Exodus 24:1
And he said to Moses, Come up to the LORD, you, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship you afar off.
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(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.)



Exodus 24:1 - - Exodus 24:12

An effort is needed to feel what a tremendous and unique fact is narrated in these words. Next to the incarnation, it is the most wonderful and far-reaching moment in history. It is the birthday of a nation, which is God’s son. It is the foundation stone of all subsequent revelation. Its issues oppress that ancient people to-day, and its promises are not yet exhausted. It is history, not legend, nor the product of later national vanity. Whatever may come of analysing ‘sources’ and of discovering ‘redactors,’ Israel held a relation to God all its own; and that relation was constituted thus.

I. Note the preliminaries of the covenant. The chapter begins with the command to Moses to come up to the mount, with Aaron and other representatives of the people. But he was already there when the command was given, and a difficulty has been found {or, shall we say, made} out of this. The explanation seems reasonable and plain enough, that the long section extending from Exodus 20:22, and containing the fundamental laws as spoken by God, is closed by our Exodus 24:1 - - Exodus 24:2, which imply, in the very order to Moses to come up with his companions, that he must first go down to bring them. God dismisses him as a king might end an audience with his minister, by bidding him return with attendants. The singular use of the third person in reference to Moses in the third verse is not explained by supposing another writer; for, whoever wrote it, it would be equally anomalous.

So he comes down from the stern cloud-encircled peak to that great plain where the encampment lay, and all eyes watch his descent. The people gather round him, eager and curious. He recounts ‘all the judgments,’ the series of laws, which had been lodged in his mind by God, and is answered by the many-voiced shout of too swiftly promised obedience. Glance over the preceding chapters, and you will see how much was covered by ‘all that the Lord hath spoken.’ Remember that every lip which united in that lightly made vow drew its last breath in the wilderness, because of disobedience, and the burst of homage becomes a sad witness to human weakness and changefulness. The glory of God flashed above them on the barren granite, the awful voice had scarcely died into desert silence, nerves still tingled with excitement, and wills were bowed before Jehovah, manifestly so near. For a moment, the people were ennobled, and obedience seemed easy. They little knew what they were saying in that brief spasm of devotion. It was high-water then, but the tide soon turned, and all the ooze and ugliness, covered now, lay bare and rotting. ‘Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.’ We may take the lesson to ourselves, and see to it that emotion consolidates into strenuous persistency, and does not die in the very excitement of the vow.

The pledge of obedience was needed before the Covenant could be made, and, as we shall find, was reiterated in the very centre of the ceremonial ratification. For the present, it warranted Moses in preparing for the morrow’s ritual. His first step was to prepare a written copy of the laws to which the people had sworn. Here we come across an old, silenced battery from which a heavy fire used to be directed against the historical accuracy of the Pentateuch. Alphabetic writing was of a later date. There could not have been a written code. The statement was a mere attempt of a later age to claim antiquity for comparatively modern legislation. It was no more historical than similar traditions in other countries, Sibylline books, etc. All that is out of court now. Perhaps some other guns will be spiked in due time, that make a great noise just at present. Then comes the erection of a rude altar, surrounded by twelve standing stones, just as on the east of Jordan we may yet see dolmens and menhirs. The altar represents the divine presence; and the encircling stones, Israel gathered around its God. The group is a memorial and a witness to the people,-and a witness against them, if disobedient. Thus two permanent records were prepared, the book and the monument. The one which seemed the more lasting has perished; the more fragile has endured, and will last to the world’s end.

II. Note the rite of ratification of the covenant. The ceremonial is complex and significant. We need not stay on the mere picture, impressive and, to our eyes, strange as it is, but rather seek to bring out the meaning of these smoking offerings, and that blood flung on the altar and on the crowd. First came two sorts of sacrifices, offered not by priests, but by selected young men, probably one for each tribe, whose employment in sacrificial functions shows the priestly character of the whole nation, according to the great words of Exodus 19:6. Burnt-offerings and peace-offerings differed mainly in the use made of the sacrifice, which was wholly consumed by fire in the former, while it was in part eaten by the offerer in the latter. The one symbolised entire consecration; the other, communion with God on the basis of sacrifice. The sin-offering does not appear here, as being of later origin, and the product of the law, which deepened the consciousness of transgression. But these sacrifices, at the threshold of the covenant, receive an expiatory character by the use made of the blood, and witness to the separation between God and man, which renders amity and covenant friendship impossible, without a sacrifice.

They must have yielded much blood. It is divided into two parts, corresponding to the two parties to the covenant, like the cloven animals in Abraham’s covenant. One half is ‘sprinkled’ on the altar, or, as the word means, ‘swung,’-which suggests a larger quantity and a more vehement action than ‘sprinkling’ does. That drenching of the altar with gore is either a piece of barbarism or a solemn symbol of the central fact of Christianity no less than of Judaism, and a token that the only footing on which man can be received into fellowship with God is through the offering of a pure life, instead of the sinner, which, accepted by God, covers or expiates sin. There can be no question that the idea of expiation is at the very foundation of the Old Testament ritual. It is fashionable to regard the expiatory element of Christianity as ‘Hebrew old clothes,’ but the fact is the other way about. It is not that Christianity has not been able to rid itself of a rude and false conception, but that ‘Judaism’ had its sacrifices appointed by God, in order to prepare the way for the true offering, which takes away sin.

The expiation by blood having been thus made, the hindrances to the nation’s entering into covenant are removed. Therefore follows in logical order the next step, their formal {alas! how purely formal it proved to be} taking on themselves its obligations. The freshly written ‘book’ is produced, and read there, to the silent people, before the bloody altar, beneath the peak of Sinai. Again the chorus of assent from a thousand throats echoes among the rocks. They accept the conditions. They had done so last night; but this is the actual contract on their part, and its place in the whole order of the ceremony is significant. It follows expiation, without which man cannot enter into friendship with God, without the acceptance of which man will not yield himself in obedience. The vows which God approves are those of men whose sins are covered.

The final step was the sprinkling of the people with the blood. The division of the blood into two portions signifies that it had an office in regard to each party to the covenant. If it had been possible to pour it all on the altar, and then all on the people, that would have been done. The separation into two portions was inevitable; but in reality it is the same blood which, sprinkled on the altar, expiates, and on the worshipper, consecrates, cleanses, unites to God, and brings into covenant with Him. Hence Moses accompanies the sprinkling of the people with the explanation, ‘This is the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you, upon all these conditions’ {Rev. Ver. margin}. It ratifies the compact on both sides. God ‘hath made’ it, in accepting the sprinkled blood; they have made it, in being sprinkled therewith. But while the rite sets forth the great gospel truth of expiation, the Covenant moves within the region of law. It is made ‘on the basis of all these words,’ and is voidable by disobedience. It is the Magna Charta of the nation, and its summing up is ‘this do, and thou shalt live.’ Its promises are mainly of outward guardianship and national blessings. And these are suspended by it, as they were in fact contingent, on the national observance of the national vow. The general idea of a covenant is that of a compact between two parties, each of whom comes under obligations contingent on the other’s discharge of his. Theologians have raised the question whether God’s covenant is of this kind. Surely it is. His promises to Israel had an ‘if,’ and the fulfilment of the conditions necessarily secured the accomplishment of the promises. The ritual of the first covenant transcends the strictly retributive compact which it ratified, and shadows a gospel beyond law, even the new covenant which brings better gifts, and does not turn on ‘do,’ but simply on the sprinkling with the blood of Jesus. The words of Moses were widened to carry a blessing beyond his thoughts, which was disclosed when, in an upper chamber, a dying man said to the twelve representatives of the true Israel, ‘This is the new covenant in My blood, drink ye all of it.’ The blood which Moses sprinkled gave ritual cleansing, but it remained outside the man. The blood of Jesus gives true purification, and passes into our veins to become our life. The covenant by Moses was ‘do and live’; that in Christ is ‘believe and live.’ Moses brought commandments, and on them his covenant was built; Christ brings gifts, and His covenant is all promises, which are ours on the simple condition of taking them.

III. Note the vision and feast on the basis of the covenant. The little company that climbed the mountain, venturing within the fence, represented the whole people. Aaron and his sons were the destined priests. The elders were probably seventy, because that number is the product of the two perfect numbers, and perhaps with allusion to the seventy souls who went down into Egypt with Jacob. It is emphatically said that they saw ‘the God of Israel,’ for that day’s covenant had made him so in a new closeness of relationship. In token of that new access to and possession in Him, which was henceforth to be the prerogative of the obedient people, some manifestation of His immediate presence was poured on their astonished eyes. It is needless to inquire its nature, or to ask how such a statement is consistent with the spirituality of the divine nature, or with what this same book of Exodus says, ‘There shall no man see Me, and live.’ The plain intention is to assert that there was a visible manifestation of the divine presence, but no attempt is made to describe it. Our eyes are stayed at the pavement beneath His feet, which was blue as sapphire, and bright as the cloudless sky gleaming above Sinai. It is enough to learn that ‘the secret of the Lord is with them’ to whom He shows ‘His covenant’; that, by the power of sacrifice, a true vision of God may be ours, which is ‘in a mirror, darkly,’ indeed, but yet is real and all sufficing. Before the covenant was made, Israel had been warned to keep afar lest He should break through on them, but now ‘He laid not His hand’ upon them; for only blessing can stream from His presence now, and His hand does not crush, but uphold.

Nor is this all which we learn of the intercourse with God which is possible on the ground of His covenant. They ‘did eat and drink.’ That may suggest that the common enjoyments of the natural life are in no way inconsistent with the vision of God; but more probably it is meant to teach a deeper lesson. We have remarked that the ritual of the peace-offering included a feast on the sacrifice ‘before the Lord,’ by which was signified communion with Him, as at His table, and this meal has the same meaning. They who stand in covenant relations with God, feed and feast on a sacrifice, and thereby hold fellowship with Him, since He too has accepted the sacrifice which nourishes them. So that strange banquet on Sinai taught a fact which is ever true, prophesied the deepest joys of Christian experience, which are realised in the soul that eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant, and dimly shadowed the yet future festival, when, cleansed and consecrated by His blood, they who have made a covenant with Him by His sacrifice, shall be gathered unto Him in the heavenly mount, where He makes a ‘feast of fat things and wines on the lees well refined,’ and there shall sit, for ever beholding His glory, and satisfied with the provisions of His house.Exodus 24:1. Come up unto the Lord — Moses being already on the mount, the meaning is, “After thou hast gone down and acquainted the people with my will, and received their answer, then come up again.” He was to bring with him Aaron and his two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, who, by this special favour, were to be prepared for that office to which they were to be called. Seventy of the principal elders of Israel also were to accompany him, probably that they might be witnesses of Moses’s immediate intercourse with God, and that they themselves might be possessed with a greater reverence for the laws to be received from him. Worship ye afar off — Before they came near they must worship. Thus we must enter into God’s gates with humble and solemn adorations.24:1-8 A solemn covenant was made between God and Israel. Very solemn it was, typifying the covenant of grace between God and believers, through Christ. As soon as God separated to himself a peculiar people, he governed them by a written word, as he has done ever since. God's covenants and commands are so just in themselves, and so much for our good, that the more we think of them, and the more plainly and fully they are set before us, the more reason we may see to comply with them. The blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the altar, on the book, and on the people. Neither their persons, their moral obedience, nor religious services, would meet with acceptance from a holy God, except through the shedding and sprinkling' of blood. Also the blessings granted unto them were all of mercy; and the Lord would deal with them in kindness. Thus the sinner, by faith in the blood of Christ, renders willing and acceptable obedience.Are placed by some with great probability between Exodus 24:8-9. CHAPTER 24

Ex 24:1-18. Delivery of the Law and Covenant.Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu are commanded to appear before the Lord, Exodus 24:1. Who was to come near the Lord, Exodus 24:2. Moses buildeth an altar and twelve pillars, Exodus 24:4. He sends young men to sacrifice unto the Lord, Exodus 24:5. He sprinkles the altar with the blood, Exodus 24:6. The covenant being read, the people promise obedience, Exodus 24:7. The people are sprinkled with blood, Exodus 24:8. Moses and the elders of Israel see the Lord, Exodus 24:9,10. God promises to give to Moses tables of stone, Exodus 24:12. Moses and Joshua go up into the mount, Exodus 24:13. Aaron and Hur took care for the people in the mean time, Exodus 24:14. God’s glory on the mount, Exodus 24:15,16; appeareth like devouring fire, Exodus 24:17. Moses remains there forty days and forty nights, Exodus 24:18.

After thou hast gone down and acquainted the people with my will, and received their answer, then come up again. This sense is gathered from the repetition of this command after that was done, Exodus 24:12. Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu; Aaron and his two eldest sons, whom by this special honour and favour he prepared for that office to which they were to be called, Exo 28. Seventy of the elders of Israel; not the seventy governors which were chosen after this time, as appears from Numbers 11:16, compared with Exodus 24:14; but seventy persons selected by Moses out of those rulers chosen and mentioned Exodus 18:25; and possibly these were the chief heads of those several families which went with Jacob into Egypt, which were about seventy. See Genesis 46:26,27. Worship ye afar off. Though they may come up into the mount further than the people, yet do thou, and let them especially, keep their distance; and what worship either thou or they shall offer to me, shall be performed afar off from the top of the mountain, whither thou only shalt be admitted, and that not to pray to me, but only to receive laws and oracles from me. See Exodus 24:2.

And he said unto Moses,.... Who said? no doubt a divine Person, and yet what this Person said is:

come up unto the Lord; meaning either to himself, or one divine Person called to Moses to come up to another: according to the Targum of Jonathan, it was Michael, the prince of wisdom; not a created angel, but the eternal Word, Wisdom, and Son of God; who said this on the seventh day of the month, which was the day after the giving of the law, or ten commands; though Jarchi says this paragraph was before the ten commands, and was said on the fourth of Sivan; but the Targumist seems most correct:

come up unto the Lord, thou and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; Nadab and Abihu were the two eldest sons of Aaron, Exodus 6:23 and the seventy elders were not all the elders of Israel, but were so many of them selected out of them, the chief and principal; who were heads of tribes and families, and were no doubt many, if not all of them, of those who by the advice of Jethro were chosen to be rulers of thousands, hundreds, and fifties; these were called to come up to the Lord on the mountain, but not to the top of it, only Moses went thither:

and worship ye afar off: from the people, and even at a distance from Moses; for he only was admitted near to God, as the following verse shows.

And he {a} 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.

(a) When he called him up to the mountain to give him the laws, beginning at the 20th chapter till now.

1. And unto Moses he said] so the Heb. The emphasis on ‘Moses’ implies that Jehovah had before, in a part of the narrative now lost, been speaking to someone else. The last preceding passage from J was Exodus 19:20-25, ending abruptly, in the middle of a sentence. It may be inferred that the intermediate lost parts of J contained the words ‘said’ (Exodus 19:25) by Moses to the people, and after those some commands given by Jehovah to the people,—perhaps (cf. Di., C.-H. ii. 134, McNeile, 32, Bä. XII, and the lucid statement in the Interpreter, Oct. 1908, p. 9 f.), Exodus 34:1-5; Exodus 34:10-28, in its original form (see p. 364 f.),—with which the instructions now given by Him to Moses are contrasted.

unto Jehovah] Jehovah speaking of Himself in the third person, as Exodus 9:2, Exodus 19:11; Exodus 19:21-22; Exodus 19:24.

Nadab and Abihu] Aaron’s sons: Exodus 6:23, Exodus 28:1, Leviticus 10:1 ff.

seventy of the elders] representing the people generally.

worship ye afar off] in preparation, as it were, for the vision which they were to have afterwards, vv. 9–11.

1–2 (J). Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, are summoned up into the mountain, to Jehovah. The sequel follows in vv. 9–11.Verses 1-8. - THE RATIFICATION OF THE COVENANT. The giving of the Book of the Covenant being now completed, Moses, having received directions with respect to another ascent into the mount (vers. 1, 2), descended to the people, and in the first instance declared to them the main heads of the Covenant, which they received with favour, and expressed their willingness to obey (ver. 3). Not, however, regarding this as a sufficiently formal ratification, the Prophet proceeded to write out in a "Book" the whole of the commands which he had received, He then built an altar, erected twelve pillars, offered sacrifice, and having collected half the blood of the victims in basins, summoned the people to an assembly. At this, he read over solemnly all the words of the Book to them, and received their solemn adherence to it (ver. 7); whereupon, to complete the ceremony, and mark their entrance into covenant, he sprinkled the blood from the basins on the twelve tribes, represented by their leaders, and declared the acceptance complete (ver. 8). The ceremony was probably modelled on some customary proceedings, whereby important contracts between man and man were ratified among the Hebrews and Syrians. Verses 1, 2. - It has been supposed that these verses are out of place, and suggested to remove them to the end of verse 8. But no change is necessary. It is quite natural that God should have given the directions before Moses descended from the mount, and that he should have deferred executing them until the people had accepted the covenant. Nadab and Abihu were the two eldest of Aaron's sons, and so his natural successors in the priesthood, had they not sinned by offering "strange fire" (Leviticus 10:1, 2). They had been mentioned previously, in Exodus 6:23. Seventy of the elders. On the elders of Israel, see Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 18:21. The "seventy" eiders may, together with Nadab and Abihu, have represented the twelve tribes, six from each. Worship ye afar off. Though all were to ascend the mount to a certain height, only Moses was to go to the top. The others, being less holy than Moses, had to worship at a distance. In addition to the fear of God, hornets (הצּרעה construed as a generic word with the collective article), a very large species of wasp, that was greatly dreaded both by man and beast on account of the acuteness of its sting, should come and drive out the Canaanites, of whom three tribes are mentioned instar omnium, from before the Israelites. Although it is true that Aelian (hist. anim. 11, 28) relates that the Phaselians, who dwelt near the Solymites, and therefore probably belonged to the Canaanites, were driven out of their country by wasps, and Bochart (Hieroz. iii. pp. 409ff.) has collected together accounts of different tribes that have been frightened away from their possessions by frogs, mice, and other vermin, "the sending of hornets before the Israelites" is hardly to be taken literally, not only because there is not a word in the book of Joshua about the Canaanites being overcome and exterminated in any such way, but chiefly on account of Joshua 24:12, where Joshua says that God sent the hornet before them, and drove out the two kings of the Amorites, referring thereby to their defeat and destruction by the Israelites through the miraculous interposition of God, and thus placing the figurative use of the term hornet beyond the possibility of doubt. These hornets, however, which are very aptly described in Wis. 12:8, on the basis of this passage, as προδρόμους, the pioneers of the army of Jehovah, do not denote merely varii generis mala, as Rosenmller supposes, but acerrimos timoris aculeos, quibus quodammodo volantibus rumoribus pungebantur, ut fugerent (Augustine, quaest. 27 in Jos.). If the fear of God which fell upon the Canaanites threw them into such confusion and helpless despair, that they could not stand before Israel, but turned their backs towards them, the stings of alarm which followed this fear would completely drive them away. Nevertheless God would not drive them away at once, "in one year," lest the land should become a desert for want of men to cultivate it, and the wild beasts should multiply against Israel; in other words, lest the beasts of prey should gain the upper hand and endanger the lives of man and beast (Leviticus 26:22; Ezekiel 14:15, Ezekiel 14:21), which actually was the case after the carrying away of the ten tribes (2 Kings 17:25-26). He would drive them out by degrees (מעט מעט, only used here and in Deuteronomy 7:22), until Israel was sufficiently increased to take possession of the land, i.e., to occupy the whole of the country. This promise was so far fulfilled, according to the books of Joshua and Judges, that after the subjugation of the Canaanites in the south and north of the land, when all the kings who fought against Israel had been smitten and slain and their cities captured, the entire land was divided among the tribes of Israel, in order that they might exterminate the remaining Canaanites, and take possession of those portions of the land that had not yet been conquered (Joshua 13:1-7). But the different tribes soon became weary of the task of exterminating the Canaanites, and began to enter into alliance with them, and were led astray by them to the worship of idols; whereupon God punished them by withdrawing His assistance, and they were oppressed and humiliated by the Canaanites because of their apostasy from the Lord (Judges 1 and 2).
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