Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off.XXIV.
THE RATIFICATION OF THE COVENANT.
(1) And he said.—We should have expected “And God said,” or “And Jehovah said.” The omission of the nominative is probably to be accounted for by the insertion into Exodus at this point of “the Book of the Covenant,” which was originally a distinct document. Exodus 24:1 of Exodus 24 probably followed originally on Exodus 20:21 of Exodus 20. The sequence of the words was then as follows: “And Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. And he said unto Moses,” &c.
Come up.—The ascent of Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders seems to have been commanded in order to give greater solemnity to the ratification of the covenant between God and Israel, which is the main subject of this section. Moses received instructions on the subject before descending, and no doubt was divinely guided in the steps which he took previously to ascending with them.
Nadab, and Abihu.—Aaron’s two elder sons. (See Exodus 6:23.)
Seventy of the elders.—These are not the “judges” of Exodus 18:21-26, who were not yet appointed (see Note on Exodus 18:24-25), but rather the heads of tribes and families who had exercised authority over the Israelites in Egypt, and through whom Moses had always communicated with the people. (See Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:29; Exodus 12:21; Exodus 17:5-6.)
And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.(3) Moses . . . told the people all the words of the Lord.—Moses gave them an outline of the legislation which he subsequently committed to writing (Exodus 24:4) and formed into “the Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 24:7). Its general purport and main heads were communicated, but probably not all its details. Otherwise it would scarcely have been necessary to read the contents of the book to them. The people willingly gave in their adhesion, feeling the laws to be “holy, just, and good,” and not yet knowing how difficult they would find it to render a perfect obedience.
And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.(4) Moses wrote.—Comp. Exodus 17:14. The familiarity of Moses with writing is throughout presumed in the Pentateuch. One “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” under the nineteenth dynasty could not well be ignorant of this ordinary Egyptian accomplishment.
Under the hill.—Heb., the mountain. The Ras Sufsafeh is intended.
Twelve pillars.—As the altar symbolised and indicated the presence of Jehovah, one party to the Covenant, so the twelve pillars—probably long stones set up on end (Genesis 28:18)—symbolised the presence of the twelve tribes, the other party. (For another instance of the employment of such symbolism see Joshua 4:3; Joshua 4:9; Joshua 4:20.)
And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.(5) Young men . . . which offered burnt offerings.—It is to be noted that, even subsequently to the appointment of the Levitical priesthood, the acts of slaughtering the victims and arranging the flesh upon the altar were regarded as appropriately per formed by any Israelite (Leviticus 1:5-6; Leviticus 1:11-12, &c). The sprinkling of the blood and the lighting of the fire were the special sacrificial acts reserved to the priest (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 1:7; Leviticus 1:11; Leviticus 1:13). At this time, before the Levitical priest hood had been instituted, the sprinkling of the blood would seem to have been the sole act reserved. Young men were employed to slay the animals as best qualified by their strength to deal with them.
Burnt offerings . . . peace offerings.—Burnt offerings were at once expiatory and signs of self-dedication. Peace offerings were indications of man’s gratitude for mercies received. Both were now offered together, to mark (1) Israel’s thankfulness for being taken into covenant, and (2) Israel’s determination to consecrate itself wholly to the service of God.
And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.(6) Put it in basons.—Reserving it for the purpose stated in Exodus 24:8.
Half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.—This was the most essential part of every sacrifice—the act by which the victim, the representative of the offerer, was made over and delivered up to God. Usually all the blood was thus devoted; here there was need of some for another purpose.
And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.(7) The book of the covenant—i.e., the book which he had written overnight, the collection of laws and promises which we have in Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33.
In the audience of the people.—Heb., in the ears of the people.
And they said.—Having heard the ipsissima verba spoken by God to Moses, they repeated their previous acceptance (see Exodus 24:3), adding a general promise of obedience.
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.(8) And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it . . . —Half of the blood had been sprinkled upon the altar, which symbolised Jehovah; the other half was now sprinkled upon the people, or rather upon their representatives—the elders and others who stood nearest to Moses. Thus the two parties to the covenant, sprinkled with the blood of the same sacrifices, were brought into sacramental union. Rites somewhat similar, involving blood communion, were common throughout the East in connection with covenants (Horn. Il. iii. 298, xix. 252; Herod. I. 74, iii. 8, iv. 70; Xen. Anab. ii. 2, § 9; Lucian. Toxar. 37; Pomp. Mel. ii. 1; Tac. Ann. xii. 47; &c), and were regarded as adding to their force and sacredness.
On the people.—It has been suggested (Abarbarnel) that the blood was really sprinkled on the twelve pillars which represented the people; but the words used scarcely seem to admit of such an interpretation. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews understood the passage as declaring that the people were sprinkled (Hebrews 9:19).
Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:(9) Then went up.—According to the ordinary ideas of the time, the ratification of the covenant was now complete, and nothing more was needed. It pleased God, however, to terminate the whole transaction by a closing scene of extraordinary grandeur, beauty, and spiritual significance. A sacrifice implied a sacrificial meal (Exodus 18:12). Moses understood that God, by summoning Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders into the mount (Exodus 24:1), had intended the sacrificial meal to be held there; and accordingly, as soon as he had sprinkled the people, ascended Sinai with the persons summoned, and had the feast prepared. A sacrificial meal was always regarded as a religious act—an act done “before God” (Exodus 18:12), involving communion with Him. God willed now to signalise this sacrificial feast above all others by making His presence not only felt but seen. As Moses, Aaron with his two sons, and the elders were engaged in the feast (Exodus 24:11), a vision of marvellous splendour broke upon them. “They saw the God of Israel” (Exodus 24:10). God showed Himself to them—not, as before, amid thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud, and fire, and smoke, and earthquake (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18), but in His loveliness (Song of Solomon 5:16) and His beauty, standing on pellucid sapphire, blue as the blue of heaven. They “saw God,” and were neither hurt nor even terrified; they could, while seeing Him, still eat and drink—they felt themselves like guests at His board, as if He were banqueting with them. So was impressed upon them the mild and sweet relation into which they were brought towards God by covenant—a covenant made, and not yet infringed. The gentle, lovely, attractive side of God’s character was shewn to them, instead of the awful and alarming one; and they were taught to look forward to a final state of bliss, in which God’s covenanted servants would dwell in His presence continually.
And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.(10) They saw the God of Israel.—Probably, in human form, as Isaiah saw Him (Isaiah 6:1-5), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26), and even Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:25). It is not of this appearance that Moses says: “Ye saw no similitude” (Deuteronomy 4:12). The appearance which they saw had “feet.”
A paved work of a sapphire stone.—Heb., a work of the clearness of sapphire. The “sapphire” (sappir) of the Pentateuch is probably lapis lazuli.
The body of heaven—i.e., “the very heaven,” or “the heaven itself.”
And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.(11) The nobles.—The word used is an unusual one, but seems to designate the “elders” of Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9. It implies nobility of birth.
He laid not his hand—i.e., He in nowise hurt or injured them. The belief was general that a man could not see God and live (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 32:20; Judges 6:22-23, &c.). In one sense it was true—“No man hath seen the Father.” But the Son could reveal Himself under the Old Dispensation, as under the New, and not even cause terror by His presence. (See the last clause of the verse.)
Also they saw God.—Rather, they both saw God, and also did eat and drink. It is intended to express in the clearest way that the two facts were concurrent. As they feasted on the sacrificial meal, the vision of God was made manifest to them. It is impossible to doubt that we have here a precious forecast of the Christian’s highest privilege—the realisation of the presence of God in the sacred feast of the Holy Communion.
(12-18) The great work still remained to be done. A series of laws had been laid down for the nation and accepted with unanimity (Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7). But “quid prosunt leges sine moribus?” It was necessary for the sustentation of the religious life of the people that a sacred polity should be instituted, a form of worship set up, and regulations established with regard to all the externals of religion—holy persons, holy places, rites, ceremonies, vestments, incense, consecration. Moses was directed to ascend into the mount, and hold prolonged communion with God, in order that he might learn the mind of God with respect to all these things. His prolonged stay for “forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:18) was necessary to give him a full and complete knowledge of all the details so elaborately set forth in Exodus 25-30, and again in Exodus 35-40, which thenceforth constituted the essentials of the external worship of Israel, whereby the minds and habits of the people were moulded and impressed in a far more efficacious way than could ever have been done by a mere set of abstract propositions, appealing only to the intellect. “Segnius irritant animum demissa per aures, Quam quœ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus.” The Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant had no doubt a considerable share in forming the character of the Hebrew nation; but a larger share must be assigned to the ritual and ceremonial which Moses was now instructed to set up, and which forms the main subject of the remainder of the Book.
(12) Come up to me into the mount, and be there.—After the sacrificial meal, the seventy-four persons engaged in it had descended into the plain of Er-Rahah, and possibly spent some time there, before a second summons came to Moses. This time he was directed to ascend accompanied only by his minister, Joshua (Exodus 24:13), and was warned that his stay was to be a prolonged one in the words, “And be there.”
And I will give thee tables of stone . . . —It is remarkable that these are not expressly said, either here or in Exodus 31:18, to have contained the ten commandments. The fact, however, is distinctly stated in Deuteronomy 5:22; and with respect to the second tables, the same is affirmed in Exodus 34:28. The fiction of a double decalogue is thus precluded.
And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.(13) Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua.—The close connection of Joshua with Moses is here, for the first time, indicated. His employment as a general against Amalek (Exodus 17:9-13) might have simply marked his military capacity; but from this point in the history it becomes apparent that he was Moses’ most trusted friend and assistant in all matters where there was need of confidential relations between the leader and his subordinates, and thus that he was to be his successor (see Exodus 32:17; Exodus 33:11; Numbers 13:8; Numbers 13:16; Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 34:9), since no other person stood in any such close association.
Moses went up into the mount of God.—Ascended, i.e., to the highest point of the mountain, whereof mention has been previously made; not, probably, to the Jebel Musa, but to the highest summit of the Ras Sufsafeh, upon which the cloud rested.
And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them.(14) He said unto the elders.—Moses understood that his stay in the mount was about to be a prolonged one (see Exodus 24:12). He therefore prudently determined to make arrangements for the government and direction of the people during his absence. Aaron his brother, and Hur, the father of Bezaleel, perhaps his brother- in-law, seemed to him the fittest persons to exercise authority over the people during his absence; and accordingly he named them as the persons to whom application was to be made under any circumstances of difficulty.
Here.—In the plain below the mountain. The injunction was that the camp should not be moved until Moses came down, however long he might be detained by the Divine colloquy.
And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount.(15) A cloud covered the mount.—Heb., the cloud—i.e., the cloud which had accompanied them from Succoth (Exodus 13:21-22).
And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.(16) The seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.—Moses, it is evident, would not enter the cloud without a positive summons. It pleased God to put off the summons for six days. Moses doubtless employed the time in such prayer and meditation as rendered him fit for near contact with Deity.
And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.(17) The sight of the glory of the Lord.—To the Israelites in the plain below, the appearance on the top of the Ras Sufsafeh was “like devouring fire.” A light like that of a conflagration rested on the top of the Ras Sufsafeh all the time that Moses was away.
And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.(18) Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.—During the whole of this time he took no food (Deuteronomy 9:9). Comp. The fast of Elijah (1Kings 19:8), and that of our blessed Lord (Matthew 3:2). Modern imitations are in all probability impostures.