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Exodus 24:1-18

The Blood of the Covenant

24Then 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.’<!– 9 –>

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.

shared meal, shared life

The key to this passage is verse 12 where Moses, who is already on the mountain is invited to come up to the mountain. Something’s wrong here. The best explanation is that the editor has used two sources, one of which tells of a covenant meal betwen the leaders and God; the other tells of a sacrificial blood- rite which binds the people to God. Source 1 can be seen in verses 1,2, 9,10, 11; source 2 in verses 3-8; 12-15. The ancient editors often wove different sources together sometimes a little clumsily as here. What we have are two different stories of how the covenant was confirmed. The older account shows God, like a desert sheikh, inviting the leaders of the people to a meal. God is seen only through the screen of translucent glass, which alllows the visitors protection from his presence. The simple dignity of this narative is very effective: they beheld God; they ate and they drank. Nothing esle needs to be said. The covenant rests on the shared life of God and his people of which this meal is the image. God and the people share one life which involves the people in living in God’s way aaccording to his life-giving commandments. Christians will see here a prequel to the institution of holy communion through which the shared life of Jesus and his disciples is celebrated and enabled. To believe is to eat at God’s table. (You have prepared a table for me, in the presence of my enemies; you have anointed my head with oil; my cup runs over.)

The second source provides a story of blood-covenanting. The terms of the covenant are written (!) in the book which is read out. The blood is splashed on the altar, respresenting God, and on the people. Blood represents life. One life binds the partners in this covenant. Here too a Christian believer will see a reflection of Jesus’ words over the cup at the last supper, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many,” though in this case te word “many” is a code word for gentiles. The new covenant includes all humanity.

My guess is that the stories of Moses were especially loved by Jesus who learned from them something of the grace and risk of the covenant between God and his people.

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