Today’s passage can be divided into two parts. Firstly, there’s verses 1 to 11 where the covenant between the Lord and his people is confirmed. Secondly, there’s verses 12 to 18 where Moses went up Mt Sinai and entered the cloud and he remained there for 40 days and 40 nights while the Lord gave him all the laws for his people. And we’ll study those two sections now.
Verses 1 to 11
We’ll start with verses 1 to 11. And you’ll see from verse 1 how the Lord said to Moses that Moses, and Aaron, his brother, and Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, and 70 elders of Israel were to come up to the Lord who had come down to Mt Sinai. Previously, back in chapter 19, only Moses and Aaron were permitted to ascend the mountain; everyone else had to remain at the foot of the mountain. Now though, Aaron’s sons and the elders were permitted to go up the mountain in order to worship the Lord. However, even now, the Lord distinguishes Moses from the others, because while Moses was permitted to go right up to the top of the mountain, the others could only worship him at a distance; they were not permitted to come near.
Now, they don’t actually ascend the mountain until verse 9. In the meantime, in verses 3 to 8, we have this ceremony to confirm the making of the covenant. First of all, in verse 3, Moses reported all the words and laws of the Lord to the people, all the laws and commandments which we’ve been reading about since chapter 20. And the people responded:
Everything the Lord has said we will do.
And, as I’ve said before, they were willing to obey the Lord like this because he’s the one who chose them from all the other nations of the world to be his own special people; and he had already rescued them from their captivity in Egypt; and he had provided them with water to drink and with bread from heaven to eat; and he had protected them from their enemies who tried to attack them; and he had promised to lead them to the Promised Land. He had done so much for them already; why wouldn’t they obey him now? Obeying the Lord would not seem a burden, but a privilege, because he had been so good to them. And since they professed their willingness to obey him, Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
And isn’t that necessary? When the salesman offers us a great deal, we want him to write it down so that we have a written record of what was agreed. Or if you’re entering into any kind of contract, you want to have the terms and conditions set out plainly on paper so that you can consult them and see clearly what you’ve agreed to do and what the other party has agreed to do. Writing things down brings clarity and certainty. And, of course, in this case, writing down God’s laws was necessary so that future generations would be able to read them and study them in order to see what God’s will is. These laws and commands were not for that generation only, but they were for later generations. In fact, they were for us as well. So, Moses wrote down everything the Lord had said.
And then look what happened next. Moses got up early in the morning and built an altar. Presumably he followed the Lord’s directions from the end of chapter 20 on how to build an altar to the Lord. And he built this altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars. Why twelve stone pillars? Well, we’re told in verse 4 that they were to represent the twelve tribes of Israel so that whatever sacrifices were offered there were offered on behalf of all the people.
And then, we’re told in verse 5, Moses sent some young men to offer the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Presumably they worked under Aaron’s supervision, since he was the priest; and strong, young men were needed to handle the bulls which were offered on the altar. Burnt offerings were sacrifices which were burnt to ash on the altar; fellowship offerings were sacrifices which were first offered on the altar, and then eaten by the priests and worshippers.
Moses then took the blood from the sacrifices and sprinkled half of it on the altar. He then read the Book of the Covenant again: all the laws and commandments, the terms and conditions of the covenant. And the people once again professed their willingness to do all that the Lord commanded. And then Moses sprinkled the other half of the blood on the people. And while he was sprinkling them, Moses said:
This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.
In the ancient world, covenant-making ceremonies normally concluded with a meal: a meal as a sign of friendship and fellowship together. And sure enough, after the sacrifices were offered, and the blood was sprinkled, Moses, and Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, and the elders who represented the people, went up Mt Sinai to eat a meal. We’re told in verse 10 that they saw the Lord. Well, we know that the Lord is a spirit, and invisible, and without a body or parts. However, we also know that the Lord is able to appear visibly when necessary. We don’t know what form he took when he appeared to these men; and we don’t know exactly what they saw; all we’re told about his appearance is that under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.
And, then, since normally no one can see the Lord and live — because he is so holy and terrifying — on this occasion we’re told that the Lord did not lift his hand against these men; so, on this occasion they saw the Lord and lived. And then they ate and drank in his presence, in this meal which concluded the covenant-making ceremony. The Lord has bound himself to these people to be their God and to do them good; they have promised to do all that he has commanded them. And since they have bound themselves to one another, and entered into this formal agreement, they’re able to sit down together and enjoy a meal together.
Verses 12 to 18
That’s verses 1 to 11 when the covenant between the Lord and his people was formally confirmed. Let’s move on to verses 12 to 18. And in verse 12, the Lord commanded Moses to come and stay with him on the mountain. Presumably Moses and Aaron and the others had gone down the mountain after the fellowship meal was over; and now the Lord is calling Moses to come back up the mountain, on his own this time. And the Lord tells Moses that he will give him the tablets of stone, on which were written the Ten Commandments. And he will also give him other laws and commandments for the people to keep. According to verse 13, Moses took Joshua to assist him. And in case he’s away for a long time, he instructed the elders to wait for him and he appointed Aaron and Hur to act as judges in his place so that they would be able to settle any disputes while he is away.
And we read in verse 15, how Moses went up the mountain and the cloud covered it. This is the glory-cloud which accompanies the Lord and which reveals his presence and which looked like a consuming fire, according to verse 17. And, according to verse 16, this glory-cloud settled on the mountain and covered it. For six days the cloud covered the mountain; and on the seventh day, the Lord called to Moses; and Moses entered the cloud and he stayed on the mountain, in the presence of the Lord for 40 days and nights.
We’re familiar with the number 40, aren’t we? In the days of Noah, it rained for 40 days and nights. The Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years. Elijah the prophet travelled for 40 days and nights to reach Mt Horeb, where the Lord strengthened him. Then the Lord Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days and nights. On those occasions, the number 40 refers to a period of testing or a trial of faith. Here in Exodus 24, it’s the number of days and nights Moses remained in the cloud, where he received from the Lord all his laws and commandments for the people.
What’s the significance of this chapter for us? There are really two things I’d like us to think about in a little more depth this evening. First of all, we should think a little more about the mountain. And then, secondly, we should think a little more about the meal. So, the mountain and the meal.
And let’s start with the mountain. I mentioned one other Sunday that we’re to view Mt Sinai as a temple. Why do I say that? Well, for instance, in verse 13 it’s called ‘the mountain of God’. It’s referred to in the same way in verse 5 of chapter 18 where we read how Jethro visited Moses when they were camped near ‘the mountain of God’. And it’s referred to by that name back in chapter 3, when the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, which took place at Mt Horeb, which was another name for Sinai. And do you remember? Moses was told to remove his sandals, because he was standing on holy ground. Well, it was holy ground, because he was standing, not on any mountain, but on a special mountain, the mountain of God, which was holy the way a temple is holy.
And then, like the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem, Mt Sinai was divided into three sections. Think of the temple, with its outer court, where all the Israelites could gather; and then there was the Holy Place, which the priests could enter; and then there was the Most Holy Place, which was God’s throne room, the place where the Lord was said to dwell; and only the High Priest could enter it. Well, on Mt Sinai, all the Israelites were able to gather at the foot of the mountain; Aaron and Aaron’s sons and the 70 elders were allowed to go part way up the mountain; and only Moses was allowed to ascend to the top of the mountain and to enter the cloud where he met the Lord. So, the mountain was divided into different sections, just like the temple.
Furthermore, the altar in the tabernacle in the wilderness and in the temple in Jerusalem was located in the outer court, where most of the people gathered. And that’s where the priests would offer the sacrifices on behalf of the people. Well, in the same way, Moses built an altar at the foot of Mt Sinai; and he offered sacrifices there on behalf of the people.
Then, think about what happened when Solomon was dedicating the temple in Jerusalem. Do you remember? We read about it in 1 Kings 8. The building of the temple had been finished. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant and placed it in the Most Holy Place. When the priests withdrew, we’re told that the glory-cloud of the Lord filled the temple; it signified how the Lord had come down to dwell in the temple, among his people. Well, in Exodus 24, the glory-cloud appeared and it remained there, at the top of the mountain, because this mountain had become, for the time being, the temple of the Lord, the place where he dwelt among his people.
So, for these, and for other reasons, we’re to view Mt Sinai as a temple. Just as the Lord dwelt with his people in the tabernacle in the wilderness and in the temple in Jerusalem, so he was dwelt with his people on Mt Sinai, the mountain of God, which was his temple.
But, of course, God is holy; he’s pure and good and without spot or stain or blemish. And we are not, because we’re sinners who sin against him continually. And sinners are not able to come into the presence of a holy God; we need to be cleansed and forgiven before we can ever hope to come before him in worship. And so, when the Israelites went to the tabernacle in the wilderness to worship the Lord, or when they went to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, they had to offer sacrifices to God, because they’d been taught that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. They needed to be cleansed of their guilt before they could come before God. And so, in order to receive forgiveness from God, in order to be cleansed from the guilt of their sins, they had to bring an animal to the temple; and they had to kill it and offer it on the altar as a sacrifice to pay for their sins and to cleanse them from their guilt.
That’s what happened in the tabernacle. That’s what happened in the temple in Jerusalem. And that’s what we find here as well, in Exodus 24. Moses had constructed an altar at the foot of this temple-mountain; and he offered on the altar burnt offerings and sacrifices. And the blood of the animals was collected in a bowl and sprinkled on the people because they needed to be cleansed of their guilt in order to dwell in the presence of the Lord.
But, of course — and I’ve spoken about this before — the blood of bulls and goats is not really able to take away our sins. Those animal sacrifices which Moses offered at Mt Sinai and which the priests offered in the temple in Jerusalem were for the time being; they were to make do; they were to fill in until the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world and offered himself as the perfect, once-for-all, never-to-be repeated sacrifice for sins. All of the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were designed by God to remind the people that they were sinners who needed to be forgiven; and they were designed by God to teach the people to look forward to the time when the Lord would provide them with a better, perfect sacrifice. So, when Moses offered up these sacrifices, and sprinkled the blood on the people, it was only to make do until the Lord Jesus came and died on the cross as the true Lamb of God who was able, by his one sacrifice, to pay for their sins and our sins in full and for ever.
And so, right throughout the Bible, we’re taught how we’re to trust in the Lord Jesus and we’re to rely on him and on him alone, because by his death on the cross he has paid for our sins in full; and by trusting in him, we receive forgiveness for all that we have done wrong, and peace with God for ever. The Israelites had to offer sacrifices again and again, because the blood of bulls and goats wasn’t enough to pay for their sins. Only the blood of Christ can do that; and his blood — shed once-and-for-all on Calvary — covers over our sins for good.
These sacrifices were only for the time being. However, the temple-mountain was only for the time being as well. In fact, the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem were only for the time being as well. What do I mean?
When we get to the book of Hebrews, the writer to the Hebrews explains to us in chapter 9, that the temple-mountain at Mt Sinai and the tabernacle in the wilderness as well as the temple in Jerusalem were only copies of the real thing. You know, people are always making copies of the real thing. Someone would like to wear a Rolex watch, but they can’t afford the real thing. No problem: there are lots of cheaper copies you can buy and wear. It looks like you’re wearing a Rolex, but it’s only a copy; it’s not the real thing. And the temple-mountain here in Exodus 24 and the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem were only copies of the real thing. You see, the writer to the Hebrews explains that the real thing, the real temple, is heaven. That’s really God’s dwelling-place. That’s really where he dwells. He didn’t really dwell on the top of Mt Sinai; he didn’t really dwell in the tabernacle; or in the temple in Jerusalem. He dwells in heaven.
And the thing is, just as the Lord Jesus Christ was able to offer to God a better sacrifice than Moses was able to offer, so the Lord Jesus is able to bring us to a better temple than Moses could. Moses brought the people to Mt Sinai, which was only a copy of the temple in heaven; and look at verse 6: the altar in this copy of the real thing needed to be sprinkled with blood to cleanse it and to make it fit for worship. And Moses offered to God an animal sacrifice, which was only a copy of the real sacrifice. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, has offered to God, on our behalf, the real sacrifice, when he offered himself on the cross. And Jesus Christ, after his death and resurrection, has gone into the heavenly temple. And, of course, when Moses went up Mount Sinai and entered the glory-cloud, he was on his own; no one else was with him. But the Lord Jesus has promised to come back from heaven one day; and when he comes, he’ll gather all of his people together — all those who have trusted in him and who have been sprinkled and made clean by his blood — he’ll gather them all together and bring them into the heavenly temple and into the presence of the Lord. And, of course, Moses remained on Mt Sinai for only 40 days and 40 nights. But when the Lord Jesus brings us into the heavenly temple, we’ll be able to stay there for ever; no one will ever make us leave.
And so, as we read about all that Moses did in Exodus 24, offering the sacrifices, sprinkling the people, ascending the mountain to meet the Lord, it’s wonderful. There was no one ever like Moses who was able to meet the Lord like this. But the Lord Jesus Christ is so much better than Moses, because he’s offered a better sacrifice for our sins when he offered himself; and he’s gone into a better temple when he entered heaven itself; and all who have been sprinkled and cleansed by his sacrifice can look forward to coming into the heavenly temple where the Lord will dwell with us for ever and for ever.
And so, we’re reminded why we must always trust in the Lord Jesus, because whoever hopes to live forever in the glory of heaven needs to trust in him, because he’s the only one who is able to cleanse us from the guilt of our sin for good; and he’s the only one who is able to bring us into the real temple which is heaven.
But before we finish, let me mention the meal. After the people were sprinkled, Moses and Aaron, and Aaron’s sons and the elders ascended the mountain where they ate and drank in the presence of the Lord. It was a fellowship meal, because, now that the covenant had been agreed, they were in fellowship with the Lord.
That meal which they enjoyed in the presence of the Lord points forward to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Just as God entered into a covenant with his people in the days of Moses, so he has entered into a covenant with us and with all his people in every generation, whereby he promises to be our God and to give us eternal life so long as we trust in his Son for the forgiveness of our sins. And just as Moses and his companions were able to sit down in the presence of the Lord and enjoy a meal together, so we’re able to sit down in the presence of the Lord, here in church, and enjoy a meal together. But, of course, the meal we enjoy in church is not designed to nourish our bodies; we’re only given a little bit of bread to eat and a small cupful to drink; it’s not designed to nourish our bodies. Instead it’s designed to nourish our souls, because by taking the bread and cup which speak to us of Christ’s body and blood, we’re reminded of the greatness of God’s love and mercy towards us and his willingness to pardon us for the sake of Christ who died for us.
The meal Moses and his companions enjoyed on Mt Sinai points forward to the Lord’s Supper which we enjoy here in church. But both the meal Moses enjoyed at Mt Sinai and the the Lord’s Supper which we enjoy in church point forward to something else, don’t they? They point forward to a heavenly meal and to what the book of Revelation calls ‘the wedding supper of the Lamb’, when all the members of the church triumphant will sit down in heaven to enjoy a heavenly banquet with our Saviour, the Lamb of God who was slain for us and for our forgiveness. And the book of Revelation pictures this meal a time of joy and gladness and blessing on all who are invited to this heavenly banquet.
Moses and his companions were able to sit down and enjoy a meal in the presence of the Lord, because their sins had been pardoned and they were at peace and in fellowship with one another. We’re able to sit down and enjoy a meal in the presence of the Lord, because our sins have been pardoned and we have peace with God and are in fellowship with him, thanks to Jesus Christ whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for us. But we’re to look beyond the Lord’s Supper to the heavenly banquet when we will have been transformed and glorified, made perfect for ever, and when we will sit down and enjoy this heavenly banquet which our Saviour has prepared for us and for all who trust in him.
Moses and his companions were able to enjoy that meal for a time; but then they had to leave and go back to their camp and deal with all the problems of everyday living. We too are able to come to church and to enjoy a meal together for a time; but then we have to leave and go back to all the struggles of our daily lives. But if we trust in the Lord, and remain faithful to him always, walking in his ways, and seeking to do his will, then one day we’ll be invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb; and when that happens, then we’ll never have to leave.