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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

January 10, 2018

Exodus  24:1-18

  1. In its simplest form, this chapter in Exodus falls into two divisions: (1) A Divine Call and the Ratification of the Covenant (verses 1-11) and (2) A Divine Call and the Recording of the Covenant (verses 12-18). The first and second divisions of this chapter are similar in that they both begin with the call of God (“come up,” vss. 1, 12). The first call includes Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. The second call is for Moses alone. Both divisions end similarly, as well. The first division ends with a description of the revelation of God as seen by the elders. The last division ends with a description of the revelation of God as seen by the Israelites in the camp.

  2. Verses 1-3. God's call for the elders to “come up to Him,” along with Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, in verses 1 and 2 makes two very important distinctions. First, it clearly distinguishes God from the Israelites, with whom He is making this covenant. Some covenants were made between equals, such as those between Isaac and Abimelech (Gen. 26) and between Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31). Others, known as suzerainty-vassal (king and subject) treaties were not between equals. The Mosaic Covenant is of this latter kind. God clearly distinguished between Himself and His subjects in three ways: (1) He initiated the covenant. He brought Israel out of Egypt, He declared the covenant, and He invited the seventy elders to come up to Him. (2) God invited the seventy elders to come up to worship Him (24:1). Worship is not practiced among equals. The inferior always worships the superior being. (3) God invited the elders to worship Him “from a distance” (v. 1), allowing only Moses to come near to Him. While the leaders of Israel had to keep their distance, the nation had to remain even further removed. God is the superior Being who institutes this covenant with Israel. There is not only a distinction drawn between the Israelites and God, but also a distinction made between Israelites. Furthest removed is the nation as a whole, back at the base camp. Barriers had to be constructed to keep the people back, lest they be put to death (cf. 19:12-13). The seventy plus leaders of Israel were granted to draw nearer to God (24:1), but only Moses could approach God as he did (24:2). These same distinctions are paralleled in the tabernacle, where the priests had greater access to God than the people, and the high priest alone could enter the holy of holies, once a year. Such distinctions are abolished in the new covenant.

  3. Verses 3-11. We see Moses taking the initiative to make preparations for the worship of God on the mountain. It should be clear from the context that Moses understood that the covenant which God was making with Israel needed to be ratified by the nation. It also seems apparent that the 75 leaders (70 elders, Nadab and Abihu, Aaron, Moses, and his servant Joshua) were representatives who acted on behalf of the entire nation. These were also the leaders of the nation who would teach, interpret and apply the Law which God was giving Israel. Twice in these verses (vss. 3, 7), the Israelites have verbally committed themselves to keep this covenant. If this is not enough, they have said virtually the same words before, in chapter 19, verse 8. There has been great care taken to communicate the covenant clearly, and over a period of time, so that this verbal commitment is based upon a clear understanding of the conditions of the covenant. God spoke verbally, in the hearing of the Israelites (cf. 19:9; 20:18-19), and several times through Moses (cf. 19:3-7, 10-15, 20-25). Moses conveyed the contents of the “book of the covenant” to the Israelites, which the people committed to keep (24:3). Then, Moses put the “book of the covenant” into writing (24:4), which he later read to the Israelites, and they again committed themselves to keep the covenant (24:7). Finally, God will Himself write the covenant in stone, and have it placed in the Ark of the Covenant, so that Israel will not forget it.

    1. The commitment which the nation Israel makes here in chapter 24 is one which is based upon a clear understanding of the covenant which is put before them. Since the Israelites have verbally ratified this covenant, Moses now carries out the ratification process, which we have seen previously in the Book of Genesis, by the use of symbols and representatives. Symbolically, Moses offered covenant sacrifices (note: these are not sin offerings), making an altar with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. The blood of the sacrifices is sprinkled upon the altar and upon the people, thus linking the people with the covenant sacrifices. Israel has truly ratified the covenant which God gave through Moses. The covenant meal, eaten by the 75 leaders of Israel in the presence of God, is the final act of ratification. As God had summoned them in verses 1 and 2, now Moses (attended by Joshua) and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the 70 elders went up on the holy mountain. Here, we are told, they “saw the God of Israel” (v. 10), and yet He did not strike them dead (v. 11). In the light of the way covenants were made, it is not unusual to find the leaders of the nation of Israel eating the covenant meal in the presence of God, for both parties were present at the covenant meal. What is unusual is that men saw God and did not perish, and that the vision of God is indeed rare, unlike all other manifestations of God in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Precisely what did these leaders see? Well, we know that they saw God. We also know that the God they saw had feet (cf. v. 10). All that is described, to our dismay, is the feet of God and the sapphire-like clear blue pavement under them. (Ezek. 1:4, 22-28, Rev. 4:1-6). The similarities in these descriptions are striking to me. The cloud and the lightening of Ezekiel 1:4 (cf. Rev. 4:5) take us back to the description of the revelation of God on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:16. In both Ezekiel (1:22, 25-26) and Revelation (4:6) there is a crystal-like floor, on which the throne of God stands, very much like the crystal-clear sapphire pavement of Exodus 24:10. In Ezekiel’s description, this crystal floor is above the heads of the four living creatures (1:22, 25). In both Ezekiel (1:26) and Revelation (5:1), 63 as well as in Exodus (24:10), the One who is enthroned appears with human characteristics. I believe that the elders of Israel (Exodus 24) saw God enthroned high above them, from under the crystal floor, looking through it. They would thus have seen only the feet of the God who was enthroned, since the throne would have obscured the rest of Him. Since the floor was crystal clear, they could see God above them through the floor, with the throne sitting on the floor, and God on the throne. Ezekiel’s vision describes God as enthroned on the crystal expanse, above the heads of the four living creatures, but more of Him is seen. Thus, Ezekiel must have been closer, and perhaps elevated and looking at the throne of God from a different angle. John, on the other hand, sees God enthroned “from heaven,” so that his view of God is not restricted. Appropriately, those who behold God at later times see more of Him. This distant view of God may explain why we do not read of any fear on the part of the elders (perhaps only wonder). This also helps to explain why Moses could later ask to see God, as though he had not seen Him earlier (Exod. 33:17-23). I have heard people say that they “saw” the president in Washington. This can be true in any number of senses. We may “see” the back of the president through a pair of binoculars, as he is sitting in his oval office, or we may “see” him from across the desk of that oval office. In both cases we have seen the president, although in the latter instance we have seen him much more intimately. I believe that the elders of Israel did not “see” God as intimately as did Ezekiel and John, but they did indeed see Him. The latter passages help to fill in some of the missing details. Verses 1-11 inform us that the Mosaic Covenant was ratified, in much the same way that other ancient treaties were. The Mosaic Covenant is thus now in force.

  4. Verses 12-18. The second “upward call” is given in verse 12, calling Moses alone to the top of Mt. Sinai. This is for the purpose of giving to him the commandments written on stone by the finger of God (24:12). It is also for the purpose of revealing to Moses the “heavenly pattern” and the blueprints for the tabernacle and its furnishings: “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Exod. 25:9), (Heb. 8:1-2, 4-5). From chapter 25 to the end of the Book of Exodus, it is the tabernacle which is the principle subject. I believe that the tabernacle was designed of God to institutionalize, as it were, the manifestation of His presence among His people on an on-going basis, as the mountain had served on a one-time basis. Moses made the necessary preparations for his trek up the mountain, which indicate that he may have planned to be gone for some time (which indeed was the case). In particular, Moses appointed Aaron and Hur to judge any legal matters which might arise in his absence. It was not until later (Numbers 11; Deut. 1) that Jethro’s advice of Exodus 18 was put into practice, so that Aaron and Hur are to take Moses’ place. Everyone except Moses and Joshua (who ascended at least part way with Moses, 24:13) was back in the camp with the Israelites. For six days Moses waited, and on the seventh day, God called Moses to Himself in the cloud. Once again, the seventh day is set apart from the other six. The forty days of Moses’ absence provide a test, one which Israel failed (cf. chapter 32). (Exod. 24:17, emphasis mine).

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