Have you ever over-promised and felt like I shouldn’t have done that? The world teaches us to under promise and over deliver to make ourselves look good. Today, we read about the Israelites entering into a covenant with God. Do you think they over-promised? How are they to deliver what they promised?
(A) God’s Holiness: Who can come near? (Exodus 24:1-2)
In Exo 24, the people of God were standing at Mount Sinai, and they have been there since Exo 20. They have just heard thunder and seen flashes of lightning and the mountain smoking. Ex 20:18-21 tells us that the people were trembling as they saw and heard this. They were afraid and trembled and stood far off from God’s holy presence on Mount Sinai. They feared death as they approached God’s presence and didn’t want God to speak with them directly, but they wanted to serve as a mediator and for God to speak to them through Moses.
From Exo 20:22 onwards, we see that God has been revealing to Moses his law, and we have been reading it. We have just about finished this portion of it and this is where we find ourselves in Exodus here. The people are standing in front of Mount Sinai, having received God’s law.
Before we go on further, it will also be good to consider our attitude and posture before God. How do you approach God today? Is God a handy tool you keep in your pocket, which you take out when you need it? Is God someone you turn to only when you are in trouble or in need? How do you come to church on Sundays? Is it by strolling in late wishing you had the morning to sleep in? How do you pray? Is it usually about yourself rather than God? Are you primarily concerned with what God can do for you, instead of what He can do through you or in you?
Exodus teaches us that the God of the Bible is not a small God, but He is immense, and when people come into his presence, they fear for their lives. We too, have to remember that we are coming before a Holy God, unlike us, much more powerful and bigger than us. Let us remember that we are not the centre of the universe, but God is.
God gives Moses some proximity instructions in Exo 24:1-2:
Moses, Aaron and Nadab and Abihu and 70 elders shall come up and worship from afar.
Moses alone shall come near to the LORD.
The people shall not come up.
In these verses, we see that distance is an important measure. God tells them repeatedly that they are not to draw near. Not just anyone can come up, and draw near to God. In fact, we read that the people do not want to do so. They trembled before God’s presence and didn’t want to speak with God directly. God is so set apart, so holy, that no one can come close to him. In Exo 19:24, God warns the people that if they break through to Mount Sinai, he will break out against them.
What can we learn about God from these instructions? We see that because of His holiness, there needs to be a distance between Him and a sinful people. Yet, God is one who wants to draw near to them. He wants to be close to his people, and so he selects a mediator in Moses to come close to himself. Those He choose can draw near to them. This is a God who wants to be with His people.
(B) The People’s Spoken Response v.s. The Blood of the Covenant (Exo 24:3-8)
The table below summarises the actions of Moses and the people in Exo 24:3-8. Note the repetition and similarity of the actions.
Moses wrote and read all of God’s word twice: in the gathering of God’s people, God’s word is read out loud. There is a pattern in the Bible where people gather to hear God’s word read. It is important enough that in our passage today, it is read twice. The people took God’s words seriously and committed to obey it.
Do we display such commitment? Often we may approach God’s Word thinking that it’s optional; and there for our information only. Today’s passage shows us that God’s people approach His words with reverence. They were not seeking to pass a Bible quiz or just seeking to fill a table. They wanted to obey God’s words.
Are you reading God’s word daily? Are we feeding ourselves with God’s word? Do you read it once a week in church only? Or maybe once a week right here in Fellowship. We have to read our Bibles often. When we close our Bibles, we close our lives to the glories of God that He wants to reveal to us. We don’t gaze at His goodness, nor faithfulness and end up living our lives as if He is not there. When we don’t read our Bibles, we ourselves become the centre of our universe, we think that God is our employee and works for us and our desires, objectives, achievements. But when we read our Bibles faithfully, we meet with a Holy God, not like us, who deserves all the glory.
Not only did Moses read it, we also learn that the people responded in obedience. Whenever God’s word is read, it calls for a response. God’s people seemed to also trust in God’s current revelation and they obeyed based on that. Notice how the law was read twice. Thus their commitment wasn’t made lightly. Yes, they may be fearful of this God, but this is also based on the fact that they’ve seen God’s power demonstrated in their deliverance. They’ve seen His power but also His faithful love to them.
How often do you find yourself being hard towards God’s word? You have read it, and you went “okay”. There is something we can learn from the Israelites here where they commit to obeying God’s word. How often have we let our reading be fruitless because we read, thought that God’s revelation to us is merely optional, and closed our Bibles? May God help as to apply His word; not just gather more knowledge. We want to be able to live out our theology. We don’t read our Bibles to pass a Bible quiz, but to live out a life that is transformed by his Spirit, that is less about ourselves, and more of Christ.
After the people’s spoken response, Moses builds an altar and 12 pillars and starts the offerings (Exo 24:4b-6, 8). He offers 2 types of offerings, the burnt offering and the peace offering, which are further described in Leviticus for us.
This was a costly covenant confirmation as the entire burnt offering had to be given over to God. There was no leftover and the people could not take anything. It represented atonement for sin and total dedication to God. The peace offering was a meal that represented peace and a fellowship with God.
How was the covenant confirmed? It wasn’t seal merely with the repeated promise of obedience. It required blood, and a lot of it. Think about how much blood there could be here. This is a nation standing before God here, not just your congregation in church. It is a massive worship service with lots of blood from animals for atonement and worship. Further, the blood is even thrown at the altar and at the people. Why the need for so much blood?
(C) The Blood of the New Covenant: Purified, Forgiven, and Saved in Christ (Heb 9:18-28)
This covenant, which was mediated by Moses, was referred to as the Mosaic Covenant. The New Testament writers frequently refer to it, and the writer of Hebrews in particular points out and explains the significance of blood and sacrifice in the covenant. Heb 9:22 teaches us that blood is required for purification, and for the forgiveness of sins. We know from the rest of Exodus, and from the rest of the Bible that the people of Israel, though they promised to obey God’s words (the Ten Commandments) and God’s rules (the civic law), they could not keep to it. The people would sin against God, and so blood needed to be shed to purify a nation of people and to atone for their sins, so that a sinful and impure people could become the people belonging to a Holy God.
But what is the significance of blood? Why is blood required, and not something else?
Blood is required because, as Romans 6:23 tells us, the wages of sin is death. The reason that purification and forgiveness of sin is only possible with blood, is because the punishment for sin is death. Blood is life, and the spilling of blood, life, is death.
Sin has to be and can only be paid for with death.
These verses call us to think about our own sin. Do we take our sin lightly? Do we dismiss our sin – our pride, our harsh and rash words, our envy, our covetousness, our prayerlessness, our chasing of worldly pleasures – do we dismiss them as part and parcel of our normal human experience? The Bible reminds us that the forgiveness of sin is a grave and solemn affair. Our sin is serious and demands payment with blood.
Hebrews 9 speaks of how “better sacrifices” are required. Christ is compared to the priests but how was Christ better?
The High Priests would enter into the tabernacle (“copies of the true things”, which was designed by God but ultimately made by human hands; Jesus Christ entered into heaven, which God made with His Word, to appear in God’s presence on our behalf – He is the better mediator.
The priests offered sacrifices year on year, month on month, week on week, day on day. The sacrifice Christ offered once was sufficient for all time, and never needed to be paid again.
The priests offered sacrifices of blood not of their own, but that of animals, but Jesus Christ paid the sacrifice in his own blood, to put away sin forever. God Himself paid the price.
Have you over-promised and under- delivered? We know God is good and righteous and we want to obey Him. We know Christ’s sacrifice for us, and we respond heartily in thanksgiving with “O God, I will obey you and follow you!” But we, like the people of Israel, struggle with our weakness and cannot obey the covenant of God by our own strength.
Our pursuit of God is marred by our sin – we cannot be saved by obeying the law.
But we are saved by His grace. Heb 4:15 tells us that Christ, while He lived in the flesh, was tempted but without sin. He did what we could not do and perfectly obeyed the covenant of God, and paid the full price for our sin with His blood. Christ has fulfilled the covenant on our behalf, so we can come before a Holy and awesome God and be His people. Christ has not only fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant, but with His blood, Jesus draws us into the New Covenant, which we commemorate when we take communion (1 Cor 11:25). And our sinless Saviour will come again, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.