(Exodus 24 and 25 are short studies – you may wish to combine them)
This passage began after Exodus 20:21 where ‘The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.’
Now Moses was to be invited to draw closer to God, and to meet him face to face – but that would require much more preparation.
1 Then the Lord 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,
Nadab and Abihu were Aaron’s eldest sons: they would have been expected to eventually inherit his High Priestly duties.
(But later they were to fail, Leviticus 10:1-2).
2 but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.’
A repeated theme: it was vital for everyone to appreciate the holiness of God.
What was the purpose of this new call from God to meet him as representative of the people?
God was about to establish a new covenant with his people and they would have to respond. Moses was to be their representative and would enter into the agreement with God on their behalf.
Now look back at some of the verses that we looked at in the last study (Exodus 23:20-33), and see the two sides of the covenant – ‘if you’ then ‘I will’ (but also notice the ‘do not’s!)
20 ‘See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 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. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.
23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. 24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. 25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away disease from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.
27 ‘I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. 28 I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.
31 ‘I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. 32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.’
This then was the covenant agreement between God and his people, but it still needed to be ratified.
In the study on Genesis 15 we saw that:
‘In ancient times, an animal was cut in half, and the pieces separated. The two parties to the covenant would walk between the pieces, or stand between them and make the covenant with each other. The symbolism was that if either party broke the covenant, then they would expect to be cut in half as punishment. Effectively God will be stating on oath to Abraham that he will keep his covenant.’
We will bear this in mind when we look at verse 5.
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.’
The people were very happy to agree to the terms of the covenant, as they were when it was first suggested in Exodus 19:3-8 (See study Exodus 19): ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do.’ but it was not to last. Do we ever find ourselves being disobedient to the commands of God? Why is that?
4 Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
How sensible. This was the ‘Book of the Covenant and was to be included in ‘The Pentateuch’ the five books of Moses (the Jewish written Torah). In those days it seems people’s memories had been trained to retain a lot – but these rules were to last for all time.
It is obvious, as Moses died before entering the Promised Land, he must have written at least the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy during the forty years journey in the wilderness, although he could have started the book of Genesis before that.
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. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord.
Again an example to demonstrate that you couldn’t come before God casually, nor could you approach him empty-handed (Exodus 23:15, 34:20). But this was more than just making an offering to God, this was a covenant with God and so it involved the sacrifice of an animal and the shedding of its blood.
6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Why do you think he did that?
Splashing blood on the altar would have been a very obvious ‘visual aid’ but it also represented God’s part in the covenant that was being established.
7 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.’
This then was the people’s solemn agreement to their part of the covenant.
8 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.’
There was plenty of blood and all the representatives of the people were involved. The blood linked them all to the blood they had just seen splashed on the altar. The covenant was truly a very solemn thing: people who broke it would expect to die. To be sprinkled with blood from the sacrifice would have been unpleasant, and very memorable!
9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
Unfortunately for us Moses includes no detail of God’s meeting with the leaders of his people. Could someone explain what ‘they ate and drank’ means? What was the significance of that? Could someone describe the scene?
In Exodus 33:20 we read ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ But God had summoned these leaders into his presence for a reason: what do you think that was?
Almighty God had accepted the leaders as the representatives of his people. They had been given amazing privileges, but they also had very great responsibilities. If anyone needed to instil the ‘fear of God’ into the people, they were now the ones to do it!
12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.’
Moses had already written down the law and commandments, but it would probably have been on Papyrus – God would set his law in stone, demonstrating its permanence and inalterability. But God also had much more to say to Moses as we will see in the next chapter.
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.’
In verse 2 we read ‘Moses alone is to approach the Lord’ so to read that Joshua accompanied him seems strange to us. However it was commonplace to have an assistant and as Joshua would take over as leader when Moses died, it was right that he should share his experiences now. He was not however to meet with God: that was reserved for Moses alone (v18).
The phrase ‘Moses set out’ and the arrangements he made for settling disputes while he was away suggests that he already had an inkling that this was not to be a quick visit. He was right:
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Why did God (and Moses) wait seven days (verse 16)?
Can someone describe the ‘consuming fire’ in verse 17?