Tuesday

18 November 2014

“Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.” (vv. 9-11)


Background

Our passages this week omit the giving of the remainder of the law and skips straight to the ritual ratification of the covenant. But the account we have is somewhat confusing. It is most likely that Exodus was composed over a period of hundreds of years and that the final written form we have draws on a number of ancient (possibly oral) sources that were passed down through the generations. In this passage we seem to have two different accounts of the ritual used to ratify the covenant, probably from different sources.

Verse 1 recounts God's command to Moses to bring Aaron and his sons and 70 elders up the mountain. But this narrative is not picked up again until verse 9, when they go up the mountain, and in an extraordinary event in the Old Testament they are allowed to see God and survive, albeit only his feet! Although a shared meal was a typical way to seal a covenant in Old Testament times, this direct encounter between God and people is a unique moment indicating a unique relationship between God and the people of Israel. Naturally we think of Jesus' own covenantal meal with his disciples on the night before he died, which echoes this story (Mark 14:17-25).

The other narrative (verses 3-8) recounts the use of a blood sacrifice to seal the covenant. Blood-ritual was also a common ancient way of ratifying a covenant, but scholars believe that this version has also been influenced by later priestly ceremonies of covenant renewal. This was a much more primitive ritual, but also involvesd all of the people of Israel, whereas only their representatives are permitted to feast with Yahweh in verses 9-11. The public reading of a covenant from an official written document was also important so that all the people could give their informed assent to it. Jesus also refered to the tradition of blood sacrifice at the last supper, when he described not the blood of a sacrificial animal, but his own blood, shed in sacrifice, as 'the blood of the new covenant' (Luke 20:22).

Once the covenant was ratified, God called Moses further up the mountain to give him the stone tablets and also to instruct him in the forms of divine worship. Moses remained in God's glory for 40 days and 40 nights, which echoes both Israel's 40-year wandering in the wilderness and Jesus' own period of temptation (Matthew 4:1-11).


To Ponder

  • Can you think of a modern example of using two different accounts to communicate one essential truth? What might this be? And why do you find this helpful?
  • Reflect on shared meals when you have felt God to be present.
  • The people saw the glory of the Lord as a devouring fire on top of the mountain. In what ways have you found God to be both glorious and terrible?


Bible notes author: The Revd Anna Bishop

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