Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.” –Exodus 24:1-2
These verses connect with God’s call for Moses to ascend Sinai in Exodus 20:21, (along with seventy elders, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu).
Hundreds of years before the scenes in this passage unfold, God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation and give them (Israel) the promised land (Canaan). God intended to bless the nation of Israel and multiply His blessings to all nations through them (Gen. 12:1-3). In Genesis 15, God ratified His promises as a covenant between Himself and Abraham. Now, after redeeming Israel from bondage in Egypt, He formally institutes the Mosaic Covenant as defined in the Ten Commandments.
You may read Exodus 24:1-8 here: Bible Gateway.
God’s Ratification Process
Moses understands that God’s covenant needs to be ratified with Israel. So the next morning he builds an altar to the Lord and sets up twelve pillar-like stones, each stone representing Israel’s twelve tribes. Next, the young priests sprinkle some of the blood from their sacrifices on the altar. After Moses shares God’s words, the people (once again) readily promise to follow God’s commands (24:3,7; 19:8). Then Moses records the Ten Commandments and the book of the covenant before sprinkling the rest of the blood in the basins onto the book and the people. This formally links the people to the covenant sacrifices, which ratifies the covenant.
Quite the process! I, for one, am thankful to live in the New Testament era. Although it would be an amazing experience to witness God’s manifestation on Mt. Sinai (see Ex. 19:16-19; 24:15-17). . . . Writing of thankfulness, I’m also grateful for the wisdom I can borrow (and quote) in answering questions such as: Why this unusual process?
“To understand this unusual covenant ratification ceremony, we need to understand the Bible’s view of sin and forgiveness. God is the sovereign judge of the universe. He is also absolutely holy. As the holy judge of all, he condemns sin and judges it worthy of death. In the Old Testament God accepted the death of an animal as a substitute for the sinner. The animal’s shed blood was proof that one life had been given for another. So on the one hand, blood symbolized the death of the animal, but it also symbolized the life that was spared as a result. Of course the death of the animal that brought forgiveness in the Old Testament was only a temporary provision, looking forward to the death of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:9-10:24). . . . Moses sprinkled half the blood from the sacrificed animals on the altar to show that the sinner could once again approach God because something had died in his place. He sprinkled the other half of the blood on the people to show that the penalty for their sin had been paid and they could be reunited with God. Through this symbolic act God’s promises to Israel were reaffirmed and lessons are taught to us about the future sacrificial death (or atonement) of Jesus Christ,” (The NIV Life Application Study Bible).
Warren Wiersbe, Be Delivered, writes: “The promise of the Lord in Exodus 6:6-8 was now about to move into its third phase. God had redeemed His people (Ex. 1-18) and taken them to Himself as His people (Ex. 19:24); and now He was about to come and dwell among them and be their God (Ex. 25-40).”
This last phase of God dwelling among the people is described in the last section of Exodus when God relays the blueprint for the tabernacle and dedication. God—who initiates this covenant with His chosen people—makes a clear distinction between the Israelites and Himself along with paralleled distinctions in the tabernacle. Although the priests have greater access to God than other Israelites, only the high priest may enter the Holy of Holies, once yearly. Although these distinctions are abolished in the new covenant, this portion is rich in spiritual truth and practical lessons.
With the covenant being ratified by blood, God would hold His children to their promises. Although the Israelites heartily promised to obey God’s covenant, their obedience soon plunges—even before Moses descends the mountain—by building a golden calf and committing idolatry.
How can we make sure that our enthusiasm to follow God’s directives on Sunday are carried out in obedience during the week? What can we learn about God and His values from the Mosaic laws (21:1-23:19)?
Finally, the following video from The Bible Project helps paint a clearer picture of covenants in the Bible, including the difference between the old and new covenants and how they link together. Enjoy, and have a great week!