THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT
Exodus 24:1-18 , Key Verse: 24:8
“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.’”
We have covered up to 70% of our Exodus Bible study. For the last two weeks, we became like law-school students, learning God’s great laws. With the Ten Commandments, we learned God wanted us to reattach our broken vertical and horizontal relationships so as for us to taste the true meaning of the cross of Jesus. With the ensuing detailed laws, we saw God magically mixing justice and mercy and we could know His heart’s desire for our change from inside out. God’s laws were so much touching and loving that some say we can even feel God’s heartbeat in the law. Today, we want to visit a ceremony in which God seals His covenant with His people. It was like a wedding ceremony where a royal prince accepts a commoner lady into his royalty family. It was so much solemn that it required blood to seal it. May God seal our heart with Jesus’ blood to live as His holy bride.
I. The Covenant Sealed (24:1-8)
At the end of Ch. 23, God’s people were given His wonderful promise that He would be an enemy to their enemies and drive out their opponents from their future land by sending an angel ahead of them. Besides, their food and water would be blessed and there would be no sickness. With such a marvelous promise came a stern warning: that they should not worship the foreign gods and make no covenant with them.
Still, God felt that the promise and the warning alone might not be enough. So He initiated something very special so that they would be totally devoted to Him. Look at verse 1. Here, we see God’s instruction regarding calling to Him the spiritual leaders of Israel. Those leaders were given a special privilege to worship God at a distance. Surely, God was the first one who invented social distancing (spiritually, however, no distancing). Note this privilege was kind of apprenticeship for them so that they might grow as the responsible leaders in the future. To Moses, the more prestigious honor was given, that is, to approach God closest (2).
After receiving instructions about leaders’ coming to God, Moses went down and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws. It looks like the words and laws mentioned here are from Chs. 21-23. The detailed and specific laws were not previously given to the people yet. In Ch. 20, we see God directly speaking to the people at Mount. Sinai. At that time, God could speak only the Ten Commandments because the people were so much trembling with fear that they asked Moses to speak to them himself instead of having God speak to them directly. So they only received the Ten Commandments, and Moses had to go to God to receive the second half of the laws and now came back to speak to them.
What was the response of the people? Look at verse 3b. “… they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do.’” Later, after Moses read the Book of Covenant to them, they also responded to Moses in a similar fashion: “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” “We will do!” This phrase reminds us of a wedding vow. The pastor would ask: “From this day forward, in sickness and in health, do you take him/her to be your husband/wife to love and to cherish, till death do you part?” Then the bride and the bridegroom would respond to him: “I do!”
What did Moses do after hearing their response? Look at verse 4. “Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. 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.” He first made a record of everything that God had said, possibly including the response of the people. It is like some people keeping their pastor’s wedding message through a hard copy or a word file as the token of their commitment to each other.
Moses then got up early next morning, built an altar and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes at the foot of the mountain. With twelve stone pillars, Moses wanted to have a history education for the people as they might have forgotten their root. It is like when a novel “Roots” written by Alex Haley came out, it stimulated interest in genealogy and appreciation for African-American history. So, the people of God would remember the life and faith of their patriarchs and would identify themselves as their descendants who would carry the promises to them.
Look at verse 5. “Then Moses sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord.” Note that young men, not Aaron and his sons, were given a privilege to offer sacrifices to God. It was told that the priesthood was not officially established yet, so that was the reason why those young men were chosen. Nevertheless, this gives us a message that God always wants to raise up young people as the spiritual leaders of their generation. In the third online forum, titled, “Life-Changing Bible Studies,” we had a very meaning discussion and Q&A session with three renowned Bible teachers. One of Q&A session questions was regarding when we would feel we are ready to teach the Bible. One of the panelists, Sh. Paul Ridge from England answered it with confidence that now is the ready-made time because we would never be able to feel we are ready with Bible teaching and that Apostle Paul’s encouragement saying that whether pure motive or not, Christ would be preached and he would be joyful. I pray that our young men will come to God like dew from early morning as David prayed (Ps 110:3).
Look at verses 6 and 8. This is the most important moment of the ceremony. At the same time, it is the gruesome part because it involved blood, lots of blood. We know that young men sacrificed young bulls. Hence, a large quantity of blood would have been spilled. Moses took half of that blood and put it in not just one bowl but in many bowls. Then, the other half, Moses splashed against the altar. That was not the end. He then took the blood, presumably saved in bowls, and sprinkled it on the people.
The fact that the ceremony was completed with blood sprinkling is that it would be a life and death matter to have the covenant relationship with God. It would be a joyful event that we have become like God’s new bride. Nevertheless, it would not be an easy thing to break such a bond. It would be a serious offense for one to break it with the penalty of bloodshed. It is not a pre-nup that some celebrities’ spouses always dispute after the break-up but a blood-stained iron chains that only death can break. Moses clearly pointed it out that it would be the blood of the covenant that God made with them in accordance with all those words. The contents of the covenant are the words and their obedience. Their commitment to obeying the words is the core. However, obeying the words and being true to the words is very difficult, almost impossible to keep. The people of Israel would disobey God later and became unfaithful to Him. With the sinful nature, we are no different. We can never fully obey the words and keep the covenant with God.
Our God knew this fact very well that he promised through the prophet Jeremiah that he would make the new covenant with His people. In that new covenant, He would put his law in their minds and write it on their hearts so that He would be their God and they would be his people. There would be no requirement of obedience to the law, because it would be on their hearts. Ultimately, this new covenant would be established and sealed when the blood of Jesus was sprinkled on the cross. Note what Jesus said about this covenant: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28).”
I owe a great deal to the hymn #255, “There is a Fountain” (There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins … And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains …), because I truly repented of my sin of pride and newly accepted the cleansing blood of Jesus through that hymn’s lyrics. I recently noticed that the hymn’s author, William Cowper, really went through a lot and thus God’s grace enabled him to compose such a heart-moving hymn. Growing up without his mom, he became very shy in his boyhood, and suffered from severe depression, attempting unsuccessful suicides three times. Even though he got a lawyer job, his situation did not improve, almost confined to a mental hospital. Yet through Ro 3:25, he accepted Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, and began to write many poems about the blood of Jesus, one of which became the hymn’s lyrics. His secret of victory was constantly meditating on Jesus’ blood. I prayed that we all meditate on Jesus’ blood so as to best maintain the covenant with our God.
II. The Covenant Celebrated (24:9-18)
In this part, we see the covenant meal being celebrated and Moses’ being called to God the second time. Look at verses 9-10. The leaders of Israel went up and saw their God. Here, their seeing God was probably not the full experience of God. For John and Apostle Paul attest the invisibility of God and the inability of man to see Him: “No one has ever seen God …” (Jn 1:18a); “… who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1Ti 6:16b). Nonetheless, in this special occasion, God allowed them to have some form of perception of Him through their eyes just like His allowing Abraham to meet Him in the form of a traveler or Jacob, a wrestler. Note in verse 10b, there is a mentioning about God’s feet. So it was possibly seeing a part of God. Also note in verse 11 that God did not raise his hand against them. That is something significant for anyone to experience. In our Friday meeting, Msn. Gideon pointed out that it was possibly because God’s fierce anger against sin was appeased through the series of offerings, especially, the sin offering which required life-blood.
Finally, we see their joyful celebration of the confirmed covenant through the covenant meal together with God. This meal looks like a wedding reception in which everyone enjoys eating and drinking with the newlywed couple. Our Lord Jesus often had such an eating fellowship with the newly repented sinners who turned their life around such as Matthew. This would foreshadow the heavenly banquet in which all the saints would enjoy the eating fellowship with our Lord.
Verses 12-18 describe the details of the second calling for Moses to come to God. In verse 12, God specifically mentioned that the reason was for Him to give the tablets of stone with the law and commandments. This would be very meaningful to the people of Israel because they could see it with their eyes and their hands could touch it (1Jn 1:1b). In his coming to God, Moses brought with him Joshua his aide and made Aaron and Hur as his deputies in case there would be any disputes. Moses was very considerate and mindful even at the critical moment to raise up his successor and to take care of his flock. Moses entered the cloud which to the Israelites looked like a consuming fire. That represented the glory of God and Moses stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I pray that our remaining Exodus Bible study is like staying on the mount of God with full of His glory up to as we have around forty days left.
In conclusion, we learned how badly God wants to make the covenant relationship with His people. For that, God gave the law and made all the preparations including setting up the altar, twelve pillars of stone and various offerings. In the covenant ceremony, the people responded like a wedding vow and the covenant was finally sealed through blood. God and even Moses understood the importance of raising up young people as leaders and the fellowship always makes things happier. May God renew our covenant as we continue to meditate on Jesus’ blood.