Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.”
15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now 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. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:9-18)
If you were not with us last week, we looked mainly at verse 1-9 of Exodus 24 which showed us the ratifying of the covenant in blood and the ceremony of worship during which the covenant was ratified. Verses 9-11 function sort of like a transition in this passage from the ratifying ceremony to Moses going up the mountain alone. We briefly looked at these verses last week and will begin here this week.
The Meal of the Covenant
We made the connection last week to the Lord’s Supper, particularly in considering the sprinkling of blood which Moses calls the blood of the covenant, and to the instituting of the Lord’s Supper where Jesus uses the same phrase to speak of His own blood in the cup of the Lord’s Supper being the “blood of the covenant.”
We discussed how the covenant is ratified or made in blood, by the blood of the sacrifice being sprinkled upon the altar, and the blood applied by being sprinkled upon the members of the covenant. In Exodus 24 this was all done in accordance with the word, in the assembly of the whole congregation who verbally received and affirmed God’s word and covenant.
Then after the public ceremony with all the congregation of Israel, the transition begins, as Moses, the priests, and the 70 elders eat and drink in the presence of God. It says they “saw the God of Israel…they beheld God and ate and drank.” So here we also see a type or a foreshadowing of the Lord’s Supper, as they eat and drink in the presence of God. So it was when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper saying this cup is the New Covenant in my blood, the disciples sat, beheld the Lord, and ate and drank in His presence.
So it is when we gather together and come to the Lord’s Table to eat of the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper, we do so in the presence of God – now He is not physically present with us, but by faith we each behold the Lord as we eat and drink.
So church, consider the weightiness of what we do when we come to the Table each Lord’s Day. We are having a covenant meal in the presence of God. We are reminded of the body and blood which was given for us and applied to us as we behold the Lord by faith. We have heard the Word, worshiped God, confessed our sins, and then eat and drink in His presence.
So as we come to the table each week, let us not take for granted the privilege that we have to commune with our Lord through the supper. Let us not treat it as unimportant, or as just bread and wine. Let us not eat and drink as if we were not in the presence of God. Let us remember and truly believe that Jesus is sanctifying us and changing us through this meal. For we are transformed more and more into the image of God as we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So if we are beholding the Lord by faith in the supper, we are being changed in it. And let us partake with sobriety and joy, remembering Jesus’ words when he took the cup, saying, this is “my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
So also, when we come to the table each week, in the presence of the Lord, let us not do so as hypocrites. Since we partake of His blood which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins, let us not partake of it having refused to confess and repent of sins in our lives. Your brothers and sisters here may not see the hypocrisy in your heart, but God, in whose presence we eat, sees all that is in the heart of man. Do not partake as if the Lord is not present with us.
But also, when we come to the table each week, let us do so beholding the Lord. In other words, by faith, let our eyes look to Jesus Christ, whose blood of the covenant we partake, and let not our eyes be fixated upon ourselves. You see, for some it may be a temptation to be so concerned about confessing all of one’s sins, that they hesitate or do not come to the table because they never believe they are ready or have confessed enough sin. While it is true that we are more sinful than we know, we are not more sinful than God knows. We are to confess sins that are known to us, know that we are more sinful still, and confess that to Jesus Christ, trusting His blood to be sufficient to cover our sins that we have confessed and the ones we don’t know to confess. We are not to eat and drink with our heads down and our eyes looking painstakingly into ourselves, but eat with our eyes up beholding the Lord with whose blood our consciences are sprinkled and made clean.
The God of the Covenant
Let us now behold more of the God whom they beheld as they ate and drank, as we look further at our text. The text says in verse 10, “they saw the God of Israel.” And in verse 11, “they beheld God…” Now this is profound, and it is startling, for we know as we learn in the Word, and in our confession and catechism that God is spirit. God is spirit and no man can see God and live. Just as God says to Moses in Exodus 33:20, “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Or as is spoken of God in 1 Timothy 6:16, that he “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.”
So how can it be said that they saw God? We might answer this question similarly to how we did way back in Exodus chapter 3. In Exodus 3 Moses saw the burning bush at the foot of the mountain of God, which is the same mountain they are now gathered at having come out of Egypt and having received the law and ratified the covenant. At this same mountain, it said in Exodus 3 that the Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the bush. This is a similar scene to the giving of the law at Sinai. There was a cloud and flashing lightning and flames of fire from which God spoke. In Exodus 3 the angel of the LORD appeared to Moses and yet the text tells us that the LORD spoke to Moses out of the bush. And then it says in Exodus 3:6 that “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” I argued there that it was the pre-incarnate second person of the trinity who appeared to Moses. And this could be what is happening here in Exodus 24. There are various clues in the text that allude to this possibility, as verse 10 speaks of the sapphire pavement under his FEET. And in verse 11 it is said that he did not lay his HAND on the chief of men of the people of Israel. We also know from John 1:18, speaking of the inability to see God, that God is made known through the Son. As it says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” There it speaks of the only God being at the side of God the Father, making Him known, who is the Son. So there is seen multiple persons of God, the person at the side of the Father with the role of making Him known. As it says, HE has made HIM known. Two persons.
Furthermore, in Exodus 24, there is seen to be multiple persons of God. As it says in Exodus 24:1, “Then HE said to Moses, ‘Come up to the LORD…’” So God tells Moses, “come up to the LORD.” And verse 2, God still speaking says, “Moses alone shall come near to the LORD…”
Furthermore, the imagery of the sapphire stone pavement is imagery that we see elsewhere in visions of the throne room in heaven, thus indicating to us that this is a divine dwelling of God. God made this mountain His abode and sanctuary as it were in coming to the people. He made it his footstool, as it is spoken of being under His feet. This same imagery of sapphire and flaming fire is seen by the prophet Ezekiel when He sees what can only be explained as the Son on the throne, as we see in Ezekiel 1:26-28.
And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire;[a] and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him.[b] 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
And yet again Ezekiel sees in Ezekiel 10:1, saying, “Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in appearance like a throne.”
So what we have at this scene on the mountain of God in Exodus 24 is a scene into the throne room of God, as God is making His dwelling place with Israel. And it is interesting that what comes next in Exodus, is God’s instructions to Moses concerning all things pertaining to the tabernacle, which signified the dwelling place of God with His people.
Psalm 99 sings of the enthronement of God, and the worship of Israel at the mountain of God, as we saw last week, Israel worshiped at this mountain. A few verses from Psalm 99, “The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!” The people did indeed tremble and the earth did indeed quake during this theophanic storm at Sinai. Again in Psalm 99:5, “Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!” And in Psalm 99:7, “In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them; they kept his testimonies and the statute that he gave them.” And in Psalm 99:9, “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy!” So the LORD made this mountain His footstool, where Israel worshiped Him.
And in the change of covenants in the New Testament we know that we have a different mountain at which we worship the Lord today, where indeed we are now gathered together, as it says in Hebrews 12:18, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.” But, as Hebrews 12:22 says “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” You HAVE COME to Mount Zion, it says. And so we have, in Jesus, our mediator of a new covenant.
But further still, in answering the question of how it can be said that they saw God, to add more, we see that it was a display of the glory of God which they witnessed. As it says in Exodus 24:16 that the “glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And then in verse 17, “Now 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.” They saw God by witnessing the glory of the LORD which appeared to them in their sight. Now this is fascinating when, as was pointed out to me in a similar conversation with one of you last week, we consider the fact that Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. As it says in Hebrews 1:3, speaking of the Son, that “He is the radiance of the glory of God…” The Son is the radiance of the glory of God. Part of the glory of the LORD in Exodus 24:17 was that it was like a devouring fire. And as Hebrews 12:29 tells us, “our God is a consuming fire.”
Further still, Exodus 24:16 says, “The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days.” And then the very next thing it says is, “And on the seventh day HE called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.” It seems as if the “glory of the LORD” which dwelt on Sinai, is given the pronoun “he” calling out from the cloud, which is where we see in other texts the angel of the LORD wrapped up in. Such is what we saw back in Exodus 16:10, where it says, “And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. And the LORD said to Moses…” So they see the glory of the LORD in the cloud, and then the LORD speaks from it. And as it was that the glory of the LORD DWELT on Mt. Sinai, so it is said of the Word in John 1, that He became flesh and DWELT among us.
Now having said all this, we don’t want to fall into the error of thinking that Christ was the mediator of the Old Covenant. As John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” And the language of Hebrews 8:6 necessarily implies that Christ was not the mediator of the Old Covenant, as it says, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” In saying, “the covenant that He mediates,” it necessarily implies that there is a covenant which He doesn’t mediate, the context of Hebrews contrasting this New Covenant with the old Mosaic covenant. Now, in saying that Jesus did not mediate the old covenant, we also must be careful not to say there is another mediator between God and man, for 1 Timothy 2:5 makes it clear, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” So we conclude that the Old Testament saints were saved not by virtue of the Old Covenant, but by faith in believing the gospel promises of God, which looked forward to the New Covenant work of Jesus Christ, just as we look back to His work. So we hold these truths firm that Christ has a better ministry than Moses, as the mediator of the New Covenant, while also holding these truths that we do not have a Christless Old Testament, but one that is filled with the activity of our Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; as Jesus Himself affirmed in John 5:46-47, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Writing on Stone
Let us now consider one further piece of Exodus 24. Verse 12 says, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So this is amazing. God Himself wrote the law on tablets of stone to give to Moses for the people. Exodus 31:18 reiterates, “And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” These are the tablets of stone which Moses ends up breaking upon seeing the golden calf Israel had constructed while he was on the mountain, and so God reissues another set of stone tablets which were to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant. As remarkable as this is, that God wrote upon tablets of stone, we are not to be worshipers of relics and Jewish myths, as many have been throughout history particularly concerning these tablets of stone and the ark of the covenant in which they were housed. For where are these stone tablets today? In terms of biblical chronology, the last mention of the ark is in 2 Chronicles 35, during the reforms of King Josiah, where he commands that the ark be returned to the temple which Solomon built. Later on in Biblical history, Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, but no mention of the ark is ever made in Scripture during the time of Israel’s Babylonian captivity. The apocryphal book of 1 Esdras claims that the Babylonians took the vessels of the ark during this time, and it is here that theories and conspiracies abound as countless individuals have searched all around the world in excavations for where this ark may have been hidden.
But as Christians, we are not to be occupied with such things, for in God’s providence they have been hidden from us, for we have been given something much more amazing than tablets of stone, an ark, and vessels of gold, all of which were copies and shadows of the reality which has come to us. For in the New Covenant, God has not written the law on stone, but even more amazing and supernatural, God has written upon our hearts. He has written the law upon our hearts, and indwelt us by His Spirit, and so there, the law is kept in the temple that is our bodies, as it were. To see the amazing handiwork of God one need only look at one who has been born again, and see the Holy Spirit living in our living temples, not made of human hands.
This is what was spoken of by the Prophet Jeremiah, as Paul confirms in Hebrews 8, that Jeremiah spoke of the new and better covenant mediated by Jesus, when he quotes Jeremiah in Hebrews 8:8-12
For he finds fault with them when he says:[a]
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
Again, it is confirmed in Hebrews 10, that this understanding of Jeremiah 31 is the teaching of the Holy Spirit, when Hebrews 10:15-18 says, “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord; I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
So Church, let us not fail to see the glory and historical magnitude of what we have received in Jesus Christ. We don’t gather at a physical mountain where there is a cloud with fire coming out shaking the earth. We don’t have tablets of stone set before us in an ark with cherubim and all sorts of gold ornamentation and incense and the sound of animals being slaughtered for the sacrifice, or trumpets announcing the sacrifices being done. All of this is not at all a disappointment, but it is a remarkable reminder that when we gather around the simplicity of the Word, Prayer, and Table, and praise springing from our hearts through our mouths, it is a remarkable reminder that our sins are forgiven. We can know that through the blood of the covenant, from The Mediator of this better covenant that our sins are indeed forgiven! We can know that now at this time, God has remembered our sins no more! No sacrifice or offering for sin remains, because it has already been made. We come to the Lord’s Table not to re-sacrifice the body of Christ, but to commune with our risen Lord.
So as we are reminded of these world history changing truths each Lord’s Day, we are reminded of the confidence and the obligation we have to confess our sins, for if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. And as we are freely forgiven by our Lord, it is all the more imperative to live holy lives throughout our days and weeks and months and years, growing in grace, being sanctified. And it is all the more a joy through the Holy Spirit and the goodness of Jesus that we have tasted and seen.
So how can we be brought up in this company of saints in fellowship with Jesus, and then go home and yell at our spouse or berate our children, or neglect family worship, or children disobey your parents, or set our eyes on sinful things, or complain and murmur about the problems in our lives? Let us not be brought up to Zion and then go out to sin! But let us, as Moses, come down from the mount with faces shining, having beheld God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ, and let us despise the sin we see in our home – not to sin in anger or self-righteousness, but to endeavor to reform and live our lives as a sacrifice of praise – to love our spouses like Christ and the Church, to train our children in the way they should go, to mortify the sins and passions of flesh, and to spur one another on to love and good works, until we meet again, after six more days, to fellowship with God and eat and drink.
And when we do sin, and we will, let us be reminded when we do not see a trembling mountain of smoke and fire, that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. Amen.