Ceremony and Honor

I have been in churches where, when the Bible is read everyone stands. I like that. I don’t think it should be a law or anything, but it does communicate respect. You see God’s communication is more than a nice story. It is more than instructions. It is deserving of our reverential respect. The ancient rabbis said that when we hold the Torah in our hands, our hands should feel dirty. I understand what they were trying to do; what they were trying to communicate. In the Law God is communicating himself. And his communication is so holy that we are filthy in comparison. And here is the amazing thing: He still longs to be in covenant relationship with us. Doesn’t that rock you right on down to your knees? And God’s covenant is always ratified with blood because blood is life and life is precious; a gift from God.

Exodus 24:1-8 is about the ratification of a covenant; an offering and an accepting of covenant relationship. First, Yahweh commands Moses to come up, along with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and sevent of the elders, to Yahweh. And there is a lesson here. When you approach Yahweh you are always ascending. You do not go down to Yahweh; you do not step sideways. You go up; every time! Aaron, his two oldest sons and the seventy elders are to worship, or bow down, from a distance. Only Moses is to draw near to Yahweh. Verses 1-2 prepare us for verses 9-11, but they also remind us of the special relationship Moses was allowed to have with Yahweh. No one else could draw near. They could go up, but they had to keep their distance. Praise God that through the blood of Jesus everyone of us can draw near to Yahweh; that we can with boldness enter into his very presence.

Moses then comes to the people and relates to them all the communication of Yahweh. From verse 7 we know that he told them the message of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-23:33). After the reading the people respond with “All the words Yahweh has spoken we will do!” And even though we know that they fall short of this incredible avowal, it seems likely that they fully intended to honor their commitment. We are told that Moses wrote down all the communication of Yahweh. Again this is the Book of the Covenant. Early the next morning he builds an altar at the foot of Mount Sinai, The altar serves to represent the Presence of Yahweh. Twelve pillars were also set up in the same area. These monuments represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Young men, which refers to everything from an infant to a young man of marriageable age, are sent to slaughter a young bull and offer burnt offerings. These young men may be some of the first born who have been dedicated to Yahweh. The Levirate priesthood had not yet been established so we see these young men fulfilling that role.

Moses took half of the blood and with it he sprinkled the altar and he put the other half in bowls to be used later in the ceremony. He then read the Book of the Covenant to all the people and they once again affirmed that they would do all the words of Yahweh and added that they would listen or be obedient. Then Moses sprinkled the people. He may have sprinkled the twelve pillars which represented the twelve tribes. This would be a symbolic act indicating the cleansing of the people to be in a relationship with a holy God. Moses said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has cut with you, in accordance with all his words.” “Cut” probably refers to the cutting of the sacrificial animals necessary to the ratification of the covenant.

This ceremony needed more than just an oral agreement. It needed blood and reverence. It needed a respectful honoring of God’s holiness. God was doing more than issuing decrees here. He desired more than an acceptance of his rules. What he desired was covenant relationship; a relationship forged in sacrifice and founded upon his holiness.

This is what God desires still. Only now the blood that was shed in order to ratify the covenant was the blood of Jesus the Christ. This shedding of blood makes it so that everyone of us can ascend to the mountain top where Yahweh is to be found. In our passage only the servant Moses is allowed to draw near to God. Again I say, “Praise God that we, every last one of us, can enter boldly into the Presence of Yahweh!”  In Jesus, Yahweh is still communicating himself. Only this time he wrapped the message in flesh and God became the sacrifice and his blood cleanses us so that we can be in covenant relationship with a Holy God. Wow! Now that is deserving of ceremony and honor. Peace, Walter.