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COMPLETION OF THE COVENANT, AND ASCENT OF MOSES INTO THE CLOUD ON SINAI.
THE RATIFICATION OF THE COVENANT. The giving of the Book of the Covenant being now completed, Moses, having received directions with respect to another ascent into the mount (Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2), descended to the people, and in the first instance declared to them the main heads of the Covenant, which they received with favour, and expressed their willingness to obey (Exodus 24:3). Not, however, regarding this as a sufficiently formal ratification, the Prophet proceeded to write out in a "Book" the whole of the commands which he had received, He then built an altar, erected twelve pillars, offered sacrifice, and having collected half the blood of the victims in basins, summoned the people to an assembly. At this, he read over solemnly all the words of the Book to them, and received their solemn adherence to it (Exodus 24:7); whereupon, to complete the ceremony, and mark their entrance into covenant, he sprinkled the blood from the basins on the twelve tribes, represented by their leaders, and declared the acceptance complete (Exodus 24:8). The ceremony was probably modelled on some customary proceedings, whereby important contracts between man and man were ratified among the Hebrews and Syrians.
Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2
It has been supposed that these verses are out of place, and suggested to remove them to the end of Exodus 24:8. But no change is necessary. It is quite natural that God should have given the directions before Moses descended from the mount, and that he should have deferred executing them until the people had accepted the covenant. Nadab and Abihu were the two eldest of Aaron's sons, and so his natural successors in the priesthood, had they not sinned by offering "strange fire" (Le Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:2). They had been mentioned previously, in Exodus 6:23. Seventy of the elders. On the elders of Israel, see Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 18:21. The "seventy" eiders may, together with Nadab and Abihu, have represented the twelve tribes, six from each. Worship ye afar off. Though all were to ascend the mount to a certain height, only Moses was to go to the top. The others, being less holy than Moses, had to worship at a distance.
And Moses came. Moses descended from the mount, and reported to the people all the words of the Lord—all the legislation contained in the last three chapters and a half (Exodus 20:19, to Exodus 23:33), not perhaps in extenso, but as to its main provisions. And all the people answered with one voice, promising obedience. In times of excitement, a common impulse constantly animates an entire multitude, and an exaltation of feeling leads them to make pledges, which they are very unwilling to stand by afterwards. Hence Moses requires something more than a verbal assent.
Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. We may presume that they were miraculously brought to his remembrance by that Spirit of Truth which guided all the Prophets (2 Peter 1:21; John 14:26). Having written the words, he waited till the next day, and then rose up early and builded an altar, in preparation for the sacrifice without which no covenant was regarded as binding. And twelve pillars. Symbolical of the twelve tribes. Compare Joshua 4:3, Joshua 4:9, Joshua 4:20.
And he sent young men. The Levitical priesthood not being as vet instituted, either all the people were regarded as holy, and so any one might offer sacrifice, or the "young men" selected may have been of the number of the first-born, who were priests in their respective families until the appointment of Aaron and his sons to be priests of the nation (Exodus 28:1). No doubt young men were selected as most competent to deal with struggling animals.
Moses took half of the blood. The blood, which symbolised the life of the victim, was the essential part of every sacrifice, and was usually poured over the altar, or at any rate sprinkled upon it, as the very crowning act of offering. (See Le Exodus 1:5; Exodus 3:8; etc.) On this occasion Moses retained half of the blood, and put it in basins, for the purpose of so uniting all the people in the sacrifice, and thereby the more solemnly pledging them to the covenant, which the sacrifice at once consecrated and consummated. (See Hebrews 9:18-20.) The other half of the blood was, according to the usual practice, sprinkled upon the altar.
And he took the Book of the Covenant. In this book we have the germ of the Holy Scriptures—the first "book" actually mentioned as written in the narrative of the Bible. Genesis may contain other older documents, inserted by Moses, under the sanction of the Holy Spirit, in his compilation. But his own composition, if we except the burst of poesy called forth by the passage of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), would seem to have commenced with "the Book of the Covenant." Upon this nucleus the rest of the law was based; and it was to explain and enforce the law that Moses composed the Pentateuch. In the audience of the people, Literally, "in the ears of the people," which is equally intelligible, and more graphic. And they said, etc The people made the same answer as before (verse 3), adding a general promise of obedience to all that God might command in future.
Moses then proceeded to the final act—He took the blood from the basins, and sprinkled it—not certainly upon all the people, who numbered above two millions—but upon their leaders and representatives, the "elders" and other chief men, drawn up at the head of each tribe, and thus brought within his reach. It has been supposed by some that he merely sprinkled the blood on the twelve pillars, as representing the twelve tribes; but, had this been the case, the expression in the text would probably have been different. We read, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that he "sprinkled both the book, and all the people" (Hebrews 9:19). As he sprinkled, he said, Behold the blood of the covenant, etc. It was a common practice among the nations of antiquity to seal covenants with blood. Sometimes the blood was that of a victim, and the two parties to the covenant prayed, that, if they broke it, his fate might be theirs (Hom. 1l. 3.298; 19.252; Le 1:24; 21:45; etc.). Sometimes it was the blood of the two parties themselves, who each drank of the other's blood, and thereby contracted a blood-relationship, which would have made their breaking the covenant more unpardonable (Herod. 1.74; 4.70; Tacit. Ann. 12.47). Moses seems to have followed neither practice at all closely, but, adopting simply the principle that a covenant required to be sealed with blood, to have arranged the details as he thought best. By the sprinkling of both the altar and the people the two parties to the covenant were made partakers of one and the same blood, and so brought into a sort of sacramental union.
Man's readiness to enter into covenant with God, and promise unlimited obedience.
In any covenant which God proposes to man, the advantages offered to him are so great, and the requirements made of him so manifestly "holy, just, and good," that it is almost impossible that he should calmly consider the terms and reject them. It is his natural instinct to exclaim—"All that the Lord hath said I will do, and be obedient." There are many reasons for this feeling, of which the following are some:—
I. THE CREATURE IS MORALLY BOUND TO OBEY ITS CREATOR. That which an intelligent agent has made belongs to him absolutely, and cannot resist his will without rebellion. Now, "it is God that has made us, and not we ourselves." We are his, whether we choose to obey him or no—his to punish or reward—to kill or make alive—to exalt to happiness or condemn to misery. We cannot resist his will without being self-condemned. The reasons which make disobedience to a father morally wrong tell with increased force if applied to God, who is far more truly than our father,—
1. The author of our existence;
2. The preserver of our life; and
3. The bestower upon us of favours and benefits which we cannot possibly repay.
II. MAN'S BEST INTERESTS ARE PROMOTED BY A PERFECT OBEDIENCE. Every law ever imposed by God on man has been imposed for man's sake, and tends to his advantage. If a man were truly wise, he would lay down for himself as rules of conduct exactly those laws which are laid down for his guidance in Holy Scripture. The man whose obedience approaches nearest to perfection is the happiest. For every act of disobedience there is a natural penalty.
III. THE HIGHEST ASPIRATION OF MAN'S NATURE IS TO DO GOD'S WILL. Angels have no other desire but this. Man has a thousand desires, but, together with them, has an inward conviction that it is better for him to resist than to gratify the greater number. His passions draw him one way, his reason another, his affections, perhaps, a third. He has no unmixed satisfaction but in following the lead of the highest principle within him; and this principle is the love of God, which prompts him to make it the sole object of his life to please God by so acting as God would have him. Man, therefore, readily promises obedience—as of old at Sinai, so now at baptism and confirmation, or, again, after a sudden conversion; and, under the excitation of stirred feelings and an awakened conscience, imagines that he will keep to his brave resolve; but when the excitement is past, and the feelings have calmed down, and the tame, dull course of ordinary life is entered upon, then it is found not so easy to observe the promises made, and "do all that the Lord has said, and be obedient." The flagrant contrast between the conduct of the Israelites and their words is known to all. The contrast is, perhaps, less, but it is still great, between the pledges given by Christians and their acts. Performance ever lags far behind promise. "The spirit, indeed, is willing, but the flesh is weak." Temptations assail—Satan spreads his wiles—the lower nature turns traitor, and men fall away. Happy, if, while there is still time, they "return and repent, and do the first works," anti casting themselves upon Christ obtain pardon for their disobedience from the ever-merciful God.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Exodus 24:1-2, Exodus 24:9-11
The vision of God for the selected few.
I. THOSE SELECTED FOR THIS VISION. That Moses himself went up was a matter of course. It was good for him to be there for the strengthening of his own faith. He himself would rejoice in the assurance thus given that the promise of the people was accepted. As to those who went up with him, it is clear that in the revelation something was being done to prepare them for official positions afterwards. They got this glorious sight not because they deserved it more than others, but because they needed it more. Moses required helps in order that he might be a mediator between God and the whole nation, and so these men, the seventy elders in particular, needed help in acting as mediators between Moses and the people. Doubtless it was intended that they should go down again among the people and be witnesses as to what they had seen. Would it not give an elder greater influence in after days if the people took knowledge of him that he had been with Moses in the mount? Notice, that in spite of this great revelation, Aaron soon fell away into the great transgression of the golden calf, and a little later Nadab and Abihu perished before the Lord for their disobedience. And may we not say that their sin was all the greater, just because they had been favoured with a privilege which they had failed to profit by?
II. THE VISION ITSELF. "They saw the God of Israel." There is a mysterious yet most instructive reticence as to exactly what it was that they saw. As to what shape and form were seen nothing is said; and even concerning the circumstances nothing more is ventured than an indication o! the sapphire work on which he stood. And since we find this reticence of description it behoves us to put corresponding restraint on our conjectures: we may infer that the purpose of this vision was to give a plain and encouraging contrast between what was now seen and what had been seen before. When God's people are at peace with him—and there was a symbolic peace at this time—then there is a cessation of such terrorising manifestations as we read of in Exodus 19:1-25. When we see all that strange mingling of terrible darkness, light, and sound, which make up the thunderstorm, we know that Nature is striving to recover her balance. That balance recovered, the body of heaven resumes its clearness; nay it often appears in even more than its accustomed beauty. All the dark and frowning appearances of God, all things that shake and confuse the soul, are meant to lead on to a calming and attracting revelation of God such as this revelation to Aaron and his companions but feebly typifies. First, the presence of God is made known amid thunder, lightning and smoke, and everything trembles to its centre at but the touch of his feet: then there is the change to where he is lifted clean above the polluting earth. Instead of disturbance there is unruffled peace, the beauty and profundity of the cloudless heaven. Thus by this outward symbol should we think of the quiet, untroubled heart where dwells the reconciled God. The more complete that reconciliation, the more settled the peace which we have with God, the more may the state of our hearts be indicated by the language which is here employed.
III. THE EXPERIENCES OF THIS CHOSEN COMPANY DURING THE VISION.
1. They were made to feel unmistakably God's benignity towards them. He did not lay his hand upon them. That they were not swiftly stretched in death upon the mountain side is spoken of as if in itself a subject of congratulation. The negative must come before the positive. The thought of complete salvation from danger must precede the thought of positive growth and enrichment. It was scarcely credible that men should see God and live. How dependent we are for our conclusions on narrow experiences, sometimes on most superstitious fears! The day is coming when, if we only accept all purifying ministrations, we shall not only see God and live, but also wonder that so long we should have been able to live without seeing him.
2. This benignity is particularly experienced in their being allowed to eat and drink before God. It is in the companionship of the table that social intercourse is commonly supposed to reach its perfection. This eating and drinking before God indicated that a certain composure of mind had been attained, and that the company had some real enjoyment of the position in which it was placed. There is a setting forth of the Divine blessing which ever rests on true fellowship of the saints. As many as are right with God personally are drawn together for united enjoyment as well as for united service. There is no place where the hearts of men are really one but when they are gathered before him who has the sapphire work under his feet. There, and there only, do we find the secret of that penetrating harmony which dissolves and utterly destroys all discords.—Y.
The terms of the covenant accepted.
I. OBSERVE HOW CLEARLY THESE TERMS HAD BEEN STATED. Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. All the way to Sinai the people had the opportunity of seeing the power of Jehovah; at Sinai something of his glory had been manifested; and now in these words and judgments the character and will of Jehovah were made known. It is observable that at their first approach to Sinai the people had expressed their willingness to be obedient to God (Exodus 19:8). But he does not seek to bind them. down by a formal contract until he has made clear the laws under which he would have them to live. it is well for us to bear in mind that God distinctly and emphatically states all things of practical and present importance. We indeed may have a very imperfect understanding of his statements; but the statements in themselves are perfectly plain, only requiring that our minds should be brought into a right state of humility, and concentrated upon the study of God's holy commandments with the requisite degree of attention.
II. OBSERVE ALSO THE WAY IN WHICH THESE TERMS HAD BEEN ACCEPTED. The people answered with one voice. There was a remarkable unanimity. Are we to take it that there was a complete, universal, cordial shout of acceptance? There is no reason to suppose otherwise, no reason to suppose but that a profound impression had been made on every mind. Not the slightest word appears to indicate discord. But of course, although there was no discord in the expression, there was great diversity in the state of mind which underlay the shout of acceptance. The emotion finding vent in this unanimous acceptance could be traced back in a few instances to a thoroughly awakened conscience, desiring to live a thoroughly righteous life, and be in true and complete conformity to the will of God; for there were men of David's spirit long before David's time. But in how many was there nothing more than the inconsiderate shout of those who, after all God had said, had yet not the slightest knowledge of his will! And yet with all these profound differences the superficial enthusiastic agreement evidently served a purpose. For not only was there a word, but also a highly significant and impressive deed. Notice that all the preparations in the way of altar, pillars, offerings, etc; made so carefully by Moses, are not said to have been made by God's commandment. The most we can say is, that they were not out of harmony with his will. They were a visible representation, a kind of writing out of the great contract into which the people thus entered. There stood the altar signifying the presence of God, and there the pillars signifying the twelve tribes, and there was the blood with its principle of life joining together, in a glorious unity, Jehovah and his people. The great and lamentable differences underneath are neither forgotten nor underrated; but for the time they are not regarded. The unity of feeling thus seemed was made to serve a great symbolic purpose. These people, by word and deed, by the erection of these pillars, and by the acceptance of the sprinkled blood, took part in a great historic act, and declared that they were the people of God in a way the consequences of which they could not afterwards escape.
III. Observe this very remarkable thing—THAT GOD SHOULD HAVE ACCEPTED THEIR ACCEPTANCE. He knew how much and how little it meant, and yet he did not point out the rashness of the utterance, he did not interfere with the symbolic actions by which Moses more deliberately set forth the adhesion of the people. We are bound, therefore, to conclude that in whatever ignorance and sudden enthusiasm the people might subscribe to this covenant, yet that subscription was right. The laws that God gave from Sinai are the laws for men to live by. The constitution of God's kingdom was by this great symbolic act solemnly introduced into Israel, and made the constitution of Israel also. Every nation, if it is to be anything more than a mere crowd, must have a constitution. Some constitutions grow, and like all things that grow, they occasionally branch out in unexpected directions. Other constitutions, men meet together to determine and formulate, like that of the American republic. But here is a constitution which comes down out of heaven from God; and in a great historic act, the nation into which it comes accepts it. Hence those born under that constitution were bound to accept it also. There was no nation on the face of the earth that had such securities, privileges, and prospects as Israel had under these laws from Sinai. The government was neither a despotism nor a democracy. The people were neither under an arbitrary will which might capriciously change, nor did they depend upon their own fluctuating opinions. God, if we might use such an expression, was bound by these laws, even as the people were themselves.—Y.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
If any man will do the will he shall know of the doctrine.
What a man receives must depend upon what he is able to receive. [illustration. The sponge absorbs more water than the wood, because its pores are more open.] To receive the light of revelation the spiritual pores must be well opened; and this depends upon inward conditions—the will to obey, followed by obedience. Here a revelation is impending. Notice—
I. READINESS OF THE WOULD-BE RECIPIENTS. Moses had declared the Divine will. The hearers might have been indifferent, or they might have been disheartened by the stringency of the injunctions. In either case, through their imperfect condition, more perfect light must have been delayed. For a little, however, they were rapt out of self; and though, it may be, the momentary enthusiasm did not pierce clouds which years only could disperse, yet they were ready for the moment to gain a glimpse, at any rate, of the Divine glory. "All the words which the Lord hath said will we do:" such was the utterance of the people's disposition at the moment. Temporary inclination, however, is not everything; at best it only marks out the way along which effort may compel habit. For a nation to speak with "one voice" is something; but it needs discipline and training to secure the "one heart" as well. The first step towards securing this has next to be taken:—
II. READINESS CONFIRMED AND ACCEPTED. A record needed to impress the memory; a sacramental symbol to impress the imagination.
1. The record. "Moses wrote all the words of the Lord," and, when he had read what he had written, the people confirmed their previous promise (Exodus 24:7). A written reminder of the covenant as accepted by them was all-important; a dying enthusiasm goes hand in hand with a waning memory; only a record which will revive the memory can avail to rekindle the enthusiasm. Our own experience illustrates this. The diary, the marked Bible—what a suggestive eloquence they have, not only to remind of old times, but to re-awaken old feelings!
2. The sacramental symbol. Burnt-offerings, the outward sign of dedication and obedience; peace offerings, the outward sign of gratitude and thanksgiving. Half the blood sprinkled on the people and half on the altar, symbol of the union between man and God so long as his commands were thankfully obeyed. So long as man is in the flesh he needs such sensible and visible emblems. His senses are a function of himself; to lay hold of them is to lay hold of him through them. The Bible is our record of what God requires of us; but baptism and the Lord's Supper give outward expression to the teaching of the Bible. Each confirms the influence of the other; we need both to support our resolutions.
III. THE PARTIAL REVELATION. The people had expressed their willingness to obey; and, further, they had openly confirmed that expression. Time, however, was needed to test and strengthen their resolution: they could not be admitted to the full blaze of light merely because, in partial darkness, they had for a little gazed towards its dawning. A few are selected to represent the multitude (Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:9-11); and even of these few, not all are admitted to equal nearness. Enough is revealed to help faith, more would probably have only injured its growth. [illustration: Plants are kept from too much light until they are firmly rooted.] Faith, here, needed rooting: until that was accomplished an economy of reserve was necessary.
1. The honest promise of obedience is accepted by God as of moral value. He encourages sincerity by glimpses of the reward in store.
2. Only obedience tested by difficulty can win the realisation of the beatific vision. The people must share the life-long training of Moses before they can enjoy with the like freedom his privilege of intimacy with God. Willingness to obey brings knowledge; but full knowledge comes with full obedience.—G.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The ratification of the covenant.
These verses contain the account of the formal ratification of the covenant between Israel and Jehovah—an event, the most momentous in the history of the nation, big, for weal or woe, with unimaginable issues, and a shadow of the better covenant which God now makes with Christians. Observe—
I. THE RATIONALITY OF THE COVENANT. God desires from his people "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). He would not have them enter it in haste. Vows made under the influence of sudden impressions are not to be trusted. Once committed to his service, God will deal with us with strictness (Exodus 23:21). But he does not wish us to commit ourselves till we have carefully considered the nature of the step we are taking, and the magnitude of the issues involved (cf. Luke 14:26-34). See this illustrated in the history of the covenant with Israel. The covenant was entered into—
1. With great deliberation. It was not forced on Israel. The negotiations connected with it were intentionally drawn out and prolonged, just that the people might have the opportunity of pondering well the character of the proposed engagement. Alike in the events of the exodus, and in the miracles of the desert, they had had abundant experience of the character of the Being with whom they were allying themselves. Arrived at Sinai, preliminary proposals were made to them, and an opportunity given them at the outset of saying Yea or Nay (Exodus 19:3-9). Their acceptance of these proposals was followed by the giving of the law, which drew from them a new promise to do whatever God should speak to them (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:27). An interval ensued, during which Moses was in the mountain (Exodus 20:21). On descending, he recites to them "All the words of the Lord, and all the judgments" (Exodus 24:3); and once again they promise full obedience. Even then the matter is allowed to stand over till the morrow, when Moses appears with the written book in his hand, and they are asked, finally, if they adhere to what they have said (Exodus 24:7). Greater precautions against rash committal could scarcely have been taken.
2. After careful instruction. Pains were taken fully to inform the people of the terms of the covenant, before asking them to enter into it. The law was uttered by God's own voice. The "judgments" were recited to them by Moses. They were read a second time from the "book." Their assent to the covenant was thus sought to be made an intelligent one. If we engage ourselves to God, he would have us do it with "understanding."
3. Amidst impressive solemnities. These—the reading of the words from the book, the sprinkling of the blood, etc.—were of a nature adapted to arouse the minds of the people to a just sense of the momentousness of the transaction. From the whole we learn that if dedication is the result of an act, it should be of a calm, sober, thoughtful act; it cannot be done too solemnly or too intelligently. Our religious life should have a rational basis.
II. THE BOND OF THE COVENANT. The nucleus of the transaction is the people's promise—"All the words which the Lord hath said will we do" (Exodus 24:3)—"All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Exodus 24:7). There is a tone of rashness—of self-confidence—in this promise, as given by Israel, which forewarns of subsequent defection. The people evidently had but little knowledge of their own hearts. They had little perception of the spiritual requirements of this law. They had not learned to distrust themselves. Their surrender to the Divine will was not thorough or heartwhole. (See on Exodus 19:8.) It remains true, however, that surrender of the will to God, in the spirit of obedience, is an indispensable condition of being received into covenant with him. "The idea of the servant of God is complete only when he who is bound to God also binds himself to God's will, following God perfectly." (Oehler.) This is as true of the Gospel as of the law. The obedient will is implicit in faith. The end contemplated in salvation is obedience. We are made free from sin that we may become servants of righteousness (Romans 6:18). The recognition of this—the acceptance of the obligation—is involved in conversion, in saving faith, in the new birth, in the coming to Christ, or however else we may express the change from death to life. If we no longer speak of the promise of obedience as the "bond" of the covenant, it is only because that which the Gospel primarily demands of us, viz. faith, goes deeper than such a promise, while implicitly containing it. The object of spiritual trust is, ultimately, God himself, and in the Gospel, Christ, as the sent of God to be the Saviour of the world; but such trust invariably involves the yielding up of the will to God, and is on its practical side, an energy of holiness. The true believer is, of necessity, a doer of the will of the Father. "Faith, without works, is dead" (James 2:17-26). (See further, on Exodus 19:5.) It is, however, well that this implicit element in faith should also be allowed to become explicit in distinct acts of consecration or of self-dedication to God. This brings us very near to what we have in this covenant with Israel. See below.
III. THE CEREMONIAL OF RATIFICATION.
(1) Moses "builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel" (Exodus 24:4).
(2) Young men of his appointment sacrificed burnt-offerings and peace-offerings unto the Lord. (Exodus 24:5).
(3) The blood of the sacrificed animals was divided: half was put in basins, and half sprinkled on the altar (Exodus 24:6).
(4) The words of the book of the Covenant were next solemnly read in the audience of the people; and the latter renewed their assent to them (Exodus 24:7).
(5) The blood was then cast upon the people out of the basins, and the Covenant was declared to be concluded (Exodus 24:8). Two points here claim our attention.
1. The ratifying of the Covenant with sacrifice; and
2. The action with the blood.
Both were significant.
1. The sacrifices. The burnt-offering was primarily a symbol of self-surrender (cf. Psalms 51:16-19). The idea embodied here, therefore, was, that in the institution of the Covenant, what was required was the unconditional surrender of the offerer, with all that belonged to him, to God. The peace-offering symbolises reconciliation and fellowship. But the offering of the sacrifices had also a propitiatory reference. This is plain from the sprinkling of the blood on the altar. It is sprinkled there as atoning for the people's sins. It was through the blood of propitiation that peace was made, that reconciliation was brought about. This teaches several things. It shows
(1) That Israel was viewed by God as sinful.
(2) That it was not on legal grounds, but as an act of grace, that they were being admitted into covenant.
(3) That the covenant embodied grace as well as law.
(4) That God. would deal graciously with Israel, if they sincerely endeavoured to keep his law, notwithstanding many defects and failures.
(5) That their attitude under the law, in seeking to fulfil its righteousness, ought to be an evangelical, not a legal one, i.e; they ought to draw their motives, their encouragement, and their hope, not from the thought of their self-sufficiency to keep the law, or from the idea that they were actually keeping it in such a way as legally to entitle them to the blessing, but from the conviction of God's mercy to them, which, as it was the foundation of their national existence, so was it the real ground of their standing all along.
2. The sprinkling of the blood on the people. It is, as Keil remarks, the one blood which is sprinkled on the altar and on the people; and it is not sprinkled on the people, till it has been presented and accepted on the altar. Applied to the people, the blood had the effect of formally cleansing them from sin, and of consecrating them to God's service. God thereafter claimed them as his special property. Redeemed life is his. Made free from sin, we become servants of God (Romans 6:22).—J.O.
Exodus 24:7, Exodus 24:8
By the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifice, and by their voluntary acceptance of obligations to obedience, the children of Israel became, formally, the people of Jehovah. They had avouched themselves to be the Lord's. They had taken on them the vows of his service. They were now consecrated to be doers of his will. The same idea of consecration is embodied in the New Testament word "saint." The believer is one of a sanctified, a consecrated, a priestly people, set specially apart "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Consider—
I. THE NATURE OF CONSECRATION. Consecration, as a Christian duty, involves three ideas—separation from evil, devotement to God, and ceaseless pursuit of holiness in heart and life. It has its ground in the fact of redemption, and in the sense of God's mercies. The consecrated heart then becomes a sanctuary in which God dwells by his Holy Spirit; while this sacred indwelling in turn becomes a new source of obligations to holiness. The holiness we are to aim at is a holiness like God's own—nothing lower (1 Peter 1:15, 1 Peter 1:16). Consecration, if never so complete as the Christian could wish, may always be perfect, at least in aim, in spirit, in intention, in desire. We are expected, like Caleb, to follow the Lord fully. The Divine ideal is the absolute consecration of him who said—"Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (Hebrews 10:9; John 4:34). "I would rather," says Spurgeon, "my child had a perfect copy to write by, though he might never equal it, than that he should have an imperfect copy set before him, because then he would never make a good writer at all." The Scriptural idea of consecration comes out in the light of the usage of the cognate word—"sanctify." God himself is the fountain of sanctity or holiness. The whole Mosaic ritual was a grand apparatus for impressing this thought of God's holiness upon the minds of his worshippers. Everything to be used in his service, as contaminated by sin, required to be purged with blood (Hebrews 9:21). To this, in special cases, succeeded an anointing with oil (Exodus 30:25-32). Thus purged and anointed, the sanctuary, person, sacred vessel, or whatever it might be, was regarded as completely sanctified; in other words, as separated from common uses to the service of a holy God. The High Priests and Levites of the Old Covenant were all thus specially sanctified to God. But these things were only shadows; we have the realities corresponding to them under the New Covenant. If a man is really in Christ, he is already, by God's act, through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, and the holy anointing of the Spirit, a consecrated person, and ought to regard himself as such. This is the Divine side of the matter. There is clearly, however, a vast difference between the consecration of a mere utensil, say the golden candlestick, or the pots and vessels of the sanctuary, and the consecration of a living, moral, intelligent being. A material thing is sanctified simply by the act of setting it apart to sacred uses; its nature admits of nothing more. But the consecration of a moral being implies an act on his own part, as well as on God's, else the consecration has no reality; it is such only in name and form. The essence of it lies in a free, cheerful, self-dedication of the person (of. Romans 12:1). Here, then, are two sides of this subject, the Divine and human—the ideal and the real—which two sides are constantly reappearing in Scripture, sometimes apart, sometimes blending together, sometimes standing side by side, almost with the force of contradictions, e.g; "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened" (1 Corinthians 5:7). In short, God's consecration gives us a standing and an ideal; but it is only as we consciously accept this standing and ideal as our own, and seek to give them reality by self-dedication, and the strenuous pursuit of holiness, that our consecration becomes truly effectual. God's consecration of us becomes, so to speak, the ground of our own consecration of ourselves, and of constant striving after that perfection which is implied in the ideal he sets before us. Hence all those manifold Scripture images which imply sanctification as a process, and a work of God's grace constantly going on within us.
II. ADVANTAGES OF CONSECRATION. We come back to the old point that consecration, regarded as a duty, is a personal act whereby, out of a sense of God's mercies, and specially his grace in redemption, a believer solemnly dedicates himself and all that he has to the service and glory of God. Such consecration, with the surrender of the obedient will, is already, as seen in the previous homily, implicit in every exercise of saving faith. Great moral advantages, however, accrue from making one's consecration to Christ a distinct solemn act, again and again to be repeated, each time, we shall hope, with more perfect self-surrender; and the remembrance of which is to go along with us in the discharge of every duty. This corresponds pretty nearly to the meaning of the Israelitish covenant.
Consecration is the basis of acceptable service.
(1) Consecration of self precedes all other consecrations; as of time, substance, talents, service, etc. It is only where self is consecrated, that the consecration of anything else is acceptable. What St. Paul says of charity, that without it all special gifts and acts, even feeding the poor, or giving his body to be burned, are valueless, we may say with equal truth of self-dedication. It is self God wants—the love, reverence, devotion, service of self; not a mere share of self's possessions. On the other hand
(2) the consecration of self includes all other consecrations. If we are God's, then all is God's that is ours. Our time is God's; so is our money, our talents, our influence, everything we have. Let Christians ask, whether, in this view of the matter, consecration is in their case being carried out into all its legitimate results. Not that God desires "a gift;" but he desires "fruit that may abound to our account" (Philippians 4:17).
Consecration secures nobler service; it is likewise a source of immense strength in the active pursuit of holiness. In any course of conduct, we know the value of a definite purpose and aim. Most of all is it important to have as the clear, definite motto of our lives—"To me to live is Christ." We know then exactly what we are living for. Consecration invests a man's whole being with a sanctity from which evil shrinks back repelled. The same sanctity spreads itself over all he has and does. He feels that he must be holy "in all manner of conversation." Even on the bells of his horses he sees something written, "holiness to the Lord." He has "holy garments;" and his great business is to watch and keep his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame (Revelation 16:15). His body is the temple of the Holy Ghost; and he dare not desecrate with worldly pollutions the place where God dwells. He has definitely separated himself from evil; and he must not return to it.
Consecration resolves questions of casuistry. How often do we find good people, or people who wish to be good, puzzling and perplexing themselves with questions of this kind—Dare I read this book? Should I go to this party? May I engage in this amusement? Can I take this profit? Unless we greatly mistake, most of these difficulties would disappear with more perfect consecration. A truly consecrated man carries in his breast a principle which easily guides him through all such cases, and makes many things right and pure to him which others would stumble at, while it leads him to discountenance and condemn much that they would pass unnoticed.
Finally, consecration is absolutely essential to success in prayer. The heart that has not said—"All for Christ," is in no fit state to approach God's throne to supplicate blessings for Christ's sake. There must be iniquity hidden away in that heart somewhere; and "if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalms 66:18). But the consecrated man, as a true priest of God, has free access to the holiest of all. He asks what he will, and it is given him. Prayer, indeed, is no prayer, unless it is the outcome of a heart which is the seat of deep consecration, and where the Lord is habitually sanctified. Only to such prayer are the promises yea and amen.
From all this, it is manifest that consecration pertains to the deepest essence of religion. Yet many feel as if sometimes they could almost close with Christ, were it not for this very matter of consecration. Their hearts are still clinging to something which God requires them to forego; and clinging to this, they rightly judge that they cannot be Christ's disciples. Let them reflect that for this something they sacrifice eternal life.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2, Exodus 24:9-11
The Covenant made.
1. THE VISION OF GOD (1, 2, 9, 11).—
1. It is for the called alone. God manifests himself only to the repentant and the believing.
2. These are commanded to approach. This is our warrant for confident boldness of access: he has called us.
3. The vision is bestowed upon those from whose midst the mediator has gone into God's immediate presence and who wait his return (Exodus 24:2).
4. It is given as they go upwards into the mount where the Lord's will is declared (9). The heart which seeks after holiness admits the light in which God will by-and-by be manifested.
5. The vision is sure: "they saw the God of Israel."
6. For the called the vision of God is not destruction, but safety and joy. We meet the unveiling, not only of infinite holiness, but also of infinite love. The vision of the Divine glory was a wonder and delight; and the place of vision became a place of feasting.
II. THE RATIFYING OF THE COVENANT.—
1. It was made with a willing people: "all the words which the Lord hath said will we do."
2. It was made with a people who were in possession of God's testimonies: he "told them all the words of the law," he "wrote all the words of the Lord." God's light must reveal sin and need before it may manifest his salvation.
3. God and his people are bound together by the blood of accepted sacrifice. The blood of sprinkling is peace and power to the saved.—U.
THE SACRIFICIAL FEAST AND THE VISION OF GOD. After the covenant had been ratified by the unanimous voice of the people, Moses proceeded to carry out the injunctions with respect to Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the elders, which he had received while still in the mount (see the comment on Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2). Taking them with him, he ascended Sinai once more to a certain height, but clearly not to the summit, which he alone was privileged to visit (Exodus 24:2 and Exodus 24:12). The object of the ascent was twofold.
1. A sacrificial meal always followed upon a sacrifice; and the elders might naturally desire to partake of it as near the Divine presence as should be permitted them. This was their purpose in ascending.
2. God desired to impress them with a sense of his awful majesty and beauty, and was prepared for this end to manifest himself to them in some strange and wonderful way as they were engaged in the solemn meal (Exodus 24:11). This was his purpose in inviting their presence. The manifestation is described in Exodus 24:10. It was a "vision of God," but of what exact nature it is impossible to say. Having recorded it, the author parenthetically notes that the Divine vision did not destroy any of those who beheld it, or cause them any injury, as might have been expected.
Then went up. Compare Exodus 24:1. The mountain was to be partially ascended, but not to any great height. Nadab, Abihu, and the elders were to "worship God afar off."
They saw the God of Israel. These words can scarcely mean less than that they saw with their bodily eyes some appearance of the Divine being who had summoned them to his presence for the purpose. Moses, we know, saw a "similitude of God" (Numbers 12:8). Isaiah "saw the Lord sitting upon his throne "(Isaiah 6:1). Ezekiel saw upon the throne "the appearance of a man" (Ezekiel 1:26). It does not follow from Deuteronomy 4:12, Deuteronomy 4:15, that the elders saw no similitude, since in that passage Moses is speaking, not to the elders, but to the people, and referring, not to what occurred at the sacrificial feast after the ratification of the covenant, but to the scene at the giving of the Ten Commandments previously (Exodus 20:1-18). What the form was which the elders saw, we are not told; but as it had "feet," it was probably a human form. It may have been hazy, indefinite, "too dazzling bright for mortal eye" to rest upon. But it was a true "vision of God"—and, as Keil says, "a foretaste of the blessedness of the sight of God in eternity." There was under his feet, as it were, a paved work of a sapphire stone. Rather, "and under his feet was, as it were, a work of clear sapphire." Nothing is said concerning a pavement, but only that below the feet of the figure which they saw was something, which looked as if it were made of bright blue sapphire stone, something as clear and as blue as the blue of heaven. Canon Cook supposes the actual sky to be meant; but the expression, "as it were, the body of heaven," or "like the very heaven," makes this impossible. A thing is not like itself.
The nobles—i.e; the notables—the seventy elders, and other persons, already mentioned (Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:9). He laid not his hand. God did not smite them with death, or pestilence, or even blindness. It was thought to be impossible to see God and live. (See above, Genesis 32:30; Exodus 32:20; Judges 6:22, Judges 6:23, etc.) Man was unworthy to draw near to God in any way; and to look on him was viewed as a kind of profanity. Yet some times he chose to show himself, in vision or otherwise, to his people, and then, as there could be no guilt on their part, there was no punishment on his. It is generally supposed that, in all such eases, it was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who condescended to show himself. Also they saw God. Rather, "they both saw God, and did eat and drink." The two were simultaneous. As they were engaged in the sacrificial meal, God revealed himself to them.
The Covenant Meal on Sinai.
The Old Testament contains no mention of any other meal so wonderful as this. Newly entered into covenant with God, fresh from the blood of sprinkling, which was representative of the blood of Christ, Moses, Aaron with his two sons, and the seventy elders, half-way up Sinai, engaged in the sacrificial feast upon the peace-offerings (Exodus 24:5), when lo! the heaven was opened to them, and there burst upon their astonished sight a vision of Jehovah in his glory and his beauty, standing on pellucid sapphire, dazzling in its brilliance. As the meat and drink entered their mouths, God shone in upon their souls. It was indeed a "wondrous festivity," and certainly not without a spiritual meaning, extending to all time, and even beyond time into eternity. Surely, we may say, without over-great boldness, or any undue prying into holy things:—
I. THAT THE MEAL WAS A TYPE OF THAT DIVINE FEAST WHICH THE LOUD INSTITUTED ON THE NIGHT OF HIS BETRAYAL, FOR THE SUSTENTATION OF HIS PEOPLE. The Holy Communion is a feast upon a sacrifice—the sacrifice of Christ—partaken of by Christians as the most solemn rite of their religion, in the wilderness of this life, for their better sustentation and support through its trials. It brings them very near to him, as it were into his presence. As they partake of the bread and wine, they partake of him; his light shines into their souls; his beauty and glory are revealed to their spirits; they obtain a foretaste of heaven. Blessed is the man who thus eats and drinks in his kingdom—eating and drinking and seeing God.
II. THAT THE MEAL WAS, FURTHER, A TYPE OF THAT MARRIAGE-SUPPER OF THE LAMB, HEREOF ALL THE FAITHFUL SHALL ONE DAY PARTAKE IN HEAVEN (Revelation 19:7-9). There the saints shall eat and drink in the Divine presence, their meat the heavenly manna, angels' food, their drink the wine which they "drink new" in their Father's kingdom. The glory of God shall shine on them. For the place of their dwelling "has no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it;" for it is "the glory of God that lightens it, and the Lamb that is the light thereof" (Revelation 21:23). The sapphire of Sinai has there its counterpart; for "the first foundation" of the city wherein they dwell "is jasper, and the second sapphire" (Revelation 21:19). The Divine presence is with them perpetually; for the "throne"of God is there, and they "see his face," and "his Name is in their foreheads" (Revelation 22:4). Thrice blessed they who attain to this heavenly feast, and are counted worthy of that beatific vision!
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2, Exodus 24:9-12
A vision of God.
Prior to the ratification of the covenant, God had given Moses instructions that, immediately on the conclusion of the ceremonies, he, together with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu (representatives of the future priesthood), and seventy of the elders of Israel (representatives of the body of the people), should again ascend the mountain (Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2). The design was to partake of a sacrificial feast, perhaps held on the flesh of the peace-offerings of Exodus 24:5, by way of solemn conclusion to the proceedings of the day. Another part of the design was that the eiders might receive a new revelation of Jehovah, setting forth the milder glories of his character as a God reconciled with Israel, in contradistinction to the manifestations on Sinai, which revealed him solely as the God of law and terror. The later revelation was the counterbalance of the earlier. It does that justice to the character of God, as standing in friendly relations to his people, which was not possible in harmony with the special design, and within the special limits, of the revelation from the summit of the mount. It showed him as the God of grace. It taught Israel to think of him, to love him, to trust him, and to worship him as such. It kept them from being overwhelmed by the remembrance of the former terrors. It forestalled that view of the graciousness of God which was afterwards peculiarly associated with the mercy-seat and with Mount Zion, and is now the aspect of his character predominant in the Gospel (see on Sinai and Zion, Exodus 19:16-19). We are told, accordingly, that when the company ascended the mount, "they saw the God of Israel" (Exodus 24:10). What they did see is not further described than that "there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness" (Exodus 24:10). The vision, however, was plainly one addressed to the outer or inner sense, an "appearance" of God in some recognisable way. So mild and beneficent was the spectacle, nevertheless, that it seems to have disarmed all terror; and Aaron and his sons, with the "nobles," ate and drank while still witnessing it. We may regard the vision, in its relation to the situation of Israel, as—
1. Declarative. It gave a view of the character of God.
(1) To some extent of his essential character. The blue of the sapphire symbolised his holiness, while in the deep, clear ether was mirrored his untroubled purity, his superiority to earthly passion and disturbance, his perfect blessedness, his transcendency over creation, etc.
(2) More especially of his gracious character. The idea suggested was that of a God at peace with Israel—reconciled. The vision would be read in its contrast with the previous revelation. The terrors of the law-giving were now laid aside; all is sweetness, beauty, mildness, serenity, love. This vision of God as a God at peace with Israel, is mediated by the offering of sacrifice. It is so also under the Gospel. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
2. Symbolic of privilege.
(1) The "nobles," though in God's presence, suffered no harm. "Upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand" (Exodus 24:11). He might have done so, for they were by nature sinners. But they were safe, as sprinkled with blood of atonement, and as in presence of a God of mercy. Though sinners, we are permitted in Christ to draw nigh to God. He will not harm us; he will welcome, accept of, and bless us.
(2) Though in God's presence, they "did eat and drink" (Exodus 24:11). They had this freedom before him; this feeling of confidence. It is only the revelation of God as a God of grace which can inspire this confidence. Their eating and drinking was symbolical of the privilege of every pious Israelite, sheltered from his sin in God's mercy, and taking confidence from his word of grace. Much more is it symbolic of the privilege of Christians, in whom perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
3. Prefigurative of future blessedness. The goal of the kingdom of God is the feast of perfected bliss in glory, where the saints shall eat and drink and see God with no intervening veils, and in the full beauty of his love and holiness.
4. A warning. These seventy elders ate and drank in God's presence, yet at last perished in the desert. Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire. Cf. the warning (Luke 13:26, Luke 13:27).
1. The vision of God in Christ disarms fear.
2. Let us try to see God, even in our eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31).
3. Those sheltered by Christ's blood are safe. Note the following—"
(1) There are those who eat and drink, and do not see God.
(2) There are those who see God, and cannot eat and drink.
(3) There are those who eat and drink, and see God" (Rev. W.B. Robertson, D.D.).—J.O.
MOSES' ENTRY INTO THE CLOUD, AND FORTY DAYS' COMMUNE WITH GOD. It was necessary now that Moses should receive full directions for the external worship of God, the sanctuary, and the priesthood. Every religion has something tangible and material about it—holy places, holy things, rites, ceremonies, rules, forms, regulations. If man sets himself to devise these things of his own head, he may very easily go wrong, and find his elaborate inventions "an offence" to God. To avoid this—to secure the result that all should be pleasing and acceptable to "the High and Holy One which inhabiteth eternity," it was thought fitting that "patterns" should be shown to Moses of all that was to be made for the worship (Hebrews 8:5), and exact details given him with respect to the material, size, shape, and construction of each. The results are put before us in seven chapters (chs. 25-31.). For the purpose of allowing ample time for the communications which had to be made and of securing that undivided attention which was requisite in order that all should remain fixed in the memory, God summoned his servant to a long and solitary colloquy, on the mountain summit whereon the cloud rested (Exodus 19:18), apart from all his people. Moses, of course, obeyed; but before ascending, arranged with the elders that in his absence Aaron and Hur should have the direction of affairs, and decide all doubtful questions (Exodus 24:14). He then went up the mountain, accompanied for part of the way by Joshua, who is now spoken of as his "minister," or "attendant" (verse 13). Joshua probably remained with him for six days, while Moses waited for a summons to enter the cloud. On the seventh day the summons came: and Moses, leaving Joshua, entered the cloud, and was hid from the sight of all men.
Come up to me. Moses, apparently, had descended again into the plain, with Aaron and the seventy elders, after the festival was over. (See Exodus 24:14, and compare Exodus 32:1.) He is now commanded to reascend, and be there—i.e; "And continue there"—foreshadowing the length of the stay. Tables of stone, and a law, and commandments, etc. Literally, "Tables of stone, and the law and the commandments which I have written." The three expressions alike refer to the Decalogue, which alone God wrote. That thou mayest teach them. Rather," to teach them." God wrote the commandments on stone, in order to inculcate them with the greater force upon his people.
Moses went up. Prompt to obey, Moses, though he had only just descended from the mount, immediately made ready to set forth and again ascend it. This time he was attended by his minister, Joshua, whose arm he had employed on a former occasion against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:9-13). The name, Joshua, is, however, still given him by anticipation, since he did not receive it until he was sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:8, Numbers 13:16).
And he said unto the elders. Before taking his departure for the long sojourn implied in God's address to him, "Come up to me into the mount, and be there" (Exodus 24:12), Moses thought it necessary to give certain directions to the elders as to what they should do in his absence—
1. They were to remain where they were—i.e; in the plain at the foot of Sinai, until his return, however long it should be delayed.
2. They were to regard Aaron and Hur as their leaders, and his (Moses') representatives. In case of any difficulty arising, they were to refer the matter to them. On Hur see the comment upon Exodus 17:12.
Moses went up into the mount. Having made the necessary arrangements for the government of the people during his absence, Moses ascended, in company with Joshua, to the upper part of the mountain, and there waited for some further summons. A cloud, or, rather, the cloud previously mentioned (Exodus 19:16), stood gathered upon the highest eminence, and marked the special presence of God there. Moses, though called up into the mount, would not intrude into this inner sanctuary, until specially bidden to enter it.
Now occurred a remarkable pause. The summons had been given to Moses, and he had obeyed it. He was there on the platform a little below the summit, ready, but waiting for a further call. The call was not made for six days. A holy calm reigned upon Sinai—the cloud rested upon the summit, and in the cloud was the glory of the Lord. Moses and Joshua waited near—but for six days there was no sign. God thus taught Moses, and through him the world, that near approach to him requires long and careful preparation. Moses, no doubt, was occupied during the six days in continual prayer. At last, on the seventh day, the call, which Moses had expected, came. God called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. God summoned him to a closer approach—bade him enter the cloud—and draw as nigh to him as possible.
Meanwhile, to those below in the plain, "the glory of the Lord" on the summit above them, was like devouring fire on the top of the mount. They had but to lift their eyes thither, and they saw his wonderful glory—showing like a huge fire—on the spot from which he had spoken to them (Exodus 20:18). This manifestation continued certainly for the first six days; whether it lasted longer or not is open to question.
And Moses went into the midst of the cloud. Quitting Joshua, Moses at last, in obedience to the call out of the midst of the cloud, entered within its shadow and disappeared from human vision In this abnormal condition, alone with God, he continued for thirty-four days, making, together with the six days before he entered the cloud, the forty days and forty nights of the text before us. It is noted in Deuteronomy 9:9, that during the whole of this time he was without food. Compare Elijah's fast (1 Kings 19:8), and our blessed Lord's (Matthew 3:2).
Prolonged commune with God.
Prolonged commune with God is the soul's truest strengthening, and sweetest refreshment. Without it our spirits languish—we grow weary and faint—worldliness creeps upon us—our thoughts and discourse become "of the earth, earthy"—we have no life or liveliness in ourselves, and can impart none to others. Moses' commune was abnormal, extraordinary, inimitable by us in its main features—its duration, locality, nearness of access, and completeness of isolation. But it may serve as a pattern to us in many respects, nevertheless.
I. IN THE PREPARATION FOR IT. Here we note
(1) a ready heart. "Moses rose up"—did not delay, did not offer objections, did not say, "Suffer me first" to do this or that, but responded to the call of God at once.
(2) A thoughtful regard for others. Moses instructed the ciders how to act while he was away. "Tarry ye here"—"Seek ye to Aaron and Hur, if ye have matters to do."
(3) A willingness to help others towards the higher life, to carry them on with him, as far as he might. "Moses rose up, and his minister, Joshua.
(4) A patient and reverential waiting. Summoned, called up, bidden to draw near, he yet rested for six days outside the cloud, longing to enter in, but withheld by a sense of unworthiness and a fear of intrusion, fasting all the while, and seeking to prepare himself for the nearer approach by supplication and meditation.
II. IN THE PLACE OF IT. A holy place—"the mount of God"—a place sacred from common uses—into which worldly thoughts could scarcely penetrate. We, who have no Sinai, have at any rate our churches, and other sacred buildings—some of them always open, not merely for public worship, but for private prayer and meditation—inviting us to enter in and draw nigh to God. In our houses we have, or may easily have, our oratories—spots reserved for prayer and praise, and sacred thought—sanctuaries in the desert of life—places in which all that we see will remind us of heavenly things.
III. IN THE SECLUSION OF IT. The world was shut out. Relations, elders, people, left below in the plain—left with strict injunctions to remain—"Tarry ye here." Even the faithful Joshua parted from—and "the cloud" entered. The cloud—the awful cloud—"thick darkness" (Exodus 20:21); yet within the darkness a marvellous light. Such seclusion we cannot obtain—but we may obtain an approach to it. We may "enter our closet, and shut to the door" (Matthew 6:6), and let it be known that we would be undisturbed; or we may seek the solitude of a church at an hour when there is no public service, and no one present who will meddle with us; or we may, even at the present day, find solitudes in nature, deep woods, or lone mountain tops, or unfrequented glens, where we may feel ourselves secure from intrusion, and stand face to face with God, and know him near, and pour out our hearts before him. A modern poet, in one of his better moments, says—
"My altars are the mountains, and the ocean,
Earth, air, sea—all that springs from the Great Whole,
Who hath produced, and will receive the soul"—
and truly on any lone spot an altar may be raised, and worship offered, as acceptable to God as any that is addressed to him "in pillared fanes, 'neath fretted roofs, 'mid storied glass or sculptured monuments." Even in the whirl and bustle of a great city, solitude is not very far from us. Half an hour's journey by steamer or rail, and ten minutes' walk, may take us into still woods, or shady lanes, or on to open heaths, where we shall not see a fellow creature or hear a sound reminding us of man.
IV. IN THE CONTINUANCE OF IT. "Forty days and forty nights!" As we cannot have the complete seclusion which Moses enjoyed, so neither can we look for such sustained commune as his. We must eat and drink—we can rarely leave our worldly work to others—family claims, correspondence, business imperatively require our attention—six weeks' interruption of communication between ourselves and the outer world would, in most cases, break or tangle all the threads of which our life is composed. But still some prolonged periods of religious contemplation and commune between the soul and God are needed, if the soul is to retain the vigour of its life, or its ability to be of service to others. With this view religious "retreats" have been devised, lasting sometimes a week or ten days. Where men's duties allow of it, they may be well worth a trial. The weary spirit may derive more refreshment from them than from the ordinary "holiday." The heart may be purified, the aspirations raised, the insight into doctrinal truth augmented, above all, the love of God so intensified in the soul, by the suspension of all secular thought and the devotion of the whole mind to religion and worship, during the three, or five, or seven, or ten days of a "retreat," as would scarcely be possible, under the present conditions of our life, in any other way.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Moses ascends the mount.
1. He alone ascends (Exodus 24:12). Aaron and his sons, with the seventy elders, were left behind. Their privilege was great as compared with that of the body of the people. Yet even they are not permitted to enter the cloud—to draw nigh into God's immediate presence. The limitations and imperfections of the legal economy are stamped on these arrangements. How superior the standing of Christians, who are all permitted to draw nigh; who have now the privilege, formerly possessed only by Moses, of beholding with unveiled flee the Divine glory in the ecstasy of immediate vision (2 Corinthians 3:18).
2. The design of this ascending was primarily to receive the stone tables (Exodus 24:12). These were to be written by God's own finger. God took every pains to impress upon the minds of the people that the law they had to deal with was his law. Its perpetuity was symbolised by the rock tablets.
3. Moses made arrangements for the conduct of business in his absence (Exodus 24:14). His absence would be a trial of the faith and disposition of all parties.
4. The fire still burned on the summit of the mount (Exodus 24:16, Exodus 24:17). This, notwithstanding the vision of Exodus 24:10. The economy was outwardly and characteristically one of law; interiorly, one of grace. Even Moses had to wait seven days for the summons (Exodus 24:16).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Moses' sojourn with God the type of Christ's.
I. THE MEDIATOR: MOSES THE TYPE OF JESUS. He must needs pass up into God's presence: "Come up to me … and be there." It is there, in communion with God, that gifts are received for men. The power and blessing we now receive there, are prophecies of the power and glory with which Jesus will come again.
2. He must pass up to receive the law and commandments which God had written. Jesus will return with the perfected will of the Father.
3. The days of seclusion are numbered. Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. We know not how many or few they be; but each hour the coming of the Lord draws nearer.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF GOD'S PEOPLE MEANWHILE.
1. They tarry for the Mediator: "tarry ye here for us until we come again unto you." The attitude of the Churches to-day should be confident, joyous expectation: "this same Jesus will in like manner come again."
2. They are ministered unto by those who tarry with them (Exodus 24:14).
(1) The blessing bestowed in these temporary leaders.
(2) Their responsibility: let them not be leaders or helpers to the people in their idolatry, as Aaron.
III. THE VISION GRANTED THEM. The mountain is covered with clouds; but from the mountain top flames out the glory of the Lord. The eye cannot follow him who has entered within the veil; but we can behold the glory of the Lord, and know that every word of God will be fulfilled.—U.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 24". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25