Meditations in Exodus: 66. The Covenant Confirmed
Ex 24:3,4 When Moses went and told the people all the LORD‘s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.
In the previous meditation we observed the structure of Exodus at this point: chapters 20-23 – the Ten Commandments and the basic Law, chapters 25 to 27 – instructions how to build and establish the Tabernacle, and chapters 28 and 29 about establishing the priesthood. Sandwiched between the general law and the Tabernacle instructions we noted were two highly significant incidents and we looked at the first one, the encounter of the elders with the Lord. Before that actually happened we have the incident of the affirming the covenant.
Remember what has already occurred. The Lord had declared the outline of the covenant: “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Ex 19:5,6) i.e. obey me and you will be mine (and implied in that – I will bless you). When Moses told the people this, “The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” (Ex 19:8) Thus the people have already agreed to the outline. Then the Lord shared with Moses His law for the community.
“When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.” (v.3,4) Again, note the order: Moses conveys to the people all the Law that the Lord has imparted to him. Now I don’t know what you are like at remembering four chapters’ worth of Law but it is quite a task but perhaps it has been such a vivid encounter with the Lord that every moment and every word is firmly etched in his memory. So he tells them what God has said and as one they say, we will do it. He then writes it all down to ensure it can be remembered and passed on to future generations. So twice Israel have affirmed their agreement to this covenant. The first time had been an agreement in principle and the second one had been an agreement in detail. The reality is that when you look at the Law contained in these chapters there is nothing onerous about them – they are simply wisdom for a peaceful and harmonious community.
So far, quite clear. Israel go to bed as a covenant people but covenants in those days in that part of the world were often accompanied by a blood ritual. Remember the time when the Lord and Abraham sacrificed and made a covenant, animals and birds were cut in two and placed on the ground with a pathway between them so the participants of the covenant would walk the path of death and life (see Gen 15:9-11) – death created a path to be walked to signify a new life together.
Moses’ blood ritual involves an alter: “He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.” (v.4-6) It is not clear exactly how this was done but the stones clearly represented each tribe, and young men were used because it required a lot of energy to bring and sacrifice (twelve) bulls. It is not clear how many bulls but many assume one bull per tribe. The ceremony appeared to have a twofold purpose. The burnt offerings seem to be signs of submission to God or signs of worship, but the bulls indicate fellowship or unity or friendship with God, given to bless Him.
The activity involving the blood of the bulls is also unclear. Half of the blood was sprinkled on the altar – presumably representing giving it to God – and the other half was just kept in bowls – presumably representing keeping it for the people, because we subsequently read, “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (v.8) Animals were killed and their blood, representing lives given, was shared between God and the people. A gory mess but at the end of it there would be a sense of unity with God in this covenant agreement.
We should note that this sprinkling of the people did not take place until after Moses, “took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (v.7) Note this was the third time they had affirmed the covenant. Hence Moses’ words we noted above, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (v.8) The blood sprinkled on the people was like signing a letter in blood except in this case it was a living agreement with living people who were marked by the blood.
At the Last Supper we read, “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:27,28) The wine figuratively pictured his blood and by drinking it they (and we) demonstrated their unity with the Lord in the covenant. The shedding of his blood, of course, took place on the Cross. With the establishing of this new covenant we enter into a new relationship with the Lord in which we surrender our lives to Him, to live obediently to Him from now on, and because of Jesus’ death acting as a substitute for us, we are cleansed and forgiven in God’s sight. This is the new covenant.
As we go on we will have cause to remember these times of covenant affirmation, first to the general principle, second to the words recounted by Moses and then thirdly when Moses read them from the document he had compiled and their affirmation was accompanied by a blood sealing. There can be no doubt that Israel have entered this covenant with their eyes open and with full understanding. The awful significance of this will be seen as we progress.
Perhaps we should remember Solomon’s teaching: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.” (Eccles 5:4-6) Nevertheless I would always add, if you have made a foolish vow that is clearly wrong (such as Jephthah’s vow in Jud 11:30,31) it is better to reply on the Cross than add to your folly by further sin. Serious stuff that can have serious consequences. Be careful.