The Covenant with Israel

And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded and altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord . . . .

And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.

Exodus 24:4-5, 8

Israel had heard the voice of Jehovah speaking the ten words of His law from the summit of Sinai and found it disconcerting. Before the signs of God’s righteousness and justice, thundering and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the smoking of the mountain, they had trembled and fled away. The Israelites were beginning to realize how impossible it was that they should ever satisfy the demands of God’s law, and how terrible would be the judgment of Jehovah if they did not. Boldly they had said, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do,” but now they were beginning to realize how presumptuous this promise had actually been. The very sound of God’s voice was more than they could endure. To stand any longer in His presence, they no longer felt able to do. They needed someone who could stand between, who could intercede for them, who could be a mediator between them, a sinful people, and Jehovah, the perfect and righteous God. -With a new sense of humility they came to Moses and pleaded, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

Moses’ answer was kind and full of comfort. He said, “Fear not, for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” The presentation of God at Sinai had been designed exactly to instruct them in the truth. Israel must know that God is holy and just in his every demand. The purpose was not to frighten them, but to show them the way of salvation. It was necessary that they should feel the need of a mediator. This would become even more evident in the future.

While the people watched from afar, Moses took up their cause and drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. There, in behalf of the people, he talked with God. They were chosen to be a nation of priests, but many years, even centuries, would have to pass before they would be able to function individually as such. First the perfect mediator would have to come and implant His Spirit in their hearts. Then every true, spiritual Israelite would be able to draw nigh unto the presence of God.

There on the mountain, God spoke to Moses. He explained in greater detail the words of His law. Beginning with the most important matter of true worship, He said, “Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold,” and God went on to explain the true way in which He was to be worshipped by means of the altar built of unhewn stone. God had shown clearly to them that He is far too great to be represented by any image formed by man’s hand. Henceforth there would never be excuse to worship Him in a way other than He had given command. Thereupon, God went on to explain to Moses many matters pertaining to all of the commandments of the law, matters pertaining to masters and servants and their duties to each other as they follow from the fifth commandment of the law, matters relating to personal injuries and the sixth commandment of the law, matters of personal property and the eighth commandment, matters of marriage and the seventh commandment, matters of truthfulness and the ninth commandment, matters of religious festivities deriving from the fourth commandment of the law. Finally God returned again to the primary subject of true worship; only, this time, He included with it a glorious promise. “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites : and I will cut them off. Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee . . . .”

Moses returned from the mountain to the camp with these words of God resting upon his heart. The people were watching and waiting to hear what he had to say. Slowly and exactly, he repeated to them all that the Lord had said. The people remembered the wonder of the voice of Jehovah which they had heard from the mountain; only, by now, some of the fear had subsided. Still there was enthusiasm and interest in what God had to say, and they listened to Moses attentively. Boldness and confidence had returned. With a loud voice they responded, “All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.”

That night in his tent, Moses wrote all that God had spoken to him in a book. He called it the book of the covenant.

The next morning early, Moses rose and began to gather stones for the building of an altar. According to the command of God, he took the stones directly from nature, unhewn and unpolluted by the tools of man, twelve in number. For some time, he had been serving typically in the position of mediator between God and His people; but, only through the recent events were the people beginning to realize his importance in this office. Today, however, it was to be brought even more emphatically to their attention. With his own hands, Moses built the altar, and around it he set up twelve pillars of stone representing each of the tribes in much the same pattern in which the twelve tribes later were to be encamped about the tabernacle. Then he called together a group of young men to serve as his assistants.

By the time this work was accomplished the rest of the camp had arisen and the people were standing about watching. They realized that something of great significance was about to take place even though Moses as yet had said nothing. As the people watched, Moses commanded the young men to gather together sacrificial animals and to offer them on the altar, first a series of burnt offerings and then a series of peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. Moses himself provided for the blood of these sacrificial victims. One half of the blood he put in basins, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.

The children of Israel watching realized well what these actions meant without need of any explanation. They were used to the typical ceremonies of Old Testament times. The burnt offerings offered were an atonement for sin. The peace offerings were a sacrifice of thankfulness and dedication. These sacrifices were being offered by Moses, but in behalf of the people. The people, indeed, had promised, “All the words which the Lord hath said we will do,” but that mere affirmation of intention did not make them worthy of the favor of God. Atonement had to be made for them. This was being provided by the sacrifices of Moses. The blood sprinkled upon the altar symbolized that the atoning sacrifice was being given unto God for the satisfaction of His judgment. All was accounted for but the blood that Moses still held in the basins. Thus Moses turned to the people, and before them opened up the book of the covenant and read. The children of Israel, deeply impressed by the solemnity of the occasion, gave close attention, and again, with enthusiasm responded, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Then Moses took up the basins of blood and sprinkled their contents on the people. Even as he did so, he spoke, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord bath made with you concerning all these words.”

The symbolism of this event was beautiful. Moses as a typical mediator was demonstrating to the children of Israel the Gospel of the true mediator which was to come in fulfillment of the promise given to their fathers. Even as Moses offered the sacrifices amid the pillars of Israel’s twelve tribes so some day the true mediator would offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice in the midst of the people He loved. His blood would be shed in an offering of love to God, and the same blood would be sprinkled, as the blood of reconciliation, upon His people. In this way, and in this way alone, they would be drawn into covenant communion with God. Even more, it would be the blood of sanctification by which the children of God would be enabled to say in truth, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Through the work of this mediator the covenant of God is established.

But still the functions of that day were not finished. Moses called together Aaron and his two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, the future priests of God, with seventy of the elders which represented all Israel. Together they ascended the mountain, for they were now cleansed by the sacrificial blood. The covenant was now established and even the people, represented in the elders, were enabled to draw nigh unto the presence of God. There on the mountain, they saw God. We are not told in what form God appeared. It was beautiful for sure. Not, indeed, as glorious as the vision Moses was later to see. Not, perhaps, even as great as the radiance that later would reflect from Moses’ face so that the people could not endure to look. But, nonetheless, beautiful so as to defy description by human lips. Now there were none of the threatening signs of judgment, thunder, and lightning, and smoke. All was peaceful and serene. The very rocks in their appearance were transformed, clear and brilliant like sapphire of heavenly origin. Even the seventy elders, mere ordinary men, stood in God’s presence and were not consumed, the hand of the Lord did not touch them. This was the blessedness of God’s covenant. They stood before the face of God and were given to eat and to drink, to partake of a table prepared by the Lord.

There, in symbolic beauty, was realized the blessedness of life in the covenant of God’s grace. For all who are in spiritual reality taken into God’s fellowship, all these very same things are true. In the covenant God reveals Himself to His people. Not to all, indeed, does God reveal Himself in some visible form as was seen there by the elders, and later by Moses alone, and by Isaiah, and by Ezekiel; but, to all of God’s people is given the much more enduring revelation of God in spirit and in truth. It is an experience peaceful and serene as though radiating with the brilliance of sapphires from heaven. For the true covenant child, gone are the judgments, the thunder and lightning and blackness of smoke. The hand of God’s anger will not touch them. They are made to eat and drink of the bread and waters of eternal life spread by the hand of the Lord. In a figure, those elders of old were made to know the blessedness of true covenant life.

Once this heavenly meal was finished, the elders were told that they with Aaron and his sons must tarry behind in the camp while Moses and Joshua went on farther. God was to give to Moses instructions concerning a more enduring sign of the covenant, the tabernacle which He would establish in Israel’s midst.

—B.W.