Wednesday, August 05, 2015

An Ultimate Mediation Assignment

The People Ratify the Covenant With God
Exodus 24:4-8: And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.  Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on 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!” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Just prior to this passage, we read that Moses had come down from the mountain and told the people “all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances”. Now in this passage, we read that Moses “wrote down all” that God had said and what he had repeated to the people. That must have taken him well into the night. Many of us forget much of what God has communicated to us because, while we hear it (maybe directly form God, or maybe from one of His servants who shares His message from a pulpit), we do not repeat it or discuss it ourselves afterwards, and we seldom write the message down or even take notes during its delivery.  Though I have the complete Bible available on my mobile phone, I never stopped carrying my hard copy of God’s Word to worship services. And I have always tried to have one with wide margins in it. I also bring along a fine point pen. Together, they allow me to take good notes on each passage that is being discussed for future study and use, alone or in company with others.
Early the next morning, he arose and built an altar, complete with twelve pillars, likely placed around the altar. This was no simple economy model. I would imagine it took time and planning to construct it. And that’s why he started “early in the morning”. I often wonder how much of either the messages God had for me or the work He had intended for me to do for Him, over the years, I have missed, because I never found it easy to get up early in the mornings.  Thankfully, in His infinite wisdom, He has seen to it that this comes easier with one’s considerable age. But I still regret what I may have missed.
Our text says he build an altar with twelve pillars, each one representing the twelve tribes of Israel that were in the wilderness. The altar in the middle represented God. Commentator Robert Jamieson points out the significance: These were the two parties (God and the twelve tribes of Israel) to the covenant that was about to be ratified. Jamieson says Moses was simply acting as the mediator. In my long career, there is no aspect of my work that gives me more joy and a feeling of being used by God than acting as a mediator between two parties.  I have often thought about my ultimate “mediation” assignment – solving some serious global crisis between two major powers.  But Moses here was given an even greater assignment – acting as a mediator between God and His people in this Old or First Covenant. And for this to have worked, can you imagine the trust that both parties had in him.  At the same time, Moses here was given the prototype role that Jesus Christ would fulfill in the New or Second Covenant. Moses was a passive mediator (he sacrificed basically his time and efforts) but Christ would be an active one (by actually becoming the sacrificial lamb and dying on the cross for the New Covenant to succeed).
In carrying out his mediatory responsibilities, Moses had the youth of Israel offer burnt offerings and sacrifice young bulls as what would now be called ‘peace offerings’ to God. This is the second reference to a peace offering in Scripture.  The first was four chapters back in Exodus 20:24 when God was dictating His laws and ordinances to Moses. Moses must have shared this requirement of God’s as well when he shared all of God’s words with the people and now he instructs them to actually carry the ‘peace offering’ out for the first time.
With the killing of the animals having taken place, Moses now sprinkles half of the blood that poured out from these animals on the altar and the other half he pours in basins. In order for the Covenant to be ratified, there had to be shedding of blood (that is, it had to be ‘signed’ with blood) and Moses distributes the blood symbolically between the two parties (on the altar representing God and in basins likely at the foot of each pillar representing Israel’s twelve tribes). Commentator Robert Jamieson suggests that this Covenant really did not have a chance because so much depended on what the people had to do and thus the world needed a New Covenant made possible through the sole work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. In this passage, according to commentator Matthew Henry, we have the act of all “the people dedicating (pouring) themselves, their lives, and beings, to God, and to His honor.” Thus half of the blood was poured on the altar that represented God.  Later we will consider the significance of the blood poured in the basins.
Moses than took the Book of the Covenant that we can only assume was the actual written version of God’s Words and Ordinances that Moses had so carefully recorded the night before (see Exodus 24:4) and he read it again in their hearing. What we had here was a formal procedure (one could say a legal process in today’s terminology) and thus even though the Israelites had heard God’s Words before when Moses had related them to the people, now he reads them the ‘official’ version if you like, to make sure they knew what they were about to ratify. It is important for us, not only when we become Christians, but also throughout our Christian journey, to make sure we fully understand what we have signed up for. Many of us fail to do so.  We do not read the fine print and in the end we are dissatisfied with our deal.
In the case of the Israelites, having been told the words of the Lord once and agreed to them (Exodus 24:3), and now having them officially read to them again – they agree once more to all that would be required of them.  And this time, not only did they say that they would do all that God had spoken (24:3), but now add this emphatic response, “ . . .and we will be obedient!” (Exodus 24:7) It seems to me that they were very eager to be part of this Covenant. They did not want to take any chances of missing it. They must have really sensed a need for God to be with them, there in the wilderness.
That happens to us sometimes as well. When things get real tough for us; when our challenges are so many; when we have exhausted our own means of standing on our own two feet, we seek God and are willing to promise anything to get His help. As we will find out with the Israelites later on, we need to be very careful of what we promise God.
It is at this point, after the people promised God that they would give themselves to Him (through sprinkling half the blood of the sacrificed animals on the altar) and so definitely assuring Moses at least of their determination to be obedient, that Moses now completes the process by sprinkling the other half of the blood he had saved in basins on the people or their representatives. We do not know those actually involved but I would assume it would be the highest elders of each of the tribes.
This act Matthew Henry explains as Moses sprinkling it (the second half of the blood) “either upon the people themselves (v. 8) or upon the pillars that represented them, which signified God's graciously conferring His favor upon them and all the fruits of that favor, and His giving them all the gifts they could expect or desire from a God reconciled to them and in covenant with them by sacrifice.”
[An aside: This was the first reference to sprinkling in the Scriptures. Readers may be interested in doing some research as to the origin of sprinkling in religious rites through the ages.  Infant baptism sprinkling started after Christ’s life on earth. I would, however, point out that while people were ‘sprinkled’ in Scripture (as we saw here in Exodus 24), there is no direct link, to my knowledge, between that and the sprinkling of infants in lieu of adult baptism at the age where they could understand what is happening to them.]
Finally, Moses presents the people with the Covenant that God had made with them. I think that is our job today whether we are pastors or hold other forms of Christian leadership, or leaders of our families, or parents, or counselors, etc.  We are to present the Covenant that God has made (only now the New Covenant made through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ) to the people in our lives, having first fully accepted it ourselves.

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