The Biblical Illustrator
Behold the blood of the covenant.
The sprinkling of blood
I. He sprinkled the book in his hand. It was the Bible of his day, and yet it needed sprinkling. And we hold our Bibles--do they need sprinkling? The Bible is the transmitted mind of God--it is perfect truth, it is essential holiness--must it be sprinkled? Human words are all unclean. The mind of God must pass to men through the organs of the human voice--and that humanity mingling even with the revelation of God, wants washing. The materials of which the book is made are human. And again and again with our defiled hands we have soiled it--and we never open the book but it is a sinner’s hand that touches it. Our Bibles need the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus.
II. And he sprinkled the altar--for he had reared it. The altar was a holy thing--dedicate, consecrated, yet for the manhood which was associated with it, it needed the sprinkling of the blood. And we have our altars. You rise in the morning, and you set up your altar on your bedside-and when you rise from your knees, how many wandering thoughts, what coldness and dulness of soul, what mixture of motive, calls out for mercy. The altar of the bedroom--it must be sprinkled. You come down, and you gather round the family altar. But is there no one there, in that little assembly, whose heart is wrong with God? Does the worship of the family all go up in purity? Is it not a dull thing--that family prayer each morning--a mere routine? And does not it want the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus?
III. Moses sprinkled the people. There is no part of man that does not need that sprinkling.
IV. The sprinkling of the blood was the token that whatever it touched became covenant. We have our covenanted Bibles and our covenanted altars; we ourselves are in covenant with Christ. Do you know that the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is on you? And all that you must recognize if you would obey God. You must not rely upon “All the words that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” But you must go as a sprinkled and covenanted people, or you will not go at all. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The blood of the covenant
I. The sacredness of blood. This is taught both in Old and New Testament.
II. The Christian covenant is a covenant of blood. The blood of the eternal Son of God, shed on Calvary, sprinkled on the high altar of heaven and on all who approach with penitence and faith.
III. The covenant which Christ has instituted with His people is the most sacred covenant which God ever made with man.
IV. The Lord’s supper is a memorial and a solemn public ratification of this Divine blood covenant. It sprinkles us afresh with the blood of the great atonement. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
I. Divinely revealed.
1. Revealed faithfully.
2. Revealed intelligently.
II. Accepted by man.
III. Permanently embodied. A written revelation is--
IV. Arrangements carefully and impressively prepared.
1. Altar and pillars--representing God and people.
2. Young men--symbolizing strength and earnestness that should be exerted in keeping covenant engagement.
V. Ratified with blood. In conclusion--
1. Christ is the Mediator of a better covenant.
2. That His blood is sprinkled on the altar of God (Hebrews 9:12), and in the heart of His people (Hebrews 9:13-15).
3. That He has instituted a “perpetual memorial of His precious death until His coming again” (1 Corinthians 9:25). (J. W. Burn.)
God’s covenant with Israel
I. The preparation and separation. God and Israel were to bind themselves in sacred oath. God was ready. Was man ready? Reverence and humility were required, a deep sense of the full meaning of all that was to be said and done. Special preparation is always demanded for special exhibitions of the Divine glory and power, and for special seasons of covenanting with God. Man is never ready for pledges of love and loyalty until he has sanctified himself through penitence and prayer.
II. The people informed. Let the leaders of God’s host plainly point out the path. The need of our age is not speculation but declaration of things revealed by those who have been on the mount with God, have beheld His glory, and have received a message for dying men. The people would know what God has said, not what men imagine or guess. How about our Father in heaven? What are His purposes of grace? What are the conditions of blessing? These are the burning questions of our age and of all ages. If any one has been on the mount and heard the voice, let him come down and tell us what he knows. The world is waiting.
III. Ratification of the covenant. Deliberation is always demanded before pledges of acceptance and obedience are made. No act of human life is more solemn than that of covenanting with God. Before men begin to build, they should count the cost. Many who run well for awhile afterwards halt and turn back because they started under the impulse of a sudden and ill-considered emotion. Christianity is righteous principle put in practice.
IV. Sealing the covenant. Remember the hour, the spot, all the circumstances attending your public avowal of faith in Jesus Christ, and your covenanting with God and with His people. How have these vows been kept? How have the conditions of blessing been fulfilled? God has never failed you. Have you failed Him? Oh, these covenants! How many have been broken! These vows! How many have been slighted! We should frequently go back to the altar “under the hill,” and recall the sealing blood.
V. New visions of God. This doubtless was a far more distinct vision than the former, when the law was given amid clouds and darkness and tempest. That was a display of majesty; this is of love. The language of the former was: Obey and thou shalt live. The language of the latter is: Love and confide. A little while before the vision was of a Law-giver. Now it is of a Saviour, inspiring confidence and peace. The mercy-seat appears. God’s glory is seen in the face of Jesus Christ, typified by the sapphire stone and, as I suppose, by the dimly outlined form of the world’s Redeemer. (J. E. Twitchell.)
The strictness of God’s law
“The Bible is so strict and old-fashioned,” said a young man to a grey-haired friend who was advising him to study God’s Word if he would learn how to live. “There are plenty of books written now-a-days that are moral enough in their teaching, and do not bind one down as the Bible.” The old merchant turned to his desk, and took out two rulers, one of which was slightly bent. With each of these he ruled a line, and silently handed the ruled paper to his companion. “Well,” said the lad, “what do you mean?” “One line is not straight and true, is it? When you mark out your path in life, do not take a crooked ruler!” (S. S. Chronicle.)
Belief and disobedience
Suppose, says the late Archbishop Whately, two men each received a letter from his father, giving directions for his children’s conduct; and that one of these sons hastily, and without any good grounds, pronounced the letter a forgery, and refused to take any notice of it; while the other acknowledged it to be genuine, and laid it up with great reverence, and then acted without the least regard to the advice and commands contained in the letter: you would say that both of these men, indeed, were very wrong; but the latter was much the more undutiful son of the two. Now this is the case of a disobedient Christian, as compared with infidels. He does not like them pronounce his Father’s letter a forgery; that is, deny the truth of the Christian revelation; but he acts in defiance in his life to that which he acknowledges to be the Divine command.
The sealing of the covenant
I. What occurred? The Law had been given, amplified (chaps. 21-23), and endorsed by the people (Exodus 24:3). Necessary now to uncover that atonement which is ever the ground of God’s dealings with man. Hence the altar. No soul was to touch it, for the atonement is the creation of God. Still man had a part in these covenantal transactions, hence twelve pillars = twelve tribes. But sacrifice on the altar--the burnt offering = life surrendered--and the peace offering = communion with God and one another. The sacrifices were slain by young men = the flower of Israel. The Levitical priesthood not yet. Every age has its own special service for God. The blood was preserved. Now the blood stands for life. Half disappeared in fire on the altar. Gone! = forfeited life of the sinner. Half thrown back upon the people = life restored to man. How Israel ascended to a higher plane of life (Exodus 24:9). In the only possible way--representatively. Then came the vision of God (Exodus 24:10). Then the banquet (see Song of Solomon 2:3-4).
II. What did it mean?
1. Salvation has its ground in God and God alone. Calvary potentially before the Christian era, actually since, the Divine ground of salvation.
2. Forfeited life is given back to man on the ground of Christ’s atonement. Life, capacity, faculty, are all given back now to be man’s very own.
3. Now again to be given back to God in consecration. Being now my very own (in the sense just hinted), I give my own to God. This self-surrender is vital. The surrender is to be complete in intent and purpose. And the obligation presses now. Delay is disloyalty.
4. There will then be peace. With God; with ourselves; with men.
5. Life will move on a higher level (Exodus 24:9; Exodus 24:12-13). (Emphasize the meaning in the words “And BE there”: “And Moses went up into the Mount of God.”) Valley men have no idea of the bracing atmosphere, the brilliant light, the wider view, the grander visions, to be found on the mountain-plateau. It is so in Switzerland; so with the mountains celestial.
6. There shall be visions of God (Exodus 24:10). Bushnell says: “So gloriously has my experience of God opened His greatness to me, I seem to have got beyond all physical images and measures, even those of astronomy, and simply to think God is to find and bring into my feeling more than even the imagination can reach. I bless God that it is so. I am cheered by it, encouraged, sent onward, and, in what He gives me, begin to have some very faint impression of the glory yet to be revealed.”
7. And banquetings and satisfactions of soul (Exodus 24:11). As the body has its nutriment, so the soul. No more “husks.” High thought befitting immortal man. Manna: “Hidden manna.” Here on earth. At the marriage supper of the Lamb. Thereafter to all eternity. (H. T. Robjohns, B.A.)
THE COVENANT RATIFIED. THE VISION OF GOD.
The opening words of this chapter ("Come up unto the Lord") imply, without explicitly asserting, that Moses was first sent down to convey to Israel the laws which had just been enacted.
This code they unanimously accepted, and he wrote it down. It is a memorable statement, recording the origin of the first portion of Holy Scripture that ever existed as such, whatever earlier writings may now or afterwards have been incorporated in the Pentateuch. He then built an altar for God, and twelve pillars for the tribes, and sacrificed burnt-offerings and peace-offerings unto the Lord. Sin-offerings, it will be observed, were not yet instituted; and neither was the priesthood, so that young men slew the offerings. Half of the blood was poured upon the altar, because God had perfected His share in the covenant. The remainder was not used until the law had been read aloud, and the people had answered with one voice, "All that the Lord hath commanded will we do, and will be obedient." Thereupon they too were sprinkled with the blood, and the solemn words were spoken, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words." The people were now finally bound: no later covenant of the same kind will be found in the Old Testament.
And now the principle began to work which was afterwards embodied in the priesthood. That principle, stated broadly, was exclusion from the presence of God, relieved and made hopeful by the admission of representatives. The people were still forbidden to approach, under pain of death. But Moses and Aaron were no longer the only ones to cross the appointed boundaries. With them came the two sons of Aaron, (afterwards, despite their privilege, to meet a dreadful doom,) and also seventy representatives of all the newly covenanted people. Joshua, too, as the servant of Moses, was free to come, although unspecified in the summons (Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:13).
"They saw the God of Israel," and under His feet the blueness of the sky like intense sapphire. And they were secure: they beheld God, and ate and drank.
But in privilege itself there are degrees: Moses was called up still higher, and left Aaron and Hur to govern the people while he communed with his God. For six days the nation saw the flanks of the mountain swathed in cloud, and its summit crowned with the glory of Jehovah like devouring fire. Then Moses entered the cloud, and during forty days they knew not what had become of him. Was it time lost? Say rather that all time is wasted except what is spent in communion, direct or indirect, with the Eternal.
The narrative is at once simple and sublime. We are sometimes told that other religions besides our own rely for sanction upon their supernatural origin. "Zarathustra, Sakya-Mooni and Mahomed pass among their followers for envoys of the Godhead; and in the estimation of the Brahmin the Vedas and the laws of Manou are holy, divine books" (Kuenen, Religion of Israel, i. 6). This is true. But there is a wide difference between nations which assert that God privately appeared to their teachers, and a nation which asserts that God appeared to the public. It is not upon the word of Moses that Israel is said to have believed; and even those who reject the narrative are not entitled to confound it with narratives utterly dissimilar. There is not to be found anywhere a parallel for this majestic story.
But what are we to think of the assertion that God was seen to stand upon a burning mountain?
He it is Whom no man hath seen or can see, and in His presence the seraphim veil their faces.
It will not suffice to answer that Moses "endured as seeing Him that is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27), for the paraphrase is many centuries later, and hostile critics will rule it out of court as an after-thought. At least, however, it proves that the problem was faced long ago, and tells us what solution satisfied the early Church.
With this clue before us, we ask what notion did the narrative really convey to its ancient readers? If our defence is to be thoroughly satisfactory, it must show an escape from heretical and carnal notions of deity, not only for ourselves, but also for careful readers from the very first.
Now it is certain that no such reader could for one moment think of a manifestation thorough, exhaustive, such as the eye receives of colour and of form. Because the effect produced is not satisfaction, but desire. Each new vision deepens the sense of the unseen. Thus we read first that Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders, saw God, from which revelation the people felt and knew themselves to be excluded. And yet the multitude also had a vision according to its power to see; and indeed it was more satisfying to them than was the most profound insight enjoyed by Moses. To see God is to sail to the horizon: when you arrive, the horizon is as far in front as ever; but you have gained a new consciousness of infinitude. "The appearance of the glory of the Lord was seen like devouring fire in the eyes of the children of Israel" (Exodus 24:17). But Moses was aware of a glory far greater and more spiritual than any material splendour. When theophanies had done their utmost, his longing was still unslaked, and he cried out, "Show me, I pray Thee, Thy glory" (Exodus 33:18). To his consciousness that glory was still veiled, which the multitude sufficiently beheld in the flaming mountain. And the answer which he received ought to put the question at rest for ever, since, along with the promise "All My goodness shall pass before thee," came the assertion "Thou shalt not see My face, for no man shall see Me and live."
So, then, it is not our modern theology, but this noble book of Exodus itself, which tells us that Moses did not and could not adequately see God, however great and sacred the vision which he beheld. From this book we learn that, side by side with the most intimate communion and the clearest possible unveiling of God, grew up the profound consciousness that only some attributes and not the essence of deity had been displayed.
It is very instructive also to observe the steps by which Moses is led upward. From the burning bush to the fiery cloud, and thence to the blazing mountain, there was an ever-deepening lesson of majesty and awe. But in answer to the prayer that he might really see the very glory of his Lord, his mind is led away upon entirely another pathway: it is "All My goodness" which is now to "pass before" him, and the proclamation is of "a God full of compassion and gracious," yet retaining His moral firmness, so that He "will by no means clear the guilty."
What can cloud and fire avail, toward the manifesting of a God Whose essence is His love? It is from the Old Testament narrative that the New Testament inferred that Moses endured as seeing indeed, yet as seeing Him Who is inevitably and for ever invisible to eyes of flesh: he learned most, not when he beheld some form of awe, standing on a paved work of sapphire stone and as it were the very heaven for clearness, but when hidden in a cleft of the rock and covered by the hand of God while He passed by.
On one hand the people saw the glory of God: on the other hand it was the best lesson taught by a far closer access, still to pray and yearn to see that glory. The seventy beheld the God of Israel: for their leader was reserved the more exalting knowledge, that beyond all vision is the mystic overshadowing of the Divine, and a voice which says "No man shall see Me and live." The difference in heart is well typified in this difference in their conduct, that they saw God and ate and drank, but he, for forty days, ate not. Satisfaction and assurance are a poor ideal compared with rapt aspiration and desire.
Thus we see that no conflict exists between this declaration and our belief in the spirituality of God.
We have still to ask what is the real force of the assertion that God was in some lesser sense seen of Israel, and again, more especially, of its leaders.
What do we mean even by saying that we see each other?--that, observing keenly, we see upon one face cunning, upon another sorrow, upon a third the peace of God? Are not these emotions immaterial and invisible as the essence of God Himself? Nay, so invisible is the reality within each bosom, that some day all that eye hath seen shall fall away from us, and yet the true man shall remain intact.
Man has never seen more than a hint, an outcome, a partial self-revelation or self-betrayal of his fellow-man.
"Yes, in the sea of life in-isled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
God bade betwixt 'our' shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea."
And yet, incredible as the paradox would seem, if it were not too common to be strange, the play of muscles and rush of blood, visible through the skin, do reveal the most spiritual and immaterial changes. Even so the heavens declare that very glory of God which baffled the undimmed eyes of Moses. So it was, also, that when rended rocks and burning skies revealed a more immanent action of Him Who moves through all nature always, when convulsions hitherto undreamed of by those dwellers in Egyptian plains overwhelmed them with a new sense of their own smallness and a supreme Presence, God was manifested there.
Not unlike this is the explanation of St. Augustine, "We need not be surprised that God, invisible as He is, appeared visibly to the patriarchs. For, as the sound which communicates the thought conceived in the silence of the mind is not the thought itself, so the form by which God, invisible in His own nature, became visible, was not God Himself. Nevertheless it was He Himself Who was seen under that form, as the thought itself is heard in the sound of the voice; and the patriarchs recognised that, although the bodily form was not God, they saw the invisible God. For, though Moses was conversing with God, yet he said, 'If I have found grace in Thy sight, show me Thyself'" (De Civ. Dei, x. 13). And again: "He knew that he saw corporeally, but he sought the true vision of God spiritually" (De Trin., ii. 27).
It has still to be added that His manifestation is exactly suited to the stage now reached in the education of Israel. Their fathers had already "seen God" in the likeness of man: Abraham had entertained Him; Jacob had wrestled with Him. And so Joshua before Ai, and Manoah by the rock at Zorah, and Ezekiel by the river Chebar, should see the likeness of a man. We who believe the doctrine of a real Incarnation can well perceive that in these passing and mysterious glimpses God was not only revealing Himself in the way which would best prepare humanity for His future coming in actual manhood, but also in the way by which, meanwhile, the truest and deepest light could be thrown upon His nature, a nature which could hereafter perfectly manifest itself in flesh. Why, then, do not the records of the Exodus hint at a human likeness? Why did they "behold no similitude"? Clearly because the masses of Israel were utterly unprepared to receive rightly such a vision. To them the likeness of man would have meant no more than the likeness of a flying eagle or a calf. Idolatry would have followed, but no sense of sympathy, no consciousness of the grandeur and responsibility of being made in the likeness of God. Anthropomorphism is a heresy, although the Incarnation is the crowning doctrine of the faith.
But it is hard to see why the human likeness of God should exist in Genesis and Joshua, but not in the history of the Exodus, if that story be a post-Exilian forgery.
This is not all. The revelations of God in the desert were connected with threats and prohibitions: the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. And with the different tone of the message a different aspect of the speaker was to be expected. From the blazing crags of Sinai, fenced around, the voice of a trumpet waxing louder and louder, said "Thou shalt not!" On the green hill by the Galilean lake Jesus sat down, and His disciples came unto Him, and He opened His mouth and said "Blessed."
Now, the conscience of every sinner knows that the God of the commandments is dreadful. It is of Him, not of hell, that Isaiah said "The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling hath surprised the godless ones. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14).
For him who rejects the light yoke of the Lord of Love, the fires of Sinai are still the truest revelation of deity; and we must not deny Sinai because we know Bethlehem. We must choose between the two.
They saw God, and did eat and drink.
The vision of God, and the feast before Him
These are strangely bold words, both for the assertion with which they begin, and for the juxtaposition of the two things which they declare. They come at the close of the solemn ceremonial by which God and Israel entered into covenant. Lightly-uttered vows of obedience to all that God could speak had echoed among the rocks. On the basis of that promise a covenant was formed and ratified by sacrifice. They pass within the fence, they witness that access to God is possible on the footing of covenant and sacrifice. They behold, as I suppose, unclouded, the material and fiery symbol of His presence: witness that men through sacrifice and covenant can see God. But our eyes are stayed on the pavement beneath His feet. No form is described. Enough for us that there is spread beneath Him that which is blue and gleaming as the cloudless heaven above Sinai. “They eat and drink”--witness that men who draw nigh to God, on the footing of sacrifice and covenant, and thereby behold His face, have therein festal abundance for all their need. So this incident, in its form adapted to the infantile development of the people that first received it, carries in its symbols the deepest truths of the best communion of the Christian life, and may lend itself to the foreshadowing of the unspoken glories of the heavens. From that point of view I want to look at it.
I. I ask you to consider the vision of god possible for us. Jesus Christ is the Revealer. This generation is very fond of saying, “No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see Him.” It is a pity, but they would go on with the quotation and say, “the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” The eradiation of His brightness, “and the express image of His person,” is that Divine man, God manifest in the flesh. The knowledge of God which we have in Jesus Christ is real, as sight is real. It is not complete, but it is genuine knowledge. We know the best of God, if I may use such a phrase, when we know what we knew in Christ, that He is a loving and a righteous will; when we can say of Him “He is love,” in no metaphor but in simple reality, and His will is a will towards all righteousness, and towards all blessing, anything that heaven has to teach us about God afterwards is less than that. We see Him in the reality of a genuine, central, though by no means complete, knowledge. Our knowledge of God in Christ is as sight, in reference to certitude. People say, “Seeing is believing.” I should turn it the other way about, and say, “Believing is seeing.” For we may be a great deal surer of God than ever we can be of this outer world. And the witness which is borne to us in Christ of the Divine nature is far more reliable than even the evidence that is borne to us by sense of an external universe. Then remember, too, that where we have learned to know, and absolutely to rely upon, and vividly to realize our Father’s presence through Jesus Christ, there we shall see Him in all things and everywhere. Then, remember, further, that the degree of this vision depends upon ourselves, and is a matter of cultivation. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” There are three things wanted for sight--something to see; something to see by; something to see with. God has given us the two first, and He will help us to the last if we like. But we have to bring the eye, without which the sunbeam is vain, and that which it reveals also. Christ stands before us, at once the Master-Light of our seeing, and the Object that we are to behold. But for us there is needed that the eye shall be pure; that the heart shall turn towards Him. Faith is the eye of the soul. Meditation and habitual occupation of mind and heart with Jesus Christ, the Revealer of God, are needed if we are to “see God.”
II. Secondly, notice the feast in the divine presence. “They did eat and drink.” That suggests in the singular juxtaposition of the two things, that the vision of God is consistent with, and consecrates, common enjoyment and everyday life. Even before that awful blaze these men sat down and fed, “eating their meal with gladness and singleness of heart,” and finding no contradiction nor any profanity in the close juxtaposition of the meal and the vision. There is no false asceticism as the result of the Christian sight of God. It takes nothing out of life that ought to be in it. If we see God there is only one thing that we shall be ashamed to do in His presence, and that is to sin. For all the rest the vision of God blends sweetly and lovingly with common service and homely joys. It will interpret life. Nothing is small with such a background; nothing common-place when looked at in connection with Him. It will ennoble life; it will gladden life. But there is another thought here to which I must refer for a moment. That strange meal on the mountain was no doubt made on the sacrifices that had preceded, of which a part were peace-offerings. The ritual of that species of sacrifice partly consisted in a portion of the sacrifice being partaken of by the offerers. The same meaning lies in this meal on the mountain that lay in the sacrificial feast of the peace-offering, the same meaning that lies in the great feast of the new covenant, “This is My body; this is My blood.” God spreads in His presence a table, and the food on that table is the “Bread which came down from heaven that it might give life to the world.” The vision of God and the feast on the mountain are equally provided and made possible by Christ our Passover, who was sacrificed for us.
III. And so, lastly, we may gather out of this incident a glimpse of a prophetic character, and see in it the perfecting of the vision and of the feast. We know the apostle’s wonderful statement of the difference between the beatific knowledge of heaven and the indirect and partial knowledge of earth. Here we “see in a glass darkly; there face to face.” It is not for us to try before the time to interpret the latter of these statements; only this, let us remember that whatever may be the change in manner of knowledge, and in measure of apprehension, and in proximity of presence, there is no change in heaven in the medium of revelation. For heaven as for earth God is the King invisible; for heaven as for earth no man can see Him, the only begotten Son declares Him. Christ is for ever the Manifester of God, and the glorified saints see God as we see Him in the face of Jesus Christ, though they see that Face as we do not. Yonder there are new capacities indeed. When there are more windows in the house there will be more sunshine in the rooms. When there is a new speculum in the telescope galaxies will be resolved that are now nebulous, and new brightnesses will be visible that are now veiled. But with all the new powers and the extension of present vision, there will be no corrections in the present vision. We shall see Him as He is, and learn that what we knew of Him in Christ here is true for ever. And on that perfect vision will follow the perfect meal, which will still be the feeding on the sacrifice. For there were no heaven except “He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever,” and there is no spiritual life above except a life derived from Him. The feast means perfect satisfaction, perfect repose, perfect gladness, perfect companionship. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The God of Sinai approached through sacrifice
Two distinct aspects of the Divine character had already been made known to the Israelites--His goodness and His severity, His tenderness and His righteousness. Now a third lesson is given them. The awful God of Sinai may be approached and communed with; they need not be terrified away for ever from Him, or be afraid to approach Him.
I. The awful God of Sinai may be approached by sinful men through sacrifice. “ Upon the nobles of Israel He laid not His hand.”
II. The awful God of Sinai is seen by sinful men through sacrifice. “Also they saw God.”
III. The awful God of Sinai is communed with by sinful men through sacrifice. “Also they did eat and drink.” There is safety for the transgressor only under the shadow of the sacrifice--the atonement of Jesus Christ. Socrates once cried, “Plato, Plato, perhaps God can forgive wilful sin.” You see the gospel of Socrates--“Perhaps.” “But,” he added, “I do not see how.” In the gospel of Jesus Christ there is no “perhaps.” “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” There is no “perhaps” about that. Socrates said, “I do not see how.” We do see how. “Through this Man is preached forgiveness of sins.” (R. Roberts.)
A glorious vision
I. Glorious ascension. Mountain climbing is always wholesome. The more we climb, the less will be our difficulty, on the summit of Divine mountains are gracious manifestations to reward the praying climbers.
II. Blessed vision. “And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under” etc. Calm repose. We may rest sweetly on the Divine fidelity.
III. Glorious preservation. God’s hand will ever be laid on the spiritual nobility. They are under His protecting, preserving care.
IV. Wondrous festivity. The saints shall eat and drink in the Divine presence. Heavenly manna. New wine. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Man’s approach to God
I. That man’s approach to God is commanded (Exodus 24:1). This is both reasonable and necessary. Servant to master; scholar to teacher; child to parent; sinner to Saviour.
II. That man’s approach to God must be through a mediator; “worship thou afar off, and Moses alone shall come near unto the Lord.” So Jesus has entered into the holy place for us. He is the “one mediator,” etc., “the new and living way” (John 14:6). We must remember that this was in answer to their own prayer (20:19).
III. That man’s approach to God must be reverent. “Worship ye afar off.”
IV. That man’s approach to God is rewarded by a manifestation of the divine glory (Exodus 24:10). Not a literal or physical vision of “the king”--invisible (Deuteronomy 4:2; 1 Timothy 6:16); but spiritual (Isaiah 6:1-13.; Acts 9:3-4, and refs.; 1 Corinthians 12:2).
V. That man’s approach to God is not to be dreaded, but welcomed and enjoyed. “They find His presence no more a source of disturbance and dread, but radiant in all the bright loveliness of supernal glory: a beautiful sign that the higher religion and state of conformity to law, now established, shall work onward to eternal blessedness.” (J. W. Burn.)
A glorious sight and a holy feast
I. The sight of God, to which the nobles of Israel were admitted.
II. The safety and comfort which they enjoyed.
III. The feast with which they were provided. They ate of the peace-offerings which had been recently sacrificed, and drank of the libations which had just been offered, on the ratification of the covenant. Even thus are the disciples of Christ invited to partake of Him by faith, and that in joy and gladness, as the great peace-offering of the Church. Thus are they seated at the table of their adorable Lord, in token of gracious communion with the family in heaven; and thus is their fellowship manifested with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. In this fellowship His children truly see God in Christ. They behold, and they partake, the glory of His person, the glory of His covenant, the hidden glory of His Word, the glory of His redeeming and everlasting love. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
The vision of God
We have here the conjunction of that which is the highest attainment of faith, namely, the vision of God, with that which is the commonest act of our lives, namely, eating and drinking. Again, eating and drinking is only one form, and that one of the lowest forms of human enjoyment. Therefore, if the vision of God be compatible with that, it may be, it must be, equally so with every proper mode of employment or enjoyment among men.
I. In the first place, then, let it be noted, that there are some who eat and drink without seeing God. This is true in the very lowest sense in which the words can be employed; for, unhappily, there are multitudes who partake of their ordinary food without any perception of the fact that they are indebted for it to a higher power. In the same way there are many successful men of business, who enjoy the blessings of prosperity without seeing that God has had any hand in the bestowment of them. They are, as the phrase is, “self-made.” They have been the architects of their own fortunes. Similarly, there are those who have risen to places of power and influence, alike in the world and in the Church, who never think of God in their enjoyment of their eminence. It has come to them, so they say, all in the way of cause and effect. They have been able, diligent, and persevering, and, therefore, their prosperity or popularity is nothing more than the natural result of their use of appropriate means. And to mention only one other form of the same disposition: there are men among us whose delight it has been to unravel the secrets of the external world, and discover the operations of those forces which play so important a part in the physical universe. Their meat and their drink is to sit at the spectroscope, and by their wondrous analysis to bring out the composition of the sun, and of the various members of the planetary sphere. Their joy is to chain the lightning to their messages, and make it carry their words to the world’s ends. They rise into ecstasies over the detection of some new fact which witnesses to the uniformity of law; and they become enthusiastic at the prospect of being able to trace the mystery of the universe a step farther back than their predecessors have gone. But all this while they see nothing of God. No thrill of affection vibrates in their hearts to any personal agent; and their emotions are similar to those which one feels as he looks upon a mighty machine moving on in rhythmic regularity at its unceasing work. I do not need to say that all our men of science are not such as I have now described, but every one acquainted with the recent utterances of some of them will admit that these confirm what I have said. Now I have grouped all these together because they are all alike practical atheists. They eat and drink, but they do not see God.
II. In the second place, let it be remarked that there are some who see God, but cannot eat or drink. They have a vivid sense of the personal existence of Jehovah, and they feel Him always near, but they take no comfort in His presence. Rather, it seems to haunt them as a spectre, and to threaten them as an executioner. Now how shall we account for this? The answer is not far to seek. It is caused by a sense of guilt. They have never entered, through Jesus, into covenant with God. But even among those who have done this, there are some who seem to have had their happiness poisoned by the thought of God. They see Him, they are always seeing Him: but the vision seems to have paralyzed them, and they go through life halting, solemn, and severe. If they would “see God, and eat and drink,” they must rise out of service into sonship, and learn to think and speak of God as their Father in heaven. This will give sincerity and naturalness to their devotions, activity to their lives, happiness to their hearts, and cheerfulness to their deportment, so that men, as they behold them, will be won by the very radiance of their joy to Him from whom their gladness springs. But there are still others who, at certain times of their history, have had a vivid perception of the nearness of God, while yet they could neither eat nor drink. Affliction has come upon them. They have felt God very near them, but then they have felt as if He were having a controversy with them, as if, somehow, He were alienated from them, and that has made their sorrow all the deeper. But all this has sprung from a misinterpretation of His providence, and that again has its root in lack of faith in His fatherhood.
III. Finally, let it be observed, that there are some who, like those were described, “see God and do eat and drink.” They are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, His Son; they have learned to call Him Father, and the joy of their lives is that they have a constant sense of His presence. When they say, “Thou God seest me,” it is not with a feeling of uneasiness, like that of a suspected person who feels himself watched by some detective; but rather with an emotion of satisfaction, because they know that One is beside them who can make provision for every emerging necessity, and find for them also, as for Hagar, a fountain in the desert. When they think of Him, it is not so much as the Great Creator, Ruler, and Judge, as the Father; and because they can say “Our Father,” they have a sense of ownership in all His attributes and possessions. They have accepted His own assurance, “I am the Lord thy God,” and His omnipresence is the very joy and rejoicing of their hearts. It is not a melancholy thing, which poisons every other experience. It is not, like the sword of Damocles, a threatening thing, that keeps us from sitting down to the feast. Rather it is itself that which gives the feast its real glory, and the festival to us is twice a feast because He is there. He makes the brightest element in our blessings; He gives to us the real joy of our prosperity. And when affliction comes He mitigates it with His sympathy and cheers us under it with His fellowship. He comes to us not as a spectre in the night, but as a father, to lap us in the mantle of His love. “Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,” alike are sanctified by His presence, and no darkness for us could be so dense as that which would envelop us if we were to be deprived of Him. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The distinguishing privilege of God’s faithful servants
That a sight of God in Christ, and a holy familiarity with Him, with all safety, is the privilege of God’s covenant-people, especially in these solemn approaches to which He calls them.
I. To show what is that sight of God in Christ, which is the privilege of His people in their solemn approaches to Him.
There is a twofold solemn approach of God’s people to Him. There is a right approach.
1. When God calls them up to the mount of myrrh, where our Lord abides till the day break (Song of Solomon 4:6); when He calls them to come up to the hill of God in Emmanuel’s land, where stands the King’s palace, namely heaven. This call comes to the believing soul at death.
2. When God calls them to come up to the mount of ordinances to meet Him at the sacred feast, as the nobles of Israel in the text, and as we at this time are called to feast on the great sacrifice in the sacrament. This is a solemn approach. Now, what is the sight of God in Christ which is the privilege here? As to this we observe--
II. To show what is that holy familiarity which is the privilege of God’s people in their solemn approaches to Him--It is a believing, holy, humble freedom before their Lord (Ephesians 3:12) “In whom we have boldness and access, with confidence, by the faith of Him.”
1. They were allowed to come forward to God, when others must stand back (Isaiah 56:6-7); when others must abide at the foot of the hill, believers may come up to the mount and are welcome.
2. They were allowed to feast on the sacrifice set before them. Christ the sacrifice typically slain, and believers are allowed to feast on this sacrifice, to eat His flesh and drink His blood; to make a believing application of a whole Christ to their own souls for their spiritual nourishment:” Take, eat, this is My body broken for you.”
3. They were allowed to converse with God freely, as one at the table of his friends.
4. They were allowed to be in His secrets, to see what others have no access to. They saw God. Believers are allowed to see the glory of His person (John 1:14). The glory of His covenant (Psalms 25:14). The glory of His redeeming, His everlasting love to them (Jeremiah 31:3). The hidden glory of His word (Luke 24:32).
5. They were allowed to lay all their wants on Him.
III. To make some practical improvement.
1. To show that it is a wonder of grace that sinful creatures are admitted to see God, and be familiar with Him. We think we need say little for proof of this. Only consider--
2. To show that it is a wonder of grace that sinful creatures, in their solemn approaches to God, and when they are thus favoured, come off safe. This will appear if we consider--
3. To explain how it comes to pass that the safety of God’s people, when thus favoured, is secured. It is so--
1. Let us, then, nevermore think lightly of solemn approaches to God, whether in private or in public ordinances.
2. Let this commend Christ and the covenant to us, especially to those who stand off from Him and His covenant.
3. Let us long for that day which will put an end to our sinfulness, weakness, and imperfection, when we shall see Him as He is, without any danger of sinning or suffering, which is far better (Philippians 1:23). It would be a token for good that we had seen the Lord, if we were now longing for that blessed day. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The soul has eyes. There are hours not related to the clock; there are birthdays for which the calendar provides no line of registry. How natural is this endeavour to make the conception plain by a visible picture, and how visible pictures are lifted up to new meanings and clothed with new solemnities by such sacred uses. There have been times, even in our cold experience, when nature has had to be called in to help the expression of the soul’s delight. Every heart has its own image, or parable, or symbol, by which it sets forth to itself the best aspect of its supreme delight. When we want to represent God, and our view of Him, how naturally we turn to the heavens. No earthly object will suffice. There burns in us a sacred contempt for all things measurable. We want all the broad brilliance of noonday, all the tender glory of the midnight, all the pomp of the summer sky. There is verily a natural religion; it is a poor deity that can be set forth in clay, and iron, and carved stone. Find any race that has lifted up its religious conceptions so as to require for their imaging all heaven, and surely you have found a race that may at any moment alight upon the true God. What Ezekiel saw was as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. John said that the face he saw was like a jasper and a sardine stone, and the rainbow which gave tenderness to the throne was in sight like unto an emerald. When Jesus was transfigured, His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. Do not take these as equivalents, but as hints--some idea of the majesty which must have beamed upon the eyes of worship as they gazed with religious awe upon sights for which there is no language. It does us good to be wrought into passions which transcend all adequate speech--yes, it does the soul good to pray itself into silence. We may have clear vision of God to such an extent as to have every word taken away from our use and be left dumb in the eloquence of silence. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Come up to Me into the mount.
I. Each one has his own position to occupy.
II. Each man has his own Divine vision. To-day we may experience Divine chidings, and to-morrow we may be on the Mount of Beatitude.
III. But there are specialities of work.
IV. Therefore there must be speciality in the preparations. Learn to be much in the right, much in prayer, much in mountain solitude; but much also with the people. Let waiting and working go hand in hand. Above all things, obey the Divine voice. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Communion with God
I. That communion with God is necessary.
1. For religious teachers.
2. For those engaged in business.
3. For parents, etc.
II. That special places are appointed for communion with God.
1. House of God.
2. Privacy of own chamber.
III. That preparation should be made for communion with God (Exodus 24:14; see Matthew 6:6).
1. Guard against interruptions from without.
2. Drive away worldly and anxious thoughts within.
IV. That communion with God should be most frequently alone.
1. Presence of others may distract mind or embarrass thoughts.
2. Presence of others may divert attention from personal concerns of soul.
3. Private sins and wants to be laid bare.
V. That in communion with God, the presence of others is sometimes helpful and even necessary. Family worship--prayer meetings--for those who have common wants, interests, etc.
VI. That communion with God is the condition upon which man may witness the Divine glory (Exodus 24:16-17; see Isaiah 6:1-13.)
VII. That communion with God may re protracted, and man must not weary of it.
VIII. That among the purposes of communion with God, are recognition of the Divine authority and preparation for future work. (J. W. Burn.)
The best recommendation
A young man once came to London bearing a letter of introduction to Baron Rothschild with the request that he would give him employment. The great banker received him warmly, but expressed his regret that he had no position for him. As the young man was going, the baron put on his hat and walked along with him, pointing out the various objects of interest. Passing a bank the rich man went in to transact some business. Afterwards the young man applied at that very bank for work, and they asked, “Are you not the young man who was walking with the baron this morning?” “Yes.” “Well, you were in good company: and since we need a young man we will consider this a sufficient recommendation.” To walk with God is the best recommendation. When men of the world have need of an assistant or helper, they will be likely to consider such a fact as a commendation. (A. J. Gordon.)
On the mount with God
Moses would never have been the law-giver he was had he not remained there on the mount, in sight of the glory and in communion with his God. The disciples would never have wrought as they did, had they not tarried in Jerusalem. Eminent preachers and teachers would never have thrilled and won hearts to Christ as they have, had they not gained their power in long seasons of prayer and communion with God.
1. Spiritual endowment is always the measure of success in work for Christ. Preachers fail and teachers fail because they are so little on the mount with God.
2. The want of Christian workers everywhere is revelation of the Divine glory. From this, power springs. God can use us only as we become equipped by vision of, and communion with, Him. We can tell only as we know. We know only as we are taught of God. Have we been on the mount, under the cloud? Have we seen the glory and heard the voice? What is our message from God to men? (J. E. Twitchell.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 24". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24