A Memorable Meal
There are some meals you remember.
Some are memorable for their location or quality: I remember eating my first steak and ale pie in a restaurant outside Aberdeen, and the pork schnitzel that I had in a beer garden outside the city limits of Vienna may have been the best meal I’ve ever had. Others are memorable for their uniqueness, like when I tried calamari or pickled herring (and survived). And still others are memorable for their company. I remember listening with fascination at a dinner party to my host sharing stories, like the time he got into a shoot-out with poachers while on safari in Africa. Believe me when I say that it was a memorable meal for all sorts of reasons!
None of these meals, however, would have been as memorable as the meal that happens in Exodus 24. In Exodus 19-23, we read about God meeting with His redeemed people, Israel, at Mount Sinai. Central to the scene is God’s holy and awesome presence being revealed to Israel as he gave his people the ten commandments (Ex. 20:1–17) and other laws that established how Israel was to live with and before Him. In this section of Scripture, God was establishing His covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In Exodus 24, Moses reads back to the people what God had spoken (v. 3) and twice the people publicly affirmed their commitment to the Lord saying that they would obey what God had commanded (vv. 3, 7). God has spoken and His people respond. Blood is then shed in a sacrifice—and subsequently sprinkled on the people, staining their skin and garments—to purify and prepare the people to approach God.
To this point, a sermon and a sacrifice are not surprising elements to see in this scene. But what comes in vv. 9–11 is astounding:
"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.”
Moses and the elders—as representatives of the people—ascend the mountain that God’s visible glory crowns and there “they saw the God of Israel” (v. 10). It’s not an exhaustive description of God’s appearance, but we do know that He appeared distinctly (he wasn’t just an impersonal, bright light) and brilliantly. The ground beneath Him shone like blue sapphire.
Based upon what we know from elsewhere in the Bible, we might expect such an encounter to produce 74 corpses. People don’t just get to see God and live; but, these men, representing the people of God, do… or at least their eyes get as high as His glorious feet. The people are not struck down (though certainly they would have been filled with great fear) but even more remarkable is that they are invited to eat and drink in the presence of God. The covenant which God has entered into with his people is confirmed as a meal is shared in His presence. Talk about memorable! In this mountaintop meal, God is telling His people, “I gladly accept you as my people! I want to be your God! I want you as my people! I don’t despise you as an inconvenience, but I am eager to be in covenant relationship with you.” The meal is a visible sign of God’s intention to have fellowship with his sinful-but-now-redeemed people.
But other than being just a dramatic scene that happened a long time ago on a mountain far, far away, what does this account say to us? This was a picture of worship under the old covenant. It was a gathering in response to the Scripture (the law) and the sacrifice (the blood of the oxen) that God had provided to enjoy fellowship with God and confirm the covenant relationship He had graciously established with them. Now that Christ has come, under the new covenant, how much reason do we have, in response to His revelation (the whole Scriptures) and the sacrifice (the blood of God’s Son) to gather in God’s presence to enjoy fellowship with Him and to recommit ourselves to this relationship with God established on grace?
Kevin DeYoung makes the point well in his helpful sermon on the passage:
“If what we’re doing is what [the book of] Hebrews says we are—this grand service of covenant renewal, whereby we enter into the holy places by the blood of Christ, having been sprinkled clean to gather around the Book of the Covenant; and, by the blood of the covenant, sharing together the bread of the covenant—are you going to neglect that? Will you sleep in, watch football, or go on a walk? We have this one day where we can go up the mountain together and behold God, and he can speak to us, and we can respond to him. How can this gathering not be the highlight of our week? We have a better covenant, a better redeemer, a better sacrifice, and a better book, and we go to a better mountain.”
Sundays together are no ordinary day. We “go up the mountain together” to behold God and to renew covenant with Him. Now that’s something worth remembering.
See you Sunday!