The Ratification of the Covenant
Ratification of the Covenant (Exodus 24:1-8)
¶ 1 And he said to Moses, Go up to Jehovah, thou and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship afar off. 2 And let Moses alone come near Jehovah; but they shall not come near; neither shall the people go up with him. vv.1-2 Moses and the Leaders. The leaders of Israel were called to come near with Moses, but there had to be a distance; “and worship afar off… they shall not come near”. This pictured what the law does. By approaching God on the ground of man’s responsibility, there must be a distance because man as a sinner falls short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). By contrast, grace brings us into the presence of God; “let us draw near” (Heb. 10:22). But the nobles were permitted to stand in awe of Jehovah (vv.9-11). Aaron’s two older sons were there, Nadab and Abiu. Great privileges do not guarantee faith. Both sons came under the judgment of God, and Aaron’s two younger sons would instead carry on. Moses as the mediator could alone draw near to receive direct communications.
3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of Jehovah, and all the judgments; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words that Jehovah has said will we do! 4 And Moses wrote all the words of Jehovah, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent the youths of the children of Israel, and they offered up burnt-offerings, and sacrificed sacrifices of peace-offering of bullocks to Jehovah. 6 And Moses took half the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the ears of the people; and they said, All that Jehovah has said will we do, and obey! 8 “And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant that Jehovah has made with you concerning all these words.” [quoted Hebrews 9:19-20] vv.3-8 The Promise of Legal Obedience. The people now formally enter into the covenant. What they had promised in ch.19 without hearing the law, they now reaffirm after hearing it. Moses faithfully communicated all the Lord had told Him (ch.20-23). The people said “All the words that Jehovah has said will we do!” Then Moses wrote all the words in a book called “the book of the covenant”, built an altar of twelve pillars representing all twelve tribes, and offered sacrifices to Jehovah. Moses took the blood in basons, and sprinkled half on the altar, representing God’s part of the covenant. Then Moses read all the words he had written down for all the people to hear, and again they promised complete obedience; “All that Jehovah has said will we do, and obey!” Young men were employed to handle the offerings because the priesthood was not set up. Finally, Moses sprinkled the people with blood, presumably the other half that was still in basons, representing the people’s part. This is quoted in Hebrews 9:19-20 to show that blood was required to inaugurate the Old Covenant, and formally placed the people under it. In a parallel way, the blood of Christ has been shed so that Israel, when the New Covenant is made with them, will come under its blessings. The blood of sprinkling here was a solemn warning of death if Israel disobeyed, whereas the blood of Christ speaks of grace and blessing. The blood of sprinkling separated Israel from the other nations. We as Christians already enter into the blessings of the new covenant without being under it. This is why the cup in the Lord’s Supper represents “the blood of the New Covenant” (1 Cor. 11:25, etc.), because Jesus’ blood has secured the New Covenant blessings for future Israel, as well as our blessings in Christianity today. In Hebrews we find that the book was sprinkled too, yet that detail is left out in Exodus. But now Israel was formally under the old covenant, having ratified it by their three promises to obey it (Deut. 19:15), and having been sprinkled with the blood of bullocks. The people put themselves under the law, but God had a greater purpose in it: to impute transgressions in order that man in the flesh might be convicted and see his need of God (Romans 4:15; Galatians 3:19; 1 Timothy 1:9). The law was never given to make a man righteous. It could not give man a new life, and it could not give man an object for faith. It was ever and only given to manifest God’s minimum standard, and man’s inability to meet it.
Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings
– John Berridge (1716–1793)
The Leaders With God on the Mountain (24:9-11)
¶ 9 And Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were work of transparent sapphire, and as it were the form of heaven for clearness. vv.9-10 They Saw God. The leaders of Israel were permitted to see “the God of Israel” (cf. Ezek. 1:26). What they saw was a manifestation of God in a certain character, as the God of Israel. This was a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God (c.p. Gen. 18:1). There is an apparent contradiction here. In Exodus 33:20 the Lord tells Moses that no one can see His face and live. Are these nobles an exemption? It would seem that God can reveal Himself in a certain way that He can be seen by man, although it is only a partial or limited revelation. The full revelation of God is beyond the range of mortal man’s perception (1 Tim. 6:16). The full revelation of God can only be seen in the Person of the Lord Jesus; “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). They could see under His feet “as it were work of transparent sapphire, and as it were the form of heaven for clearness”. The manifestation that the nobles of Israel saw displayed the majesty, purity, and holiness of God. Which of the elders would dare to set their feet on that “paved work”? Compare with John 19:13. It was important for the leaders of the people to have seen this. No doubt the account would be passed down from fathers to children, etc. of the day when they saw the God of Israel!
11 And on the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: they saw God, and ate and drank. v.11 His Mercy. Yet they did see God, and “did eat and drink”. This shows God’s mercy, in spite of His holiness and the distance that must remain between Himself and the privileged nobles. It is remarkable that the glory of God did not kill them! They continued living after seeing Him. It was a special privilege for the representatives of the people.
Moses With Jehovah on the Mountain (24:12-18)
¶ 12 And Jehovah said to Moses, Come up to me into the mountain, and be there; and I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law, and the commandment that I have written, for their instruction. 13 And Moses rose up, and Joshua his attendant; and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, Wait here for us, until we return to you; and behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matter, let him come before them. vv.12-14 Instructions. The time had come for Moses to receive the law. The Lord promised to give Moses the tables of stone and the law. On the mountain he would receive more than that; i.e. the pattern for the Tabernacle and the priesthood. Joshua went up with Moses as his attendant. It is wonderful to consider that Joshua, who would succeed Moses as the leader of Israel, had the privilege of going up with Moses to meet the Lord on Sinai. In his absence, Moses committed the congregation to the hands of Aaron and Hur. Sadly, we find in Exodus 32 what transpired while Moses was on the mountain and while Aaron was in charge.
15 And Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 And the glory of Jehovah abode on mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 And the appearance of the glory of Jehovah was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain, before the eyes of the children of Israel. 18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and ascended the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. vv.15-16 Moses and the Cloud. In type, Moses had to leave earthly things behind and ascend to the place where God was. As Moses approached the mountain it was in shrouded in a cloud, which hid the proceedings from all other eyes. The cloud remained for six days while Moses waited, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses out of the cloud and told him to come in. From the viewpoint of the children of Israel and the camp below, the glory of Jehovah appeared as a “consuming fire”; a figure of holy judgment, which the people did not dare approach. This is a contrast to “the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6), and the free “access” we have by the Spirit to the Father (Eph. 2:18).1 Moses entered the cloud and climbed the mountain, and was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. By comparing with other scriptures we know that the “forty” represents a time of testing or probation. The forty days of Moses’ absence was a test for the camp of Israel below. Secluded and cut off by the thick cloud, Moses experienced forty days with God!