The end of Chapter 23 is a “hinge” passage in the Book of Exodus and Chapter 24 functions as a “swing” chapter, responding to the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant while at the same time preparing for the chapters that follow. This is part of what makes the chapter so complex. How does one follow all the references to Moses going up and down Mt. Sinai, and with whom at what stage?
After all the words spoken by God in chapters 20-23, one is struck by the fact that God speaks only in verses 1-2 and 12 in chapter 24. Yet, these utterances provide the beginning point for two major movements in the chapter.
In verses 1-2, God calls Moses and other leaders of Israel up the mountain IN ORDER TO WORSHIP—
Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the LORD; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”
WORSHIP has occurred at key junctures in the Book of Exodus so far—
At 4:31—The elders of the Israelites bowed down and worshiped Yahweh after they saw the sign miracles Moses performed when he and Aaron arrived in Egypt.
At 12:27— After receiving the instructions for the Passover, the people bowed down and worship Yahweh.
At 15:1-21— Arriving safely on the other side of the Red Sea, the Israelites sang the Song of Moses, danced and worshiped Yahweh.
At 18:12—After Moses’ father-in-law Jethro heard all the good things Yahweh at done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians, he praised Yahweh. Then Jethro, Moses, Aaron and all the elders of Israel ate bread in the presence of God.
Now following the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, the focus is on the response to God Himself and not the laws in and of themselves. The laws are important because they are the words of God with whom they are in RELATIONSHIP.
Only those invited may come into God’s holy presence; for others to have done so would have meant death.
Notice at this point in the day, the invited are to worship at a distance and only Moses may approach the LORD. An exception was made in the case of Moses, not because he possessed any superior claim upon God, nor because he was personally entitled to such a privilege, but only because he was chosen by Yahweh as the mediator between God and His people.
The first two verses show that the role of the leader in Israel, especially Moses, is given a special place before the people. They are the ones who will interpret the meaning of these words to the people, and what their obedience entails, which Moses precedes to do in verse 3—
When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.”
Yahweh’s WORDS stand for the TEN COMMANDMENTS and LAWS stand for THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT recorded in Exodus 21-23.
Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
Numbers are significant in the Bible. Twelve stone pillars represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The seventy elders in this passage represent completeness as well as the seventy Hebrew people who went down to Egypt in the time of Joseph.
The twelve stone pillars constituted the nation under the Mosaic Covenant. The people already agreed to everything in 19:8 and they repeat their intention to do so in verse 3 and then a third time in verse 7.
The writing down of the Covenant made it impossible to change. It was fixed, but need to be confirmed. Verse 6—
Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.
Apparently, young Israelite men performed priestly duties before the Aaron’s priesthood was established. In the scene set before us, Moses first sprinkled half of the sacrificial blood on the altar.
SPRINKLED BLOOD of the burnt offerings was for ATONEMENT (covering sin) and of the fellowship offerings was for obtaining PEACE WITH GOD (reconciliation). Blood is the vehicle of life and belongs to God, which is recognized in its being sprinkled on the altar.
Blood offered on the altar is the channel of GRACE. The people had said, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” That sounds admirable, but it is foolish! No one is righteous under the Law, except Christ!
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”
One wonders how Israel could be so deceived. But I am even more puzzled by many people who still believe they are living by the Law. Those who believe they are meeting God’s standard are deceived, and it is a terrible thing. 1 John 1:8 tell us—
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
The natural man believes he can please God, but he can’t! We are members of a totally depraved race as far as God is concerned. If you doubt it, look around the world and note the lawlessness. Look at the sin, the confusion, the atheism, and the godlessness on every hand. God is absolutely right when He says— “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
These people were filled with self-confidence, but not Moses. Verse 8 describes how Moses formally put the Law into effect—
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Sprinkling the blood on the people identified them with the blood sprinkled on the altar and brought them into union with God. The effectual result of the symbolic act was to seal the affirmation of loyalty by bond of union between the people and God.
This is a WRITTEN IN BLOOD occasion. It is ratification of and commitment to a specific covenant— often referred to as the Mosaic Covenant or Sinaic Covenant.
Moses is seen as the COVENANT MEDIATOR between God and people, though his actions seem not to entail more than that of faithful priest. In comparing the New covenant mediated through Christ with the Old Covenant mediated through Moses, Hebrews 9:20 quotes this verse.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He said to His disciples, “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood.” In so doing, He reminded them—and us—that no covenant could be ratified without a blood sacrifice, leading to the eternal principle of Hebrews 9:22—
The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Therefore, the sprinkling of the blood on the people signifies that atonement has been made for the people and they have been cleansed by blood and share in reconciliation. The sprinkling of the people with blood also commissions them for a task, which entails the people’s faithfulness and obedience. This loyalty is necessary if God’s purposes for creation would be fulfilled through Israel. To this the people agree.
The blood rite also signifies life and death for both God and the people. Ancient covenants ratified with blood signified an oath of obedience. If either party broke their oath, they were willing to suffer the fate of the sacrificed animals if the covenant stipulation were violated by those who took the oath. When God made the Abrahamic Covenant, the LORD had Abram cut animals and birds in half and God appeared and passed between them as a smoking firepot and blazing torch. God was saying, “May it be so done to Me if I do not keep My oath and pledge.”
The sprinkling of blood on the people is the basis for God actions against Israel for their disobedience. They accepted His blessings and cursings with the sprinkling of blood. God does not treat Israel arbitrarily in history— He is working under clearly defined covenants.
Notice that Yahweh creates the Covenant at Sinai with Israel. What is it that has been created? One common understanding is that the covenant formally established a relationship in which Yahweh was Israel’s God and Israel was Yahweh’s people. But this cannot be the case! Such a relationship between God and people has been in place throughout Exodus. A less comprehensive creative act has occurred, within an already existing relationship established by God with the Abrahamic Covenant.
The Covenant at Sinai provides a closer specification of what is entailed in that relationship in view of what Israel has become as a people in light of Exodus Experiences.
The Covenant at Sinai is a matter, not of the people’s status, but of their vocation. This covenant exists within the context of an existing covenant, to which the community as a whole responds.
A covenant is a formal act of promising between two parties which creates the situation of mutual obligation the covenant describes. Perhaps it would be more exact to say, however, that God made the covenant, that is, set the terms and invited Israel to become a participant.
The people are given no options to choose from. Yet the absence of coercion is important. In this case, God makes certain promises to the people and commissions them to a task—the people respond by saying—
“We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”
Both parties, God and the people, agree to accept the obligation inherent in the promises, to order their activity in such a way as to be true to the promise made.
Not only will God take Israel to and give them the Promised Land, He will bless them in the Land if they are faithful to Him by obeying everything He has said. If the people break their promise, God is under no obligation to bless them in the Land.
Such promises, conditions or stipulations are not present in the Abrahamic Covenant, though the importance of keeping covenant is evident in Genesis 22:18, when God says—
And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.
In the Abrahamic Covenant the conditions are not stated in such a way that Israel would cease to be the people of God upon disobedience. Yet, if God were to follow through on what is said in Exodus 23:21-22—
Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.
. . . it would mean major dislocation in the nature of the relationship. In fact, the Golden calf Apostasy issues in an initial Divine word that threatens the community to such an extent that it would mean God starting over with Moses as a new Abraham.
Last time, we saw that the Angel of God foreshadows Jesus. Israel did not listen to Him and rebelled against Him. Their rebellion was not forgiven. After repeated offers for Israel to repent and receive Christ, God removed Israel from the Land in A.D. 70. Yahweh started over again with a new people in Christ—the Church!
Don’t think that God is finished with Israel. Paul writing of Israel in Romans 11:11, 23 says—
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious . . . And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
All Israel will be saved during the Tribulation Period and God will graft them into the tree of salvation again.
Yahweh invited Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel to come up to Him to worship. Not one of them entered the Promised Land. Each disobeyed God.
Moses and Aaron struck the Rock for water a second time instead of speaking to it as God commanded. So we read in Numbers 20:12—
But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two oldest sons, later disobeyed the LORD and died as result of their sin. Leviticus 10:1-2 records—
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
The seventy elders failed to trust God and believe the good reports of Caleb and Joshua, but they sided with the unbelieving ten spies who gave a bad report on the Promised Land. To make matters worse, they rebelled against Moses. The seventy elders died in the desert!
Think of their tragic outcomes in light of verses 9-10—
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.
Nothing compares with remarkable event on the pages of Scripture until the Divine Incarnation and Transfiguration of Christ on the Mountain in the presence of Peter, James and John.
Here Seventy-four men saw God on Mt. Sinai. SAW is the common Hebrew word for seeing with the physical eye. BEHOLD is the customary word for seeing a vision. Verse 17 tells us what those who were left behind saw—
To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.
Actually, no one has seen God because He is a spirit. John 1:18 says—
No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
Most likely these men saw a theophany—a manifestation or representation of God’s presence. His presence has no fearful aspects; nor did any harm come to them—as one might have expected. It is not a theophany in the strictest sense; God invites them up. God stands on something like a clear slab of sapphire. This may have a royal significance, a kind of red carpet, indicating the status of the one who has condescended to be close.
The lordship of God is comfortably combined with the familiarity of the scene. Divine sovereignty is not compromised by intimacy and closeness. This experience anticipate, not another theophany, but the more intimate presence of God with the people in the Tabernacle as we will see in the coming weeks.
How many have said, “If I only could see God, I would trust and obey!” Here are seventy-four people who saw God and knowingly disobeyed His commands and did not enter the Promised Land.
Contrary to what our hymns and songs might say—the Promised Land is never symbolic of Heaven in the Scriptures! The Promised Land is a place of TESTING and RESTING and BLESSING and CURSING. It is a reflection or yardstick to measure Israel’s relational experience—their walk with God under the Covenant made at Sinai.
This remarkable event climaxes in a meal—a fellowship meal with God. Verse 11—
But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
They have seen God. They are alive—not dead! Why? When the LORD first appeared on MT. Sinai in Chapter 19, they were terrified. Now they are eating and drinking in God’s presence. What has happened? SPRINKLED BLOOD! If you understand the significance of this day in 1446 B.C., you have begun to grasp salvation in Christ.
Under Law these men had to worship from a distance, but under Grace, they could draw near and commune with Him. Ephesians 2:13 tells us—
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
The exact nature of God’s participation in this meal is ambiguous, but God was certainly fully present in the midst of the people, during the eating and drinking. It is a communal activity, in which both God and people participate. The seeing of God is an actual, if impressionistic, seeing, not an inner perception. God is there! This serves to make an important point—God is committed to a real presence with His people in all of their journeys—a deeply personal level of involvement. The God who has made promises will personally see to those promises.
The sprinkling of blood and the meal fellowship are brought together in the LORD’S SUPPER with the Christian themes of communion, real divine presence, and the sharing of life in and through concrete earthly realities.
Hence, the themes of proclamation of the Word of God, communion, atonement, real presence of God, setting apart for a task, and the sharing of life in and through concrete earthly realities are common to both the Covenant Rite of Blood of the Old Covenant and the Bread and Cup of the New Covenant.
The fellowship meal signifies communal occasion of friendship and joy, life giving in function—in which the leaders of Israel participate. Their role in the community would certainly be enhanced by this event.
To have eaten with one’s enemy would have been inconceivable, and the common meal presupposed community between the participants. Nothing was so well suited to unite souls and strengthen the Covenant as a meal with gathered relatives and friends around the common food in a communal spirit.
The meal of such a fellowship confirmed and strengthened the peace, the harmony on which all joint life was dependent. Therefore, it should not surprise us to hear Jesus say—“Do this in remembrance of me.”
Most assuredly, the history of THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT does not end at Sinai, but it should be pursued throughout the history of Israel, both old and new. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel record the hope of the NEW COVENANT and Jesus’ BLOOD OF THE COVENANT, which poured out for many.
In today’s passage, are some the more weighty themes of salvation:
Being invited by God to come to Him
Proclaiming the Word of God
Promising to Obey His Commands
Believing in Blood Sacrifices for Atonement and Reconciliation
Drawing Near to God by Grace
Fellowshipping with God at a Communion Meal
Commissioning for Service as the People of God
These themes have been present in previous chapters of Exodus and will be expanded in God’s instructions for the Tabernacle in the upcoming chapters of Exodus.