THE SACRIFICIAL FEAST AND THE VISION OF GOD. After the covenant had been ratified by the unanimous voice of the people, Moses proceeded to carry out the injunctions with respect to Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the elders, which he had received while still in the mount (see the comment on Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2). Taking them with him, he ascended Sinai once more to a certain height, but clearly not to the summit, which he alone was privileged to visit (Exodus 24:2 and Exodus 24:12). The object of the ascent was twofold.
1. A sacrificial meal always followed upon a sacrifice; and the elders might naturally desire to partake of it as near the Divine presence as should be permitted them. This was their purpose in ascending.
2. God desired to impress them with a sense of his awful majesty and beauty, and was prepared for this end to manifest himself to them in some strange and wonderful way as they were engaged in the solemn meal (Exodus 24:11). This was his purpose in inviting their presence. The manifestation is described in Exodus 24:10. It was a "vision of God," but of what exact nature it is impossible to say. Having recorded it, the author parenthetically notes that the Divine vision did not destroy any of those who beheld it, or cause them any injury, as might have been expected.
Then went up. Compare Exodus 24:1. The mountain was to be partially ascended, but not to any great height. Nadab, Abihu, and the elders were to "worship God afar off."
They saw the God of Israel. These words can scarcely mean less than that they saw with their bodily eyes some appearance of the Divine being who had summoned them to his presence for the purpose. Moses, we know, saw a "similitude of God" (Numbers 12:8). Isaiah "saw the Lord sitting upon his throne "(Isaiah 6:1). Ezekiel saw upon the throne "the appearance of a man" (Ezekiel 1:26). It does not follow from Deuteronomy 4:12, Deuteronomy 4:15, that the elders saw no similitude, since in that passage Moses is speaking, not to the elders, but to the people, and referring, not to what occurred at the sacrificial feast after the ratification of the covenant, but to the scene at the giving of the Ten Commandments previously (Exodus 20:1-2). What the form was which the elders saw, we are not told; but as it had "feet," it was probably a human form. It may have been hazy, indefinite, "too dazzling bright for mortal eye" to rest upon. But it was a true "vision of God"—and, as Keil says, "a foretaste of the blessedness of the sight of God in eternity." There was under his feet, as it were, a paved work of a sapphire stone. Rather, "and under his feet was, as it were, a work of clear sapphire." Nothing is said concerning a pavement, but only that below the feet of the figure which they saw was something, which looked as if it were made of bright blue sapphire stone, something as clear and as blue as the blue of heaven. Canon Cook supposes the actual sky to be meant; but the expression, "as it were, the body of heaven," or "like the very heaven," makes this impossible. A thing is not like itself.
The nobles—i.e; the notables—the seventy elders, and other persons, already mentioned (Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:9). He laid not his hand. God did not smite them with death, or pestilence, or even blindness. It was thought to be impossible to see God and live. (See above, Genesis 32:30; Exodus 32:20; Judges 6:22, Judges 6:23, etc.) Man was unworthy to draw near to God in any way; and to look on him was viewed as a kind of profanity. Yet some times he chose to show himself, in vision or otherwise, to his people, and then, as there could be no guilt on their part, there was no punishment on his. It is generally supposed that, in all such eases, it was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who condescended to show himself. Also they saw God. Rather, "they both saw God, and did eat and drink." The two were simultaneous. As they were engaged in the sacrificial meal, God revealed himself to them.
The Covenant Meal on Sinai.
The Old Testament contains no mention of any other meal so wonderful as this. Newly entered into covenant with God, fresh from the blood of sprinkling, which was representative of the blood of Christ, Moses, Aaron with his two sons, and the seventy elders, half-way up Sinai, engaged in the sacrificial feast upon the peace-offerings (Exodus 24:5), when lo! the heaven was opened to them, and there burst upon their astonished sight a vision of Jehovah in his glory and his beauty, standing on pellucid sapphire, dazzling in its brilliance. As the meat and drink entered their mouths, God shone in upon their souls. It was indeed a "wondrous festivity," and certainly not without a spiritual meaning, extending to all time, and even beyond time into eternity. Surely, we may say, without over-great boldness, or any undue prying into holy things:—
I. THAT THE MEAL WAS A TYPE OF THAT DIVINE FEAST WHICH THE LOUD INSTITUTED ON THE NIGHT OF HIS BETRAYAL, FOR THE SUSTENTATION OF HIS PEOPLE. The Holy Communion is a feast upon a sacrifice—the sacrifice of Christ—partaken of by Christians as the most solemn rite of their religion, in the wilderness of this life, for their better sustentation and support through its trials. It brings them very near to him, as it were into his presence. As they partake of the bread and wine, they partake of him; his light shines into their souls; his beauty and glory are revealed to their spirits; they obtain a foretaste of heaven. Blessed is the man who thus eats and drinks in his kingdom—eating and drinking and seeing God.
II. THAT THE MEAL WAS, FURTHER, A TYPE OF THAT MARRIAGE-SUPPER OF THE LAMB, HEREOF ALL THE FAITHFUL SHALL ONE DAY PARTAKE IN HEAVEN (Revelation 19:7-66). There the saints shall eat and drink in the Divine presence, their meat the heavenly manna, angels' food, their drink the wine which they "drink new" in their Father's kingdom. The glory of God shall shine on them. For the place of their dwelling "has no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it;" for it is "the glory of God that lightens it, and the Lamb that is the light thereof" (Revelation 21:23). The sapphire of Sinai has there its counterpart; for "the first foundation" of the city wherein they dwell "is jasper, and the second sapphire" (Revelation 21:19). The Divine presence is with them perpetually; for the "throne"of God is there, and they "see his face," and "his Name is in their foreheads" (Revelation 22:4). Thrice blessed they who attain to this heavenly feast, and are counted worthy of that beatific vision!
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
A vision of God.
Prior to the ratification of the covenant, God had given Moses instructions that, immediately on the conclusion of the ceremonies, he, together with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu (representatives of the future priesthood), and seventy of the elders of Israel (representatives of the body of the people), should again ascend the mountain (Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:2). The design was to partake of a sacrificial feast, perhaps held on the flesh of the peace-offerings of Exodus 24:5, by way of solemn conclusion to the proceedings of the day. Another part of the design was that the eiders might receive a new revelation of Jehovah, setting forth the milder glories of his character as a God reconciled with Israel, in contradistinction to the manifestations on Sinai, which revealed him solely as the God of law and terror. The later revelation was the counterbalance of the earlier. It does that justice to the character of God, as standing in friendly relations to his people, which was not possible in harmony with the special design, and within the special limits, of the revelation from the summit of the mount. It showed him as the God of grace. It taught Israel to think of him, to love him, to trust him, and to worship him as such. It kept them from being overwhelmed by the remembrance of the former terrors. It forestalled that view of the graciousness of God which was afterwards peculiarly associated with the mercy-seat and with Mount Zion, and is now the aspect of his character predominant in the Gospel (see on Sinai and Zion, Exodus 19:16-2). We are told, accordingly, that when the company ascended the mount, "they saw the God of Israel" (Exodus 24:10). What they did see is not further described than that "there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness" (Exodus 24:10). The vision, however, was plainly one addressed to the outer or inner sense, an "appearance" of God in some recognisable way. So mild and beneficent was the spectacle, nevertheless, that it seems to have disarmed all terror; and Aaron and his sons, with the "nobles," ate and drank while still witnessing it. We may regard the vision, in its relation to the situation of Israel, as—
1. Declarative. It gave a view of the character of God.
(1) To some extent of his essential character. The blue of the sapphire symbolised his holiness, while in the deep, clear ether was mirrored his untroubled purity, his superiority to earthly passion and disturbance, his perfect blessedness, his transcendency over creation, etc.
(2) More especially of his gracious character. The idea suggested was that of a God at peace with Israel—reconciled. The vision would be read in its contrast with the previous revelation. The terrors of the law-giving were now laid aside; all is sweetness, beauty, mildness, serenity, love. This vision of God as a God at peace with Israel, is mediated by the offering of sacrifice. It is so also under the Gospel. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
2. Symbolic of privilege.
(1) The "nobles," though in God's presence, suffered no harm. "Upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand" (Exodus 24:11). He might have done so, for they were by nature sinners. But they were safe, as sprinkled with blood of atonement, and as in presence of a God of mercy. Though sinners, we are permitted in Christ to draw nigh to God. He will not harm us; he will welcome, accept of, and bless us.
(2) Though in God's presence, they "did eat and drink" (Exodus 24:11). They had this freedom before him; this feeling of confidence. It is only the revelation of God as a God of grace which can inspire this confidence. Their eating and drinking was symbolical of the privilege of every pious Israelite, sheltered from his sin in God's mercy, and taking confidence from his word of grace. Much more is it symbolic of the privilege of Christians, in whom perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
3. Prefigurative of future blessedness. The goal of the kingdom of God is the feast of perfected bliss in glory, where the saints shall eat and drink and see God with no intervening veils, and in the full beauty of his love and holiness.
1. The vision of God in Christ disarms fear.
2. Let us try to see God, even in our eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31).
3. Those sheltered by Christ's blood are safe. Note the following—"
(1) There are those who eat and drink, and do not see God.
(2) There are those who see God, and cannot eat and drink.
(3) There are those who eat and drink, and see God" (Rev. W.B. Robertson, D.D.).—J.O.