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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 24

 

 

Verse 1-2

The People Respond to the Covenant and Confirm Their Acceptance of Its Terms (Exodus 24:1-11).

This passage can be analysed as follows:

a Moses, Aaron and his eldest sons, and the seventy are called up to worship ‘afar off’ (Exodus 24:1).

b Only Moses may approach Yahweh (as the mediator) (Exodus 24:2).

c Moses declares the words of Yahweh and all His judgments and the people respond, ‘All the words which Yahweh has said we will do’ (Exodus 24:3).

d Moses writes all the words of Yahweh (preparing the covenant document for the people) (Exodus 24:4 a).

e Moses builds an altar and erects twelve pillars in accordance with the tribes of Israel (Exodus 24:4 b).

e Moses sends young men who offer whole burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings to Yahweh (Exodus 24:5).

d Moses takes of the blood and sprinkles it on the altar (committing the covenant to Yahweh) (Exodus 24:6).

c The covenant having been accepted by the Overlord Moses takes the book of the covenant and reads it to the people and they respond, ‘All that Yahweh has said we will do and be obedient’ (Exodus 24:7).

b Moses sprinkles the people with the blood of the covenant sealing the covenant with them (as the mediator) (Exodus 24:8).

a Moses, Aaron and his eldest sons, and the seventy go up to behold Yahweh and to eat and drink before Him (Exodus 24:9-11).

We note that the first five references refer to preparation for the covenant and the second five refer to the application of the covenant. In ‘a’ the representatives of Israel are called together to worship (preparation), and in parallel eat and drink the covenant meal before Yahweh (application). In ‘b’ Moses approaches Yahweh as the mediator (preparation), and in parallel sprinkles the people as the mediator (application). In ‘c’ the covenant is declared and accepted (preparation) and in the parallel it is read out (having meanwhile been written down) and accepted (application), with in both cases a willing response from the people. In ‘d’ the covenant words of Yahweh are written down for presentation to the people (preparation) and in parallel the blood of the written covenant is presented to Yahweh (application). And central to all in ‘e’ is the preparation for and offering of the offerings and sacrifices.

We can now look at it in more detail.

Exodus 24:1-2

‘And he said to Moses, “Come up to Yahweh, you and Aaron, and Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you will worship afar off. And Moses alone will come near to Yahweh, but they shall not come near, neither shall the people go up with him.” ’

This is the commencement of the covenant procedure, the call of the Overlord for the people’s representatives to approach. It is then followed by the selection of the mediator who alone can approach the Overlord.

“And He said to Moses.” The use of ‘He’ instead of ‘Yahweh’ (contrast Exodus 20:22 with which it therefore connects, see also Exodus 24:12), demonstrates the close connection between this and the previous words, stressing that this is a continuation of the theme. He had been speaking to all Israel through Moses (Exodus 21:1), now He speaks to Moses in his own right. Exodus 24 is integrally connected with what has gone before,

The change of person in the sentence from ‘you’ to ‘him’ appears to be a pattern (compare Exodus 23:23), and here indicates a firm and emphasised movement from the general welcome of all to the particular access provided to the chosen mediator. The purpose here would seem to be to stress the names of Yahweh and of Moses, and the latter’s unique privilege of access.

A group of ‘seventy of the elders of Israel’, as the people’s representatives, together with Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, were to ascend the lower mount so as to ‘worship afar off’. But they were not to go up higher. That was to be left for Moses alone. And the people were excluded altogether. This feasting before Yahweh would seal the covenant.

Nadab and Abihu were two sons of Aaron (Exodus 28:1; see also Exodus 6:23). Here they were given a huge privilege and were being prepared for great responsibility. But they would shortly sadly die before they had fulfilled themselves because they dealt lightly with sacred things (Leviticus 10:1-2). Great privilege brings great responsibility of many kinds.

“Seventy of the elders of Israel.” These would seem to represent specifically the combined leadership (compare Numbers 11:16; Numbers 11:24-25). The number seventy signifies divine completeness (compare Exodus 1:5), and the leading elders were possibly limited to that number. Compare Numbers 11:24-25 with 26. The two were ‘of those who were written’ and therefore part of ‘the seventy’. But it may be that this means that at that stage there were seventy two, although ‘gathered the seventy’ might simply be describing the group as a whole without saying that they were all present. The group was probably known as ‘the seventy’ regardless of exact numbers. On this number was patterned the later Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews in the time of Christ. Compare also Luke 10:1; Luke 10:17.

The purpose of this event was as a ceremony at which Yahweh would receive the response of the people to His covenant and would seal it by handing over the official covenant documents, just as a great overlord would when sealing his suzerainty treaty. But before this could be done there were things that Moses had to do.


Verse 3

‘And Moses came and told the people all the words of Yahweh and all the judgments, and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which Yahweh has spoken we will do.”

Moses called the people together for the explanation of the treaty. He declared to them Yahweh’s offer and detailed Yahweh’s requirements as contained in Exodus 20-23. Then the people ‘with one voice’ declared their acceptance. The words appear to be in accepted phraseology (compare Exodus 19:8). It was unanimous.

“All the words of Yahweh.” These are described mainly in Exodus 20:1-17 with a codicil in Exodus 20:22-26.

“And all the judgments.” These are described in Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 23:19. They are then followed by the reconfirmation of what Yahweh will do for His people (Exodus 23:20-33).

“And all the people answered with one voice.” This was their confirmation that as one people they were willing to enter into the covenant.


Verses 4-8

‘And Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh and rose up early in the morning and built an altar under the Mount, and twelve pillars in accordance with the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to Yahweh. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant and read in the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you concerning all these words.” ’

Now that the covenant had been offered and accepted the official procedures had to be gone through. First it had to be put into writing (as most ancient covenants were, compare regularly in the Book of Genesis) and then the covenant offerings were made prior to the blood of the covenant being presented to the Overlord, seeking His acceptance of the covenant as written and commitment to it. Then the covenant, having been agreed by the Overlord, was read to the people for their acceptance, after which the blood of the covenant was sprinkled on them and they confirmed their acceptance of it.

Moses may well have worked through the night writing out the covenant. Then he went about the solemn process of ratification. First he built an altar which in a sense represented Yahweh’s side of things. Then he erected twelve pillars to represent the whole people of Israel. (Compare here Genesis 31:45-46). Note that all were now seen as incorporated in the twelve tribes. Then he offered whole burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen. Then he applied the blood of the offerings, half to the altar and half to the people. It may be that the latter was mainly done by sprinkling it on the twelve pillars, which would seem to be their purpose, and then by a token sprinkling, but symbolically he was sprinkling the whole people.

“Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh.” This would include ‘the word’ and ‘the judgments’ (Exodus 24:3). The whole covenant needed to be ratified. But on the Mount he will receive Yahweh’s copy of the treaty and that is possibly only of the ten words (Exodus 24:12 with Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 5:22; Deuteronomy 10:4. See also Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15-16), so that may be the same here. But it may be that ‘the ten words’ were seen as including the whole, the rest seen as a codicil.

“Rose up early in the morning.” The ceremony would take some time and he probably wished to complete it by the evening.

“Twelve pillars.” This was a legitimate use of pillars as symbolic and as memorials.

“In accordance with the twelve tribes of Israel.” Compare Genesis 49:28. The mixed multitude with their mixed descent are now seen as fully incorporated into the twelve tribes of Israel and as ‘descended’ from the patriarchs.

“He sent young men of the children of Israel.” These were no doubt seen as representing Israel’s future. They acted under Moses’ instructions and there was at this stage no known limit as to who could offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. We may be sure that whatever requirements there were would be maintained. But it was Moses who took and applied the blood. Young men may have been used because they were strong and able to carry out their functions without difficulty. But we should note that the young men did not manipulate the blood. That was Moses task as the priest of the people. The use of young men from among the people may have been in order to make the people feel very closely involved. It was not their leadership, somewhat distant from the ordinary Israelite, but young men from among them, who offered these covenant offerings. It was very much a covenant made with them, rather than on their behalf.

“Offered whole burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings (or sacrifices).” The whole burnt offerings were totally consumed and were a very ancient form of sacrifice (Genesis 8:20; Genesis 22:13; Exodus 10:25). Of the peace offerings/sacrifices the blood and fat must be offered to Yahweh but the flesh may be eaten (see Deuteronomy 12:27 for the distinction). There are, in this combination, elements of worship, of dedication, of propitiation and of gratitude.

Note. On the whole burnt offerings were ‘offered’ (‘alah - in the hiphil ‘sent up’) and peace sacrifices ‘sacrificed’ or ‘slaughtered’ (zabach) or ‘offered’ (qarab). The verbs relate to the nouns, ‘offer’ to ‘burnt offerings’, and ‘sacrifice’ to ‘peace sacrifices’. However, in Exodus 20:24; 1 Kings 3:4 whole burnt offerings were also ‘sacrificed’, showing that they were ‘sacrifices’ and demonstrating that the difference was not a vital one, although this use is rare. But in the Pentateuch only whole burnt offerings and meal offerings were ever said to be ‘offered’ (‘alah - sent up) to Yahweh. Outside the Pentateuch ‘peace offerings’ (not designated sacrifices) were also ‘offered’, compare, for example, 2 Samuel 6:17-18; 2 Samuel 24:25; 1 Kings 9:25; 1 Chronicles 16:2; 1 Chronicles 21:26. These latter are also regularly said to be ‘sacrificed’, and there may be two kinds, those wholly offered to Yahweh and those sacrificed and partaken of. Offerings specifically designated as ‘sacrifices’ (zebach) are never ‘offered’ (‘alah). (End of note).

“Put it in basins.” The blood was collected as it flowed out, in basins.

“Sprinkled it on the altar.” By this means the covenant blood was offered to Yahweh, and Yahweh was joined in the covenant. The chiasmus suggests that this was very much the offer to the Overlord of the covenant for His acceptance prior to it being sealed with His vassals.

“Took the Book of the Covenant and read it.” The offer to the Overlord was followed by the solemn reading with a view to official acceptance by the people. The people then formally accepted it.

“Sprinkled it on the people.” This applied the shed blood to the people, joining them in the covenant. It was ‘the blood of the covenant’. The blood sprinkled on the altar and the blood sprinkled on the people was to be seen as ‘one blood’. Both Yahweh and His people were now seen as conjoined in participation of the covenant. As ‘the blood of the covenant’ it probably signified both that death would result from gross disobedience to the covenant, and the application of the benefit of the covenant, in all its atoning aspects, to the people. It had also been sprinkled on the altar, joining Yahweh in the covenant, and purifying the altar. The pillars (Exodus 24:4) were also probably sprinkled as representing the whole of the people. They were the counterpart of the altar which was sprinkled representing Yahweh.

The fact that the blood was sprinkled on the people should warn us against making extravagant claims as to what the sprinkling of blood before Yahweh signified. It certainly signified specific application to the person or persons involved, incorporating them within the covenant on pain of death, but without being specific as to the exact further significance. We can, however, be sure that the multiplicity of sacrifices (whole burnt offerings and peace offerings) included atonement, a making of peace, and an indication by the people of tribute offered to their Lord and king, and that it rendered the people acceptable before Yahweh. Blood was regularly shed in the making of covenants among many peoples, but different peoples and interpreters would see it in different ways. Comparative religion can be helpful in supplying ideas, but each nation saw its rites in its own way. In order to understand Israel’s we must look at what Israel said about its own rites, and here they centred on tribute, atonement and the making of peace between God and man.


Verses 9-11

‘Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel, and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness. And on the chief men of the children of Israel he did not lay his hand, and they beheld God and ate and drank.’

Following the covenant offer, sacrifice, and final acceptance was the covenant feast which sealed the whole ceremony. This was shared, as it were, between Yahweh and His people as represented by the elders (although noticeably Yahweh does not partake. There is no suggestion of God in human form). This was made possible because the blood had been shed, and the covenant had been sealed. Now His people could meet with Him as His covenant people.

“And they saw the God of Israel.” The sealing of the covenant made a huge difference. The God of Israel now came down to meet them. There was a manifestation of God, probably in the same cloud and fire and smoke of Exodus 19:18; Exodus 23:17. No description is given and we dare not speculate further. But ‘under His feet’ was a vision of glorious blue which reminded them of sapphires and the glorious clear blue of the heavens. The fact that this is outlined and emphasised must suggest that His own presence was veiled (compare Isaiah 6:1-6 where Isaiah describes everything but Yahweh).

“He laid not His hand.” They were allowed to see God and live. But it was not in His full glory for this was not even possible for Moses (Exodus 33:22-23).

“And they beheld God and ate and drank.” They feasted with God although God did not feast with them. This covenant feast was an essential part of the making of the covenant. It was a symbol of their now expressed dependence on and fellowship with the Overlord. They were now His vassals. Such feasting would be an essential part of a covenant ceremony.

“The God of Israel.” In Exodus 5:1 He was described as the ‘Yahweh, God of Israel’ but here it is the stark declaration of the new position. They have taken Him as their only God, and He is their God alone.


Verses 12-18

Moses Called Up Into The Mount (Exodus 24:12-18).

Exodus 24:12 gives the impression that they were now back in the camp. Thus it would seem that the call came to Moses there, and Moses went up into the Mount to receive the Overlord’s version of the covenant.

We may analyse this passage as follows:

a Moses is to go up into the mount to receive the written Law, and Moses and Joshua go up into the mount while the elders remain to oversee the people (Exodus 24:12-14).

b Moses goes up into the mount and the cloud covers the mount (Exodus 24:15).

c The glory of Yahweh is revealed on the mount (Exodus 24:16 a).

d The cloud covers the mount and Yahweh speaks to Moses from the midst of the cloud (Exodus 24:16 b).

c The appearance of the glory of Yahweh is like a devouring fire on the mount (Exodus 24:17).

b Moses entered into the cloud and went up into the mount (Exodus 24:18 a).

a Moses was in the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18 b).

We note that in ‘a’ Moses goes up into the mount and in the parallel he is there for forty days and forty nights. In ‘b’ Moses goes up into the mount and the cloud covers the mount (where Moses is), in the parallel Moses enters the cloud and goes up into the mount a deliberate reversal. Both things occurred at the same time. In ‘c’ the glory of Yahweh is revealed and in the parallel it is described. The central point is that Yahweh is there and gives His words to Moses.

We also note that there is here a gradually increasing crescendo as Moses goes up to meet with Yahweh.

Exodus 24:12

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Come up to me into the Mount and be there. And I will give you the tables of stone, and the law (instruction) and the commandment which I have written that you may teach them.” ’

“And Yahweh said to Moses.” In contrast with ‘He said to Moses’ (Exodus 24:1) this indicates a new section in the narrative. In Exodus 24:14 the elders were now clearly in the camp. Thus this is after the elders have left the mount and returned to the camp.

“Come up to me into the Mount and be there.” Now that the covenant feast was over the solemn presentation of the covenant by the Overlord, written by His own hand, would take place. Moses was called up to receive it solemnly from the hand of the Overlord. ‘And be there’ suggests that he would be there for some time.

“The tables of stone, even the instruction and the commandment which I have written.” The tablets of stone contained the instruction and the commandment. God’s covenant both guides and commands. We may possibly see here the distinction between the judgments (instruction) and the words (commandments) of Yahweh (see on Exodus 24:3).

“The tables of stone --- which I have written.” The tables of stone signified permanence. The writing of God stressed His personal involvement in the matter. They were written ‘with the finger of God’ (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:16), that finger which had worked so powerfully in Egypt (Exodus 8:19).

“That you may teach them.” It was to be Moses’ solemn responsibility to ensure that the words and judgments of Yahweh were made known to the people constantly.

Exodus 24:13-15

‘And Moses rose up, and Joshua his servant, and Moses went up into the Mount of God , and he said to the elders, “You wait here for us until we come to you again. And behold Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a cause let him come near to them.” And Moses went up into the Mount and the cloud covered the Mount.’

In full obedience to his Lord Moses went up into the Mount taking with him Joshua, his ‘servant’. That Joshua does go is brought out in that Moses says ‘us’. But from then on we might think that Moses was alone. Ancient writings were often like this. They concentrated on the essentials. ‘Servant’ may be compared with the earlier ‘servants of Pharaoh’ (Exodus 8:21), his chief officials. Joshua has clearly been selected out to be groomed for the future. ‘The servant of Moses’ is now Joshua’s official and prestigious title (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 11:28; Joshua 1:1).

“You wait here.” The words that follow show that this was not meant literally. It simply meant that they were not to go up any further. They were to wait at the bottom of the mountain and not go any higher. They were in fact to continue with their responsibility of judging the people, with Aaron and Hur designated as chief judges.

“Until we come to you again.” Moses did not know how long he would be and thus made provision for the judging of the people until he returned. But this suggests that he expected to be there for some time.

“Aaron and Hur”. Compare Exodus 17:10-12. These were his two deputies. But Joshua was the heir apparent.

“And Moses went up into the Mount.” He climbed up higher taking Joshua with him, but did not yet enter the cloud.

“And the cloud covered the Mount.” This was preparatory to the appearing of the glory of Yahweh.

Exodus 24:16-18

‘And the glory of Yahweh abode on Mount Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days, and the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud, and the appearance of the glory of Yahweh was like a devouring fire on the top of the Mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud and went up into the Mount. And Moses was in the Mount forty days and forty nights.’

Moses did not go directly into the presence of Yahweh. He had to wait to be called. This period of waiting was probably in order to indicate that Moses had to be prepared before he could enter into God’s presence. Periods of waiting are often prescribed later as a part of the cleansing process. The waiting is for seven days. His cleansing is divinely perfect. Then he could be called and enter the cloud.

“The glory of Yahweh, like a devouring fire (see on Exodus 19:18) ‘dwelt” on the Mount for the seven days, manifested to the children of Israel (Exodus 22:17), who must have watched in awe as they realised that Moses and Joshua were up there with God. The glory was seen through the cloud.

“And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud and went up into the Mount.” The ascent has taken place in stages. Going up with Joshua, then leaving him, and then going further up, and now the final ascent to come into the very presence of God.

“And Moses was in the Mount forty days and forty nights.” ‘Forty days and forty nights’ was regularly a significant period when men of God waited on God at special moments in history (Moses - Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34, 28; Deuteronomy 9:9; Deuteronomy 9:18; - Elijah - 1 Kings 19:8; and Jesus Himself - Matthew 4:2 and parallels). The mention of both days and nights shows the intensity of the experience. It was unceasing.

The phrase probably means ‘for longer than a moon period’, i.e. a month. ‘Forty days’ had probably already from earliest days (Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:12; Genesis 7:17) begun to mean an unspecified period of a little over a month, as it certainly would later as a period of waiting for judgment (Ezekiel 4:6; Jonah 3:4) or as a more general period of waiting (Numbers 13:25; 1 Samuel 17:16 - both significant periods of waiting for Israel). It was thus a period which stressed the significance of the event.

So Moses spent ‘forty days and forty nights’ with God. And Joshua was in the Mount with him. Here he would receive the tables of stone written with the finger of God, the final sealing of the covenant that Yahweh had made with His people. The Great Overlord will hand over to His people His version of the finalised covenant. He will then establish His throne (the Ark of the covenant) and His dwelling-place (the Tabernacle), both portable, among them. Details of this are given in the next section.

Note for Christians.

What significance has this covenant ceremony for us? It reminds us that we too have entered into solemn covenant with God when we became Christians. We too are solemnly bound by the covenant in His blood, a covenant enunciated for us in Hebrews 8:7-13 which has replaced the old by adding to it and improving it, for the old had been marred by misinterpretation and misuse. For the old covenant had come to have a different meaning and significance because of its misinterpretation. Thus it had to be replaced by a better covenant. But the one that was superseded was not the one that God made, but the misinterpretation of it that had changed it from what it was.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 24:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-24.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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