The Confirmed Covenant


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05 Nov 2023

The Confirmed Covenant

Passage Exodus 24

Speaker Chris Haley

Meeting Morning

Series Exodus: The Redeemer




Signing a contract used to be a big deal. I remember signing my first proper contract. It was a Nokia 3310! I was 18, and I was so glad to finally be putting that signature I’d been practicing to good use. I had to go into the shop and sign it in person. That was long before the days of e-signatures and all that! The document seemed about 18 pages long in my memory, but I read the whole thing, just in case! I’d seen those films where people accidentally signed away their houses or souls!

Nowadays, you just tick a box on a screen, and then tick it’s done! Read the terms and conditions. Who ever does that? It’s just tick and go! All the pageantry has gone! Even signing for a house isn’t what it used to be—it’s all waiting for e-transfers and the like. Fewer glasses of champagne and more headache tablets!

Agreeing to a contract or covenant or deal is different in the 21st century. Very different from the agreement in our passage this morning. For those who weren’t around when we were last in Exodus in June, we’ve got to the end of a big section in Exodus. Moses has ascended Mount Sinai, and God has given him the Ten Commandments verbally, along with laws on altars, slavery, compensation, festivals, and all sorts of other things. The talks on those are all online; I’m not going to recap them now!

But in our passage here, Moses is sent back down to tell the people all that’s been said (v1-2). The people are to agree, and Moses is to come partway back up the mountain with some leaders of the people. This is the signing of the contract to speak before it’s then set in stone, quite literally! The ceremony and pomp are quite alien to us now, I think. It’s just click and go. There is still one exception—a wedding. That has kept a lot of the pomp and ceremony for making an agreement, a covenant. So we’ll think of our passage today in terms of a wedding. It’s not spoken of in that way here, but elsewhere, God speaks of the people as His wife. Indeed, when they betray him later on, their punishment will have a striking similarity to the test for adultery.

So let’s start first of all with…

The Vows & Ceremony (v3-8)

Moses speaks to them the Word of God, and he writes it down. Presumably, all we’ve got is chapter 19 to here. We’re going to see that God speaking is the way he reveals Himself, and here it is written down that through what was spoken, all might know Him and His Commandments. The word of God provides the basis for all that follows. Moses then builds an altar. He’s been told how to do so in chapter 20. It was the first instruction after the Ten Commandments. He also builds 12 pillars representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Moses then has some young men offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. There is no proper priesthood at this point; the young men take this position, probably in part because butchering the number of offerings they would need is not an old man’s job!

They offer sacrifices that were known in the near east. God will define them for his purposes later. But the choice of sacrifices is not incidental. Burnt offerings, in general, were to deal with sin; they would be burnt up completely, as though burnt with the very wrath of God. The people’s sin must be dealt with. Peace offerings were a whole other ball game; they were to do with broken fellowship, either between people or between people and God. They were there for reconciliation, peace, a renewal of fellowship. Different from all other offerings, they were offerings that were to be eaten by the worshippers afterward. Normally, part was burnt in whole, as though consumed by God, some was consumed by priests, and the rest was given back to the people to eat as a fellowship meal. And given the context, this is probably what they are sharing on the mountain—a fellowship meal from the sacrifices made on the altar. The sacrifice provides for the feast.

These sacrifices are for dealing with sin and restoring relationship. This is exactly what the people needed for the old covenant and exactly what Christ would come to do to fulfill these sacrifices in the covenant—dealing with sin with his sacrifice and restoring relationship through it too, providing his own body for a meal for the worshipers to feed on by faith, a fellowship meal, a communion meal. Bet you’ve never thought about it that way! It is a little different, though. They would eat the sacrifices, but they would not drink the blood. The blood represented life and belonged to the Lord for his purposes. It was to be used for part of the ceremony, a bit like the rings in a wedding, but a much more bloody version. Half the blood is taken and thrown on the altar; this happens throughout the sacrifices in Leviticus, the altar representing God’s side of the covenant, the deal. Both sides will receive their sprinkling of the blood; this is the inauguration of the Covenant, it’s setting in place a token in blood, like the token in rings. The rings signify the promises, and so the blood here signifies that God will keep his promise.

Often animals were killed as they were here in the making of the covenant; that was the case with the Covenant with Abraham. God got Abraham to kill some animals and cut them in half. God then appeared to Abraham in a vision going between those animals. Normally both parties would walk between them, but in the vision only God did. It was a one-sided covenant—God would keep His promise whatever may happen. The implication of killing those animals was, if I break the covenant, so be done to me. The implication here seems to be the same; this is a covenant made in blood. And it being thrown on the altar shows God will keep his side. Unlike the covenant with Abraham, though, the people also have their side of the bargain to keep. Moses, in v7, reads out the words of the covenant to the people, the terms and conditions, the vows, and the people say, I do! We will. Now they’ve definitely heard the terms and conditions, more than we often have. Whether they truly understand the implications of them is ambiguous; after all, the Israelites have not done so great in obeying God. To be fair, humankind since the garden has not done well in obeying God! If we couldn’t cope with one rule in the Garden, then how about the 50+ rules Moses has just told them! But agree they do! And half the blood was thrown on the people; some think that the blood was thrown on the pillars representing the people, but it doesn’t say that, it says thrown on the people. Hebrews 9 is helpful here:

Hebrews 9:18-22 ESV Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”… Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.

The New Testament in Hebrews tells us that water, hyssop branches, and scarlet wool were involved; it’s possible that was a means of all the people being sprinkled in some, not just those closest to the front. All the people enter into this covenant; all people say I do, and Moses pronounces them in a covenant together v8. They are now bound to one another, and both are bound to the covenant, a covenant sealed in blood.

We have been hearing Galatians that we are not under this covenant, but we are still in a covenant sealed in blood. Blood that we partake in. It’s gruesome imagery, but we see it in our hymns. We nearly sang this morning: "There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains."

We will share communion in a little while. Think of the imagery of that; we are drinking a cup representing Christ’s blood, a cup of blood, is pretty gruesome. But ‘without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.’ Without the application of that blood, there is no forgiveness for the individual. Think of the households in Egypt during the Exodus; it was not enough that the lamb was slain; that blood had to be applied to the doorposts. Here the sacrifices had been made, but they had to be applied to the people. Has the blood of Christ been applied to you? Have you been sprinkled by his blood?

What do I mean by that? Again Hebrews is helpful:

Hebrews 9:13-14 ESV For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Christ’s blood is better blood. Christ’s blood can make us clean. Christ’s blood can cleanse our conscience. Christ’s blood inaugurates a better covenant than the one they had here, more like the one God had with Abraham, where the terms and conditions are fulfilled by Him alone through Christ, a New Covenant in His blood, a New Marriage between Christ and the Church. And here, just like a wedding, the pomp and pageantry isn’t over yet, because at every wedding, there’s…

The Wedding Banquet (v9-11)

In the ancient world, the agreement to a treaty or a covenant would be solemnized at a meal, as you would with a wedding, or if you think about international treaties where they have those formal banquets afterwards. It’s a visible sign of fellowship or a new partnership, a sort of shaking of hands in edible form, and here is no different. And here, they eat with God, in His presence! God invites Moses and the other leaders to a meal. As I said before, it’s likely that the food they’re eating is at least in part food from the peace offerings made earlier, and they were often called fellowship offerings for that reason. A meal is a big deal in the Bible. Jesus was heavily criticized for whom he ate with, sitting down at a table with someone was a big deal. In Galatians, we’re told that the church in Antioch was nearly torn apart by people refusing to eat at the same table as others. Who you ate with was a big deal!

The people are sharing fellowship with God! That in itself is incredible! This really is a picture, a glimpse of heaven, of eternity! I think that’s what we’re supposed to see with phrases like v10 ‘and they saw the God of Israel.’ And v11 ‘they beheld God, and ate and drank.’ This is supposed to be something that belongs to the end of time. I think this is supposed to be something that belongs to the end of time. 1 John 3:2 ESV, “but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Seeing God should be impossible; Moses is told in a few chapters’ time that he can only see God’s back because if he sees His face, he will die. Yet here, we are told they see God. It sounds like this is glory! The end! The goal! There’s a sense in which the end is breaking into history; we’re seeing a glimpse ahead of time. It sounds like that from what’s written, and it’s supposed to. But exactly what they see is a bit more nuanced.

Do you notice, for example, they spend more time describing the strange translucent pavement under his feet! As though that’s almost all they can see, a blue pavement and God’s feet, as though they’re looking up through one of those overhead walkways. There’s no mention of seeing his face; even Moses is told later he cannot see God’s face and live. They’re seeing, not his face, but his feet through a semi-transparent pavement. And yet still, Moses has to note that God did not lay a hand on them, as though even this should have been enough to strike them dead, had God not somehow kept them alive. God enabled them to see Him in part and enjoy fellowship with Him in part, to give them a glimpse of what is to come for his people. And one day, we shall indeed feast with God, not just in part, not just under His Feet. It’s foretold in Isaiah 25:

Isaiah 25:6-9 ESV: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

One day we shall see Him, and on that day when every tear is wiped from our eyes. On that day when death is swallowed up in victory, on that day, we will feast with Christ. It’s no coincidence that so often looks at eternity like a great banquet:

The Parable of the Great Feast in Luke 14:16-24. The Parable of the Marriage Feast in Matthew 22:1-14. Even the Parable of The Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13—they’re locked out of the wedding feast that everyone else is enjoying. And in Revelation 19:9 ESV, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb,” as the church comes dressed as a bride with emerald courts and sapphire skies.

But here, it’s just a glimpse: As they feast on the mountain, looking up through the pavement and surviving! It’s a glimpse that gives us hope for the future. Are you looking forward to that day? I am. The day’s not over back on Mount Sinai though. God’s got work for Moses to do as the registrar so to speak. And so our last point…

A Certificate Signed in Stone… v12-17

Moses is ascending up the mountain to meet with God in a fuller way. Again and again in Exodus, we see that not everyone is allowed access to God. Only one person truly gets access—Moses. That means the people must go through Moses to get to God.

In Exodus, we have this sort of three-tier entry: The People > The Elders > Moses (and Joshua). It will be repeated in the model of the tabernacle: The People > The Priests > The High Priest.

And just as Moses must go through the cloud to get there, so there was a cloud of incense in the tabernacle. For all the wonderful experience the elders got, it was but a glimpse, a shadow, a foretaste. The way is not open yet at this point for all His people. Moses alone can go on ahead. Though foreshadowing what’s to come, he takes Joshua with him. How far is unclear, but Joshua will do as Moses has done.

God will formalize the agreement in stone. What Moses will receive are two tablets of stone. The fact they are in stone highlights the permanence and certainty of the agreement. Something written in stone does not pass away easily, or so you would think!

And God Himself will write the commandments on the stone. They will be written by the very finger of God. No chance of copying errors there. No chance of Moses writing down something different. There are advantages to God doing it Himself. There are advantages to God doing it in stone.

And yet we know the dangerous nature of things written in stone. Agreements we are bound to keep but can’t. I can’t help but think at this point of Ed Miliband. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too political! When he stood for Prime Minister a few elections ago, he had his pledges written on a slab of stone. It became known by some as the Ed Stone, as in headstone, as in tombstone. That’s the Apostle Paul’s take on this incident too!

2 Corinthians 3:6-11 ESV: [God] has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Paul refers to what follows with the Ten Commandments as a ministry of death, a ministry of condemnation. Not that the law is bad, but the law is only part of the picture—as we’ve been seeing in Galatians. The law, in itself, can only bring death. It is like a tombstone. It cannot save; it can only condemn.

These tablets of stone will end up being our tombstone if we think that we can live by them! No, the righteous live by faith! We live under the ministry of righteousness, as Paul calls it. One which has lasting glory. One of a more permanent nature, even than that which was written in stone!

A ministry through His Spirit who brings us not death, but life! Eternal life through faith in Christ! But this is a certificate signed in stone for the people here. They have bound themselves to it, and it will take the righteous life and perfect death of God’s Son to get them out of this deal.

He will fulfil the terms and conditions in a way we never could. But what he offers us is not divorce from God, but a new relationship with Him. A better one founded on what Hebrews 8 calls ‘better promises’. Promises of life and forgiveness. Promises of righteousness and peace with God. Promises of a permanent fellowship with the Father.

Not a fleeting feast on a hillside, but forever with the Father in Glory, in a New Creation! And that promise was signed in blood. Not in the blood of lambs and goats, but the blood of His own Son, who would say to his disciples in Luke 22:20 ESV, “…This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

And we’re going to remind ourselves of that in a few moments' time. But before we close, let’s just think for a second. God would go through all of that for a bride for His Son, a bride he can present spotless and blameless in his sight. And God’s people are that bride. Christ has said, yes, amen, I do, and he sealed those vows in His blood.

If you’re not a believer this morning, will you say ‘I do’ to Christ? Will you take up his promises of forgiveness and fellowship? Will you take Him up on those promises of life together forever? The wonderful thing for us as believers is that this is not ‘til death do us part. This is something that starts now and goes on to eternity, even after death, something more permanent than stone, something more precious than gold, a relationship that’s so much more than a tick in a box. Let’s pray.

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