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The Blood of the Covenant


Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. 2Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. 6Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

On the Mountain with God

9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

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1. Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. Before Moses erected the tabernacle and consecrated it by a solemn ceremony, it was necessary for him to fetch the Tables of the Covenant, which were a pledge of God’s favor; otherwise, if the ark had nothing in it, the sanctuary would have been in a manner empty. For this reason, he is commanded to go up into the mount, but not without a splendid train of companions, in order that an appropriate preparation might arouse their minds for a fit reception of this especial blessing. He is, therefore, commanded to take with him Aaron his brother, and Nadab and Abihu, together with seventy of the elders of the people. This was the number of witnesses selected to behold the glory of God. Before, however, they ascended the mount, a sacrifice was offered by the whole people, and the Book of the Law was read. Finally, Moses alone was received into the top of the mount, to bring from thence the Tables written by the hand of God.

Here, however, (See this subject further discussed on Numbers 11:16, infra.) arises a question respecting the seventy elders; for we shall see elsewhere that the seventy were not chosen till the people had departed from Mount Sinai; whereas mention is made of them here, before the promulgation of the Law, which seems to be by no means consistent. But this difficulty is removed, if we allow, what we gather from this passage, that, even before they came to Mount Sinai, each tribe had appointed its governors (praefectos), who would make up this number, since there were six of every tribe; but that when Moses afterwards desired to be relieved of his burdens, part of the government was transferred 305305     “A ceux, qui desia estoyent en degre d’honneur;” to those who were already honourably distinguished. — Fr. to these seventy persons, since this number was already sanctioned by custom and use. Certainly, since it is plainly stated that there were 306306     “Septante et deux;” seventy-two. — Fr. seventy from the very first, it is probable that this number of coadjutors was given to Moses in order to make as little change as possible. For we know that, when a custom has obtained, men are very unwilling to depart from it. But it might have also been that the desire and intention of the Israelites was thus to celebrate the memory of their origin; for seventy persons had gone down into Egypt with Jacob, and, in less than two hundred and twenty years after they went there, their race had increased to six hundred thousand, besides women and children. It is not, therefore, contrary to probability that seventy persons were appointed to preside over the whole people, in order that so marvelous a blessing of God might continue to be testified in all ages, as if to trace the commencement of their race up to its very source.

2. And Moses alone shall come near the Lord. Three gradations are here marked. A station is prescribed for the people, from whence they may “worship afar off;” the elders and the priests are appointed to be the companions of Moses, to come closer, and thus to be witnesses to the people of all the things which we shall afterwards see to be shewn them; whilst, as they were separated from the multitude, so finally Moses alone was received up into the higher glory; for he was caught up on high in the covering of the cloud. This 307307     “Ces trois estats;” these three estates. — Fr. distinction is marked in the words, “Moses alone shall come near...; but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up.” Some translators render the verbs in the past tense; but improperly, in my opinion; for Moses is not yet relating what was done, but only what God had commanded, as is plain from the next verse, wherein also the modesty and humility of the people is commended, because they received with reverence a command which was not in itself very agreeable or likely to be approved. For, such is the ambition of men, that it might have appeared insulting that they should be set afar off and prohibited from approaching the mountain, like strangers and heathens. It is, therefore, an evidence of their pious reverence, that they should submit to be placed at a distance, and should be contented with a position apparently less honorable. And Moses more clearly expresses their promptitude to obey, when he reports their words, that they would do all that he had declared to them from the mouth of God.

4. And Moses 308308     “Had written.” — Lat. wrote all the words of the Lord. This parenthesis is opportunely inserted; for we shall see a little further on that the book was read before the people; but, in order to awaken greater attention, before the reading he built an altar and offered victims in the sight of all the people. Moreover, it must be observed that statues 309309     “Pillars.” — A V. “Some think that this altar was set upon twelve stones, such as Elias built, 1 Kings 18:31; and Joshua 4:20; in which places, however, the word used is אבנים, (abanim,) which signifieth stones, which were gathered together to make one altar or heap; but here the word is מצבה, (matsebah,) which is a pillar, so called a stando, because it standeth alone, and is erected and set up as a monument.” — Abridged from Willet in loco. See ante, vol. 2, p. 117, and note were erected near the altar according to the number of the tribes, that they might know that they were not kept afar off in token of rejection, but only that, conscious of their own unworthiness, they might humble themselves before God in fear and trembling; for, though they were removed to a considerable distance, still they were remembered before God, and thus He embraced them all, as it were, by means of these statues. What Moses, however, calls by this name, were not images bearing the shape of a man, but heaps of stones, which might be as monuments representing the twelve tribes; that they might know that they were by no means excluded from the sanctity of the altar.

5. And he sent young men of the children of Israel. He either means that they were the sacrificial attendants (victimarios,) by whose hands the victims were killed, or that some were chosen who might be active and strong to drag the oxen to the altar. The tribe of Levi was not yet consecrated; whereas the word used for “offering,” 310310     “Ce qui n’est attribuE qu’a ceux qui ont la charge speciale de sacrifier;” which is only applied to those who have the special charge of sacrificing. — Fr. is only applied to the priests, where a distinction is marked between the Levites and the rest of the people. The first meaning is, therefore, the most suitable.

We have stated elsewhere that the 311311     “Peace-offerings.” — A.V. Vide ante, vol. 2, pp. 139 and 333. sacrifices of prosperities were designed as acts of thanksgiving; and yet that they were not only expressions of gratitude, but also that prayers were mixed with them in supplication of good success. This offering, however, comprised in it a ratification of the Covenant, as appears immediately afterwards; for, in order to increase the sanctity and security of covenants, they have in all ages, and even 312312     “In all solemn leagues and covenants, they sacrificed to the gods by whom they swore, offering for the most part either a boar, ram, or goat; sometimes all three; sometimes bulls or lambs instead of any of them. Hence comes the phrase, ὄρκια τέμνειν; in Latin, ferire foedus, i e., to make a covenant.” — Potter’s Arch. Graeca., Book 2. ch. 6. For the same custom, as existing among the Romans, see Liv. 1. 24. Virg. Aen. 8. 641. amongst heathen nations, been accompanied with sacrifices. To this end Moses, the victims being slain, pours half the blood upon the altar, and keeps half in basins to sprinkle the people, that by this 313313     “Par tel sacrement.” — Fr. symbol the Covenant might be ratified, whereof he was the mediator and surety. Paul, in allusion to this custom, says, that he should rejoice, if he were “offered upon the sacrifice and service of their faith” whom he had gained for Christ, (Philippians 2:17;) and he uses the word σπένδεσθαι, which 314314     See C in loco. Calvin Soc. edit., p. 74, where, however, I question whether his statement on the word σπουδὰς is correct. is primarily applied to covenants. But the case of this sacrifice was peculiar; for God desired the Jews to be reminded of the one solid confirmation of the Covenant, which He made with them; as if He had openly shown that it would then only be ratified and effectual, when it should be sealed with blood. And this the Apostle (Hebrews 9:19) carefully takes into consideration, when he says, that after the Law had been declared, Moses “sprinkled both the book and all the people” with blood; for, although there is no express mention here made of the book, the Apostle does not unreasonably comprise it under the word “altar.” He also alludes to another kind of sacrifice, treated of in Numbers 19:5, and therefore mentions “the scarlet-wool and hyssop.” The sum is, that the blood was, as it were, the medium whereby the covenant was confirmed and established, since the altar, as the sacred seat of God, was bathed with half of it, and then the residue was sprinkled over the people. Hence we gather that the covenant of gratuitous adoption was made with the ancient people unto eternal salvation, since it was sealed with the blood of Christ in type and shadow. Now, if this doctrine hold good under the Law, much more must it occupy a place with us now; and hence, in order that God’s promises may always maintain their power and certainty, let this sealing be constantly kept before us; and let us remember that the blood of Christ has therefore once been shed, that it might engrave upon our hearts the covenant whereby we are called to the hope of the kingdom of heaven. For this reason Christ in the Holy Supper commends His blood as the seal of the New Covenant; nay, whenever we take the sacred books into our hands, the blood of Christ, ought to occur to our minds, as if the whole 315315     “Comme si le Loy, et les Prophetes, et l’Evangile en estoyent escrits;” as if the Law and the Prophets, and the Gospel were written with it. — Fr. of its sacred instruction were written therewith; for it is obvious that Christ compares with the figure the truth which was manifested in Himself; to which also the admonition of the Apostle, which I have just quoted, refers.

We must now carefully observe the course of the proceeding. First, Moses states that he read the book before the people; and then adds that the people themselves embraced the covenant proposed to them. Finally, he relates that when the people had professed their obedience, he sprinkled the blood, not without adding his testimony, and that in a loud voice. The context here shews us the true and genuine nature of the Sacraments, together with their correct and proper use; for unless doctrine precede them to be a connecting link between God and man, they will be empty and delusive signs, however honorable may be the encomiums passed on them. But inasmuch as mutual consent is required in all compacts, so, when God invites His people to receive grace, He stipulates that they should give Him the obedience of faith, so as to answer, Amen. Thus nothing can be more preposterous than the invention of dumb sacraments: such as those childish charms which the Papists hawk about as sacraments, without the word of God; whilst, at the same time, it must be added that the word, which gives life to the Sacraments, is not an obscure whisper, like that magical incantation of the Papists, when they blow on the bread and the cup, and which they call the consecration; but it is a clear and distinct voice which is addressed to men, and avails to beget faith in them. Thus Moses here speaks aloud to the people, and reminds them that God enters into covenant with him.

Now, although the profession here recorded might seem to be derived from too great confidence, when the people declare that they will do whatsoever God commands, still it contains nothing amiss or reprehensible; inasmuch as the faithful among them promised nothing, except in reliance on the help of God: and gratuitous reconciliation, if they should sin, was included in it. This was not indeed the proper office of the Law, to incline men’s hearts to the obedience of righteousness; as also under the Law there was no true and real expiation to wash away the guilt of sins; but the office of the Law was to lead men step by step to Christ, that they might seek of Him pardon and the Spirit of regeneration. It is, therefore, unquestionable that the elect of God embraced by faith the substance and truth of the shadows when they voluntarily offered themselves to keep the covenant of God.

9. Then went up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. Thus it is that I connect the history: Moses, having finished reading the Law, and having sprinkled the blood, took with him the companions pointed out to him by God, and having left the people, went with these some way up the mountain. I have thought it well slightly to touch upon this, because some translators render the verb improperly in the pluperfect tense, as if he and the elders had already before 316316     “Devant que sacrifier;” before sacrificing. — Fr. been separated from the people; but this is very absurd, for it was necessary for him to remain in the plain, in order to address the people.

There the glory of God was beheld more closely by the elders, that they might afterwards relate to the people what they had seen, and that thus the thing, being proved by competent witnesses, might obtain undoubted credit. For this reason he says, that “they saw the God of Israel,” not in all His reality and greatness, but in accordance with the dispensation which He thought best, and which he accommodated to the capacity of man. The form of God is indeed nowhere described, but the pediment (basis) on which He stood was like a work of sapphire. 317317     Ainsworth, “A work of sapphire-brick. Heb., brick of sapphire: whereby is meant sapphire-stone, hewed like brick, wherewith the place under Him was paved. So also the Greek translateth it. Or, it may be Englished, of whiteness of sapphire, i.e., of white sapphire-stone: for brick hath the name in Hebrew of whiteness. The Chaldee translateth, under the throne of his glory was, as it were, a work of precious, stone.”
   “The Hebrews, (says Willet, in loco,) whom Lyranus and Lippoman follow, — in that the pavement or brick-work was like sapphire, — understand the happy change which was now made for Israel: their servitude in making of brick was turned into glorious liberty, as if a floor should be paved with sapphire instead of brick!”
The word לבנת, libnath, some translate stone, others whiteness, others brick. Whichever sense it is preferred to take it in, but little affects the main point in the matter; for the color of a sapphire was presented to them, to elevate their minds by its brightness above the world; and therefore it is immediately added, that its appearance was as of the clear and serene sky. By this symbol they were reminded that the glory of God is above all heavens; and since in His very footstool there is such exquisite and surpassing beauty, something still more sublime must be thought of Himself, and such as would ravish all our senses with admiration. Thus the throne of God was shewn to Ezekiel “as the appearance of a sapphire-stone.” (Ezekiel 1:26; 10:1.)

Finally, on the footstool Infinite Majesty appeared, such as to strike the elders with astonishment, so that they might humble themselves with greater reverence before the incomprehensible glory of God.

11. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel. These words, as it seems to me, are violently distorted by those 318318     So Aben-Ezra, in Willet; and Faigius and S. Munster in Poole. Boothroyal says, “This phrase evidently means, ‘He slew them not;’ compare Genesis 22:12; and 37:22; Nehemiah 12:21; Esther 2:21; Psalm 55:20.” who expound them, that the elders were not made participators of the prophetic gift, or that the virtue of God did not extend to them; for these clauses are to be taken connectedly thus: although they saw God, His hand was not laid upon them but they ate and drank. Hence we may gather that God’s paternal favor towards them is pointed out in that He spared them; for we must bear in mind what is said elsewhere, “There shall no man see my face and live.” (Exodus 33:20.) Thus, amongst the ancients, this was a kind of proverbial expression: We shall die, because we have seen God. So Jacob, in commendation of God’s grace, says, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:30.) For if the mountains melt at the sight of Him, what must needs happen to a mortal man, than whom there is nothing more frail or feeble? Herein, then, does God’s incomparable lenity betray itself, when, in manifesting Himself to His elect, He does not altogether absorb and reduce them to nothing; especially when some special vision is presented to them. In sum, therefore, Moses shews us that it was a miracle that the rulers of Israel remained safe and sound, although the terrible majesty of God had appeared to them. Now, this was the case, because they had not rashly thrust themselves forward, but had come near at the call of God. Hence we learn that our boldness never exceeds its due bounds, nor can be condemned as presumption, when it is founded on the command of God; whilst worse than any pride or self-confidence is timidity, which, under pretense of modesty, leads us to distrust the word of God. If any one of the people had attempted to do the same as the rulers, he would have experienced in his destruction what it is to advance beyond bounds. But the reason why their free and bold access turned out successfully to the elders, was because they obeyed the command of God.

What follows, as to their eating, I interpret to mean a solemn banquet, which was a part or appendage of a sacrifice, as we have seen on Exodus 18 319319     See ante, vol. 1, pp. 300, 301. and in many other places.

12. And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me. Moses himself is now taken up higher; because it was sufficient that the elders should be admitted to that intermediate vision, from whence they might certainly know that he would not proceed further, except by God’s command, in order that he might be received to familiar colloquy. Although, however, Joshua began to go on with him, it is plain that he was only his companion for six days, until Moses left him behind, and was gathered into the cloud. When God declares that He will give him “a law and commandment,” this must not be understood of any new instruction, but of the authentic writing (consignatione) of the Law: for, after having spoken of the two tables, He immediately mentions, in apposition, the Law and Commandment, by way of explanation; as if He had said that He would give the tables, which were to be a divine monument 320320     “Un document celeste et infallible;” a celestial and infallible document. — Fr. of His covenant; so that a summary of doctrine should exist among the people, not written with ink, and by the hand of man, but by the secret power of the Spirit. I am afraid the speculation of Augustine is more subtle than correct, that the Law was written by the finger of God, 321321     See Augustine, Serm. 155: De verbo Apost. sect. 3, tom. 5, pp. 742, 743, (Edit. Bened.) See also Serm. 8. sect. 14, ibid., p. 48. See also Quaest. in Exodus 25, tom. 3., p. 429; and Quaest. 166., ibid., pp. 471, 472. “Proinde magna oritur quaestio, quomodo illae tabulae, quas erat Moyses Deo utique praesciente fractures, non hominis opus esse dicantur, sed Dei, nec ab homine scriptae, sed digito Dei: posteriores vero tabulae tamdiu mansurae, ac in tabernaculo et templo Dei futurae, jubente quidem Deo, tamen ab homine excisae sint, ab homine scriptae. An forte in illis prioribus gratia Dei significabatur, non hominis opus, qua gratia indigni facti sunt revertentes corde in Aegyptum, et facientes idolum; unde illo beneficio privati sunt, et propterea Moyses tabulas fregit: istis vero tabulis posterioribus significati sunt qui de suis operibus gloriantur; unde dicit Apostolus (Romans 10:3) Ignorantes Dei justitiam, et suam volentes constituere, justitiae Dei non sunt subjecti; et ideo tabulae humano opere exsculptae et humano opere conscriptae datae sunt, quae cum ipsis manerent, ad eos significandos de suis operibus gloriaturos, non de digito Dei hoc est de Spiritu Dei.” because only the Spirit of God engraves it on our hearts; for, to pass over the fact that the hardness of the stones was not changed, what will their breaking mean, which will be spoken of hereafter? Surely it does not accord that, whereas the grace of regeneration endures unto the end, the Law should be only engraven efficaciously by the Spirit upon men’s hearts for a moment. What I have advanced, however, is beyond controversy, that the Law was inscribed upon these polished stones, that the perpetuity of the covenant might be testified in all ages.

14. Tarry ye here for us, until we come again. I do not take the words so precisely as to suppose that he commanded them to stand still in the same place; but since he was just about to be separated from intercourse with men, I suppose, that our earthly dwelling-place is indicated by the adverb, 322322     “Le mot dici;” the word here. — Fr. since it immediately follows, that if anything should occur, Aaron and Hur were to be his substitutes for ruling the people and settling quarrels. For, since care and anxiety might beset their minds, as being deprived of their only guide in counsel, and minister of safety, he offers this consolation to relieve their despondency. Hence it follows that they were sent back to occupy their charge, which could not be the case, unless they were in communication with the people. We are not aware whether Moses was pre-informed as to the time (of his absence, 323323     Added from Fr. ) although it is more probable that he was in doubt and suspense, until he penetrated into the secret counsel of God. From the last verse but one, we learn, that though the majesty of God was more clearly revealed to the elders, still it was conspicuous to all, from the least to the greatest, lest any excuse for ignorance should remain; for when the fire was seen burning for six continuous days, as if it would consume the mountain, how could they afterwards pretend that it was not fully understood from what Author the Law proceeded?