Where is God today? Is He on Mount Sinai or Mount Zion? Are we under the old covenant of the law or the new covenant of grace? What does it even mean to live under grace as opposed to law? These questions were once stumbling blocks for me, that is until I started reading the Bible.
I grew up going to church, so I heard many sermons about the blessings of being obedient to the law and the curses associated with disobedience. As a child, I learned in Sunday School that Mount Sinai is where God gave the law through Moses, and Mount Zion is the spiritual City of God. On the other hand, no one told me about grace. However, as I grew and matured in the Lord it became clear that no one can be justified by the law, for we are justified by grace through faith.
It may seem irrational to ask whether the ubiquitous God of the Bible abides on Mount Sinai or Mount Zion. However, a closer look at these two mountains would make you wonder which mountain you are most likely to find the Creator.
Mount Sinai is sacred to the Jews. On this mountain, the Creator, Yahweh spoke to Moses and appeared to the children of Israel. Sinai was a prodigious mountain, a place of terror for Israel. Whenever God came down to talk to them it was as though Mount Sinai was alive. The mountain quaked and trembled. Everyone shook with fear and stood afar off (Exodus 19:16-20).
Despite their fear, Israel endeavored to keep the Creator’s holy commandments, of which the greatest is love (Deuteronomy 6:1-5; Matthew 22:37-40). The First Commandment tells us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). However, Israel never learned to love God, for they had not received, nor had they recognized God’s love for fear of not pleasing Him. They only revered God because they were afraid of Him. Whenever God spoke to them, they said to Moses, “If you speak with us, we will hear you; but do not let God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:18-19). Yet, in their pride, they boasted of how they could do everything God commanded, even though they did not know what He would require of them.
Sacred Mountain of Law
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they prayed for deliverance from enslavement to Pharaoh. Four hundred years later Yahweh sent Moses to deliver them. Israel looked up to Moses. He was the voice of God to the people and the voice of the people to God. Mount Sinai was a symbol of Israel’s connection to the Creator. No matter how terrifying, the Israelites now owned Mount Sinai.
While Moses was receiving the law from God on the mountain, the people made a golden calf for themselves and called it their god. After all their boasting, they had broken the First Commandment before they had received it.
Have no gods other than Me. Do not make for yourselves a god to look like anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not worship them or work for them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. I punish the children, even the great-grandchildren, for the sins of their fathers who hate Me.Exodus 20:3-5 NLV
Sometimes we can be so anxious to please God that we miss His love altogether. At Sinai, Israel was not cognizant of God’s love, as their focus was on keeping the law. They were clueless about the true attributes of God, of which love is the greatest.
The dispensation of the law produced terror so great, Israel could not endure God’s commands. For if even a beast should touch the mountain it would be shot with an arrow or stoned. Even Moses, who had seen the glory of Yahweh, witnessed the burning bush, the darkness, and the voice that shook the mountain, was filled with fear.
Two Mountains, Two Covenants
“The law was given through Moses…”
Under the Old Covenant, the law was straightforward. It made no exceptions. The law gave no credit for “trying to do your best”. If you wanted to receive blessings you had to obey all the commandments completely.
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God.Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NIV
The law was demanding and without empathy. Neither was it sympathetic to anyone’s shortcomings. If you did not obey the law completely you would be cursed.
However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you.Deuteronomy 28:15 NIV
Grace and Truth
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Christ is the mediator of the new covenant by which we obtain salvation through faith. Under the new covenant, God wins our affection with love. He elevates our souls with kindness and inspires us with hope.
Grace makes it possible to experience the holiness necessary to please God in a sinful body that could otherwise never be holy enough to stand before God. “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Jesus is God’s Son. Moses is God’s servant. The Son is greater than the servant is.
The old covenant was insufficient to save anyone. It was intended to adjudge sin to make way for the Gospel. If the first covenant had been without fault, there would have been no need for a second one. But finding fault, the Creator Himself says,
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those day, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God and they will be My people. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”Hebrews 8:10,12
Under the new covenant of grace, God supplies everything required to love Him. There are but two conditions to the covenant:
- The Great I AM will be our God.
- We shall be His people.
The benefits of grace are far superior to the law. Under grace, God promises to:
- Put His laws in our minds and writes them on our hearts.
- Be merciful to our unrighteousness (wickedness and sinfulness).
- Forgive us of our sins and lawless deeds and not impute them to us.
The new covenant is built on God’s provision. Under grace God supplies. Our part is to believe the word of God and receive His provision.
In the New Testament Book of Hebrews, God plainly tells us that He is no longer on Mount Sinai. Verses 22-24 is a scrupulous and unambiguous message to the church and everyone living in the last days.
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, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than that of Abel.Hebrews 12:22-24
“You have come to Mount Zion…” (Hebrews 12:22)
At Mount Sinai, God wrote His laws on stone tablets. But you and I have come to Mount Zion, where God writes His laws on our hearts and in our minds; where He purifies our appetites, affections, and passions; where He gives us grace, so we will willingly obey without being terrified of Him.
Don’t be like Israel at Sinai. “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2). God lives in Zion. He visited Sinai to bring us to Zion.