Verses 1-8: The Book of the Covenant
Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu are all in esteemed positions before God but Moses is the most honored among them. Moses tells the people all of the rules, laws, and judgments that God had spoken to him. The people say back to Moses that they will follow all of the words of the Lord. Moses then wrote down these things that God told him (this is most likely what is referred to as the Book of the Covenant in verse 7) and He directed young men to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings to the Lord. Offering sacrifices at this time was still done by God’s people independent of a specific directive from him and comes from the people (Moses for this instance) when they are grateful to the Lord and want to express their devotion. God had told them in the latter part of Exodus 20 about how they are to construct an altar.
Notice the role that blood plays in this passage. At the time of the sacrifices, Moses took the blood and put it in basins and sprinkled it on the altar. Then he read to them the Book of the Covenant, which would be the second time the people heard these words that God had delivered to Moses. This repetition is great for the people so that they could familiarize themselves with the commandments of God. Again they confirm they will comply, this time saying, “All that the Lord has said, we will do, and be obedient.” Moses then sprinkled the blood on the people to seal the covenant. This blood, not unlike the blood from the Passover, is over the people and seals the agreement between them and God, protecting them. Where the blood of the Passover protected God’s people from God’s wrath, this blood protects the people from themselves and regulates their behavior, creating a peaceful social environment within which they can live and thrive.
Verses 9-18: Going up the Mountain
Moses goes up with his brother and nephews to the mountain and seventy of the elders of Israel. Verses 10 and 11 are few in detail but heavy with import. Moses and the rest of the men saw God and He must have been in somewhat of a human apparition because reference is made to the feet of God and His hand. God was standing on what is described as a paved work of sapphire stone. God’s association with the precious things of earth is used to convey the great value and holiness that His presence brings. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the 70 elders ate and drank. This meal could be a reference to sealing the covenant in the presence of God. If we were so inclined, we could even make parallels between this meal and the eventual supper that Jesus would have with the apostles. Both were meals that man had in the presence of God that affirmed or established a holy covenant.
God calls Moses up to receive the tablets of stone, the law and the commandments. Moses and Joshua then go up to the mountain but the elders stay back in case any of the people at the base of the mountain are in need. A cloud surrounds the mountain as Moses ascends and he is there for forty days and forty nights. To the people, Moses was obscured in a fiery, smoky barrier at the top of the mountain. This was the glory of the Lord manifest to the people. Moses was there with God all that time that he was on the top of the mountain. Imagine what that must have been like.
God reaching out to the people in this way from the top of Mt. Sinai was a great blessing to them. There was great fear from the people, and rightfully so, but there is also a sense of divine care and concern for the people. God is terrible, yes, but He is also benevolent. The fear of the Lord is a healthy thing and God certainly gives them reason to fear. But beneath the show of His dominance and power are His guidance for the people. If they only follow the Lord, they will have peace and prosperity beyond their wildest imaginations. The people have said multiple times that they will follow the directives of the Lord, but the time to come will show that they often have great difficulty in adhering to their declarations of obedience and loyalty.
When following the Lord, we need to incorporate constancy and steadfast loyalty, no matter our conditions or surroundings. Sounding off that we will obey is good, but it is ultimately meaningless if we do not follow through with active, decisive obedience.