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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 24

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-18

d.—The feast of the covenant commanded

Exodus 24:1-2

1And 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. 2And Moses alone shall [let Moses alone] come near Jehovah: but they shall not [let them not] come nigh; neither shall [and let not] the people go up with him.


The connection of this passage with the foregoing is correctly stated by Keil in opposition to Knobel. In Exodus 20:22 God spoke through Moses to the people. What He now speaks at the end of the giving of the law is for Moses himself, although he must communicate with the people about it. After Jehovah has proclaimed the law of the covenant to the people, the feast of the covenant must be celebrated. It is presupposed, first, that God has spoken from Sinai the ten commandments to Moses and the people at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 19:25). Then that He gave the ceremonial laws and the civil laws for the people, while the latter had removed from the mountain, but Moses was standing in the darkness of the mountain; by which, however, is not exactly meant that he was on the mountain (Exodus 20:21). It is therefore not to be supposed (with Keil and Knobel) that Moses, according to Exodus 20:21, had again betaken himself to the mountain; for in this case it would have to be assumed that the descent had been forgotten. But now an ascending to Jehovah takes place, with most significant distinctions. Moses, the prophet, alone is permitted to go to the top of the mountain, and approach Jehovah. At the declivity of the mountain the priests must stop, represented by Aaron and his sons, Nadab and Abihu; and with a like limitation, but also with a like right, the state, the popular assembly, represented by the seventy elders. They occupy a middle position between the prophet above and the people below. On Nadab and Abihu vid.Leviticus 10:1 sqq.


e.—Ratification of the covenant

Exodus 24:3-8

3And Moses came and told the people all the words of Jehovah, and all the judgments 4[ordinances]: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which Jehovah hath said [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 hill [mountain], and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5And he sent young [the young] men of the children of Israel, which [and they] offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen [bullocks] unto Jehovah. 6And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience [hearing] of the people: and they said, All that Jehovah hath said [spoken] will we do, and be obedient. 8And 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.


Exodus 24:3. And Moses came.—That is, out of the darkness of the mountain, not exactly from the mountain itself. And told the people.—“Not the decalogue (as Delitzsch holds, Hebräerbrief, p. 414), for the people had heard this immediately from the mouth of God, but the words of Exodus 20:22-26, and all the laws” (Keil). But evidently the report must have included the whole threefold law (therefore not only the decalogue), because the covenant now to be concluded was to relate to the whole law. But it is also self-evident that Moses was a better hearer of the ten commandments than the people were, and had to be for them a mediator of the law which they themselves had heard. Once more the assent of the people is given to the law of the covenant unanimously—with one voice; practically, the third expression of compliance (vid.Exodus 20:19 and Exodus 19:8). How then can there be any more thought of despotic subjection of the people? Thus far everything has been done orally; and for the first time Moses makes a provisional copy of the law.

Exodus 24:4. The covenant is concluded, and now it is sealed by the feast of the covenant. Moses builds early on the following morning an altar (for Jehovah), and in addition twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. “As the altar,” says Keil, “being the place where the Lord comes to bless His people (Exodus 20:24), indicates the presence of Jehovah, so the twelve pillars, or signal stones, were not to serve as mere memorial signs of the ratification of the covenant, but, as the dwelling-place of the twelve tribes, to represent their presence.” Vid.Genesis 28:18; Genesis 31:45 (Knobel on Genesis 21:31), Joshua 4:0 (memorial stones), Joshua 22:11 sqq. (the altar a symbol of unity).

Exodus 24:5. And he sent the young men. The young men must officiate in offering the sacrifices of ratification. Why? Different views: (1) As first-born children, who constitute the natural basis for the priesthood (Onkelos), or even the sons of Aaron (Augustine). (2) Vigorous men, as Moses’ assistants in making the offering (Knobel: first-born youths). (3) As representatives of the youthful people (Kurtz III., p. 143). The young men of the nation stand midway between the children and the men; they share with the first their innocence, and with the latter their strength, and, as being the bloom of the national life, are the fittest representatives of an incipient national life. When the national life is to be restored by wars of liberation or defence, the young men enter the lists. Thus Israel concludes its covenant with Jehovah through the bloom of its national life, the young men—according to a general law of the life of nations, which Kurtz has at least suggested (but criticised by Keil, note 1, p. 157).1 It is, however, an observation needed only by the high-churchly, when Kurtz lays stress on the fact that the bringing and slaying of the victims was not a sacerdotal function. For as yet “the universal priesthood” officiates, although Moses alone as yet exercises the function of high-priest. Archæological notes on the young men offering, vid. in Knobel, p. 242.—Burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. The burnt-offerings symbolize Jehovah’s part of the festive solemnities; the peace-offerings that of the people.—Bullocks. The great covenant cannot be ratified by the sacrifice of sheep or goats.—Half of the blood. On the division of the blood, vid. Keil, p. 158.2 We have no hesitation, in spite of superstitious interpretations of the Lord’s Supper and of the ritual, to conceive of the one-half of this blood as a sacrifice, and the other as a sacrament typically foreshadowed. In accordance with this reference the sacrificial element is traceable in the burnt-offering, the sacrament in the שְׁלָמִים, peace-offerings, or thank-offerings. Keil, referring to Bähr and Knobel, rightly opposes the adducing of the analogy of heathen usages, in so far as thereby an identification of the usage is intended (vid. Knobel, p. 243); but an affinity of the profane with the theocratic sacrificial usages cannot be denied. Keil is also incorrect, when, in reference to these offerings, he speaks of expiation in the proper sense of the word. This could least of all be applied to the peace-offerings, or festive-offerings. The offerings in general, it is true, rest on the consciousness of the sinfulness which leads man, with his good will, and in symbolic form, to bring to God, as confession, prayer, and vow, what in his real condition as sinful in his spiritual life he cannot bring Him—in the burnt-offering the sinless consecration of his whole life, in the peace-offering the sinless consecration of all his prosperity and enjoyment. It is quite in accordance with the legal stand-point that Moses at first pours out the blood designed for God at the altar of God; thereby he symbolically effects a general and complete surrender of the people to God. But not till after he has read the book of the covenant, the laws of chs. 20–23, and the people have given their fullest assent (vid. the translation), does he sprinkle the people with the other half of the blood of the offering, which till then was kept in the basin, while he calls it the blood of the covenant that has been completed. It can hardly be correct, with Keil, to understand the blood to have been halved only because the blood sprinkled on the altar could not be again taken from it and sprinkled on the people; but he is right in assuming that the halves belong together. Clearly there is formed out of the identity of the blood a contrast in actu. In this contrast, however, the thought comes out that surrender in general, in accordance with the conditions of grace, must precede obedience in particular, according to the law. This is the patriarchal and evangelical seal impressed on the law, such as also introduces the decalogue—the language about the redeeming God. The expression, “blood of the covenant,” is, it is true, a marked one, denoting an ideally symbolical exchange of blood, as a foundation for blood relationship. But no human blood is here used, and still less can there be any thought of real blood of God, although, as sacrificial blood, it comes from God (and so far forth is a typical mystery), and is sprinkled upon men, symbolically expiating them and devoting them to sanctification, vid.Exodus 29:21, Leviticus 8:30.

f.—Feast of the covenant

Exodus 24:9-11

9Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: 10And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone [as it were work of bright sapphire], and as it were the body of heaven [the very heaven] in his clearness [for clearness]. 11And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also [and] they saw God, and did eat and drink.


A wonderfully beautiful, sublime, but also mysterious feature of the history of the giving of the law. In it we see the significance of the sprinkling of the blood further carried out. It is the communion festival of the law—a communion of the Israelites, in the persons of their noblest representatives, with Jehovah,—the other side of the picture presented by the communion of Moses, his brother Aaron, and the elders, with Jethro, Moses’ heathen father-in-law, after the latter offered burnt-offerings and sacrifices, and doubtless also, as here, peace-offerings, Exodus 18:12.—A prophetic form of the communion feast is given by Isaiah, Exodus 25:6-8. The first realization of it, the celebration of the Lord’s supper, frequently made to point figuratively to the last supper of the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 19:28), finds its last fulfilment in the marriage of the Lamb, Revelation 19:7-9.

Exodus 24:9. Therefore the representatives of Israel went up, according to the prophetic, ceremonial, and political elements of the community. Aaron’s sons mark the genealogical succession of the Levitical priesthood; the prophets have no genealogical succession; the elders must grow up to attain their dignity, and from the whole of them seventy are chosen as representatives, according to the sacred number seventy. Vid.Genesis 46:27.

Exodus 24:10. And they saw the God of Israel. It is not said that they saw Jehovah, though He is meant; for Jehovah is the God of Israel. Therefore not כְּבוֹד יְהוָֹה, as Knobel conceives, referring to Exodus 16:10. He says, “According to the chief narrator this favor was shown only to Moses, and that too later than this, and at his special request.” Two discrepancies are said to be found here: (1) That Moses “does not see the glory of Jehovah till afterwards, Exodus 33:18; ” (2) That “according to the chief narrator the people themselves at the proclamation of the ten commandments perceived only thunder, lightning, clouds, noise of trumpets, and the voice of Jehovah;” but here also the כְּבוֹד וְהוָֹה [glory of Jehovah], according to Exodus 24:17! The narrative evidently brings out two marked contrasts. The first is the seeing of Elohim, and the seeing of Jehovah; the second is the heavenly clearness above the mountain during the feast of the covenant, and the subsequent darkening of the mountain by cloud and fire which took place when the law was drawn up. The vision of Jehovah in its several stages of development is marked by Isaiah 6:1 and Ezekiel 1:26, Daniel 7:9-13 (comp. Numbers 12:8). During the feast of the covenant at the declivity of the mountain (according to Exodus 24:1 prescribed before the covenant was formed) the representatives of Israel saw the God of Israel. It was a vision, for which no objective image is furnished. But the sign of the objective image is called the image of a work or footstool under God’s feet, of brilliant sapphire, of sky blue therefore, like the heaven in its full brightness, as is added by way of further explanation. This ethereally delicate picture of the vision of the covenant God of Israel in His grace and covenant faithfulness has been coarsened and obscured in two directions. According to Knobel, the figure under God’s feet is “like a work of sapphire slabs;” and he refers to Ezekiel 1:26, and reads לְבֵנָה. vid. p. 244. According to Baumgarten there was no image of God, because the vision of the men was imperfect. According to Hofmann the fire was separated from the cloud and turned into a form. According to Keil they saw also a form of God, which, however, is not described, “inasmuch as Moses, according to Numbers 12:8, saw the form of Jehovah.” But here we are told of a vision of the supermundane God as the God of Israel, not of a vision of Jehovah becoming incarnate. This is the first contrast. The second is the fact that at the feast of the covenant the cloud and the darkness are entirely gone, that the heavens open themselves, as it were, to the transported gazers in the full splendor of the heavenly blue, as at the baptism of Jesus; whereas immediately afterwards, at the beginning of the drawing up of the law, the mountain was obscured again, even more than before, as was the case when the ten commandments were first proclaimed. This is now again a phenomenal image of the glory of Jehovah as a law-giver, the same one who also in Exodus 33:0 does not show Moses, the law-giver, the face of His glory, but only its reflected splendor. The exegetical assumption that an external image must correspond to a vision of God, or that the sight must always be an external seeing, has no Biblical basis, although even here the inward vision is connected with the sight of an outward corresponding sign.

Exodus 24:11. He laid not his hand. It is dangerous for sinful man to approach God, because the holiness and justice of God repel him; hence the true priest is he who can summon courage to approach God (Jeremiah 30:21). But the view of the countenance of Jehovah annihilates, as it were, the sinful man (slays the old man); hence the Jewish popular saying, that no one can see God without dying, vid.Judges 13:22. At that very place the error in the popular notion is corrected by Manoah’s wife; yet the full revelation of Jehovah is still dangerous and agitating even for one who sacerdotally approaches and sees Him (vid.Revelation 1:0). Hence to the legal mind of the narrator it is an astonishing and joyous wonder of grace that the God of Israel did not punish the nobles of Israel for their temerity. In the enjoyment of this theocratic peace of God “the nobles of the children of Israel” received a pledge that the people of Israel themselves were also called to this dignity. They received this peace for the benefit of Israel. And they saw God.—Luther’s translation makes the sentence describe two successive events: “and when they had seen God, they ate and drank.” But the two are simultaneous; the seeing of God and the eating and drinking are intimately connected, forming a prelude of sacramental enjoyments. Fear might report: “they saw God and died;” but instead of that faith reports: “they saw God, and ate and drank.” In Exodus 24:14 is found an indication that the nobles of Israel were on a declivity of the mountain, which, as contrasted with the summit, might be regarded as in the valley, and from which they could keep up their connection with the people. According to Keil, Moses also had first left the mountain with them, and afterwards ascended it again. This assumption may be favored by the fact that Joshua now comes into company with Moses. Moses needed his servant, since there was now to be a longer stay on the mountain. Knobel also understands the command, “Tarry here,” of the stay at the foot of Sinai.


g.—The summons to commit the law to writing

Exodus 24:12-18

12And Jehovah said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee [thee the] tables of stone, and a [the] law, and commandments [the commandment] which I have written, that thou mayest teach [written, to teach] them. 13And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God. 14And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again [back] unto you: and behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do [whosoever hath a suit], let him come unto them. 15And Moses went up into the mount, and a [the] cloud covered the mount. 16And the glory of Jehovah abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the [on the] seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17And the sight [appearance] of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. 18And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.


Exodus 24:12. And Jehovah said. The particular legislative relation of Jehovah here becomes again prominent, whereas heretofore the seventy elders of Israel may have represented Israel’s vocation to become a shepherd of the nations in their relation to Elohim. Moses is now summoned to a longer stay on the summit of the mountain. The mere reception of the tables is related in Exodus 31:18. No very long stay was needed for that. What Moses as mediator of the law did upon the mountain, Jehovah did indeed do through him.3 But besides this there was added a new, grand task: the construction of the tabernacle. The law (or, the instruction) and the commandment. Not as two parts, but as two fundamental forms of the legislation. The law is originally oral instruction (thorah), but is written down as commandment only by Jehovah as the proper author, and is again to be transferred into living instruction for the people by the mouth of the prophet.

Exodus 24:13. And Joshua.Vid.Exodus 17:9, Exodus 32:17, Exodus 33:11. Mount of God.Vid.Exodus 3:1.

Exodus 24:14. Tarry ye here for us. At the foot of the mountain? That they were not to go any further with the people must have been quite self-evident. Moses goes now through the flame and the darkness as it were to death; he therefore institutes for the interim a government, which, standing between the mountain and the people, represents the outward sanctuary which was still wanting, and at the same time governs the people. Aaron and Hur (vid.Exodus 17:12) are nominated as chief magistrates to settle suits that might arise.

Exodus 24:15 sqq. Moses ascends the mountain, and is concealed by the cloud for six days. It is the cloud which at once reveals and conceals the glory of Jehovah, identical in significance with the pillar of cloud, but different from it in form, since it covers the mountain. On the seventh day Jehovah calls Moses to Himself out of the cloud, and the cloud is now transformed, to the people at the foot of the mountain, in its outward appearance, into the radiance of a consuming fire. Into this fiery radiance Moses enters, through the fiery flame, as it were, of the unapproachable justice of God (Hebrews 12:18; Hebrews 12:29), as it were, through the lightnings of the flaming sword of the cherubim (Genesis 3:0), in order to receive the fiery law (Deuteronomy 33:2) which goes through the world’s history under the protection of the cloudy darkness and of the fire (Psalms 18:8-13; Psalms 104:4, Isaiah 6:2-4, Zephaniah 1:15, Zechariah 14:7, Malachi 4:1, Matthew 24:29, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 18:0), in order to sanctify the people of God by means of judgment and deliverance, and to prepare for the reconstruction of the old world. The lawgiver had to be familiar with this design of the sacred fire, whose typical significance reaches its climax and turning-point in the life of Elijah. So then he seemed to the people to have disappeared; and after his stay of forty days and nights on the mountain where he had a vision of the tabernacle, the image of the kingdom of God, the people might imagine that he had perished in the terrors of the mountain. Knobel confounds the first stay of forty days on the mountain with the second. The origin of the idea of the tabernacle on the mountain coincides in time with the origin of the golden calf, and so there arises a contrast, in which nevertheless the tabernacle outweighs the golden calf. On the significance of the forty days, vid. the Introduction, as also the Introduction to Revelation.


[1]The English edition omits the note. Keil argues that there is nowhere any indication that a nation in general approaches Jehovah through an offering. These young men officiated, he thinks, merely as Moses’ assistants, as is indicated by the circumstance that he sent them (Exodus 24:5).—Tr.

[2][Keil, l. c. says: “The halving of the blood has nothing in common with the heathen customs cited by Bähr (Symbolik, II., p. 421) and Knobel (on this passage) according to which the contracting parties mingled their own blood. For it is not two different kinds of blood that are mixed together, but one blood, and that, sacrificial blood, in which animal life is taken away instead of human life..… Inasmuch as the blood is divided only because what is sprinkled on the altar cannot be taken up again from the altar and sprinkled on the people, the two halves of the blood are to be regarded as belonging together and so forming one blood, which is first sprinkled on the altar and then on the people, as was really done at the consecration of the priests, Exodus 29:21, Leviticus 8:30.”—Tr.]

[3][In representing the commandments as committed to Writing by Moses, and not by Jehovah, Lange certainly has to strain the language of the text. It is true that God may be said to do what He commands Moses to do. But that would not justify the narrator in declaring with such particularity that the two tables were “written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18), and that “the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God” (Exodus 32:16). A man may be said to write what an amanuensis writes at his dictation; but if he expressly states that certain things are written with his own hand, it is unreasonable to suppose that they are written by the hand of another.—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 24". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/exodus-24.html. 1857-84.
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