The covenant, sacrifices, journey up the mountain, bowing in worship... all of these led up to one huge event - a meal with God.
Exodus chapters 21-23 continue with laws on how to treat each other. They further expound on the foundation of the Ten Words as to how we should treat others and God.
The 10 Commandments start with our relationship with God and then our relationship with others. In chapters 21-23 we start with our relationship with others and end with our relationship with God. The first commandment was to have no other gods by Yahweh. The end of chapter 23 reminds us of the first command and the blessing of keeping it and the problems with disobeying it.
When we come to chapter 24, Moses is about to mediate a covenant between God and Israel.
1 Then the Lord instructed Moses: “Come up here to me, and bring along Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders. All of you must worship from a distance. 2 Only Moses is allowed to come near to the Lord. The others must not come near, and none of the other people are allowed to climb up the mountain with him.” 3 Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” 4 Then Moses carefully wrote down all the Lord’s instructions. Early the next morning Moses got up and built an altar at the foot of the mountain. He also set up twelve pillars, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent some of the young Israelite men to present burnt offerings and to sacrifice bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses drained half the blood from these animals into basins. The other half he splattered against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. Again they all responded, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.” 8 Then Moses took the blood from the basins and splattered it over the people, declaring, “Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions.” 9 Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. 10 There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! // Exodus 24:1–11 NLT
Though we all know about the ten commandments, THEY are NOT the big deal. They are simply rules. The real big deal is this covenant.
Moses went down the mountain to the people and explained ALL the regulations God had for them. How to honor God, how to treat others. He gathered the people and simply told them about God’s Words.
God reveals himself to us through his written words. If we want to know God we need to know his word. God also tells us how to live in a way that honors him and accomplishes his mission. If we want to have a purposeful life, we must have God’s word as our core. We have to KNOW it.
The people, as one group, respond, “All that God says we will do”. Now we know that they did NOT do these things well. They had good intentions but bad follow through.
However, we are not much different. The point is not our perfection or lack thereof when it comes to keeping our promises.
When we spend time listening to or reading God’s word, we must have the conviction of obeying it. If God says it, I believe it. If God commands it, I will obey it. It does not mean we will be perfect, but we will be on the right track!
God spoke and the people responded. Now there is going to be a special ceremony to make this an official act, a binding agreement.
Commitments to God were always meant to be public and communal. This is the reason we have public baptism and not private ceremonies. It is the reason we love to hear people share their commitment to follow Jesus with others. When we gather as a family and we make commitments we are inviting the community to help keep us accountable.
Most laws were passed down orally, like Moses first did. But this was significant enough to warrant being written down, as a contract. It was a legal contract, a covenant. Moses took the time to write out the terms and conditions of the covenant.
I think this is powerful. As a church family, we should do more of this. I think there is power in writing out our understanding of what it means to be in relationship with God and to reflect him to the world around us. To come together as a group and pray over that and keep each other accountable.
They set up a place to give gifts to God. This place included an altar where sacrifices would be made. They added a stone to represent each of the 12 tribes of Israel – each one was represented and each had an equal share in the covenant and its blessings. A bunch of the young men were sent to kill bulls and bring them as offerings to God.
There were 2 offerings made here:
The entire animal was sacrificed to God and consumed by fire. This was symbolic of entire devotion and being totally given to God.
In Leviticus 3 & 7 we get some guidance as to what Fellowship offerings are, but that has not be written at the time of our event.
It was an interesting ritual:
This next section is one that might gross some of you out. 50% of the blood that was drained from the sacrifices was put into bowls. The rest was used in the ceremony.
The purpose of this ritual was to show that something was set apart for God’s work.
THOUGHTS: This whole experience is a beautiful picture of how we should approach God. We should start with the sacrifice of total surrender – setting aside our will, our agenda and asking God to consume every part of our lives.
That should then deepen our fellowship with the Father. This is the second sacrifice where we have been cleansed from sin and in relationship with God.
That relationship should lead to our lives being set apart, lived out for the very purposes of God. As we give ourselves to God and as he shares his heart with us it ought to motivate us to do his will.
The next set of events that take place show us WHY they did all of this.
Moses, Aaron, his 2 sons and 70 of Israel’s elders go part way up the mountain.
This is commanded in verse 1 and it is implied that they did it. Otherwise I am confident that they would have been struck by God.
To bow in worship from a distance is similar to what Jacob did as he got closer to Esau on their reunion. Jacob bowed down 7 times as he approached his brother (Gen 33:3). This is a sign of humility and submission. As the people approached the holy God they could only react in submission and surrender. This is a physical action that was symbolized by the burnt offerings.
This was amazing! Though it is obvious from the rest of scripture that no one has seen the face of God, they saw some form of manifestation of God.
I think it is fascinating that the best they can do is describe the ground God walked on. No one would dare try to describe the appearance of God himself.
Not only did they see God, but they received mercy from God. They were not taken out.
This is the physical act of the Fellowship Offering. It symbolized a covenant relationship with God, and now they are eating in the very presence of God!
NOTE: it does not say that God the Father physically ate with them, but they ate in His presence. They were experiencing actual communion with God.
They ate a covenant meal, they shared a meal of promise, a fellowship meal. They experienced the very presence of God.
It is intimate. It is vulnerable and trusting. I can invite any stranger into my home, but the moment we sit down to eat together we cease to be strangers. Sharing a meal creates relationship.
Of all the things his could have asked them to do…
God wanted to be near them and made a way for them to be close to him. He invited them to come and see him and experience his goodness. He stayed with them as they ate.
The REASON for the laws, the reason for the sacrifices, was so that they could only be fellowship with God.
Jesus makes a similar offer to each and every one of us because his heart is the same as the fathers:
20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. // Revelation 3:20 NLT
Jesus is the one we are to worship, to surrender our lives to. When we do, we see God. And when we do, we have fellowship with God. God still invites us to draw near to Him. He invites us not to just worship from a distance, but to enter his very presence.
God’s Word tells us the terms of the covenant. For us to have that kind of intimate relationship with God, we have to agree to the terms of His covenant, which means accepting Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. 21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. // 1 Peter 1:18–21 NLT
It also means that once I accept that gift from God, I have the privilege of surrendering my life completely to him, I get to enjoy fellowship with Him and my life becomes set apart for His work. 1 John 1
20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began” // John 17:20–24 NLT
This entire scene a beautiful picture of the love God has for each and every one of us. It has been, and still is His desire to have a close relationship with each of us, but our sin prevents that. God took the initiative to make a way for us to be close to him, to have fellowship with Him. To eat with Him.