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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Exodus 24

Verses 1-11

B. The establishment of the Mosaic Covenant 19:1-24:11

The Lord had liberated Israel from bondage in Egypt, but now He adopted the nation into a special relationship with Himself.

"Now begins the most sublime section in the whole Book. The theme of this section is supremely significant, playing a role of decisive importance in the history of Israel and of humanity as a whole." [Note: Cassuto, p. 223.]

At Sinai, Israel received the law and the tabernacle. The law facilitated the obedience of God’s redeemed people, and the tabernacle facilitated their worship. Thus the law and the tabernacle deal with the two major expressions of the faith of the people redeemed by the grace and power of God: obedience and worship.

Here begins the fifth dispensation, the dispensation of the law. It ended with the death of Christ, who alone fulfilled all its requirements and, as a second Moses, superceded it with His own teaching. God gave the Israelites the law "because of [their] transgressions" (Galatians 3:19), which we have seen they committed after their redemption. The law taught the wayward Israelites, and teaches all readers of this history, the awesome holiness of God (Exodus 19:10-25) and the exceeding sinfulness of man (Romans 7:13; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). It also taught and teaches the necessity of obedience (Jeremiah 7:23-24), the universality of human failure (Romans 3:19-20; Romans 3:23), and the marvel of God’s grace that provided a way whereby redeemed sinners could have ongoing relationship with God (Romans 3:21-22).

The law did not change the provisions or abrogate the promises that God gave in the Abrahamic Covenant. God did not give it as a means of justification for unbelievers (Acts 15:10-11; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:3-9; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:17; Galatians 3:24-25) but as a means of sanctification, rules for living, for a redeemed people. It clarified for them that purity and holiness should characterize their lives as the people of God. It was "child training" through disciplinary restriction and correction designed to prepare them for the coming of Christ when they as a people would "come of age" (Deuteronomy 6:24; Galatians 3:24; Galatians 3:26; Galatians 4:1-7; Titus 2:11-13). The Israelites, however, misinterpreted the purpose of the law and sought to obtain righteousness by their good deeds and ceremonial ordinances (Acts 15:1; Romans 9:31 to Romans 10:3; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). Israel’s history was one long record of violating the law, even to rejecting their own Messiah whom Moses told them to heed (Deuteronomy 18:15).

The Mosaic Covenant is an outgrowth of the Abrahamic Covenant in the sense that it was a significant, intimate agreement between God and Abraham’s descendants. By observing it the Israelites could achieve their purpose as a nation. This purpose was to experience God’s blessing and to be a blessing to all nations of the earth (Genesis 12:2). In contrast to the Abrahamic Covenant, Israel had responsibilities to fulfill to obtain God’s promised blessings (Exodus 19:5). It was, therefore, a conditional covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant-as well as the Davidic and New Covenants that contain expansions of the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant-was unconditional.

A further contrast is this.

"Whereas the Sinaitic covenant was based on an already accomplished act of grace and issued in stringent stipulations, the patriarchal covenant rested only on the divine promise and demanded of the worshipper only his trust (e.g., ch. Exodus 15:6)." [Note: Bright, pp. 91-92.]

"The covenant with Israel at Sinai is to bring Israel into a position of mediatorial service." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "The Mosaic Covenant: A Proposal for Its Theological Significance," Exegesis and Exposition 3:1 (Fall 1988):29.]

"The major difference between the Mosaic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant is that the former was conditional and also was ad interim, that is, it was a covenant for a limited period, beginning with Moses and ending with Christ. . . .

"In contrast to the other covenants, the Mosaic covenant, though it had provisions for grace and forgiveness, nevertheless builds on the idea that obedience to God is necessary for blessing. While this to some extent is true in every dispensation, the Mosaic covenant was basically a works covenant rather than a grace covenant. The works principle, however, was limited to the matter of blessing in this life and was not related at all to the question of salvation for eternity." [Note: John F. Walvoord, "The New Covenant," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp. 191-92.]

The Mosaic Covenant is the heart of the Pentateuch.

"First, it should be pointed out that the most prominent event and the most far-reaching theme in the Pentateuch, viewed entirely on its own, is the covenant between Yahweh and Israel established at Mount Sinai. . . .

"1) The author of the Pentateuch wants to draw a connecting link between God’s original plan of blessing for mankind and his establishment of the covenant with Israel at Sinai. Put simply, the author sees the covenant at Sinai as God’s plan to restore his blessing to mankind through the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 2:24).

"2) The author of the Pentateuch wants to show that the Covenant at Sinai failed to restore God’s blessing to mankind because Israel failed to trust God and obey his will.

"3) The author of the Pentateuch wants to show that God’s promise to restore the blessing would ultimately succeed because God himself would one day give to Israel a heart to trust and obey God (Deuteronomy 30:1-10)." [Note: John H. Sailhamer, "Exegetical Notes: Genesis 1:1-2:4a," Trinity Journal 5 NS (Spring 1984):75, 76.]

The writer interrupted the narrative sections of Exodus with blocks of other explanatory, qualifying, and cultic material in the chapters that follow. [Note: Durham, p. 258.]

Narrative
Exodus 19:1-3 a
Other
Exodus 19:3-9
Narrative
Exodus 19:10-19 a
Other
Exodus 19:19-25
Narrative
Exodus 20:1-21
Other
Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33
Narrative
Exodus 24:1-18
Other
Exodus 25-31
Narrative
Exodus 32-34

Another scholar observed the following chiastic structure in chapters 19-24. [Note: Joe M. Sprinkle, "Law and Narrative in Exodus 19-24," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47:2 (June 2004):242.]

A Narrative: the covenant offered (Exodus 19:3-25)

B Law: the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17)

C Narrative: the people’s fear (Exodus 20:18-21)

B’ Law: the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33)

A’ Narrative: the covenant accepted (Exodus 24:1-11)

Verses 1-8

The remaining verses in this section contain God’s directions to Moses personally. He, Aaron, Aaron’s two eldest sons, and 70 of the elders of Israel were to ascend the mountain to worship God. God permitted only Moses to approach Him closely, however.

Moses first related the content of God’s covenant with Israel orally, and the people submitted to it (Exodus 24:3). Then he wrote out God’s words to preserve them permanently for the Israelites (Exodus 24:4). The altar he built memorialized this place as where God had revealed Himself to His people. The 12 pillars were probably not part of the altar but separate from it. They probably represented the permanent relationship of the 12 tribes with God that God established when He made this covenant.

"In the ceremony to be performed, the altar will represent the glory of the Lord, whilst the pillars will represent the tribes of Israel; the two contrasting parties will stand facing each other." [Note: Cassuto, p. 311.]

The 12 pillars may also have served as memorial standing stones to commemorate the occasion (cf. Genesis 31:45). [Note: John W. Hilber, "Theology of Worship in Exodus 24," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39:2 (June 1996):181.] The young men (Exodus 24:5) were probably assistants to Moses chosen for this special occasion to serve as priests (cf. Exodus 19:22; Exodus 19:24).

"In the blood sprinkled on the altar [Exodus 24:6], the natural life of the people was given up to God, as a life that had passed through death, to be pervaded by His grace; and then through the sprinkling upon the people [Exodus 24:8] it was restored to them again, as a life renewed by the grace of God. In this way the blood not only became a bond of union between Jehovah and His people, but by the blood of the covenant, it became a vital power, holy and divine, uniting Israel and its God; and the sprinkling of the people with this blood was an actual renewal of life, a transposition of Israel into the kingdom of God, in which it was filled with the powers of God’s spirit of grace, and sanctified into a kingdom of priests, a holy nation of Jehovah (Exodus 19:6)." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:158.]

"The throwing of half of the blood of the offerings against the altar, which represented the Lord, and half on the people, or that which represented them, signifies a joining together of the two contracting parties (communio), and symbolized the execution of the deed of covenant between them.

"Between one blood-throwing and the other, the content of the covenant was finally and solemnly ratified by Moses’ reading from the Book of the Covenant and by the people’s expression of consent." [Note: Cassuto, p. 312.]

This ritual constituted the formal ratification of the Mosaic Covenant by which Yahweh adopted Israel as His "son" (cf. Genesis 15). The parallel with the inauguration of the New Covenant is striking (cf. Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

"In all such ceremonies the oath of obedience [Exodus 24:7] implied the participants’ willingness to suffer the fate of the sacrificed animals if the covenant stipulations were violated by those who took the oath." [Note: Youngblood, p. 110.]

"Virtually every sovereign-vassal treaty incorporated a list of deities before whom the solemn oaths of mutual fidelity were sworn. These ’witnesses’ could not, of course, be invoked in the case of the biblical covenants, for there were not gods but Yahweh and no higher powers to whom appeal could be made in the event of covenant violation. The counterpart of this is not lacking, however, for the ceremony of covenant-making described in Exodus 24 clearly includes ’witnesses’ to the transaction. These are in the form of the altar, which represented Yahweh, and the twelve pillars, which represented the twelve tribes. Although there is no explicit word to the effect that these objects were witnesses as well as representations, the use of inanimate objects in that capacity elsewhere certainly allows for that possibility here." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," pp. 34-35. Cf. Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 31:28. See also Kline, The Treaty . . ., p. 15.]

"This is the covenant meal, the peace offering, that they are eating there on the mountain. To eat from the sacrifice meant that they were at peace with God, in covenant with him. Likewise, in the new covenant believers draw near to God on the basis of sacrifice, and eat of the sacrifice because they are at peace with him, and in Christ they see the Godhead revealed." [Note: The NET Bible note on 24:11.]

There is some disagreement among the commentators about the meaning of "the Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 24:7). Most take it to mean the "Bill of Rights" that God had just given (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33). [Note: Wolf, p. 153.] Some feel it included "the whole corpus of Sinai laws." [Note: Childs, p. 506; Johnson, p. 74.] Others hold that ". . . it denotes a short general document, a kind of testimony and memorial to the making of the covenant." [Note: Cassuto, p. 312.] I prefer the view that it refers to the covenant stipulations God had made known to the Israelites at this time including the Decalogue and the "Bill of Rights." This seems most consistent with other references to this book in the text. [Note: See Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 449.]

Verses 1-11

5. The ratification of the Covenant 24:1-11

"The great event in chapter 24 is the climax of the Book of Exodus." [Note: Ramm, p. 139.]

Verses 9-11

The ratification ceremony concluded with a meal (Exodus 24:9-11), not a picnic lunch but a sacrificial meal (Exodus 24:5).

"’They ate and drank’ describes a covenant meal celebrating the sealing of the covenant described in Exodus 24:3-8." [Note: Ibid., p. 450.]

We must understand the statement that the leaders of Israel saw God (Exodus 24:10) in the light of other passages (Exodus 33:20-23; Isaiah 6:1; John 1:18). Perhaps they only saw His feet or, more exactly, a representation of part of God in human form (cf. Isaiah 6:1; Revelation 4:2; Revelation 4:6). The pavement of clear sapphire contributed to the vision of God as the supra-terrestrial sovereign (cf. Ezekiel 1:22; Revelation 4:6; Revelation 12:2).

". . . what Moses and his companions experience is a theophany of the Presence of God, not a vision of his person, and what they see, bowed before even that awesome reality, is what could be seen from a position of obeisant prostration, the surface on which his Presence offered itself. . . . The reference in Exodus 24:10 may therefore be a double one, calling up the deep dark blue of an endless sky and the building materials of legendary divine dwelling-places." [Note: Durham, p. 344.]

God in mercy did not consume the sinners before Him. Rather He allowed them to eat in His presence thus symbolizing the fact that He was taking on responsibility for their safety and welfare (cf. Genesis 31:44-46). [Note: See Livingston, pp. 157-62.]

"We have argued that the awkward surface structure of the narrative [in chapters 19-24], which results in the non-linear temporal ordering of events, can be explained when one takes into account the sequence structure of the narrative, particularly the use of the literary device called resumptive repetition. As a result of this literary device we have demonstrated that the narrative contains two different perspectives of the theophany. First, there is the perspective of Yahweh which emphasizes the preparation and execution of the covenant as well as highlighting the holiness of God, which is a key to understanding the relationship that exists between Yahweh and His people. Second, there is the perspective of the people, which is elaborated upon in the two resumptive narratives in 20, 18-21 and 24, 1-8. The first resumptive narrative in 20, 18-21, which elaborates in detail the fear of the people, serves as a preface and introduction to the Decalogue and Covenant Code. In addition, it also acts as a causal link between the fear of the people and their sinful acts below the mountain in Exodus 32. The second resumptive narrative in 24, 1-8 elaborates in detail the ratification of the covenant and also leads into the subsequent ascent of Moses to the mountain where he receives the rest of God’s regulations." [Note: G. C. Chirichigno, "The Narrative Structure of Exodus 19-24," Biblica 68:4 (1987):478-79.]

Verses 12-18

1. The revelation of the directions 24:12-18

Moses stayed in the heights of the mountain 40 days and nights while God gave him the stone tablets of the law and all the details of the tabernacle and its worship. Thus Moses was completely dependent on God. Now that Israel had entered into a blood covenant with God, God purposed to dwell among His people (cf. John 1:14). Similarly God now dwells among Christians by His Holy Spirit since Jesus Christ has ratified the New Covenant by shedding His blood.

The spectacular vision of the glory of God on the mountain "like a consuming fire" (Exodus 24:17) should have given the Israelites greater respect for God’s revelation than they demonstrated later (cf. Exodus 32:1-8). There were three symbols of God’s glory: the cloud, the fire, and the voice.

Verses 12-18

C. Directions regarding God’s dwelling among His people 24:12-31:18

Having given directions clarifying Israel’s obedience in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33), God now summoned Moses up into the mountain again to receive His directions regarding Israel’s worship. The Book of the Covenant specified how the Israelites were to live with one another, but the tabernacle showed them how God wanted them to worship Him. [Note: Cf. Davis, p. 192.]

"The establishment of a covenant relationship necessitated a means whereby the vassal party could regularly appear before the Great King to render his accountability. In normal historical relationships of this kind between mere men, some sort of intercession was frequently mandatory and, in any case, a strict protocol had to be adhered to. [Note: For Hittite practice, see O. R. Gurney, The Hittites, pp. 74-75.] How much more must this be required in the case of a sinful people such as Israel, who must, notwithstanding, communicate with and give account to an infinitely transcendent and holy God." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," pp. 48-49.]

Why did Moses record God’s instructions for the tabernacle before the people sinned by making the golden calf? It was, after all, the golden calf incident that led to the giving of the priestly laws.

". . . according to the logic of the narrative, it was Israel’s fear that had created the need for a safe approach to God, that is, one in which the people as such were kept at a distance and a mediator was allowed to represent them. It was precisely for this reason that the tabernacle was given to Israel." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 58.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-24.html. 2012.