Before you read: We’re skipping over the “Covenant” – three chapters comprising a legal agreement where God says to the Israelites, “If you do this, then I’ll do this”.
If you can, open a bible and skim the headings in those chapters (19-23) to see what God wants. Then, at the end of 23, see what He’ll do. He’ll drive out the people of Canaan, give Israel the land, and bless them.
But they must destroy the people who live there now, and not mingle with them or follow their ways.
Especially, God’s people must not worship the gods of Canaan.
Read Exodus 24:1-18:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, 2 but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”
3 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” 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. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”
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.”
9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Moses goes over it twice. First, he recites it and the Israelites promise to obey. “We will do everything the Lord has commanded”. After that, Moses writes it out, making a “Book of the Covenant” and reads it out loud.
Again, the Israelites respond, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.”
Twice the rules of the Covenant (starting with the Ten Commandments) are read, and twice the people wholeheartedly accept and promise to obey them.
If it were today, Moses and God would each sign the document. That’s how legal agreements are confirmed, or activated, now. The signature seals the deal.
But signing wasn’t a thing in the Story.
Paper wasn’t widely used.
Instead, legal agreements were events marked by something to remember.
This one is marked first by Moses sprinkling the people with blood from bulls; then, God visiting the Israelite leaders and eating and drinking with them.
“And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, He did not destroy them.”
They thought He would.
Ever since sin entered the Story, humans have known they can’t face God and live.
It’s the whole Problem of the Story.
God is willing, at this point, to let humans live and accept animals instead. Animal lives can substitute for human lives for now.
These men, sprinkled with the blood of a bull who died for them, can see God face to face and not die themselves.
It’s magnificent. They are allowed to see God – this God who rescued them from slavery, who takes the form of cloud and fire – they eat and drink with Him.
He’s so wonderful they can’t even describe Him, only the jeweled pavement under His feet.
The pavement of Heaven.
And that’s God’s plan. It’s what all these deals – these covenants* – are about.
God, the hero, is trying to rescue us, to bring us back to where He is.
Back to the dance.
*This is God’s third covenant (deal, agreement, contract) with humans:
The first was with Noah: don’t kill or shed blood, and I’ll never flood the earth again (Gen 9). It was marked by a rainbow.
The second was with Abraham: circumcise yourself and every male, and I’ll make you a great nation and give you a great land (Gen 15). It was marked by a strange ceremony featuring animal carcasses cut in half and a floating torch.
Now this one is with the Israelites, that ‘great nation’ God promised to make from Abraham.