A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on November 1, 2020.
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 from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the LORD, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And 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 twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then 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.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 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. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Exodus 24:1–11).
Israel, who had been led miraculously out of Egyptian slavery across the Red Sea and into the wilderness, encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. The manifestation of God as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21) descended upon the mountain. Moses, who had led the people as God’s prophet, ascended the mountain, and God said to him,
“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel (Ex. 19:3-6).
It was a statement of redemption, obedience, and promise. A statement of God’s covenant with Israel.
However, God had not yet revealed the particulars of this covenant, nor had he provided a sign and seal of it. This is an important distinction: God’s redeeming love for his chosen people precedes the requirements of being his covenant people. God always chooses and acts first. Even in giving his commandments, he begins by reminding Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2).
God did give Israel the requirements for living as God’s covenant people, beginning with the Ten Commandments, followed by the specific case law for use in the Promised Land. Even though the Ten Commandments as God’s Moral Law are written on every human heart, God gave Israel his written Law in specificity. As God’s covenant people, he had given them his revealed will to them.
God’s covenant with Israel, however, was not yet confirmed, or ratified. A covenant relationship with the one, true God is never based on the receipt of his rules. There must be a ratification of the covenant, exemplified in both a sign and seal of the covenant, which as seen repeatedly in scripture requires a sacrifice. O. Palmer Robertson helpfully defines a covenant with God as a “bond in blood” sovereignly administered. We see all of this in summary in our passage today, but something more: A meal with God.
God says to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the LORD, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” The invitation is not general but specific: Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders. Why the short list? Are they better dinner guests? Agreeable conversationalists? Well-mannered at the table? Hardly.
Moses is invited as God’s prophet, called, ordained, and gifted by the Holy Spirit. Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, are invited as God’s priests, ordained and established to ceremonially serve before God on behalf of the people. And then, seventy elders are invited, representing the leadership of Israel as a whole. (The number seventy likely harkens back to the first arrival of Israel in Egypt: “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons” (Ex. 1:5).) So, one prophet, three priests, and seventy presbyters are invited.
To what are they invited? They are invited to “worship.” It is a call to worship God. The general population of Israel shall remain off the mountain at a distance. The elders and priests shall ascend but not draw near. Only Moses may come near to the Lord, for Moses alone had been chosen as the mediator between God and his people.
How then are they to worship God? They are to worship God through his mediator according to his Word, which God delivers to his people.
Note carefully what Moses does: He comes to the people and tells them “the words of the LORD and all the rules” (or decrees). In fact, Moses commits God’s words and decrees to writing, delivering a written canon of Scripture to Israel. But the delivery of God’s written Word in worship is not a passive reception. Reception of God’s Word demands a response. And so, to the Word proclaimed and inscripturated, the people respond with one voice, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” It is a response of affirmation and pledged obedience in response to God’s Word. And it is an act of worship.
Worship is not only through the written and proclaimed Word but also through, what Augustine called, the visible Word. Having delivered God’s Word to Israel, Moses then proceeds to construct an altar at the base of the mountain. An altar is an instrument of worship to offer sacrifices to God, but this altar stands on twelve individual pillars, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Upon this twelve-pillared altar are offered “burnt” and “peace” (or fellowship) offerings, serving as the visible Word of God.
An offering requires a sacrifice, which requires the shedding of blood. So, Moses takes half of the blood distributing it into basins and the other half he throws against the altar. Again, the visible Word has now engaged the senses of the worshipers, as blood has saturated the altar and sacrifice. And then, in the midst of this bloody sacrificial ritual, Moses connects the visible Word and written Word, reading the “Book of the Covenant” to Israel. And again, in response to God’s Word, written and visible, the people respond, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” But the worship service is not concluded.
In what sounds like a random display of God’s visible Word, Moses intentionally throws blood on the people. Like the altar, the people are now covered in blood. And then, Moses proclaims, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” In that moment, Israel has heard and received the written Word, seen and received the visible Word, as God’s covenant is confirmed with the sign and seal of the sacrificial blood.
Although the covenant had been confirmed, the sign and the seal received, there still remained the invitation to the prophet, priests, and presbyters upon the mountain. Ascending Mount Sinai, what they witnessed in worship is supernatural: “they saw the God of Israel.” What specifically do they see? They apparently see, what is referred elsewhere in Scripture as, the footstool of God: “There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” It is a naturally limited description of beholding the supernatural presence of God.
What makes this encounter even more remarkable is that in beholding this majestic, beautiful, and holy theophany, these leaders of Israel are not destroyed. In fact, later God will explain to Moses that “man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). But in this moment, these men are welcomed guests, invited to behold the glory of God. God is the one who initiates worship, as he has revealed himself, for his glory.
What then do they do in the presence of God? They eat and drink. They enjoy a meal with God. Personally, there are many things I can imagine doing in this moment. Falling on my face before God? Entranced by the beauty of his splendor? Eating and drinking are not on the list. But this is not any meal. It is a meal of worship. A meal representative of God’s Covenant with his chosen people.
But what was limited to a prophet, priests, and Israel’s presbyters, under the New and better Covenant is a meal for God’s people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. They are called to worship him in Spirit and truth not through the blood of bulls and goats but through the once-offered, atoning blood of Jesus Christ. Just as Israel was covered in the visible Word of the blood of the covenant, all who by God’s grace come to faith in Christ are covered by his blood.
As a covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered, so God’s covenant with his people was fulfilled only and ultimately in Christ. Therefore, all who are covered by the blood of Christ are invited to worship our Lord. We come not through another mediating prophet or priests or presbyters. We worship God only through our Prophet, Priest, and King, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Christ, we worship according to God’s written Word, as it is read and proclaimed. We worship through God’s visible Word, through the water of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And it is in the Lord’s Supper that we see the New Covenant fulfillment of that covenant meal with God.
For we assemble at the Lord’s table not only in memory of that Last Supper but in the real, spiritual presence of our Lord. In this meal, in communion with each other, we enjoy communion with God. We are nourished together in Christ. And as real as the presence of God was on Mount Sinai, his presence is just as real in this meal.
It is indeed a meal with God.
 Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).
 O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 15.