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.
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.
And Moses alone shall come near the LORD: but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up with him.
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.
Verse 3. - And Moses came. Moses descended from the mount, and reported to the people all the words of the Lord - all the legislation contained in the last three chapters and a half (Exodus 20:19, to Exodus 23:33), not perhaps in extenso, but as to its main provisions. And all the people answered with one voice, promising obedience. In times of excitement, a common impulse constantly animates an entire multitude, and an exaltation of feeling leads them to make pledges, which they are very unwilling to stand by afterwards. Hence Moses requires something more than a verbal assent.
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.
Verse 4. - Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. We may presume that they were miraculously brought to his remembrance by that Spirit of Truth which guided all the Prophets (2 Peter 1:21; John 14:26). Having written the words, he waited till the next day, and then rose up early and builded an altar, in preparation for the sacrifice without which no covenant was regarded as binding. And twelve pillars. Symbolical of the twelve tribes. Compare Joshua 4:3, 9, 20.
And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.
Verse 5. - And he sent young men. The Levitical priesthood not being as vet instituted, either all the people were regarded as holy, and so any one might offer sacrifice, or the "young men" selected may have been of the number of the first-born, who were priests in their respective families until the appointment of Aaron and his sons to be priests of the nation (Exodus 28:1). No doubt young men were selected as most competent to deal with struggling animals.
And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
Verse 6. - Moses took half of the blood. The blood, which symbolised the life of the victim, was the essential part of every sacrifice, and was usually poured over the altar, or at any rate sprinkled upon it, as the very crowning act of offering. (See Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 3:8; etc.) On this occasion Moses retained half of the blood, and put it in basins, for the purpose of so uniting all the people in the sacrifice, and thereby the more solemnly pledging them to the covenant, which the sacrifice at once consecrated and consummated. (See Hebrews 9:18-20.) The other half of the blood was, according to the usual practice, sprinkled upon the altar.
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.
Verse 7. - And he took the Book of the Covenant. In this book we have the germ of the Holy Scriptures - the first "book" actually mentioned as written in the narrative of the Bible. Genesis may contain other older documents, inserted by Moses, under the sanction of the Holy Spirit, in his compilation. But his own composition, if we except the burst of poesy called forth by the passage of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), would seem to have commenced with "the Book of the Covenant." Upon this nucleus the rest of the law was based; and it was to explain and enforce the law that Moses composed the Pentateuch. In the audience of the people, Literally, "in the ears of the people," which is equally intelligible, and more graphic. And they said, etc The people made the same answer as before (ver. 3), adding a general promise of obedience to all that God might command in future.
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.
Verse 8. - Moses then proceeded to the final act - He took the blood from the basins, and sprinkled it - not certainly upon all the people, who numbered above two millions - but upon their leaders and representatives, the "elders" and other chief men, drawn up at the head of each tribe, and thus brought within his reach. It has been supposed by some that he merely sprinkled the blood on the twelve pillars, as representing the twelve tribes; but, had this been the case, the expression in the text would probably have been different. We read, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that he "sprinkled both the book, and all the people" (Hebrews 9:19). As he sprinkled, he said, Behold the blood of the covenant, etc. It was a common practice among the nations of antiquity to seal covenants with blood. Sometimes the blood was that of a victim, and the two parties to the covenant prayed, that, if they broke it, his fate might be theirs (Hom. 1l. 3:298; 19:252; Leviticus 1:24; 21:45; etc.). Sometimes it was the blood of the two parties themselves, who each drank of the other's blood, and thereby contracted a blood-relationship, which would have made their breaking the covenant more unpardonable (Herod. 1:74; 4:70; Tacit. Ann. 12:47). Moses seems to have followed neither practice at all closely, but, adopting simply the principle that a covenant required to be sealed with blood, to have arranged the details as he thought best. By the sprinkling of both the altar and the people the two parties to the covenant were made partakers of one and the same blood, and so brought into a sort of sacramental union.
Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
Verses 9-11. - THE SACRIFICIAL FEAST AND THE VISION OF GOD. After the covenant had been ratified by the unanimous voice of the people, Moses proceeded to carry out the injunctions with respect to Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the elders, which he had received while still in the mount (see the comment on vers. 1, 2). Taking them with him, he ascended Sinai once more to a certain height, but clearly not to the summit, which he alone was privileged to visit (vers. 2 and 12). The object of the ascent was twofold.
1. A sacrificial meal always followed upon a sacrifice; and the elders might naturally desire to partake of it as near the Divine presence as should be permitted them. This was their purpose in ascending.
2. God desired to impress them with a sense of his awful majesty and beauty, and was prepared for this end to manifest himself to them in some strange and wonderful way as they were engaged in the solemn meal (ver. 11). This was his purpose in inviting their presence. The manifestation is described in ver. 10. It was a "vision of God," but of what exact nature it is impossible to say. Having recorded it, the author parenthetically notes that the Divine vision did not destroy any of those who beheld it, or cause them any injury, as might have been expected. Verse 9. - Then went up. Compare ver. 1. The mountain was to be partially ascended, but not to any great height. Nadab, Abihu, and the elders were to "worship God afar off."
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.
Verse 10. - They saw the God of Israel. These words can scarcely mean less than that they saw with their bodily eyes some appearance of the Divine being who had summoned them to his presence for the purpose. Moses, we know, saw a "similitude of God" (Numbers 12:8). Isaiah "saw the Lord sitting upon his throne "(Isaiah 6:1). Ezekiel saw upon the throne "the appearance of a man" (Ezekiel 1:26). It does not follow from Deuteronomy 4:12, 15, that the elders saw no similitude, since in that passage Moses is speaking, not to the elders, but to the people, and referring, not to what occurred at the sacrificial feast after the ratification of the covenant, but to the scene at the giving of the Ten Commandments previously (Exodus 20:1-18). What the form was which the elders saw, we are not told; but as it had "feet," it was probably a human form. It may have been hazy, indefinite, "too dazzling bright for mortal eye" to rest upon. But it was a true "vision of God" - and, as Keil says, "a foretaste of the blessedness of the sight of God in eternity." There was under his feet, as it were, a paved work of a sapphire stone. Rather, "and under his feet was, as it were, a work of clear sapphire." Nothing is said concerning a pavement, but only that below the feet of the figure which they saw was something, which looked as if it were made of bright blue sapphire stone, something as clear and as blue as the blue of heaven. Canon Cook supposes the actual sky to be meant; but the expression, "as it were, the body of heaven," or "like the very heaven," makes this impossible. A thing is not like itself.
And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
Verse 11. - The nobles - i.e., the notables - the seventy elders, and other persons, already mentioned (vers. 1, 9). He laid not his hand. God did not smite them with death, or pestilence, or even blindness. It was thought to be impossible to see God and live. (See above, Genesis 32:30; Exodus 32:20; Judges 6:22, 23, etc.) Man was unworthy to draw near to God in any way; and to look on him was viewed as a kind of profanity. Yet some times he chose to show himself, in vision or otherwise, to his people, and then, as there could be no guilt on their part, there was no punishment on his. It is generally supposed that, in all such cases, it was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who condescended to show himself. Also they saw God. Rather, "they both saw God, and did eat and drink." The two were simultaneous. As they were engaged in the sacrificial meal, God revealed himself to them.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.
Verses 12-18. - MOSES' ENTRY INTO THE CLOUD, AND FORTY DAYS' COMMUNE WITH GOD. It was necessary now that Moses should receive full directions for the external worship of God, the sanctuary, and the priesthood. Every religion has something tangible and material about it - holy places, holy things, rites, ceremonies, rules, forms, regulations. If man sets himself to devise these things of his own head, he may very easily go wrong, and find his elaborate inventions "an offence" to God. To avoid this - to secure the result that all should be pleasing and acceptable to "the High and Holy One which inhabiteth eternity," it was thought fitting that "patterns" should be shown to Moses of all that was to be made for the worship (Hebrews 8:5), and exact details given him with respect to the material, size, shape, and construction of each. The results are put before us in seven chapters (chs. 25-31.). For the purpose of allowing ample time for the communications which had to be made and of securing that undivided attention which was requisite in order that all should remain fixed in the memory, God summoned his servant to a long and solitary colloquy, on the mountain summit whereon the cloud rested (Exodus 19:18), apart from all his people. Moses, of course, obeyed; but before ascending, arranged with the elders that in his absence Aaron and Hur should have the direction of affairs, and decide all doubtful questions (ver. 14). He then went up the mountain, accompanied for part of the way by Joshua, who is now spoken of as his "minister," or "attendant" (ver. 13). Joshua probably remained with him for six days, while Moses waited for a summons to enter the cloud. On the seventh day the summons came: and Moses, leaving Joshua, entered the cloud, and was hid from the sight of all men. Verse 12. - Come up to me. Moses, apparently, had descended again into the plain, with Aaron and the seventy elders, after the festival was over. (See ver. 14, and compare Exodus 32:1.) He is now commanded to reascend, and be there - i.e., "And continue there" - foreshadowing the length of the stay. Tables of stone, and a law, and commandments, etc. Literally, "Tables of stone, and the law and the commandments which I have written." The three expressions alike refer to the Decalogue, which alone God wrote. That thou mayest teach them. Rather," to teach them." God wrote the commandments on stone, in order to inculcate them with the greater force upon his people.
And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.
Verse 13. - Moses went up. Prompt to obey, Moses, though he had only just descended from the mount, immediately made ready to set forth and again ascend it. This time he was attended by his minister, Joshua, whose arm he had employed on a former occasion against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:9-13). The name, Joshua, is, however, still given him by anticipation, since he did not receive it until he was sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:8, 16).
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.
Verse 14. - And he said unto the elders. Before taking his departure for the long sojourn implied in God's address to him, "Come up to me into the mount, and be there" (ver. 12), Moses thought it necessary to give certain directions to the elders as to what they should do in his absence -
1. They were to remain where they were - i.e., in the plain at the foot of Sinai, until his return, however long it should be delayed.
2. They were to regard Aaron and Hur as their leaders, and his (Moses') representatives. In case of any difficulty arising, they were to refer the matter to them. On Hur see the comment upon Exodus 17:12.
And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount.
Verse 15. - Moses went up into the mount. Having made the necessary arrangements for the government of the people during his absence, Moses ascended, in company with Joshua, to the upper part of the mountain, and there waited for some further summons. A cloud, or, rather, the cloud previously mentioned (Exodus 19:16), stood gathered upon the highest eminence, and marked the special presence of God there. Moses, though called up into the mount, would not intrude into this inner sanctuary, until specially bidden to enter it.
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.
Verse 16. - Now occurred a remarkable pause. The summons had been given to Moses, and he had obeyed it. He was there on the platform a little below the summit, ready, but waiting for a further call. The call was not made for six days. A holy calm reigned upon Sinai - the cloud rested upon the summit, and in the cloud was the glory of the Lord. Moses and Joshua waited near - but for six days there was no sign. God thus taught Moses, and through him the world, that near approach to him requires long and careful preparation. Moses, no doubt, was occupied during the six days in continual prayer. At last, on the seventh day, the call, which Moses had expected, came. God called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. God summoned him to a closer approach - bade him enter the cloud - and draw as nigh to him as possible.
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.
Verse 17 - Meanwhile, to those below in the plain, "the glory of the Lord" on the summit above them, was like devouring fire on the top of the mount. They had but to lift their eyes thither, and they saw his wonderful glory - showing like a huge fire - on the spot from which he had spoken to them (Exodus 20:18). This manifestation continued certainly for the first six days; whether it lasted longer or not is open to question.
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.
Verse 18. - And Moses went into the midst of the cloud. Quitting Joshua, Moses at last, in obedience to the call out of the midst of the cloud, entered within its shadow and disappeared from human vision In this abnormal condition, alone with God, he continued for thirty-four days, making, together with the six days before he entered the cloud, the forty days and forty nights of the text before us. It is noted in Deuteronomy 9:9, that during the whole of this time he was without food. Compare Elijah's fast (1 Kings 19:8), and our blessed Lord's (Matthew 3:2).