1 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. 2 Moses alone shall come near to 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 rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4 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. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 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.” 8 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.” – Exodus 24:1-8 NLT
Prior to giving Moses the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant, God warned the people of Israel that they would be expected to obey His commands.
“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.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV
Their ongoing status as His chosen people depended upon their willingness to keep the covenant He was making with them. His laws were binding and the people’s adherence to them was non-optional. Now, the time had come for them to confirm their commitment to the covenant. In chapters 20-23, God laid out the terms of the covenant. He had clearly articulated the rules and regulations that would govern their behavior as His set-apart people. But those commandments would prove meaningless if the people refused to obey them. And if they refused to keep the commands that God had given them, they would be rejecting His authority and sovereignty over their lives. So, this chapter in the book of Exodus records a seminal moment in the lives of the people of Israel.
God instructed Moses to return to the top of Mount Sinai and instructed him to bring along his brother Aaron, his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, as well as 70 of the elders of Israel. But before this small contingent of Israelite leaders made their ascent of Mount Sinai, Moses “told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules” (Exodus 24:3 ESV).
He took the time to communicate all the instructions and regulations given to him by God. From the more general laws of the Decalogue to the detailed and highly specific content of the Book of the Covenant, Moses articulated clearly and carefully all the binding requirements of God.
In a sense, Moses was performing the role of a minister officiating a wedding ceremony between God and His bride, the nation of Israel. God had already expressed His vow to make the people of Israel His “own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth” (Exodus 19:5 NLT). He had chosen them as His own and pledged His intention to love and protect them. Now, it was their turn to state their vows, which they did with unwavering unity and enthusiasm.
And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV
They had heard the terms of the marriage covenant and wholeheartedly agreed with them. With the covenant ratified, Moses took the time to document every one of God’s commandments, creating a permanent and unchanging contract between God and His people.
The next morning, Moses instructed the people to build an altar, and they would have done so by following the instructions given to them by God.
“Build for me an altar made of earth, and offer your sacrifices to me—your burnt offerings and peace offerings, your sheep and goats, and your cattle. Build my altar wherever I cause my name to be remembered, and I will come to you and bless you. If you use stones to build my altar, use only natural, uncut stones. Do not shape the stones with a tool, for that would make the altar unfit for holy use.” – Exodus 20:24-25 NLT
Along with the altar, the people were instructed to build 12 pillars, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Then he commanded that burnt offerings and peace offerings be made to the Lord. The bulls used in these sacrifices were killed and their blood drained into basins. Moses took half of the blood and splashed it on the altar, an act of consecration and purification. Later, in the book of Leviticus, God explains the significance of the blood.
“…for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.” – Leviticus 17:11 NLT
The author of the book of Hebrews picked up on this theme when he wrote:
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV
Moses was purifying the altar on which the offerings were made. This made the sacrifices acceptable to God. With the offerings completed, Moses read the Book of the Covenant out loud again, and the people reiterated their earlier commitment to obey.
“We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.” – Exodus 24:7 NLT
But then Moses did something unexpected and a bit unusual. He took the remaining blood in the basin and splattered it over the people. This rather gruesome scene offends our modern sensibilities, but it was meant to drive home a significant point. That blood had once pulsed through the veins of living creatures. But their lives had been sacrificed so that the people of Israel could be made pure and acceptable before God. Their sins had been atoned for through the death of another. And in sprinkling the blood on the people, Moses was covering over their unworthiness and sinfulness. He was presenting them as righteous before God, because of the atoning sacrifice of the sin substitute.
The author of Hebrews draws the vital connection between what Moses did that day and what Jesus later accomplished with His death on the cross.
With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. – Hebrews 9:12-14 NLT
The covenant-ratification ceremony that took place at the base of Mount Sinai was a worship service. God was purifying His people so that they could enter into His holy presence and worship Him. But, as Moses pointed out, the blood also sealed the covenant they had made.
“Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions.” – Exodus 24:8 NLT
Their words of affirmation had become binding. Their status as God’s chosen people had become permanent. Both parties were obligated to keep the covenant commitments they had made. And through their adherence to God’s laws, the people would be expressing their adoration of Him. Their obedience would symbolize their purity and illustrate their commitment to live as His chosen people.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.