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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 24

 

 

Introduction

III. Israel at Sinai (XIX.-XL.).

The division Num 19-40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25-31, 35-40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P's account of the Tabernacle (see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann's drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets (Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast (Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father (cf. Exodus 4:22*), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel's severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians—called "the former prophets" (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews—saw their instances of the nation's glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity." Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.


Verses 1-18

Exodus 24. Vision and Covenant. Exodus 24:1 f. J, Exodus 24:3-8 E, Exodus 24:9-11 J, Exodus 24:12-15 a E, Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a P, Exodus 24:18 b E.—Taking the J elements first, it must be noted that they must have followed the giving of the code now transposed to Exodus 34:17-26 (see Exodus 34:3*). The inclusion of Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu along with the 70 elders recalls Exodus 19:22; Exodus 19:24*, but the stratum of tradition from which this piece is drawn seems highly primitive. The meaning appears to be that the people remained at the base of the mountain, the priest and elders went half way up, and only Moses reached the top. But, perhaps later, all these last (Exodus 24:9-11) "went up," "and they saw the God of Israel," the description of the surroundings (Exodus 24:10) bearing out the conjecture that the old tradition was that heaven itself was at the top of this mountain (cf. Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 28:14). It was ordinarily death to see God (Exodus 33:20*), but on this occasion He "put not forth his hand" for destruction "upon the nobles" (lit. "corner-stones" of men), and "they beheld God" with the seer's eye, and shared in the heavenly banquet, the covenant feast (Exodus 24:11). Undying symbols here lie at hand of the glorious vision of God which is given to the pure in heart in the face of Jesus Christ, while He gives to His members (living stones in the Temple of His Body) His very flesh to eat. Returning to E's story, the request of Exodus 20:19, that Moses would be God's spokesman, is here made good, and the people promise loyal obedience (Exodus 24:3, "and all the judgments," being a gloss ignored in Exodus 24:3 b, cf. iii. p. 184). The mention of writing the Words in "the Book of the Covenant" is perhaps a mark of a stage of tradition later than the earliest, in which only the living voice could convey the knowledge of God's will. Mohammed would not have the Koran written. The rest of the description is thoroughly primitive: altar (cf. Exodus 20:24), standing-stones, or pillars for dignity and witness (cf. Joshua 24:27), burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and the distribution of the "blood of the covenant" (Mark 14:24) between God (represented by the altar), and the people (Exodus 24:4-8). [The significance is to be explained in the light of the custom of blood-brotherhood. When two men wished to make a blood-covenant each would drink a little of the other's blood, perhaps in water, or lick an incision made in the other's skin, as is done by the blood-lickers. In that way each incorporated something of the other's life. Later this was refined into the rite of dipping the hand into a bowl containing the blood of an animal. The sprinkling of blood from the same vessel on both parties similarly creates a covenant bond. The blood is sprinkled on the altar, because in it Yahweh's presence is supposed to be manifested.—A. S. P.] There may also have been a covenant feast on the victims, displaced because of Exodus 24:11, or the blood-ritual may have stood by itself. As in Judges 17:5, the young men were as a matter of course entrusted with the laborious work of slaying, preparing, and offering the sacrifice (Exodus 24:5). But it was Moses who "threw the blood against the altar" (Exodus 24:6). The covenant idea had, and has, dangers, as if God would be tied to His people, and be bound to protect them, if the ritual was duly maintained. It found its crowning OT expression in the "new covenant" of Jeremiah 31:31-34. In the next piece from E (Exodus 24:12-15 a) there is some confusion. The words "and the law (or teaching) and the commandment to teach them" seem to refer to the Judgments. Perhaps the confusion is connected with the insertion of the Decalogue. The "tables of stone" are perhaps more likely to have been an idea suggested by inscribed tablets in Canaan than to have actually belonged to the journey thither. Like the "book" (Exodus 24:7) they may reflect a later stage of tradition than the earliest. It is not clear how this passage is related to what goes before, and Exodus 24:13 b seems to anticipate Exodus 24:15 a. Perhaps "elders" in Exodus 24:14 should be "people," altered to fit the 70 in Exodus 24:1. Moses's temporary commission to Aaron (here rather elder than priest) and Hur confirms the view that Exodus 24:18, describing a permanent judiciary, is later than the Horeb scenes. The 40 days upon the sacred mount would, it has been pointed out, better fit a time of exalted communing and enlightenment than a mere visit to receive the tablets. In Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a we have P's parallel to the appearance of God in 19. The cloud is, as elsewhere, the sign in P of the Divine presence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 24:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/exodus-24.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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