By Edward Dennett
THE covenant having been now unfolded and explained the ground of Jehovah's future relationship with Israel its solemn ratification is recorded in this chapter. As preparatory to this, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, were summoned to come up unto the Lord. (v. l.) But not all could draw nigh. "Worship ye afar off. And Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but they shall not come nigh, neither shall the people go up with him." (v. 2.) The position of the mediator is clearly marked — a position of the highest honour and privilege, conferred upon Moses by the Lord in His grace. Moses was no more deserving of access to God than his companions. It was grace alone that endowed him with this special place. All is significant of the dispensation — presenting a perfect contrast with the position of believers since the death of Christ. Now it is no more said, "worship ye afar off," but "let us draw near." (Heb. 10: 22.) The blood of Christ has such efficacy that it cleanses the believer from all sin, so that he has no more conscience of sins, he is perfected for ever through the one offering of Christ, and hence, the veil being rent in testimony to the fact that God has been glorified in the death of Christ, he has liberty of access into the holiest of all. There he can worship God in spirit and in truth; there he can joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the reconciliation (Rom. 5: 11); for he is without spot before the all-searching eye of a holy God, and can stand in holy boldness before the very throne of His holiness. What a contrast between law and grace! Law, indeed, "having shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect" (Heb. 10: 1); but in grace, through the one sacrifice of Christ, our sins and iniquities are remembered no more (Heb. 10: 17,), we have through Christ access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Eph. 2: 18.) In some sort therefore Moses, in the place he enjoyed, was a type of the believer. There was, however, this immense difference. He drew near to Jehovah, we have access unto the Father, we worship God, God in all that He is being now fully revealed, and revealed as our God and Father, because the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The occurrence of the names of Nadab and Abihu cannot fail to arrest attention. They were both sons of Aaron, and with their father were selected for this singular privilege. But neither light nor privilege can ensure salvation, nor, if believers, a holy, obedient walk. Both afterwards met with a terrible end. They "offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them; and they died before the Lord." (Lev. 10: 1, 2.) After this scene in our chapter, they were consecrated to the priesthood, and it was while in the performance of their duty in this office, or rather because of their failure in it, that they fell under the judgment of God. Let the warning sink deep into our hearts, that office and special privileges are alike powerless to save; and also the lesson, that God cannot accept anything in our worship which is not rendered in obedience to Him. The offering must be of His own providing, and the heart must be in subjection to His will.
Moses, in the next place, descended to the people, and told them "all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do." (v. 3.) Notwithstanding the terror of their hearts at the signs of the Lord's presence and majesty upon Sinai, they remained in total ignorance of their own powerlessness to meet His holy claims. Foolish people! It might have been supposed that ere this their eyes would have been opened; but in truth, we repeat, they were ignorant both of themselves and of God. Hence once again they express themselves as willing to promise obedience as the condition of blessing. God had spoken, and they had assented, and now the agreement must be confirmed and ratified.
"And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words." (vv. 4-8.)
There is but one altar if there are twelve pillars — one altar because it was for God, twelve pillars because all the twelve tribes must be represented in the sacrifices to be offered. The priesthood not yet being appointed, ((young men" do the priestly work of the day. They were probably the firstborn, whom the Lord, as we have seen in chapter 13, claimed specially for Himself. Afterwards indeed the tribe of Levi was exchanged for these, and appointed for the Lord's service. Thus it is said, "And thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children. of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites: and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord." (Num. 8: 10, 11; also Num. 3: 40, 41.) Until the substitution of the Levites for the firstborn, "the young men" occupied the place of service in connection with the altar. There were only, it will be remarked, burnt-offerings and peace-offerings — for the reason before given, that until the question of sin was formally raised by the law sin-offerings have no place. The offerings were for God (though the offerers as well as the priest had their share in the peace-offerings, in communion with God — Lev. 3); but the special significance of the rites of this day is to be found in the sprinkling of the blood. Half was sprinkled upon the altar. Then, having read the book of the covenant in the audience of all the people, they again said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. Moses thereon took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning these words. (vv. 7, 8.) Before explaining the meaning of this solemn act, the passage from the Hebrews referring to it, as giving fuller details, may be cited. "For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament" (covenant) "which God hath enjoined unto you." (Ex. 9: 19, 20.) Here we find the interesting particular, not given in Moses, that the book was sprinkled as well as the people. There were thus three sprinklings — upon the altar, upon the book, and upon the people.
The first enquiry must be as to the signification of the blood. It cannot be atonement, because the people and the book are sprinkled equally with the altar; nor, for the same reason, could it be cleansing. The life is in the blood (Lev. 17: 11), and consequently the blood, the shedding of it, will represent death, and death, when connected with sacrifice, as the penalty of sin. Here therefore the sprinkling of the blood signifies death as the penal sanction of the law. The people promised obedience, and then they, as well as the book, were sprinkled to teach that death would be the penalty of transgression. Such was the solemn position into which, by their own consent, they had been brought. They undertook to obey under the penalty of death. Well therefore might the apostle say, "As many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse." (Gal. 3: 10.) It is the same now in principle with all who accept the ground of law as the way of life, all who are trusting to their own works as the condition of blessing. They know it not, but thereby they are really binding upon their shoulders the curse of the law, like the Israelites in this scene, and accepting the condition of death as the penalty of disobedience.
The people therefore were sprinkled with blood upon having promised obedience. It may further help us to compare the expressions found in Peter's epistle, which doubtless refer in part to this transaction. Writing "to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" — i.e. to the Jewish Christians among the dispersion of these regions — he describes them as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus." (1 Peter 1: 2.) This order is very significant, though it has occasioned difficulty owing to the fact that the allusion to the Jewish nation has been missed. As a nation they had been elected by the sovereign call of God, sanctified by fleshly rites — separated from the rest of the nations (see Eph. 2: 14), and set apart to God (Ex. 19: 10), sanctified, moreover, unto obedience — this was the object proposed, and, as we have seen, accepted by the people; and then they were sprinkled with the blood, the covenant of God with them being thus sealed with the solemn sanction of death. The terms therefore exactly correspond; but how great the difference in their meaning! Believers are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, He "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will." Eph. 1: 5.) They were not therefore, like Israel, the objects simply of an earthly election, and for earthly blessing, but the objects of an eternal choice — to be brought into the enjoyment of the intimate relationship of children, in a place of perfect nearness, accepted in the Beloved. They have been sanctified, not by external and carnal rites and ordinances, but by the operation of the Spirit of God in the new birth, in virtue of which they are absolutely set apart to God — no longer of the world, even as Christ is not of the world; and they have been sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ1 — i.e. to obey as Christ obeyed, His walk being the normal rule, the standard for every believer (1 John 2: 6); and they have been sanctified moreover, not to the sprinkling of blood, which testified of death for every transgression, but to that which speaks of atonement having been completed, and the perfect cleansing of every soul who is found under its value. — Peter thus draws a perfect contrast, and the contrast is that which is found between law and grace. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1: 17.)
The covenant ratified, "Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel," go up; and they saw the God of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness. And upon the nobles of Israel He laid not His hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink. (vv. 9-11) Moses alone was permitted to draw near before the covenant was established, but now the representatives of the people have this special grace accorded to them; and they draw near in safety. Two things in this scene are marked. They saw the God of Israel. God displayed Himself in the majesty of His holiness to their gaze. The paved work of a sapphire stone (see Ezek. 1: 26; Ezek. 10: 1), and the additional description, "as it were the body of heaven in its clearness," speak of heavenly splendour and purity. God therefore revealed Himself to these chosen witnesses according to the character of the economy which had now been established. Moreover they did eat and drink. It was in virtue of the blood that they were admitted to this singular privilege, for privilege it was to see the God of Israel and enter into relationship with Him, albeit the very character of the revelation vouchsafed told of distance rather than nearness. Still as men in the flesh they ate and drank in the presence of God, and, as another has remarked, "continued their terrestrial life." They saw God and did not die. For the covenant was only now inaugurated, and failure not having yet come in, God could thus on that foundation permit their access to Him as the God of Israel.
Moses is once again separated from Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the elders. He resumes his mediatorial place — to receive the tables of stone, etc., which God had written — the lively oracles, as they are described by Stephen. (Acts 7: 38.) For this purpose Moses is called up to the Lord in the mount. (v. 12.) Leaving the elders, and appointing Aaron and Hur in charge, he goes up, and for forty days and forty nights he was alone with God. During this time the glory of the Lord was displayed, and 91 abode upon mount Sinai and the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel." (vv. 15-18.) This was not the glory of His grace, but the glory of His holiness, as is seen by the symbol of devouring fire — the glory of the Lord in His relationship with Israel on the basis of law. (Compare 2 Cor. 3) It was a glory therefore that no sinner could dare approach, for holiness and sin cannot be brought together; but now, through the grace of God, on the ground of accomplished atonement, believers can not only draw near, and be at home in the glory, but with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3: 18.) We approach boldly, and with delight gaze upon the glory, because every ray we behold in the face of Christ glorified is a proof of the fact that our sins are put away, and that redemption is accomplished.
1) Both these terms, obedience and sprinkling, belong without doubt to Jesus Christ; i.e. it is the obedience of Jesus Christ, as well as the blood of Jesus Christ.