Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Covenant Confirmation

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” . . .  Then he (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. Again they all responded, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.” Then Moses took the blood from the basins and splattered it over the people, declaring, “Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions.” Exodus 24:3, 7-8 (NLT)

Finally, God had given Moses and the Israelites His Ten Commandments and His Book of the Covenant at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17; Exodus 20:22-23:19). The laws, regulations, and ordinances were the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and the Book of the Covenant that applied God’s Ten Commandments to specific situations (Exodus 20:22-23:19). In unison, the Israelites responded they would obey all the laws, regulations, and ordinances God had given (Exodus 24:3, 7; see also Exodus 19:8; Joshua 24:24). The Israelites agreed to accept their covenant relationship with God, promised to give absolute loyalty to God, and to live in moral ways that reflected God’s holy character. Moses wrote down the laws (the Ten Commandments and Book of the Covenant); and early the next morning he built an altar at the foot of Mount Sinai for worship of God (Exodus 24:4-5). Moses sealed and confirmed the laws and regulations at Mount Sinai with blood. He sprinkled half the blood on the people and the other half on the altar (Exodus 24:6, 8; see also Hebrews 9:19-20).

This confirmation passage in Exodus is a key passage in the Holy Scriptures (Exodus 24:8). The nation of Israel was entering into a formal covenant (pact, treaty, alliance, or agreement) relationship with the true and living God. This confirmation and unique sacrifice formally set Israel apart as the people of God and laid the foundation for all sacrifices to follow. The blood on the altar symbolized God’s forgiveness and His acceptance of the offering (Hebrews 9:22); the blood on the people pointed to an oath (promise) that bound Israel in obedience (Exodus 24:3, 7). The Israelites’ oath (promise) of full obedience to God’s laws, regulations, and ordinance (Exodus 24:7) was an essential element in the establishment of the covenant between God and Israel. The covenant at Mount Sinai was designed to teach the Israelites God’s nature and character. In the covenant at Mount Sinai, God called the people to reflect His holy character and nature.

“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as My own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt.” Exodus 6:6-7 (NLT)

If we are to receive God’s covenant benefits, we too as believers of Jesus Christ must also live out “the obedience that comes from faith” (see Romans 1:5). God demands our absolute and wholehearted loyalty to Him and obedience to His demands. The heart of God’s covenant is to be eternally faithful to Him, whom we love, trust and worship (serve) (e.g. see Genesis 17:7-8; Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 34:27-31; Hoses 2:23; Zechariah 8:8; Matthew 22:37). God pledged to be a Protector of His people and the One who provided for the people’s well-being and guaranteed their future blessings if they loved, trusted and worshipped Him as the only true and living God. God blessings cannot be obtained through magic and manipulation; instead they are free to those who love and obey Him. GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL!

The ceremony of sprinkling with blood by Moses closely parallels Jesus Christ’s words at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (see Exodus 24:8; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Through faith in the sacrificial and atoning blood of Jesus Christ, believers are also confirmed and reconciled to God (see Romans 3:25; Romans 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:22; Revelations 7:14). Jesus Christ’s sacrificial blood was the final sacrifice and sealed the new covenant with God. In fact, the New Testament applied Moses’ very phraseology at Exodus 24:8 to the new covenant made possible by Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary’s Cross. Moses said:  “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:8, NIV). Jesus Christ said:  “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28, NIV). The phrase “blood of the covenant” appears throughout the New Testament, in each case referring to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ to rescue people by faith from bondage and sin (salvation) (see Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:20; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:20). Jesus Christ’s death inaugurated the new covenant, and believers celebrate that reality each time they take the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:20).

At the reading and confirmation of the covenant, the Israelites promised to obey every one of the laws, regulations, and ordinances of God (Exodus 24:7; see also Exodus 19:8). Despite the people’s verbal commitment to obey God, Israel repeatedly failed to obey the covenant at Mount Sinai. God disciplined the Israelites many times for their failure to obey the covenant, but they still persisted in sin (e.g., see Exodus 32). In fact, God sent His prophets to repeatedly command the people to return to God and to the Sinai covenant. God appealed to the Israelites to repent, return and be reconciled to Him (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:16-46, particularly v. 18, 36-37; Jeremiah 3:11-4:2). Despite these many efforts in the Old Testaments, the people repeatedly rebelled against God and God’s commands. The Sinai covenant was a good thing, but this old covenant was weak in that it was incapable of making the Israelites obey God (see Romans 7:12; Romans 8:3-4).

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know Me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NLT)

Because Israel failed to keep this covenant, God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah a new covenant. This new covenant was confirmed through the gracious work of Jesus Christ’s atonement – His life, death and resurrection (see Jeremiah 31:31–34; see also Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:6–13; Hebrews 9:15–18; Hebrews 12:24). To help the people obey His moral laws, regulations and ordinance, God graciously gave and continually gives His Holy Spirit on everyone through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement. The Holy Spirit now empowers believers to live up to the just and holy demands of God (Romans 8). Through faith in the Cross of Jesus Christ, God made it possible for believers in Jesus Christ to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and thus fulfill God’s covenant purpose and reflect His holy character (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jeremiah 32:40; John 16:8; Romans 8:5-14; Romans 10:8-17; Galatians 5:1-26). The new covenant is not external but written on believers’ hearts through faith and by God’s Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33). The great shortcoming of the old covenant was that the Sinai Covenant lacked the power to help people to obey God’s laws (Romans 8:3-4). The new covenant internalized God’s law through the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ (Ezekiel 36:24-27) and gives believers a new heart and new start (2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Thus, through God’s Holy Spirit, believers everywhere (not just a select few) can fulfill God’s covenant plan for life as summed up in the two “Great Commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40): “You must love the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain again. There they saw the God of Israel. Under His feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli (sapphire), as clear as the sky itself. And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, He did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in His Presence! Exodus 24:9-11 (NLT)

Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up Mount Sinai and they saw the God of Israel (Exodus 24:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were the two oldest sons of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel (Exodus 6:23). Moses and the nobles saw a manifestation of God, like what Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John also witnessed (see Isaiah 6:1–7; Ezekiel 1:26–28; Revelation 4:1–11). The occasion also has parallels the transfiguration of Jesus Christ before Peter, James, and John in the New Testament (see Matthew 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36). Under God’s feet there seemed to be a pavement of brilliant sapphire stones, as clear as the sky itself (Exodus 24:10). However, no description or form in which God manifested Himself is given, except a word about what is seen under God’s feet (see also Ezekiel 1:26–28; Revelation 4:2–6). Even though these nobles of Israel gazed upon the true and living God, God did not lay His hand upon the nobles to destroy them (see also Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20–23; Isaiah 6:5). Rather than being consumed, the nobles feasted in the glory of God’s beauty. These nobles ate a covenant meal together before God, eating and drinking in God’s very Presence (Exodus 24:11; see also 1 Corinthians 10:31). It was common for those entering into a covenant to eat a meal together (see e.g., Genesis 26:30; Genesis 31:54; Luke 22:15–20). Around the world, then and today, the act of eating a meal together is often a sign of peace and good relations. Even more, the covenant meal foreshadowed the Lord’s Supper, which celebrates the new covenant sealed by Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death blood (1 Corinthians 11:25-26).

No one has ever seen God. But the One and only Son is Himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:18 (NLT)

Yet, the nobles probably did not see God in His essential Being and the fullness of His glory (see Exodus 33:20; John 1:18). God is Spirit (John 4:24). No one has ever seen God in His full essence – His Spirit-Being – and lived (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:17). Most likely, the nobles saw some of God's glory and the throne of God on the sapphire pavement (see Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:26). The invisible God was hidden from the nobles. In Old Testament times, God had previously assumed visible form, which people saw (e.g., see Genesis 32:30; Exodus 24:9-10; Judges 13:22; Isaiah 6:1; Daniel 7:9). In the New Testament, humanity has seen God through Jesus Christ (John 14:8-9). Jesus Christ has revealed God and God’s glory to the world (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:3). Jesus Christ is God (Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6) and the absolutely authentic representation of God’s being (John 14:9; Colossians 1:15). Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, is the glory and image of the true and living God (2 Corinthians 4:4). When Jesus Christ appears again at His second advent, He will further manifest God’s glory in His restored Kingdom (Revelation 21:11, 23) and we who believe will “be like Him” (1 John 3:2). The Apostle Paul declares that the presence of Jesus Christ in the lives of believers provides assurance that we will share in that glory (Romans 5:2; Colossians 1:27). “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1:15 (NLT). Jesus Christ and God the Father are one (John 10:30, 38; John 12:45). In fact, Jesus Christ came from heaven, not from the dust of the earth (1 Corinthians 15:47), and He is Lord of all (Romans 9:5; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 17:14).

God is both transcendent (excellent and supreme) and immanent (close to us). In other words, we must never forget that God is almighty, all-powerful and supreme. God deserves our wholehearted love, worship and obedience. Yet, God personally comes close to everyone with mercy and acceptance who genuinely seek Him, love Him, and call upon Him for help (Romans 10:11-13). The true and living God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ brings God close to us through faith (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Israel had to worship at a distance, but God calls all believers in Jesus Christ to enter into His glorious presence and rest through “the new and living way” – Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-25). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). We do not come fearfully to a stormy mountain but confidently to a glorious heavenly city where our names are written down as citizens of heaven (Hebrews 12:18-24).

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Stay there, and I will give you the tablets of stone on which I have inscribed the instructions and commands so you can teach the people.” So Moses and his assistant Joshua set out, and Moses climbed up the mountain of God. . . . Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Exodus 24:12-13, 15-18 (NLT)

Afterwards, God instructed Moses to come higher up Mount Sinai and remain with Him until He gave him the laws and commandments to teach the people from them (Exodus 24:12). In the Old Testament, Moses was God’s chosen mediator between Himself and Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant (see Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 12:24) and He is greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6). So Moses and Joshua, his assistant (servant), went up into Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:13). As Moses and Joshua climbed the mountain of God, Moses went even further up the mountain and disappeared into the cloud at the top (Exodus 24:15). And the glory of God settled (dwelt) upon Mount Sinai, and God’s glorious cloud covered the mountain for six days (Exodus 24:16). On the seventh day, God called to Moses from the cloud (Exodus 24:16). The nobles and the Israelites at the bottom of Mount Sinai witnessed the awesome glory of God on the mountaintop (Exodus 24:17). This was the Shekinah glory. God’s glory looked like a raging fire – a consuming fire (Exodus 24:17; see also Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:28-29). And Moses disappeared into cloud-covered Mount Sinai, and was there for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18; see also Matthew 4:1-2). During that time, God gave Moses the plans for the Tabernacle and the priesthood. The Israelites at the base of the mountain were afraid to hear God's voice and were satisfied to hear Moses speak to them (Exodus 20:18-19), but Moses not only heard God's voice but saw God's glorious Presence! Jesus Christ, the new Moses, also fasted for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28; Matthew 4:2). The number forty also recalls the Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) as well as the forty years of Israel’s temptation (testing) in the desert (see Deuteronomy 8:2, 16). Jesus Christ was subjected to a similar test and shows Himself to be the true Israelite who lived on “every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:12). 

Sadly, during these forty days and forty nights, just after the ratification of the old covenant, the Israelites built the golden calf (see Exodus 32). Essentially, the Israelites refused to take their covenant commitment to God seriously. The disastrous results of living in disobedience to God’s Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant were demonstrated by the golden calf episode. Essentially, the worship of the golden calf was similar to the Great Fall of Eden (Exodus 32; see also Genesis 3; 1 Corinthians 10:6-8). God had graciously redeemed the Israelites from slavery and bondage (Exodus 1-18) and taken the Israelites to Himself as His people (Exodus 19-24). God had carried the Israelites on eagles’ wings and brought the people to Himself (Exodus 19:4). This is God’s salvation (Exodus 19:4). If the people would continually obey Him and keep His covenant, the Israelites would be God’s own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth (Exodus 19:5). The Israelites would be God’s kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, and a blessing to all nations (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6).

The remaining chapters of Exodus are concerned with preparing the Tabernacle so that God could continue to “dwell” among His people as He had dwelt at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 25:8-9; John 1:14). The last section of Exodus focused on the design, construction, and dedication of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-40). God needed a place where His glory could dwell on earth (see Exodus 40:34-38). The Tabernacle provided a temporary means by which the Israelites could enjoy God’s holy presence as originally designed in the Garden of Eden.

Believer’s Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Woman’s Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

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