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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Exodus 24



Verses 1-8

The remaining verses in this section contain God"s directions to Moses personally. Hebrews , Aaron, Aaron"s two eldest sons, and70 of the elders of Israel were to ascend the mountain to worship God. God permitted only Moses to approach Him closely, however.

Moses first related the content of God"s covenant with Israel orally, and the people submitted to it ( Exodus 24:3). Then he wrote out God"s words to preserve them permanently for the Israelites ( Exodus 24:4). The altar he built memorialized this place as where God had revealed Himself to His people. The12pillars were probably not part of the altar but separate from it. They probably represented the permanent relationship of the12tribes with God that God established when He made this covenant.

"In the ceremony to be performed, the altar will represent the glory of the Lord, whilst the pillars will represent the tribes of Israel; the two contrasting parties will stand facing each other." [Note: Cassuto, p311.]

The12pillars may also have served as memorial standing stones to commemorate the occasion (cf. Genesis 31:45). [Note: John W. Hilber, "Theology of Worship in Exodus 24 ," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society39:2 (June1996):181.] The young men ( Exodus 24:5) were probably assistants to Moses chosen for this special occasion to serve as priests (cf. Exodus 19:22; Exodus 19:24).

"In the blood sprinkled on the altar [ Exodus 24:6], the natural life of the people was given up to God, as a life that had passed through death, to be pervaded by His grace; and then through the sprinkling upon the people [ Exodus 24:8] it was restored to them again, as a life renewed by the grace of God. In this way the blood not only became a bond of union between Jehovah and His people, but by the blood of the covenant, it became a vital power, holy and divine, uniting Israel and its God; and the sprinkling of the people with this blood was an actual renewal of life, a transposition of Israel into the kingdom of God, in which it was filled with the powers of God"s spirit of grace, and sanctified into a kingdom of priests, a holy nation of Jehovah ( Exodus 19:6)." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:158.]

"The throwing of half of the blood of the offerings against the altar, which represented the Lord, and half on the people, or that which represented them, signifies a joining together of the two contracting parties (communio), and symbolized the execution of the deed of covenant between them.

"Between one blood-throwing and the other, the content of the covenant was finally and solemnly ratified by Moses" reading from the Book of the Covenant and by the people"s expression of consent." [Note: Cassuto, p312.]

This ritual constituted the formal ratification of the Mosaic Covenant by which Yahweh adopted Israel as His "son" (cf. Genesis 15). The parallel with the inauguration of the New Covenant is striking (cf. Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

"In all such ceremonies the oath of obedience [ Exodus 24:7] implied the participants" willingness to suffer the fate of the sacrificed animals if the covenant stipulations were violated by those who took the oath." [Note: Youngblood, p110.]

"Virtually every sovereign-vassal treaty incorporated a list of deities before whom the solemn oaths of mutual fidelity were sworn. These "witnesses" could not, of course, be invoked in the case of the biblical covenants, for there were not gods but Yahweh and no higher powers to whom appeal could be made in the event of covenant violation. The counterpart of this is not lacking, however, for the ceremony of covenant-making described in Exodus 24clearly includes "witnesses" to the transaction. These are in the form of the altar, which represented Yahweh, and the twelve pillars, which represented the twelve tribes. Although there is no explicit word to the effect that these objects were witnesses as well as representations, the use of inanimate objects in that capacity elsewhere certainly allows for that possibility here." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," pp34-35. Cf. Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 31:28. See also Kline, The Treaty . . ., p15.]

"This is the covenant meal, the peace offering, that they are eating there on the mountain. To eat from the sacrifice meant that they were at peace with God, in covenant with him. Likewise, in the new covenant believers draw near to God on the basis of sacrifice, and eat of the sacrifice because they are at peace with him, and in Christ they see the Godhead revealed." [Note: The NET Bible note on24:11.]

There is some disagreement among the commentators about the meaning of "the Book of the Covenant" ( Exodus 24:7). Most take it to mean the "Bill of Rights" that God had just given ( Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33). [Note: Wolf, p153.] Some feel it included "the whole corpus of Sinai laws." [Note: Childs, p506; Johnson, p74.] Others hold that ". . . it denotes a short general document, a kind of testimony and memorial to the making of the covenant." [Note: Cassuto, p312.] I prefer the view that it refers to the covenant stipulations God had made known to the Israelites at this time including the Decalogue and the "Bill of Rights." This seems most consistent with other references to this book in the text. [Note: See Kaiser, " Exodus ," p449.]

Verses 1-11

5. The ratification of the Covenant24:1-11

"The great event in chapter24is the climax of the Book of Exodus." [Note: Ramm, p139.]

Verses 9-11

The ratification ceremony concluded with a meal ( Exodus 24:9-11), not a picnic lunch but a sacrificial meal ( Exodus 24:5).

""They ate and drank" describes a covenant meal celebrating the sealing of the covenant described in Exodus 24:3-8." [Note: Ibid, p450.]

We must understand the statement that the leaders of Israel saw God ( Exodus 24:10) in the light of other passages ( Exodus 33:20-23; Isaiah 6:1; John 1:18). Perhaps they only saw His feet or, more exactly, a representation of part of God in human form (cf. Isaiah 6:1; Revelation 4:2; Revelation 4:6). The pavement of clear sapphire contributed to the vision of God as the supra-terrestrial sovereign (cf. Ezekiel 1:22; Revelation 4:6; Revelation 12:2).

". . . what Moses and his companions experience is a theophany of the Presence of God, not a vision of his person, and what they see, bowed before even that awesome reality, is what could be seen from a position of obeisant prostration, the surface on which his Presence offered itself.... The reference in Exodus 24:10 may therefore be a double one, calling up the deep dark blue of an endless sky and the building materials of legendary divine dwelling-places." [Note: Durham, p344.]

God in mercy did not consume the sinners before Him. Rather He allowed them to eat in His presence thus symbolizing the fact that He was taking on responsibility for their safety and welfare (cf. Genesis 31:44-46). [Note: See Livingston, pp157-62.]

"We have argued that the awkward surface structure of the narrative [in chapters19-24], which results in the non-linear temporal ordering of events, can be explained when one takes into account the sequence structure of the narrative, particularly the use of the literary device called resumptive repetition. As a result of this literary device we have demonstrated that the narrative contains two different perspectives of the theophany. First, there is the perspective of Yahweh which emphasizes the preparation and execution of the covenant as well as highlighting the holiness of God, which is a key to understanding the relationship that exists between Yahweh and His people. Second, there is the perspective of the people, which is elaborated upon in the two resumptive narratives in20 , 18-21,24 , 1-8. The first resumptive narrative in20 , 18-21 , which elaborates in detail the fear of the people, serves as a preface and introduction to the Decalogue and Covenant Code. In addition, it also acts as a causal link between the fear of the people and their sinful acts below the mountain in Exodus 32. The second resumptive narrative in24 , 1-8 elaborates in detail the ratification of the covenant and also leads into the subsequent ascent of Moses to the mountain where he receives the rest of God"s regulations." [Note: G. C. Chirichigno, "The Narrative Structure of Exodus 19-24 ," Biblica68:4 (1987):478-79.]

Verses 12-18

C. Directions regarding God"s dwelling among His people24:12-31:18

Having given directions clarifying Israel"s obedience in the Book of the Covenant ( Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33), God now summoned Moses up into the mountain again to receive His directions regarding Israel"s worship. The Book of the Covenant specified how the Israelites were to live with one another, but the tabernacle showed them how God wanted them to worship Him. [Note: Cf. Davis, p192.]

"The establishment of a covenant relationship necessitated a means whereby the vassal party could regularly appear before the Great King to render his accountability. In normal historical relationships of this kind between mere men, some sort of intercession was frequently mandatory and, in any case, a strict protocol had to be adhered to. [Note: For Hittite practice, see O. R. Gurney, The Hittites, pp74-75.] How much more must this be required in the case of a sinful people such as Israel, who must, notwithstanding, communicate with and give account to an infinitely transcendent and holy God." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," pp48-49.]

Why did Moses record God"s instructions for the tabernacle before the people sinned by making the golden calf? It was, after all, the golden calf incident that led to the giving of the priestly laws.

". . . according to the logic of the narrative, it was Israel"s fear that had created the need for a safe approach to God, that Isaiah , one in which the people as such were kept at a distance and a mediator was allowed to represent them. It was precisely for this reason that the tabernacle was given to Israel." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p58.]


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 24:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 23rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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