Introduction. After giving the Ten Commandments (“the first Covenant”) and many statutes to interpret them, God had the people pledge their obedience. This ceremony was a wedding ceremony between God and His people. Moses was the witness and best man for God’s people. The wedding contract was the Ten Commandments. Yet, because of sin and the building of the golden calf, the wedding was not completed. The wedding will only be completed in heaven.
From this Chapter, God teaches us seven important lessons about His First and Second Covenants. First, the inability of the 70 elders to join Moses in His ascent up God’s mountain symbolized the broken relationship between God and His people. Sin was a barrier that separated them. Second, as symbolized by the public acceptance of the 70 elders, God’s Covenant (both Old and New) requires a public confession of faith. Third, as symbolized by the animal sacrifices at the 12 altars (one for each tribe), a Covenant relationship cannot exist unless there is first the atonement of sin through a proper blood sacrifice. Half the blood was poured on the altar and half on the people. The blood on the altar (which foreshadowed Christ) symbolizes that God is bound by the Covenant. We need not fear whether He will keep the Covenant because He is always faithful. Fourth, a Covenant relationship with God requires faith in Him. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Fifth, although salvation cannot be taken away, disobedience can break a person’s communion or fellowship with Him. Maintaining a covenant relationship with God requires obedience. Sixth, as symbolized through the Shalom sacrifice, peace with God requires ongoing efforts to stay in fellowship with Him. For Christians, this is symbolized today through Communion. Finally, as symbolized by Moses’ ascent to God, the New Covenant promises that you will also one day be in God’s presence in heaven.
The inability of the 70 elders to approach God. Although Moses brought his 70 elders with him as he approached Mount Sinai / Horeb, the elders could not approach God because of their sin: “1 Then He said to Moses, ‘Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. 2 Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.”’ (Ex. 24:1-2). Like the elders, sin also separates us from God: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God . . .” (Is. 59:2(a)). God has looked down from heaven and observed that not one person is holy and without sin: “[I]t is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.’” (Rom. 3:10-11). “[T]here is no one who does good.” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). “Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Ps. 143:2). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20). “Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (Job 4:17). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jo. 1:8). Moreover, there was no way for the people to cleanse themselves without God: “Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4). Thus, if we say that we are going to heaven because we are good people, the truth is not within us. Likewise, if we are going to heaven because of our good works, Christ’s death on the cross was unnecessary.
Sin separated God’s people from His holy presence1
The public confession of faith in God’s Covenant. As a first step in accepting God’s Covenant, the 70 elders who came with Moses made a public vow to accept it: “3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Ex. 24:3). When the people spoke “we do,” they were agreeing to enter into a wedding contract (consisting of the Ten Commandments) with God. In Jewish culture, a couple enters into the wedding contract before they dwell together. God tells us that He was betrothed to Israel (Jer. 2:2). He was faithful to His bride (Ps. 18:25). But a wedding contract must be signed by a friend of the bride and a friend of the groom. Moses was a friend of the bride, Israel. But God did not allow him to sign the contract. Instead, Moses later broke the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). The sin that caused the people to break the wedding contract was spiritual adultery and idolatry. Rather than accepting their bridegroom and waiting on Him, they made for themselves a new bridegroom out of a golden calf (Ex. 32:24). Adultery is the one sin that Jesus said would justify divorce (Matt. 5:32). God later implored the Jews to return to their husband: ‘“Return faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband.’” (Jer. 3:14). Jesus will one day complete His marriage with His Church (Rev. 19:7-14). The bridegroom and the bride then are able to dwell together (Rev. 20:4).
The people commit to obeying the Ten Commandments2
God also wants you to publicly confess your faith in His New Covenant. Like the Jews, God also wants you to publicly confess your faith and agreement to the New Covenant as your wedding contract with Him: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ -- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (Ro. 10:8-9). If you confess Jesus to be Lord and Savior before others, He in turn will confess you in heaven: “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God;” (Lk. 12:8; Matt. 10:32). Are you sharing the good news of the Gospel with others so that others may join the wedding in heaven? (Matt. 28:16-20).
Have faith in the Word you are confessing. Part of having faith is being what you are confessing is true. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). Although many scholars today claim that the different people conspired centuries after Moses to wrote the Torah, the Bible tells us that Moses wrote God’s words in the Torah. “4 Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” (Ex. 24:4(a)). God wants you to trust His Word as true. Thus, He repeatedly affirmed that Moses penned God’s Word immediately after hearing it to ensure that it was accurate and trustworthy: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down all these instructions, for they represent the terms of my covenant with you and with Israel.”’ (Ex. 34:27; Lev. 1:1; 6:8). “22 So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the sons of Israel . . .” “24 It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete,” (Dt. 31:22, 24). “So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, . .” (Dt. 31:9). “Then the Lord instructed Moses, ‘Write this down as a permanent record...’” (Ex. 17:14). Multiple other Old Testament writers also affirmed that Moses wrote the Torah. Joshua, for example, claimed that Moses wrote the Torah: “He followed the instructions that Moses the Lord’s servant had written in the Book of the Law...” (Josh. 8:31-34). “...Obey all the laws Moses gave you.” (Josh. 1:7-8). “...obey all the commands and the laws that Moses gave to you.” (Josh. 22:5). The author of the book of Chronicles also claimed that Moses authored the Torah: “...Hilkiah the high priest...found the book of the Law of the Lord as it had been given through Moses.” (2 Chr. 34:14). Other Old Testament authors also claimed that Moses wrote the Torah (1 Kgs. 2:3; 8:53; 2 Kgs. 14:6; 18:12). Paul, who studied under one of the top rabbis in his day, also affirmed that Moses authored the Torah (Ro. 10:5). Jesus also repeatedly referenced Moses as the drafter of the Torah (Matt. 19:7-8; 22:24; Mk. 7:10; 10:4-5; 12:24; Lk. 24:44; Jo. 7:23). In fact, Jesus pointed out that those who doubted Moses’ authorship would also likely have trouble believing Jesus’ words: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47). Will you believe the Word of God to be true?
Faith also comes by hearing the Word. Many of the people that Moses spoke to were illiterate; thus, the Jews needed to hear God’s Word. Hearing God’s Word is also important for every believer. That is how you build your faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17). “[F]or you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Pet. 1:23). Are you working to build up your faith muscles?
The blood poured on the altar and on the people. As a second step in establishing a Covenant relationship with God, Moses made a blood sacrifice at God’s altar: “Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. ” (Ex. 24:4(b)-6). The blood was split between the altar and the people. This symbolized that both God and His people were bound by the Covenant. The people never needed to worry about whether God would keep His Word because He is always faithful: “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;” (Dt. 7:9; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:13).
Without the blood of atonement, a Covenant relationship with God cannot exist. Once we recognize that sin has created a barrier between us and God, we must ask how we can remove this barrier to fellowship with God. God ultimately selected blood as the symbol of atonement. “But why blood?” someone might squeamishly ask. It is gross to look at. God chose blood for several reasons. First, it lets us know how gross our sins are before God. Second, blood is the agent of life for all the organs in the body. It brings life giving oxygen. Third, blood is also a cleansing agent. It carries impurities from the body to the kidneys where the impurities are filtered and removed from the body. “[T]he life of every creature is its blood.” (Lev. 17:14; Gen. 9:4). Fourth, the shedding of the blood symbolized the exchange one life for another life: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” (Lev. 17:11). “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb. 9:22). God did not leave any other way in either the Old Testament or the New Testament besides the shedding of blood to remove the barrier of sin between mankind and God. If you say that you are sorry to God for your sins but fail to offer a blood sacrifice for your sins (as Jews do today), this does not comply with God’s Law. Some might be tempted to protest that there must be a better way to pay for our sins. But what do you have to offer God to pay for your sins? God will not accept money, silver, or gold to pay for your sins (1 Pet. 1:17-19). He created the universe. You have nothing that He needs. Moreover, your money is worthless in heaven.
Moses confirmed the Covenant with a blood sacrifice at the altar3
The transfer of our sins to Christ. The transfer of sins from the sinner to the blood of the sacrifice foreshadowed what Christ did for us: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21). “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Rom. 3:25). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, . . .” (Gal. 3:13). ‘“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ [Christ] said to them.” (Mk. 14:24; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2:24; Is. 53:4-5, 10, 12). If you don’t believe that your sins today were transferred more than 2,000 years ago onto Christ at the time of His death, what meaning does His death have for you? If you are openly sinning against God, how grateful are you for Christ’s death for you on the cross?
While Christ fulfilled the need for blood sacrifices, God still wants spiritual sacrifices. Although Christ fulfilled the need for blood sacrifices, He still wants us to make “spiritual sacrifices” for Him: “you also . . . are . . . to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5). “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom. 12:1). Are you living your life as a living sacrifice for God?
The pledge of obedience to God. As a third step in maintaining a Covenant with God, the people had to make a pledge of obedience: “7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex. 24:7-8). “”[T]here must be a response to God’s word: All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient. Just as much as God would not negotiate His covenant with Israel, neither would He force it upon them. They must freely respond.” (David Guzik on Exodus 24.)4 If the Jews were not obedient, their Covenant with God was broken and had to be restored through a sin offering. Today, Christians are no longer “under the Law” in the sense that they must make blood or other sacrifices for sin to be saved (Gal. 5:18; Ro. 7:6; 8:3). By “fulfilling” the Law, Christ freed us from the impossible task of trying to obtain salvation through the Law (Matt. 5:17). But Jesus also says that, if we love Him, we will keep His Ten Commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). He was the “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). His “disciples” were the “disciplined ones” in keeping His Commandments. As bondservants or freed slaves, they were obedient out of love, not obligation. Whether you follow the law out of love instead of obligation is also a test for whether you really know God: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3). “[W]hat matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor. 7:19). Obedience is a foundation upon which the Covenant stands. Those who fail to obey the Ten Commandments step outside of God’s protection. The disobedient do not lose their salvation. But the disobedient are like the people who build their houses on poor foundations. They have no protection when floods come (Matt. 7:24-27). Are you selectively obeying the Commandments that you agree with?
Moses confirmed the Covenant by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the people5
The communion meal in God’s presence. As a symbol of the people’s commitment to maintain their fellowship with God, they ate a communion meal in God’s presence: “9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex. 24:9-11). Although salvation cannot be lost, fellowship can be lost temporarily through rebellion and sin. To understand how to maintain communion, we turn to the Shalom sacrifice.
The peace offering or Shalom sacrifice with God. Atonement was a necessary step (but not by itself a final step) for a believer to restore true fellowship with God. The reason why atonement does not automatically bring fellowship is that we were “enemies” of God before we were reconciled through Jesus’ blood (Ro. 5:10; Phil 3:18-19; Col. 1:21). Enemies don’t automatically become friends when they end their hostilities. In the Old Testament, parties solidified covenants with a meal, which showed the parties to be at peace (Gen. 26:26-31; Ex. 18:12). The Shalom or peace offering served this purpose with God (Lev. 3; Nu. 7:88). The Shalom offering symbolized a believer who was in peaceful fellowship with the Lord. It is not a temporary condition. It instead is a state of being. This offering was the only offering that was voluntary. It was also the only offering where the believer could eat a part of the sacrifice. It symbolized a higher walk with God. The Jews shared this Shalom meal in God’s presence out of devotion, not obligation. God in turn brought them peace.
The relevance of the Shalom offering to Christians today. Today, Christians make “spiritual sacrifices,” not physical ones (1 Pet. 2:5). Christ’s death ripped the temple “veil” and gave us direct access to God through Christ (Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38). Yet, our “access” to God does not automatically mean that we have “fellowship” with Him (Rev. 3:20). An example of a saved believer who is not in fellowship with God is a believer trapped in addiction, rebellion, stress, or a lack of faith. Thus, atonement is merely the first step to finding fellowship with God. Christ also offered to believers the joy of spiritual intimacy with Him, symbolized by dining together with Him, like the Shalom offering: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20). Christ offered this so that we could find both fellowship and peace through Him (Jo. 16:33). One of the reasons to take Communion on a “frequent” basis is to remind believers of the need to constantly seek out fellowship with Christ (Lk. 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-34). Your future wedding in heaven to Christ will also be celebrated through a great feast (Rev. 19:9). Sadly, many believers have been led to believe that being saved is the end all be all of being a Christian. But it is only the first step in a person’s walk with Christ. If you want true peace and fellowship with God, you must accept Jesus’ knock on the door of your heart. “For He Himself is our peace . . .” (Eph. 2:14). Are you seeking out Christ’s fellowship to find His peace in your life?
Symbolism in Moses’ ascent up the mountain to God. As set forth above, being in a Covenant relationship is not the same as salvation. You can be in rebellion and out of a Covenant relationship and still be saved. As part of the grace of the New Covenant, God offers access to all who believe. By the blood of Christ, you are now offered something that was only granted to Moses; direct access to God. Because none were righteous before God, only Moses could approach Him through God’s grace: “12 Now the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 But to the elders he said, ‘Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.’ 15 Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17 And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. 18 Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Ex. 24:12-18). The Jews could only look at God’s feet because no one could look at God directly and live (Gen. 32:30). Before Jesus, no one had previously seen God directly (Jo. 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16; 1 Jo. 4:12). Through Christ, you will one day have the right to see God directly in heaven (1 Jo. 3:2). “[F]or but now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:13). As symbolized by Moses’ ascent, you will one day ascend into the clouds to be with God when the great trumpet blows (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Words cannot describe the joy that awaits you (1 Cor. 2:9). When faced with trials, are you looking forward with great hope and joy for what awaits you? Are you sharing this hope with others when they are depressed or sad?
Moses and Joshua leave the congregation to climb up Mount Sinai6
Be patient for Jesus’ return. Moses told the others to wait for his return (Ex. 24:13-15). But people later grew impatient and built a golden calf believing that Moses would not return. This foreshadows events in our present time. People have grown tired of believing in Christ’s return (2 Pet. 3:3-10). The people saw a devouring fire where God was at the top of the mountain (Ex. 24:18). For some, the devouring fire will be all they see after the Day of Judgment (Rev. 20:12-15). Will you stay pure waiting for Christ’s return? Or, have you turned to the sins of the world while waiting for God?