The book of Exodus tells the story of how God saved Israel from their oppressive situation in Egypt. Pharaoh had oppressed the people of Israel for many years. In their oppressive situation the people cried out to God “and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham” (Exodus 2:23–24).
God remembered his covenant with Abraham because God is a covenant-making God. God called Moses to declare to Israel that the time of deliverance had arrived, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” (Exodus 6:6). The redemption of Israel from Egypt was part of God’s work in bringing reconciliation to a lost world. The salvation of Israel sets the stage for God establishing a new relationship through a covenant in which Israel would become God’s special people, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
The Preparation for the Establishment of the Covenant
After Israel left Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai, the place where God had first appeared to Moses. Once they arrived at Sinai, God called Moses, Aaron and his two eldest sons (Exodus 6:23), and seventy elders of Israel and told them to go up the mountain to ratify the covenant that the people had agreed to make with God. The ratification of the covenant would include a sacrifice and a meal in which the leaders of Israel would participate in the presence of God.
The covenant with Israel marked a new beginning for Israel. God said to the people, “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). Because of the covenant, God established an enduring relationship with Israel, a relationship in which God would be the God of Israel and Israel would be the people of God.
God considered the relationship with the people so important that when Moses, Aaron and his sons, and the seventy elders of Israel went up the mountain, they “saw the God of Israel. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” before God (Exodus 24:9–11). The raised hand of God generally means judgment. Since no one can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20), God suspended the judgment because these leaders of Israel saw God and yet, they lived.
To prepare for the ceremony of ratification of the covenant, Moses once again told the people all the words and the law God had spoken to them. To express their willingness to enter into a relationship with God, the people responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do” (Exodus 24:3).
Then Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars (maṣṣēbāh) representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve standing stones means that all the tribes of Israel, all the people, young and old, were present when the covenant was established between God and the people. Often, the people of Israel erected standing stones to mark important events in the life of Israel. The ratification of the covenant was one of those occasions. The twelve stones were set because God was making a covenant with his people.
The Ratification of the Covenant
After Moses read all the words of the Lord to the people and the people unanimously accepted the demands of the covenant, Moses prepared the people for the ratification of the covenant. The ratification of the covenant included three events: a sacrificial ritual, a public reading of law, and a covenant meal.
After Moses had built an altar at the foot of the mountain, he designated a group of young men to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. The young men were selected to offer the sacrifices because Moses had not yet established the priesthood in Israel. The burnt offering consisted of the whole animal being consumed by fire on the altar. Part of the meat of the fellowship offering was used for a meal between the worshiper and God.
The ratification of the covenant was sealed with blood. After the sacrifices were offered, “Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar” (Exodus 24:6). The dividing of the blood in half represents the two parties involved in the ratification of the covenant.
The blood sprinkled on the altar shows that the sacrifice was acceptable to God to make an atonement for the people (Leviticus 1:3–4). It also represented God’s commitment to the covenant and his willingness to accept Israel as his special people with a mission in the world. The blood sprinkled on the people made them ritually clean and bound them to the covenant. Through the sprinkling of the blood God was committed to the people and the people were committed to God.
The second step in the ratification of the covenant was the public reading of the law, “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.” During the ratification of the covenant, Moses acted as a mediator between God and the people. As the mediator, Moses told the people all the demands of the covenant. These commands, laws, decrees, and regulations were written in the Book of the Covenant. The Book of the Covenant, also known as The Covenant Code, contained the laws and regulations that are listed in Exodus 20:22—23:19.
After the reading of the law, the people once again made a commitment to obey the demands of the covenant, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Once the people made a commitment to accept the demands of the covenant, Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people. Then, Moses declared to the people, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:7–8).
The covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai established a new relationship between God and the people. This covenant would be the basis by which God would deal with Israel. In time, Israel discovered that their God was “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7).
When the people entered into this relationship with God, they pledged their loyalty to God. The salvation of Israel would depend on maintaining that special relationship they established with God. The salvation of Israel was not a ticket to heaven; their salvation would come through faithfulness to the relationship they established with God.
The covenant had demands to which the people had to abide. There are two requirements established by God. These demands are represented by the book and by the blood. The book of the covenant contained all the requirements of God that the people must obey. These requirements were designed to make Israel a unique people; they represented the will of God for this special people. The people’s response was one of submission to the authority of God, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).
The blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the altar to represent God’s commitment to the covenant. The blood was also sprinkled on the people as an atonement for them. The blood of the sacrifice of the animal made the people ritually clean and set them apart as a holy people to the Lord.
The New Covenant
During the ratification of the covenant the people said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). But they did not obey; they were not loyal to God. Because of the disobedience of Israel, God announced through the prophet Jeremiah, “‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31–32).
The New Testament declares that this new covenant finds fulfillment in the life and crucifixion of Christ. On the night when Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, Jesus brought his disciples together for a meal. After the meal, Jesus took a cup and said to his disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Jesus’ words reflect Moses’ ceremonial purification of the people at the time the covenant was ratified on Mount Sinai.
According to the author of the book of Hebrews, Jesus died on the cross as God’s ultimate sacrifice on behalf of humanity. On the cross, Jesus shed his blood to bring reconciliation between sinful humanity and God. The apostle Paul wrote, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Jesus is the fulfillment of the new covenant announced by the prophet Jeremiah. The old covenant was based on the promise of the people of Israel to obey the demands of the covenant, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). But, they did not obey. According to the book of Hebrews, the new covenant “is founded on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). The foundation of the new covenant is based upon the obedience of Christ, because Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7). It is for this reason that the new covenant sealed with the blood of Christ is an eternal covenant. There will never be another covenant.
My pastor, Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached a sermon on June 13, 2021 titled “Standing Stones: Reconciling With God.” The sermon was based on Exodus 24:4–8. The post above is based on Jeff’s sermon.
Jeff ends his sermon by celebrating the new covenant in Christ. The death and resurrection of Christ demonstrate that he is Lord and Savior. The language of covenant applies to us because as Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
In the Old Testament the blood was sprinkled on people. Jesus shed his blood on the cross in order that people throughout the ages could establish a relationship with God. In the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, partaking of the bread reminds people that Jesus’ body was broken for them. The partaking of the cup reminds people that the blood shed on the cross was the blood of the new covenant.
Thus, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Corinthians 11:26).
The Sermon: “Standing Stones: Reconciling With God” by Jeff Griffin
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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