Moses has now received the Ten Words (Ex 20:1-17) and the many rules to apply them (Ex 20:22-23:33). The goal of obeying these words and these rules is to make these rescued people into Yahweh’s treasured possession among all peoples, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:5-6). To this end, Yahweh wishes to make a covenant (a binding agreement, a treaty) with them (Ex 19:5). When the people heard this plan, they quickly promised to do all Yahweh would say to them (Ex 19:7-8). Will they feel the same way now that they hear the full extent of the words and rules?
Observation of Exodus 24:1-18
Most repeated words: Moses (14 times), Lord (11x), mountain (8), people (8), all (7), Israel (7), up (7), said (6), come (5)
- A glance at the repeated words show the focus landing back on the characters of the story: Moses, the Lord, and the people of Israel.
- The mountain itself takes special prominence
- I’ll watch for a broad scope (frequent use of “all”)
The genre shifts from instructional monologue back to narrative. Looking ahead, I see this is the last narrative until we get to chapter 32. Many more instructional monologues (seven, to be exact) are on the way in chapters 25-31.
- With a shift back to narrative, we shouldn’t be surprised by a renewed focus on elements like characters, plot, setting, climax, and resolution.
The instructions of chapters 20-23 are called “The Book of the Covenant” (Ex 24:7), divided into two main sections: the “words” and the “rules” (Ex 24:3).
- Apparently, this book represents the covenant between God and Israel.
- This book defines the treaty between them.
- As they did earlier (Ex 19:8), the people promise to obey (Ex 24:3)—apparently seeking to become God’s treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Ex 19:5-6).
The chapter’s structure wraps around the mountain itself:
- God delineates 3 zones for the mountain – Ex 24:1-2
- The people must stay at the bottom (Ex 24:2).
- The elders will “come up” with Moses (Ex 24:1).
- Moses alone will “come near” (Ex 24:2).
- At the mountain’s foot, Moses and the people establish the covenant with sacrificial blood – Ex 24:3-8
- At the mountain’s mid-point, Moses and the elders experience the covenant with a meal – Ex 24:9-11
- At the mountain’s peak, Moses enters the cloud of Yahweh’s glory – Ex 24:12-18
Interpretation of Exodus 24:1-18
Some possible questions:
- Why is the covenant-making ceremony so gruesome?
- What do the elders experience on the mountain once the covenant is made?
- What does Moses experience on top of the mountain?
- Why is the mountain divided into three zones with differing degrees of access?
- So what ought we to understand about God’s covenant with us?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- The use of ritual sacrifices when making a covenant doesn’t begin here. We see it clearly in Genesis 15:7-21, where God makes a covenant with Abram after Abram cuts a few animals in half. Jer 34:18-20 provides historical background on the practice: symbolizing the curse pronounced on those who might violate the treaty. The practice also possibly goes back to Gen 3:21, though the word covenant isn’t used there. A substitute must shed blood to threaten the people of what happens if they violate their agreement. Therefore, the Israelites are covered with the blood of the covenant (Ex 24:8), being united with the sacrifice, along with with the altar, the place of sacrifice (Ex 24:6).
- The elders “saw” God (Ex 24:10) and “beheld” him (Ex 24:11). But who knows what he actually looked like? All they saw of him was but the pavement under his feet (Ex 24:10). That’s the closest they could get. But they also enjoyed a meal in his presence, and he did not lift his hand to destroy them (Ex 24:11). Great deal!
- The glory of Yahweh, appearing as a cloud (Ex 24:16). A devouring fire that all could see (Ex 24:17). Here is a more terrifying version of the burning bush from Ex 3:2, which burns but does not consume Moses.
- This mountain is now the place where heaven and earth meet; God and men are meeting together. The three zones may allude to the 3 zones of the created cosmos (heaven, earth, waters under the earth – Ex 20:4, 11), and to the three decks of Noah’s ark (Gen 6:16), which was a miniature cosmos, preserved for a new creation. Perhaps at Sinai, God is making another new creation, as he makes this nation into his people and sets them on a path to expand his rule on earth. We’ll see plenty more creation imagery in the next few chapters to confirm this connection.
- God’s covenant is not something to take for granted. It cannot be made without blood, but it draws us into God’s presence to eat and drink with him. God is all-glorious in himself; yet, astonishingly, he gets even more glory when he includes people in his purposes. God’s covenant is gracious; we do not deserve to enter into it with him. And yet he still expects something of us; he is not indifferent to our life choices. God’s presence is something to be terrified of without a proper bloody substitution.
Train of thought:
- Yahweh’s man comes down to establish the covenant with the people.
- Yahweh’s man comes up to experience the covenant with the elders.
- Yahweh’s man come higher to enter into God’s glory alone.
Main point: It costs both personal sacrifice and substitutionary death to draw near to God in covenant.
Connection to Christ: Jesus’ blood of the covenant was shed once for all (Heb 9:17-26, and we proclaim this Lamb’s death every time we eat and drink with him (1 Cor 11:28). God’s covenant with us through Christ is only by his grace (Heb 13:20-21, 25). Yet it requires great personal sacrifice (Mark 1:15), and we must never take it for granted by going on sinning deliberately (Heb 10:26-30).
My Application of Exodus 24:1-18
Oh, how much I take for granted. Grace is so abundant and so free, and I forget all about it. I drift into self-sufficiency, which requires me to compare myself to others and do better than them. Then I get petty and demanding when I’m unable to keep up. And the bitterness sets in when I see others doing better than me. It doesn’t take long for me to start biting and devouring.
But the blood of the new covenant was shed for me, once for all. I need to “remember Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 2:8) daily—not just so I can teach others about him, but so I can see him more clearly, worship at his feet, and rely only on his righteousness and not my own.
The heavenly Mount Zion has no zones. We’re all granted equal access. I have nothing to be ashamed of, and I have nothing to hold over another person. Ever.
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