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…
These verses contain the account of the formal ratification of the covenant between Israel and Jehovah - an event, the most momentous in the history of the nation, big, for weal or woe, with unimaginable issues, and a shadow of the better covenant which God now makes with Christians. Observe -
I. THE RATIONALITY OF THE COVENANT. God desires from his people "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). He would not have them enter it in haste. Vows made under the influence of sudden impressions are not to be trusted. Once committed to his service, God will deal with us with strictness (Exodus 23:21). But he does not wish us to commit ourselves till we have carefully considered the nature of the step we are taking, and the magnitude of the issues involved (cf. Luke 14:26-34). See this illustrated in the history of the covenant with Israel. The covenant was entered into -
1. With great deliberation. It was not forced on Israel. The negotiations connected with it were intentionally drawn out and prolonged, just that the people might have the opportunity of pondering well the character of the proposed engagement. Alike in the events of the exodus, and in the miracles of the desert, they had had abundant experience of the character of the Being with whom they were allying themselves. Arrived at Sinai, preliminary proposals were made to them, and an opportunity given them at the outset of saying Yea or Nay (Exodus 19:3-9). Their acceptance of these proposals was followed by the giving of the law, which drew from them a new promise to do whatever God should speak to them (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:27). An interval ensued, during which Moses was in the mountain (Exodus 20:21). On descending, he recites to them "All the words of the Lord, and all the judgments" (ver. 3); and once again they promise full obedience. Even then the matter is allowed to stand over till the morrow, when Moses appears with the written book in his hand, and they are asked, finally, if they adhere to what they have said (ver. 7). Greater precautions against rash committal could scarcely have been taken.
2. After careful instruction. Pains were taken fully to inform the people of the terms of the covenant, before asking them to enter into it. The law was uttered by God's own voice. The "judgments" were recited to them by Moses. They were read a second time from the "book." Their assent to the covenant was thus sought to be made an intelligent one. If we engage ourselves to God, he would have us do it with "understanding."
3. Amidst impressive solemnities. These - the reading of the words from the book, the sprinkling of the blood, etc. - were of a nature adapted to arouse the minds of the people to a just sense of the momentousness of the transaction. From the whole we learn that if dedication is the result of an act, it should be of a calm, sober, thoughtful act; it cannot be done too solemnly or too intelligently. Our religious life should have a rational basis.
II. THE BOND OF THE COVENANT. The nucleus of the transaction is the people's promise - "All the words which the Lord hath said will we do" (ver. 3) - "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (ver. 7). There is a tone of rashness - of self-confidence - in this promise, as given by Israel, which forewarns of subsequent defection. The people evidently had but little knowledge of their own hearts. They had little perception of the spiritual requirements of this law. They had not learned to distrust themselves. Their surrender to the Divine will was not thorough or heartwhole. (See on Exodus 19:8.) It remains true, however, that surrender of the will to God, in the spirit of obedience, is an indispensable condition of being received into covenant with him. "The idea of the servant of God is complete only when he who is bound to God also binds himself to God's will, following God perfectly." (Oehler.) This is as true of the Gospel as of the law. The obedient will is implicit in faith. The end contemplated in salvation is obedience. We are made free from sin that we may become servants of righteousness (Romans 6:18). The recognition of this - the acceptance of the obligation - is involved in conversion, in saving faith, in the new birth, in the coming to Christ, or however else we may express the change from death to life. If we no longer speak of the promise of obedience as the "bond" of the covenant, it is only because that which the Gospel primarily demands of us, viz. faith, goes deeper than such a promise, while implicitly containing it. The object of spiritual trust is, ultimately, God himself, and in the Gospel, Christ, as the sent of God to be the Saviour of the world; but such trust invariably involves the yielding up of the will to God, and is on its practical side, an energy of holiness. The true believer is, of necessity, a doer of the will of the Father. "Faith, without works, is dead" (James 2:17-26). (See further, on Exodus 19:5.) It is, however, well that this implicit element in faith should also be allowed to become explicit in distinct acts of consecration or of self-dedication to God. This brings us very near to what we have in this covenant with Israel. See below.
III. THE CEREMONIAL OF RATIFICATION.
(1) Moses "builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel" (ver. 4).
(2) Young men of his appointment sacrificed burnt-offerings and peace-offerings unto the Lord. (ver. 5).
(3) The blood of the sacrificed animals was divided: half was put in basins, and half sprinkled on the altar (ver. 6).
(4) The words of the book of the Covenant were next solemnly read in the audience of the people; and the latter renewed their assent to them (ver. 7).
(5) The blood was then cast upon the people out of the basins, and the Covenant was declared to be concluded (ver. 8). Two points here claim our attention.
1. The ratifying of the Covenant with sacrifice; and
2. The action with the blood.
Both were significant.
1. The sacrifices. The burnt-offering was primarily a symbol of self-surrender (cf. Psalm 51:16-19). The idea embodied here, therefore, was, that in the institution of the Covenant, what was required was the unconditional surrender of the offerer, with all that belonged to him, to God. The peace-offering symbolises reconciliation and fellowship. But the offering of the sacrifices had also a propitiatory reference. This is plain from the sprinkling of the blood on the altar. It is sprinkled there as atoning for the people's sins. It was through the blood of propitiation that peace was made, that reconciliation was brought about. This teaches several things. It shows
(1) That Israel was viewed by God as sinful.
(2) That it was not on legal grounds, but as an act of grace, that they were being admitted into covenant.
(3) That the covenant embodied grace as well as law.
(4) That God. would deal graciously with Israel, if they sincerely endeavoured to keep his law, notwithstanding many defects and failures.
(5) That their attitude under the law, in seeking to fulfil its righteousness, ought to be an evangelical, not a legal one, i.e., they ought to draw their motives, their encouragement, and their hope, not from the thought of their self-sufficiency to keep the law, or from the idea that they were actually keeping it in such a way as legally to entitle them to the blessing, but from the conviction of God's mercy to them, which, as it was the foundation of their national existence, so was it the real ground of their standing all along.
2. The sprinkling of the blood on the people. It is, as Keil remarks, the one blood which is sprinkled on the altar and on the people; and it is not sprinkled on the people, till it has been presented and accepted on the altar. Applied to the people, the blood had the effect of formally cleansing them from sin, and of consecrating them to God's service. God thereafter claimed them as his special property. Redeemed life is his. Made free from sin, we become servants of God (Romans 6:22). - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.