Were you good this week? Did you walk faithfully with God during the week? I suspect if we were to take the time to hear each person’s answer to those questions, we would hear many different answers. But all of us would have to ask an even more basic question: What is good and what exactly does a faithful walk with God look like? What does it mean to be good in God’s eyes? We are saved by grace because we cannot possibly be perfect. Yet God expects us to live good and moral lives with him. What is the relationship between grace and our good works?
In our ongoing study of the covenants, this becomes a central issue. We saw last week that God told Abraham that he would bless Abraham greatly by giving him many descendants and by being with him. That was the promised blessing. And the obligation on Abraham’s part was to walk with God and be blameless. In the Covenant of Grace as given to Moses, God fleshes out what it means very specifically to walk with God and be blameless. However, in this next revelation of God’s covenant with his people, we see the clear and underlying need to rely on God’s grace as well. We see this in Exodus 24.
I. First, let’s look briefly at the setting of these verses.
These events occurred during the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt. There is a little detail that is important not to miss in the background to this story in Exodus 2:23-25. Here we read: “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” The people have been enslaved but God remembered the covenant and now will introduce the next stage in the covenant of grace in the covenant he made with Moses; God continues his covenant plan.
At this point, while Moses is still at the base of the mountain, God invites Moses to come once again to the top. This time Moses is to bring Aaron, his sons and 70 of the elders of Israel. The sons of Aaron were summoned because they would be the future priests leading the people. The 70 elders are a group which represents the whole nation of Israel. Notice the gradual degrees of nearness to God in these verses. While the people are represented, they are still physically separated from God. In fact, earlier we read that if any of the people even touch the mountain, they will die. Aaron, his sons and the 70 elders were invited to approach God. But Moses alone is invited to approach God and be near to Him.
II. Let’s look at the preparation as described in verses 3-8.
Moses went back down the mountain and told the people everything that God had told him. He related to the people all that God expected of them in the Covenant. Exodus 24:7 says, “Then he (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.” Note that this covenant is the Law of God as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The people responded, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Then Moses wrote it all down and read it to the people. They again said, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” They understood that God would continue to be their God and would lead them. They also understood that their obligation in this covenant would be to keep all the laws that God had specifically revealed to Moses. Again, God spells out specifically what it means to walk with God and be blameless.
The next morning, Moses made an altar for the Lord and uses blood again to underscore the covenant and acts out its meaning and importance. He takes half of the blood and throws it on the altar and sprinkles the other half on the people. The blood thrown on the altar symbolizes the fact that God will accept them and forgive them. The blood sprinkled on the people symbolizes that they are all now bound to God in a blood oath. The meaning underlying all of this once again is that what is required for a relationship with God is the shedding of blood. God had made it very clear from the very beginning that sin demands death. Therefore, if sinful people want to live with God, their sins must be removed and forgiven. That is why Moses says, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The shedding of blood brings people to God and brings the promise of a blessed life with God.
The sign today for us is seen in the Lord’s Supper. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus used the same phrase that Moses used. The blood sprinkled on the altar and on the people was the sign that God would accept them and forgive them. The blood of Jesus is the reason that God now can accept us and forgive all our sins. But what is also true is that we are now able to live in a special relationship with God as a result. That is what the Israelites learned next.
III. Verses 9-11 describe the meeting with the covenant God.
Aaron, his sons and the representatives of the people then were allowed to go up the mountain and there they “saw the God of Israel.” Most likely, they saw God in the form of a king seated on a throne. Under the feet of God they saw a brilliantly clear blue pavement that was as clear as the sky itself. The picture then seems to be that as they approached God, they looked up and perhaps saw only the feet of God. But separating them from even the feet of God was this pavement representing the vastness of heaven. And even though they saw God, God did not strike them down for seeing God. The Bible elsewhere says that no one can see God’s face and live. God chose to show mercy to these people because He wanted to be in a relationship with them.
At that point the group of people sits down and eats and drinks with God! They likely brought some of the sacrifice that they had just done. And in the very presence of God, they sit down to enjoy a fellowship meal with God. God has not become any less awesome, but this shows God’s great desire to accept His people and have a special relationship with them.
Again this vision of God should remain in our minds today. Here is the great God sitting down to eat and drink with common people. Imagine what that must have been like for these people. Being in the very presence of God and having that special fellowship and communion with Him! The point is that we can have that very special communion with God as well. That is a very special and important thing for us to realize. The bottom line of the Christian faith is not a set of propositions that we adhere to. The goal of the Christian faith is having a special and intimate relationship with God. That is the bottom line in living in a special covenant relationship with God for us.
IV. The mediator of the covenant is described in verses 12-18.
At this point Moses goes up alone to the top of the mountain to meet God. When Moses goes up, the “glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.” The word “settled” is the same word that will be used to describe God’s willingness to dwell with His people in special ways. God is there in all of His great power and glory, but now Moses is there with Him in the glory. Once Moses is in the cloud, he must wait there for 6 days. The days were used to prepare Moses for the tremendous God that he was about to see. Finally, on the seventh day God talked with Moses.
And Moses is up on the mountain for 40 days. While the rest of the law was given to Moses, this would also be a time of testing for the people. In the Bible, forty is a symbolic number for testing. The people would be tested in the wilderness for 40 years to see if they would obey God. Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. During Moses’ absence the people would be tested to see if they would in fact obey God as they had promised they would. From below all the people could see was God’s power and glory in the consuming fire on the mountain. God was bringing them into a close relationship with him, but they couldn’t yet see it. Closeness with God was the goal, but they needed to have the mediator Moses to bring it about.
If we want to have closeness in our relationship with God, we must also rely on our mediator: Jesus Christ. We cannot approach God on our own and live. Any attempt that we may make on our own to do this will fail. “We are a fleck of dust on the eyelash of a gnat” and we cannot presume to fellowship with God in that condition. No, we can only approach God only through Jesus. And only then can we have that special relationship with God. If you are searching for this, the only way is through Jesus Christ. Jesus has come down to us so that we may go up to God and enjoy his faithful covenant love.
But what is the place of the law as we live with God, especially now that we are in the New Covenant? First, the moral law continues to be the perfect standard of obedience in the Covenant of Grace. Think of the amount of moral law found in Paul’s letters. Usually it is in the form of an Old Testament principle expressed in a New Testament way. Moreover, Romans 8:3-4 says that we are redeemed so that the righteous law is fulfilled. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Jesus himself stresses that our judgment will be based on our works. The Sermon on the Mount concludes with obedience. Matthew 7:24-27 – “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.... And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” We live in grace but we will still be held accountable for what we do with the grace given to us.
How many adult Christians feel that way in our relationship with God? We feel very grateful for Jesus and what God has done, but when it comes to expressing it in obedient daily living, we “just don’t want to.” Let’s remember who our great and faithful God is, remember his amazing grace and compassion shown to us in Jesus so that we can live with him and then obediently show him just how grateful we are. God has given us the law to make life good for us. Let’s live gratefully and obediently for him as we walk in his faithful covenant blessings.