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Exodus 24: A Covenant Meal


And to Moses he said [Qal Perf 3MS amar], Go up [Qal Impv MS alah] to YHWH, you and Aaron and Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship [Hithpael Perf 2MP shachah] from afar. 2But Moses shall come near [Niphal Perf 3MS nagash] by himself to YHWH, and they shall not come near [Niphal Impf 3MP nagash]. And the people shall not go up [Qal Impf 3MS alah] with him. 3And Moses came [Qal Pret 3MS bo + waw cons], and he recounted [Piel Pret 3MS saphar + waw cons] to the people all the words of YHWH and the judgments. And all the people responded [Qal Pret 3MS anah + waw cons] with one voice, and they said [Qal Pret 3MP amar + waw cons], All the words that YHWH has spoken [Piel Perf 3MS dabar], we will do [Qal Impf 3MP asah]. 4 And Moses wrote [Qal Pret 3MS katab + waw cons] all the words of YHWH. And he arose [Piel Pret 3MS shakam] in the morning, and he built [Qal Pret 3MS banah] an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5And he sent [Qal Pret 3MS shalach + waw cons] young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered up [Qal Pret 3MP alah + waw cons] burnt offerings, and they sacrificed [Qal Pret 3MP zabach + waw cons] peace offerings of oxen to YHWH. 6And Moses took [Qal Pret 3MS laqach + waw cons] half of the blood, and he put [Qal Pret 3MS sum + waw cons] in basins. And half of the blood he sprinkled [Qal Perf 3MS zaraq] on the altar. 7And he took [Qal Pret 3MS laqach + waw cons] the book of the covenant, and he proclaimed [Qal Pret 3MS qara + waw cons] in the hearing of the people. And they said [Qal Pret 3MP amar + waw cons], All that YHWH has spoken [Piel Pret 3MP dabar + waw cons], we will do [Qal Impf 3MP asah], and we will obey [Qal Perf 3MP shamar + waw cons]. 8And Moses took [Qal Pret 3MS laqach + waw cons] the blood, and he sprinkled it [Qal Pret 3MS zaraq + waw cons] on the people. And he said [Qal Pret 3MS amar + waw cons], Behold, the blood of the covenant that YHWH cut [Qal Perf 3MS karat] with you in accordance with [al] all these words.

And Moses went up [Qal Pret 3MS alah + waw cons], and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel. 10And they saw [Qal Pret 3MP raah + waw cons] the God of Israel, and under his feet like a work of sapphire pavement, and like the substance of heaven for clearness. 11And upon the nobles of the sons of Israel he did not stretch out [Qal Perf 3MS shalach] his hand. And they beheld [Qal Pret 3MP chazah + waw cons] God, and they ate [Qal Pret 3MP akal + waw cons], and they drank [Qal Pret 3MP shatah + waw cons].

And YHWH said [Qal Pret 3MS amar + waw cons] to Moses, Come up [Qal Impv MS alah] to me on the mountain, and be [Qal Perf 2MS hayah + waw cons] there. And I will give [Qal Impf 1CS natan + waw conj] to you tablets of stone, and the law, and the commandment that I have written [Qal Perf 3MS katab] for teaching them [Qal Inf Cons yarah + L prep + 3MP suff]. 13And Moses arose [Qal Pret 3MS qum + waw cons], and Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up [Qal Pret 3MS alah + waw cons] the mountain of God. 14And to the elders he said [Qal Perf 3MS amar], Stay [Qal Impv MP yashub] yourselves here until we return [Qal Impf 1CS shub] to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has disputes/matters/things [debarim], he shall draw near [Qal Impf 3MS nagash] to them.

And Moses went up [Qal Pret 3MS alah + waw cons] the mountain, and a cloud covered [Piel Pret 3MS kasah + waw cons] the mountain. 16And the glory of YHWH dwelt [Qal Pret 3MS shakan + waw cons] on Mount Sinai, and a cloud covered it [Piel Pret 3MS kasah + waw cons + 3MS suff] six days. And he called out [Qal Pret 3MS qara + waw cons] to Moses on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud. 17 No the appearance of the glory of God was like a consuming [Qal Part FS akal] fire on the top of the mountain, in the eyes of the people of Israel. 18And Moses entered [Qal Pret 3MS bo + waw cons] into the midst of the cloud, and he went up [Qal Pret 3MS alah + waw cons] on the mountain. And Moses was [Qal Pret 3MS hayah + waw cons] on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Comment: The context of this passage is vital to understand what is happening here. Exodus 24 comes after YHWHs dramatic redemption of his people at the exodus, bringing his people out of their bondage in Egypt in order to take them to himself as his particular people. Moreover, Exodus 24 comes after the giving of the Law in Exodus 20. Just before receiving the Law, YHWH commands Moses to prepare the people, and much of what he says in Exodus 19 correlates with what happens in Exodus 24:

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that YHWH had commanded him. 8All the people answered together and said, All that YHWH has spoken we will do. And Moses reported the words of the people to YHWH. 9And YHWH said to Moses, Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever. When Moses told the words of the people to YHWH, 10YHWH said to Moses, Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11and be ready for the third day. For on the third day YHWH will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. More than these specific precursors to Exodus 24, it is also significant for the interpretation of this passage that the people were to consecrate themselves and wash their garments in Exodus 19 before Exodus 24. The reason that the context of this passage is so important is that we tend to interpret sacrificial blood exclusively in terms of purification for sins, our redemption, and our reconciliation to God. In other words, we tend to read Old Testament passages about covenant blood to the New Testament doctrine of Justificationour initial experience of Gods salvation. In many cases, this impulse is correct; however, in Exodus 24, the Israelites are not being justified, but sanctified. They were redeemed by YHWH and reconciled to him at the exodus; they were purified and consecrated at the base of Mount Sinai before the giving of the Law (Ex. 19:14); they had even begun the journey into YHWHs sanctification to become a holy nation (Ex. 19:6) through the reception of the Law. Exodus 24 is a picture of a justified people in the midst of their sanctification, who are beginning to enjoy holy communion with their God as they renew their covenant with him through a covenant meal. 24:1-2 The Call to Worship: At the giving of the Law on Sinai, YHWH had insisted already on a strict separation of himself from the people. Even though the people had been consecrated and washed in preparation (Ex. 19:14), YHWH still only allowed certain people to approach him while he gave the Law:

And YHWH said to Moses, Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to YHWH to look and many of them perish. 22Also let the priests who come near to YHWH consecrate themselves, lest YHWH break out against them. 23And Moses said to YHWH, The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it [Ex. 19:12]. 24And YHWH said to him, God down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to YHWH, lest he break out against them.


Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die. 20Moses said to the people, Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear or him may be before you, that you may not sin. 21The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. Both because of the warning of YHWH and because of their own terror at the awesome glory and power of YHWH who had come near, the people of Israel keep their distance from YHWH. YHWH has told them that they will be destroyed if they break through the limits around the mountain that Moses has set, and they believe YHWH when he tells them that! Now, in chapter 24, the circle has been extended beyond Moses and Aaron to include also Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; however, these individuals are still to worship from afar (24:1). Again, Moses has a special privilege of nearness to YHWH: Moses alone shall come near to YHWH, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him (24:2). As Brevard Childs points out, There is a very conscious movement of gradation which separates the elders from the people, and then again Moses from the elders.1 So vividly important throughout this passage is the principle that God alone defines who may approach him, as well as how we may approach him. Yes, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God without any problems, but the entrance of sin into the world wrecked all that. Sinful people do not saunter on their own terms into the presence of a holy God. To come near to the holiness of God is a perilous journey, one that must be mapped out precisely by a God who is both wise enough to know the way, and also gracious enough to provide the way to us. It is no different for us todaywe do not saunter into Gods presence on Sunday morning (although we frequently think that we do!), but we are called to worship him in the same way that these individuals were called to approach uniquely in order to worship YHWH. 24:1-2 is an example of Gods call to worship for his people, one part of the larger worship service: [Exodus 24] provides an archetype for Israels (and our) worship. It provides a paradigm of worship for Gods covenant people. All worship will have a call to worship, a preparation by the people, the proclamation of the word, the reading of the word, the offering of sacrifices, and the eating of the communal meal in the presence of God. Thus, every worship service in Israel was a covenant renewal service for the believers.2 As I write this, I cant seem to get the movie The Goonies out of my head as an illustration, where a group of teenagers find a treasure map and follow it through one deadly trap after another in order to find the buried treasure. The journey was risky, but the reward was high, and they were equipped with the means to find their way safely to the treasure. 24:3-8 The Words and the Sacrifices of the Covenant: The treasure map to come near to YHWH is not a fantasy adventure, however, but rather total consecration by covenant. The ceremony that Moses undertakes in 24:3-8 inaugurates and ratifies
1 Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), 504. 2 Allen P. Ross, The Ratification of the Covenant, <>.

YHWHs covenant for with his people, but also models the way in which the covenant people of YHWH (we included!) renew the existing covenant with their covenant God. In this part of the passage, covenant renewal requires two elements: (1) covenant vows; and (2) covenant sacrifices. The first element, covenant vows, takes place when Moses comes to tell the people all the words of YHWH and all the judgments (24:3). The two words used here (words and judgments) would include everything YHWH had said to his people at Sinai, and it is important to keep in mind that YHWH spoke more than rules. The preamble to the covenant in Ex. 19 includes specific promises that YHWH made to his people:

...Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. The promise of the covenant is that YHWH would make this people his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These promises precede the rules that YHWH would give as the response of his people to his promises. This order is incredibly important as we try to wrap our minds around Gods salvation: he initiates covenant with us, and he makes his covenant vows before we make ours. Of course, YHWH also did speak rules. Exodus 20 lays out the 10 Commandments, the primary laws on which all the rest of YHWHs laws are based. In response to YHWHs grace, he demands covenantal obedience to his Law. The Law, however, is not merely a list of rules, as though YHWH is some kind of taskmaster in heaven. The Law is an intensely personal description of YHWHs own character, so that to disobey the Law is far more than breaking a ruleit is defying YHWH at a very personal level. Moses, then, declares to the people all the words of YHWH for establishing this covenant with them both the promises as well as the Law. In response, the people declare in one voice, All the words that YHWH has spoken we will do (24:3). Not only does Moses speak YHWHs words, but he also wrote them down (24:4) so that there might be a record of the words to which the people had promised full obedience. The second element of a covenant renewal, sacrifices, is the next item on Moses agenda. He builds an altar with twelve pillars (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) at the foot of the mountain (24:4), and he sends young men of the people of Israel to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings of oxen to YHWH. It is important to see that these are not sin offerings or guilt offerings (see Lev. 4-6), but rather burnt and peace offerings (Lev. 1 and 3). Burnt offerings were entirely burnt up, as the language suggests, and they had deep significance for reconciling the worshiper to YHWH: The animal brought by the worshiper represented the worshiper and whoever else shared in bringing the animal. It was an atoning sacrifice, meaning that through the offering of this sacrifice the people would be brought into a proper relationship with the Lord. Or, to put it in terms that they would have understood, the fact that the animal was completely burnt indicated (1) that they were totally surrendering themselves to God, and (2) God was totally accepting them with pleasure into His presence. Because the people were sinful and separated from the presence of

God, death would have to be required of them. But God in His grace provided for a substitute so that His requirement would be met and they would live in His good grace. The atoning sacrifice meant that they were accepted by God and could enter His courts to fellowship with Him. This was the basic and constant sacrifice that Israel made.3 The peace offering was a sacrifice not to establish, but to celebrate, a peoples peace with God: It [the peace offering] was not a sacrifice offered to make peace with God but one that was made to celebrate being at peace with God. It was a sacrifice offered in communion with God, not to establish or renew communion. In this sense it parallels the ritual of Holy Communion in the church as nothing else does; in Communion Christians eat the food from the Lords Table because they are in covenant with him. This new covenant rite is a celebration of being at peace with God through Christ, and it is eaten in anticipation of the great celebration of eternal Communion in the glorious heavenly sanctuary (Matt. 26:29).4 These are sacrifices made by a people who are already in communion with God. The burnt offering does indeed atone for sins, but for the normal, common sins of the believer. The sin offering and the guilt offering would have been made by someone who needed forgiveness for a serious breach. The burnt and the peace offerings have to do with our communion with God, not our reconciliation to him. In this way, then, Moses took half of the blood of the sacrifices, and threw it on the altar. In this way, the sacrificial blood came in contact with YHWH himself. Through the blood of the sacrifices, YHWH is united with his people. As Brevard Childs explains: The dividing of the blood in half would seem to point to a twofold aspect of the covenant. On the one hand, the blood dashed on the altar in place of a sacrifice speaks of God's gracious forgiveness in accepting this as an offering. On the other hand, the blood scattered on the people binds them in a blood oath.5 After throwing blood on the altar, Moses takes the Book of the Covenant (that which he had read in v. 4) and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, All that YHWH has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient (24:7). Again, the words of YHWHs covenantal promises and obligations were read to the people, and again, the people promise their obedience to their covenant Lord. At this point, Moses takes the other half of the blood and threw it on the people, saying, Behold the blood of the covenant that YHWH has made with you in accordance with all these words. That half the blood was thrown on YHWH, and the other half thrown on the people, signifies the link through blood that is forged in this covenant. The people deserved to die because of their sins, but because an animal died in their place, the blood of that sacrificial animal both secures their way to YHWH, and consecrates them before YHWH. And, as Ross points out, we shouldnt miss the quotation of this passage that would come later in the Bibles story:

3 Allen P. Ross, The Burnt Offering, <>. 4 Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006), 203. 5 Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), 506.

In the same manner that Moses inaugurated the covenant at Sinai, Jesus in the upper room inaugurated the new covenant with people who were likewise committed to following him, saying similarly, This is my blood of the [new] covenant.6 24:9-11 The Covenant Meal: Only at this point do Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, along with the seventy elders, go up the mountain, coming nearer to YHWH. Coming near to YHWH is a deep and holy privilege, one that we dare not presume upon without the explicit command of YHWH.7 And yet, these men approach YHWH with perfect freedom and confidence, with nothing of the apprehension and fear recorded in Ex. 20:18-19:

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die. Instead, they receive both a vision of God and perfect communion with God. I love how Ross describes all of this: The Vision of Glory According to Exodus 24:9-11a, the representatives of the nation saw the God of Israel, and God did not raise his hand against them (it was believed that no one could see God and live [33:20]). What exactly they saw is hard to say, but it was clearly much more than the phenomena of nature that they had seen (cf. how Moses was allowed to see more in 33:23). They were given an actual glimpse of Gods glorious presencethey saw a pavement of sapphire stone, deep blue but transparent, like the vault of the sky, which may have been the foundation of the heavenly throne (Ezek. 1:26; Rev. 4:6), but they did not dare to lift their eyes higher. No longer did they see smoke and fire and clouds or feel earthquakes as before when they trembled in fear (Exod. 19). Now they saw the tranquility of he heavenly scene with paved work like sapphire and the body of heaven in clearness, and above it they saw a vision of the God of Israel exalted in his glorious dominion. Now that the people were in covenant [page] with God almighty, the terrifying features of his presence were gonethey were at peace with God (cf. Isa. 44:22). Communion with God (Exod. 24:11b) When they saw God, they ate and drank. This is the second time we are told that they saw God, the repetition underscoring that they actually saw something, that this was not merely their imagination. God wanted them to know that his presence was real. And because of that revelation, they could celebrate with a communal meal from the peace offerings (see Lev. 7:16-21). To eat the covenant meal in the presence of God confirmed that they were at peace with God. And Israels experience of a communal meal anticipated the Christian meal called Holy Communion. It too would be a celebration by those who were at peace with God, a peace made possible by the sacrificial death of Christ.8
6 Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006), 179. 7 For more information on the issue of proximity to God, see my article, Nearer my God to Thee: Numbers, Proximity to God, and Christology, in Miqra 9:1 (Winter 2010): 2-6. Also available online: <>.

Christian worship at the Lords Supper is profoundly important. During this time, we eat and drink in the presence of Godand, more importantly, in the presence of a God who is at peace with them. The Lords Supper is for the people of God only, for those whose sins have been atoned for with the blood of Jesus, and who are now at perfect peace and full reconciliation with God. At the Table, God actually offers us himself, and renewing his covenant vows to us as we renew our covenant vows to him. At the Table, we eat and drink in the presence of God, and he rather than laying a hand on us, he embraces us fully, remembering that he has already laid his hand on his own Son, who took our place. At the Table, we get Christ and all the fullness of the blessings that he has secured for us by his own covenant blood. 24:12-18 The Covenant Mediator: The people of Israel have been left at the base of the mountain, where boundaries have been set, both by the instructions of YHWH and the terrifying presence of YHWH. Now Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders are to be left halfway up the mountain, as Moses alone (with his assistant Joshua) ascends the rest of the way up the mountain to receive the Law on stone tablets, which YHWH has written for their instruction (24:12). Before leaving, Moses instructs the elders to obey the leadership of Aaron and Hur: Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them (24:14). While the covenant mediator ascends up the mountain, he does not allow the sheep to be left without a shepherd, but rather appoints undershepherds to take up the task. As Moses heads up the mountain, he must wait six days while the glory of YHWH in the cloud covered Mount Sinai:

The glory of YHWH dwelt 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. 17Now the appearance of the glory of YHWH was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. The people at the base of the mountain still perceive the glory of YHWH with terror. Only Moses ascends up into the cloud on behalf of the people. In the same way, only Jesus Christ can ascend into the Holy Places on our behalf. To do so, he had to be human. Unless the Mediator were a new Man, capable of entering the holy places, humanity draws no closer to salvation. But he also had to be God, for God alone has the privilege of calling people near to him, purifying them from their uncleanness, and sanctifying them to make them holy. Unless this GodMan is able to render others fit for entry into YHWHs holy presence, then we humans are still without hope. Moses was not this kind of Mediator. He too sinned, even to the point of being disqualified from entering into the Promised LandYHWH only let him look upon it from afar. Moreover, Moses was not God. He mediated between YHWH and the people of Israel, but he himself could do nothing to convict, purifying, or sanctify the people.

8 Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006), 179-80.

But Jesus Christ is our perfect Mediator, the God-Man who is qualified to call us into his Fathers presence, and who is capable to purify us from our every sin with his own blood. In fact, he inaugurated a New Covenant in his own blood, and he calls us every week to renew our covenant with himcalling us to worship, proclaiming his word by reminding us of his promises as well as our covenant vows, giving us a glimpse of his glory, and communing with us by a meal. The Perfectly Holy One calls his sinful people to a Perfect Covenant and to Perfect Communion with his Father, for he has become our Perfect Mediator through his death on the cross. As the author of Hebrews states, Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15). This Jesusour Great Mediatoris the one we worship.