What Did They See?


Exodus 24:4b-11 (ESV)

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.

Covenants sure were bloody affairs. Before the invention of contract law people had to make a big show of their covenant promises to give them an aura of legitimacy. Unfortunately, the most they could really achieve was to make it impossible for someone to say, “I didn’t think you were serious.” Enforcement was up to the individuals involved.

But since God is one of the individuals here, enforcement isn’t a problem. If an Israelite breaks this covenant, he sure isn’t going to say, “Yeah, so what are you going to do about it?”

Thus, this yucky ceremony seals the deal. When Israel later disobeys, there won’t be any debate about whether that qualifies as breaking a covenant.

The second paragraph is interesting because we know some things could not have happened. What exactly does, “they saw the God of Israel,” mean?

“But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Exodus 33:20 (ESV)

The passage only mentions God’s feet and the sapphire stone pavement He’s standing on. Then it notes that he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel. This conveys a sense of great size and intimidation – as if they could only see His feet while His head was above the clouds. They beheld God, and ate and drank, despite apparently wondering if God might lay his hand on them any minute now.

That’s about as unforgettable as an experience can get.

We need something just as unforgettable too. In our cushy, prosperous, free country with all our inalienable rights, we forget how tough life can be for persecuted Christians around the world. If we could actually experience, for just one day, what they experience, it would change our attitudes forever.

But that’s a missions trip no one has figured out how to take. Would you sign up? For just one day?

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.