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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Exodus 24

 

 

Introduction

ESTABLISHING THE COVENANT

"This chapter with its account of the ratification of the covenant could well be called the climax of the Book of Exodus. N.T. passages (Hebrews 9:10,18-21) use this scene as the prototype of the ratification of the New Covenant."[1] This is true, and the most important deductions derive from it.

  1. The true understanding of the passage appears especially in the N.T., not in the O.T. This also accounts for the astounding blindness of the critical scholars to the most obvious features of the chapter. Only "in Christ" is the veil taken away in the interpretation of the O.T.

  2. There are not two ratifications here, only one. This passage cannot be a garbled amalgamation of diverse "traditions" from different sources. Critical affirmations to that effect are essentially naive and unlearned. "They became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!" (Romans 1:21,22).

As we have seen, the critics are especially infuriated by those unusually important portions of the O.T., such as this chapter, and redouble their foolish efforts to confuse or deny. As Fields said, "Those chapters of the deepest spiritual significance and meaning are the very ones upon which the critics concentrate their attacks. `The devil has blinded the minds of the unbelieving' (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)."[2] Allegations of foolish, blinded men are unworthy of any detailed examination. "The Exodus account is too harmonious with itself to permit us to accept extreme ideas about its production"[3]


Verse 1-2

"And he said unto Moses, Come up unto Jehovah, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off: and Moses alone shall come near unto Jehovah; but they shall not come near; neither shall the people go up with him."

At some time prior to these instructions to Moses, he had returned to the people, with whom he had remained until this order upon a later occasion only a short time after the pronouncement by God Himself of the Decalogue in the hearing of all the people. These verses are the key to understanding that "Only Moses went to the fiery clouded summit."[4] Moses was a type of Christ in that exclusive privilege. "Moses alone as the mediator of the covenant (Galatians 3:19) was allowed to approach the Divine presence."[5] The specific persons mentioned here were the chosen representatives of the people, and they would ascend a little higher than the people who remained at the foot of the mountain. The fact that only those chosen persons, including the seventy elders, would witness the theophany is a type of the fact that Christ showed himself alive unto men following his resurrection, "Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God" (Acts 10:41).

The appearance of Nadab and Abihu in this list of the chosen representatives is the equivalent of a whole library contradicting the foolish notion of some critics that some "priesthood in the Babylonian era, circa 550 B.C." composed this portion of Exodus. Their appearance here proves that the evil for which they later died had not been, at this time, committed. This record was therefore written before the sons of Aaron died.

Huey mentioned a number of ways in which covenants were made in ancient times: (1) they ate salt together (Leviticus 2:13; Numbers 18:19); (2) they ate a sacrificial meal together (Genesis 31:54); (3) they exchanged articles of clothing (1 Samuel 18:1-4); (4) they walked between the divided pieces of slaughtered animals (Genesis 15:10,17).[6] However, it must not be thought that the covenant act here would necessarily have conformed to any one pattern.


TWO CEREMONIES; OR ONLY ONE?

The greatest misunderstanding of this chapter is in a failure to see that only one ceremony is involved throughout, namely, that of the blood-shedding and the sprinkling of the altar and of the representatives of the people. That act was the making and sealing of the covenant. The sacrificial meal afterward had the same status as the one between Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:54) which came a day or two after the covenant had already been made. The efforts of critics to find a separate account of "the covenant" in that sacrificial meal recorded here are frustrated completely by this Biblical example. There was only one covenant made here, and only one ratification and sealing of it.


Verse 3-4

"And Moses came and told the people all the words of Jehovah, and all the ordinances: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which Jehovah hath spoken will we do. And Moses WROTE ALL THE WORDS OF JEHOVAH, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the mount, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel."

"Moses told the people ..." It was absolutely necessary that the people should have been told specifically exactly what was expected of them. It is not clear whether these words refer to something Moses had already done (which he certainly had done) or to a recapitulation of"all the ordinances." Either way, it was thoroughly and effectively done.

"All the words which Jehovah hath spoken will we do ..." Esses, a believing Rabbi, renders this: "All that the Lord has spoken and all that he will speak we will do and obey."[7] Even if this rendition should not be allowed, it is certain that the acceptance on the part of the people of God's commands was unanimous, enthusiastic, and complete. What a tragedy that their subsequent actions cast a dark shadow over what they did here. Within a month they would reject Moses, make a golden calf, and rebel against God!

"And Moses WROTE ALL THE WORDS OF JEHOVAH ..." We have capitalized these letters because, apparently, no critic on earth has ever noticed them. The ridiculous fancy that the Exodus record is dependent upon "oral traditions" handed down for centuries until some self-serving priests decided to write it can be nothing except nonsense. Writing had been known for a least five or six centuries at this time. The Code of Hammurabi (2100-2000 B.C.) is written in the most detailed and circumstantial fashion, and to suppose that Moses, brought up in the palace of Pharaoh was unfamiliar with writing is merely an elephant error that only a fool could swallow. "MOSES WROTE IT ALL DOWN." Of course, he did! Only Moses knew the facts presented here; only Moses was present when the events mentioned occurred. Have Noth, Clements, Davies, or any of the unbelieving critics established "their favorite authors," such as E, J, P, or D, as having been present at these events? Certainly not! The following words of Allis are appropriate:

"Hammurabi, writing centuries BEFORE Moses, codified his laws and reduced them to writing. He had them carved on blocks of diorite stone. Would Moses have done anything less? The neocritic who PREFERS oral tradition is forced to admit that a written code was quite possible."[8]

We marvel at the "possible" in Allis' quotation above. The written record was not merely possible but certain, being the only possible way that the exceedingly extensive and complicated records of the O.T. could ever have reached down the centuries. "MOSES WROTE ALL THE WORDS OF JEHOVAH!" (Exodus 24:3). It is an axiom of true O.T. interpretation that EVERY APPEAL to "oral tradition" or "tradition," by which the same thing is meant, is merely a confession on the part of critics that they prefer their own vain imaginations to God's written record. The fact of Moses' actually writing down the laws of God is here affirmed: "hence the laws received the designation `Book of the Covenant'"[9]

"And builded an altar under the mount ..." The ratification of the covenant took place not on Mount Sinai, but at the foot of it. That is where the blood was sprinkled.

"Twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel ..." The mention of these has the utility of proving that there were indeed "twelve tribes of Israel" who participated in the Exodus. The erroneous view that some of the tribes of Israel did not descend into Egypt is denied by this. To be sure the critics find all kinds of superstitions about those pillars, but that their use was symbolic only, and not superstitious, is indicated by the fact that, "The blood was dashed over the people themselves, and not upon the pillars (Exodus 24:8)."[10] Dummelow's opinion that the "pillars were smeared with blood"[11] is unsupported by the Biblical account here.


Verse 5-6

"And he sent young men of the children of lsrael, who offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen unto Jehovah. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar."

We shall not enter into the question of whether or not these young men were the first-born, or other distinguished members of the community, for we simply are not told. Apparently, their choice was due to their youth and strength, important considerations in the size of such a sacrifice as this. They did not participate in any way in the ceremony, Moses officiating as the great priest and mediator who, as a type of Jesus Christ, sprinkled the blood. Note that the blood was sprinkled, not merely upon the altar, but upon the people also. Thus, Christ offered his blood in heaven as an atonement once for all for the sins of mankind, and yet, it is that same blood of Christ by which the hearts of all true believers are "sprinkled" (Hebrews 10:19-22).

"Burnt offerings, and peace offerings ..." The multiple sacrifices were not only numerous, but of various kinds. Although sin-offering is not specifically mentioned here, there was nevertheless inherent in all sacrifices, especially of blood sacrifices, the admission of human sin and guilt. It was therefore appropriate that prior to the blood-rite confirming the covenant these offerings acknowledging the sins of Israel should have been offered. Esses even affirmed that "Because there was sin in Israel, the sin offering had to be made before the burnt offering."[12] Certainly, we must reject the notion that "They were a redeemed people, "[13] and therefore did not need to offer a sin offering!

"Half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar ..." This was the first of the double sprinkling, the other being related in the next verses.


Verse 7-8

"And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which Jehovah hath made with you concerning all these words."

"All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do ..." This reaffirmation on the peoples' part that they would indeed obey the word of God followed the reading of the Book of the Covenant in their hearing by Moses himself. "This was Israel's third promise to obey. See Exodus 19:8; 24:3; and Exodus 23:22.[14]

"And Moses took the blood ... and sprinkled it on the people ..." Note that none was sprinkled on the pillars. This double blood-sprinkling was the establishment of the covenant, the covenant being specifically mentioned in connection with the ceremony itself: "This is the blood of the Covenant!" (Exodus 24:8). Significantly, Jesus Christ himself on the night in which he was betrayed instituted the Lord's Supper, saying, "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many unto the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). Thus, Jesus Christ himself made the blood-shedding to be the establishment of the New Covenant, indicating at the same time that it was the blood-shedding here that established the Old Covenant. This was not part of it, but ALL of it. The fellowship meal mentioned later only celebrated a past event that was already accomplished.

Why was the covenant established in blood? Many reasons could be given, but here are a few:

  1. it stressed the serious, even fatal, nature of sin, in that only blood, indicating death, could cleanse it;

  2. particularly, it was a type of the sacrifice of Christ "for the sins of the whole world";

  3. in God's view of a covenant, "Before it could be in force, a death must have occurred (Hebrews 9:15-17)."[15]

  4. Not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood (Hebrews 9:18).

  5. This also constituted a reminder that death was the penalty of breaking the covenant.

  6. It symbolized the unity between God and Israel, since the same blood was sprinkled upon both, upon God in a figure, at the altar, and upon the people also (Exodus 24:7).

  7. "The blood symbolizes the grace of God in man's redemption.[16]

Verse 9-10

"Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: and they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness."

Note the marvelous unity and clearness of this passage. This is impossible of consideration as being derived from some "other source," because identically the same persons are again mentioned, and the word "then" indicates that immediately after the establishment of the covenant by the blood sprinkling, these representatives were granted a special theophany to celebrate and to stress the epic importance of what had just occurred.

Who were the seventy? It is not surely known. Perhaps they were men selected by Moses, some six men from each of the twelve tribes, as representatives of all Israel.

"And they saw the God of Israel ..." Due to the teaching of many other passages in the Bible, it must be received as certain that they did not see God "face to face" in all of his eternal glory (See Deuteronomy 4:15; 1 John 4:12; and 1 Timothy 3:16). However, they did behold a very wonderful display of God's excellent presence, sufficiently miraculous to inspire them with the knowledge that it truly was God Himself who had given them the covenant and sealed it with blood. The fact of this "seeing God" being mentioned before the sacrificial meal may not mean that the chronological sequence of the vision is strictly followed here. It may have occurred during the meal, being mentioned first because of its importance. It will be remembered that when Jesus shared that evening meal with the two disciples whom he had encountered on the way to Emmaus, that he was made known unto them "in the breaking of bread" (Luke 24:30). Again, we have light from the N.T. on the O.T. Thus, that event also fails to qualify as "another covenant ceremony," but as a celebration of the New Covenant already sealed with the blood of Christ! Therefore, we must conclude with Fields that, "3-8 are the ratification of the covenant, followed by a glorious experience of fellowship with God upon the mount."[17]

Deuteronomy 4:15 states categorically that the seventy and others on the mountain did not actually see any "form" whatever; thus what they did see was a special display of God's glory. Significantly, the things mentioned as being seen by them included that remarkable sapphire pavement, described also as "clear," reminding us of the "crystal sea" that lay beneath the throne of God, as described in Revelation 4. The Septuagint (LXX) here states that "they saw the place where God stood," and although we do not believe they had any right to change the text as they did, we can find no fault with their interpretation of what it means!


Verse 11

"And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: and they believed God and did eat and drink."

"Upon the nobles ..." This indicates the character of the "seventy," who were evidently chosen by Moses for qualities of character, leadership, and ability.

"He laid not his hand ..." That is, God did not cause the men to die who had experienced so remarkable a glimpse of God's glory. There was a widespread conviction among the ancients that anyone who beheld God's face would die at once. We believe Clements, and others, were wrong who placed this theophany "at the top of Mount Sinai."[18] It has already been explained in this chapter (Exodus 24:1-2) that "Only Moses went to the summit." We may believe that this theophany occurred but a little way further up the mountain from the whole camp of Israel.


Verses 12-14

"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandments, which I have written, that thou mayest teach them. And Moses rose up and Joshua his minister: and Moses went up into the mountain of God. And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whosoever hath a cause, let him come near unto them."

"Unto Moses ... come up ... into the mount ..." Moses, who without any doubt participated in that marvelous meal and the theophany, along with the seventy, etc., was not "up into the mount" when that event occurred, as indicated by this commandment.

"With Joshua his minister ..." Since Joshua did not receive that name till long afterward when Moses changed it from "Oshea," we are left with the conclusion that Moses revised these words at the time of his putting all of his writings together, near the time of the Exodus, and for greater clarity placed it here proleptically. It is not indicated that even Joshua went to the summit. Perhaps he waited for Moses at some appointed place until-the forty days were concluded. See Exodus 32:17.

Aaron and Hur (Exodus 24:14) were charged as Moses' deputies to take charge of the affairs of the nation during the time when Moses waited upon God in the mountain. The disaster that ensued will be revealed later.


Verse 15-16

"And Moses went up into the mount, and the cloud covered the mount. And the glory of Jehovah shone upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the cloud."

"The cloud ..." The significance of that cloud is that, "It represents God's presence. Nevertheless, it is not to be wholly identified with him. It is intended to affirm that his presence was with Israel, without lessening the idea of his divine majesty and heavenly sovereignty.[19]

The period of six days waiting must have been a trial for Moses. Men have a great deal of trouble with their impatience. Men are always in a hurry, but God is never in a hurry. Moses may have felt that he needed to be with Israel; and, as events developed, it is certain that such a need was there. But the duty of Moses was to wait, as patiently as possible, until God revealed for him his next duty.


Verse 17-18

"And the appearance of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights."

The glorious display on Mount Sinai was visible to all Israel, but Moses declined to give any other description than the few words already written. It is not actually clear whether or not the forty days and forty nights included the six days already mentioned. Though no mention of it was made here, it must be received as certain that Moses was without food or drink during that time. Thus, as the unsurpassed Type of the Lord Jesus Christ, Moses also had his fast of forty days and forty nights, as did Jesus in the wilderness of his temptation (Matthew 4:1f). Elijah also fasted that same length of time; and significantly those two characters, Moses and Elijah, were the ones who would participate with Jesus Christ our Lord in another great theophany on the mountain of Our Lord's Transfiguration (Matthew 17).

This concludes the Scriptural record of the giving of the Old Covenant. We cannot leave this without noting the astounding declaration of Davies that, "Jeremiah corrected Moses by omitting any reference to blood in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), our Lord corrects Jeremiah by reintroducing the blood."[20] Such "mixed up" comments by critical scholars is common, and, for that reason, we shall include a section here on The Two Covenants.

Before doing so, we should note that the alleged "correction of Moses" by Jeremiah is a colossal misunderstanding. Jeremiah, in that passage, was not discussing how that old covenant was made, but the fact that a new covenant which the Lord would make was to be "not according to the old covenant." The thing in view was the content of both covenants, not the manner of the making of either covenant! It is strange indeed that among learned men there should be such a colossal misunderstanding of so elementary a passage in the prophets!


THE TWO COVENANTS

"He (Christ) is the mediator of a better covenant. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second" (Hebrews 8:6,7).

There are visible in this passage two and only two covenants. God made a number of covenants:

  1. the covenants with Noah (Genesis 6:18,9:9);

  2. the two covenants with Abraham (Genesis 17:2,10; 15:18ff);

  3. the covenant of salt (Numbers 18:19; Leviticus 2:13); and

  4. a covenant of the everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:13).

However there were TWO COVENANTS, covenants of so vast and comprehensive a nature that they overshadowed all other covenants, those two covenants being so preeminently superior to all other covenants that in any Scriptural reference where "the covenant" is mentioned, it must invariably refer to one of those two.

In our text for this study, there is reference to the first covenant, We shall first identify it.

It was the one made with Israel and with the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:8,9).

It was the one that had the Decalogue as a basic component (Exodus 34:2,28).

It was the one that God made with Moses (Exodus 34:27).

Therefore, the First Covenant, as used in the Bible means the entire religious system of the Jews, the Decalogue, the Book of the Covenant, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the tabernacle rituals, the temple services (as later developed), together with all the statutes, judgments and commandments embracing the total ceremonial and moral constitutions of Judaism.

The First Covenant was abolished, abrogated, nailed to the Cross, taken out of the way. Why? God found fault with it. how could God find fault with His own work? Of course, He didn't! God removed the First Covenant because it had been, from the beginning, a temporary expedient. It was never intended to remain permanently, but much like the SCAFFOLDING that a builder erects around a construction, it was designed to be replaced by the Second and Greater Covenant (Galatians 3:19). The fault, then, that God found with it came into view after the New Israel in Christ appeared, eliminating any further utility of the Law (a code name for the First Covenant). There were also many other shortcomings of the Law in that it made no provision for the reception of the Holy Spirit by believers, provided no forgiveness whatever, and failed utterly to enable believers to keep it with any degree of satisfaction, and, in addition to all this, there was its failure to provide a suitable High Priest.

The abrogation of the First Covenant became mandatory and impending immediately upon the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great High Priest Forever after the Order of Melchizedek. As the author of Hebrews expressed it: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the Law" (Hebrews 7:12).

Certain religious groups, desiring to retain some provisions of the First Covenant, notably the sabbatarians, and others, have vainly sought to divide the First Covenant into: (1) Ceremonial; and (2) Moral categories, with the view of keeping their favorite part of it by designating it as a part of the moral law, and by affirming that only the ceremonial part of the First Covenant was annulled. This device is utterly unacceptable. While true enough that many of the moral requirements of the First Covenant are surely binding upon Christians, their authority for Christians derives not from Moses, but from Christ. The Spanish law in Texas forbade murder, so does the current law of the United States, but the authority of that law today derives not from Mexico City but from Washington. Also, those things of the First Covenant that did not find their place in the Second Covenant, such as sabbath keeping, animal sacrifice, burning incense, etc., are at this point of time void of any authority at all and should be totally rejected. Note too that such things as the sabbath day were ceremonial rather than moral.

How was the First Covenant removed? The appearance of the New Covenant in Christ annulled and supplanted the First Covenant. "In that he saith "A new covenant," he hath made the first old!" (Hebrews 8:13). "Having blotted out the bond written in ordinances (the First Covenant) that was against us, which was contrary to us, he (God) hath taken it out of the way, nailing to His (Christ's) cross" (Colossians 2:14). There were also two other acts of abrogation that applied to the First Covenant: (1) It was conditional. All of the glorious promises of God to Israel were contingent upon their obedience and continuance in the path of duty. "If thou shalt indeed hearken unto his voice, and do all that I say ..." (Exodus 23:22). Israel's frequent and outrageous acts of disobedience effectively cancelled the First Covenant. Many have not understood this. "God has never broken the covenant that he made with the people ... Israel may have broken it, but God never did."[21] This is of course true if understood as continuing in the terms of the New Covenant; but as regards the Old Covenant (the First), it has been finally and irrevocably destroyed. "If thou wilt obey ... I will bless," does not and cannot mean, "I will bless whether you obey or not!" The entire O.T. is filled with one account after another of Israel's disobedience and rebellion against God. As Jeremiah said it, "They continued not in my covenant" (Exodus 31:9).

When ready to abrogate the First Covenant, described also in the O.T. as a "Marriage" with Israel, God Himself died upon the Cross in the person of his Only Begotten Son, a fact that Paul amplified in Romans 7:1-6, showing that all people are now "dead to the law through the body of Christ." "Now we have been discharged from the Law" (Romans 7:6).

Let every man take another look at his Bible. It is conspicuously divided into TWO parts, THE OLD TESTAMENT, and THE NEW TESTAMENT; and the word "Testament" is exactly the same in the Bible as the word "Covenant"!

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 24:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/exodus-24.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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