down to speak to the Israelites on Mount Sinai amidst thunderings, lightenings, loud sound of trumpets, great quaking of the mountain and a thick cloud, the people who were in the camp at the foot of the mountain, trembled with fear. (Exodus 19:16) “And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”” (Hebrews 12:21) The presence of God evoked great fear in all. Mount Zion was the shadow of the covenant of peace and joy. Jesus Christ has given His Peace to mankind by virtue of His perfect love. His perfect love has cast out fear and replaced it with boldness for the day of judgment. (1 John 4:17-18) In the journey from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion, fear gives way to joy!
- From Death to Life
Mount Sinai bore a threat of death. Anyone, whether man or animal who came near Mount Sinai when God descended on it to speak was to be put to death. They were not even to touch the base of the mountain. “. . . Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow, whether man or beast, he shall not live . . .” (Exodus 19:12-13) Seems ruthless, isn’t it? But these are the standards of God’s holiness and He is just in His ways. Mount Zion represents life abundant. We can now approach the throne of grace boldly without being struck down. From Mount Sinai to Mount Zion, we move from the warning of death (Exodus 19:23) to the blessing of life!
- From Bondage to Freedom (From Hagar to Sarah)
Mount Sinai represents the Covenant of Law which leads to bondage. What is to be understood here is that, the Law given by God is not the bondage as such. But, the high standards of the Law were such that there was no way of liberation for any act of omission or commission. Though there was the scope for sacrificial atonement, there wasn’t complete freedom from the bondage of sin. Hence, the Law was not liberating. Just as the bondwoman Hagar gave birth to Abraham’s first offspring to bring his childlessness to an end, yet God did not consider Ishmael as Abraham’s heir. Ishmael’s birth was not liberating for Abraham. Years later, Abraham’s wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Ishmael was born according to the flesh, but Isaac was born according to the Spirit (Galatians 4:23, 29). Isaac was the child of promise (Galatians 4:28) – Abraham’s heir whom God had chosen. With Isaac’s birth, Abraham was liberated from heirlessness. God’s promise of a son to Abraham was fulfilled (Genesis 18:10), thus opening the way for the fulfillment of a greater promise (Genesis 15:5, 22:17). Mount Zion represents the Covenant of Promise. It represents freedom – freedom from the bondage of sin, thus, making us all the children of promise and not the children of the bondwoman (Galatians 4:30-31).
- From Caution to Invitation
Mount Sinai represents God’s caution to sinful man to stay away from His holiness. (Exodus 19:12) God cautioned Moses not to let the Israelites go up Mount Sinai or even touch its base when He descended on it. The people could come near the mountain, but were not to touch it. Such was the glory of God’s holy presence! Mount Zion, on the other hand, extends God’s invitation to His people to come to His presence. Zion is the place of deliverance to which God calls His people. “Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”” (Isaiah 2:3) A stark difference from a stern caution to stay away to a welcome invitation to come closer!
- From the Physical to the Spiritual
Mount Sinai was a temporary visitation place – where God came down to speak with Moses. It was a mountain that the Israelites could see and touch (but, were cautioned not to touch). Mount Zion metaphorically represents God’s dwelling place among man. Though it was a hill that later came to be known as the City of David and further came to be equated with Jerusalem all through the Old Testament, it stood as a pointer to the City of God. “For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire . . . But you have come to the city of the living God . . . to an innumerable company of angels.” (Hebrews 12:18-22) The spiritual replaced the physical – just as Isaac, the son of the Spirit replaced Ishmael, the son born according to flesh (Galatians 4:29).
- From Old Jerusalem to Heavenly Jerusalem and a pointer to the New Jerusalem
God met the Israelites at Mount Sinai when they were headed to the Promised Land of Canaan. Canaan gradually came to be known as the kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem eventually went on to attain significance from being a Canaanite city to being the capital city of Israel. That was the old Jerusalem which is also known as the City of David (Mount Zion and its surrounding areas) in the Old Testament. Mount Zion represents the heavenly Jerusalem of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. “Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”” (1 Peter 2:6)
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have already reached Mount Zion which is the heavenly Jerusalem. This means that through Jesus Christ we have been made citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven . . .” (Hebrews 12:22-23) This citizenship of the heavenly Jerusalem is a shadow of the New Jerusalem that is yet to come. “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion . . .” (Revelation 14:1) Isaiah 33:20 says –
“Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts;
Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet home,
A tabernacle that will not be taken down;
Not one of its stakes will ever be removed,
Nor will any of its cords be broken.”
The transition from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion signifies a transition from despair to hope – despair at being held captive by the Law to hope through the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ by virtue of the sacrifice that He offered once and for all on the Cross of Calvary. The Psalmist writes prophetically, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever.” (Psalm 125:1)
My Prayer for us: Lord, when in despair, You are the hope. We will trust in You and not be moved. Amen.