Opening Prayer: Almighty and merciful God, we bow before you now as our only God, our only strength, our only savior. Grant that we might be taught by your word, and give us hearts and minds and bodies that are receptive and obedient to your word. Through Jesus, your Word, Amen!
Today we consider the climax of the covenant which God renewed with the people of Israel at Sinai. This covenant was in fulfillment of the promises to Abraham (Gen. 15:12ff, Ex. 2:24, 6:3-5, 20:1). The Book of the Covenant closes reminding Israel of their royal Sabbath callings (23:1-19). The covenant is that relationship that God has initiated to bring humanity back into fellowship with God, to bring us near to God again.
The Angel goes before Israel to “guard” and to “lead” Israel into the place God has prepared for Israel (23:20, cf. Gen. 24:7). The command is to “guard” Him and “obey” his words and do not “provoke/be bitter against” him (23:21). The threat is that he will not forgive their sins if they do not obey him because the name of God is in him. The fact that this angel can forgive sins means that this is no ordinary angel. Jim Jordan points out that this Angel is doing the very things that Adam was called to do: “guard” and “speak” the words of God and “lead” his wife. But this Angel of Yahweh is not only an Adam, he is also Yahweh Himself (Gen. 16:7-13, Ex. 3:2ff, Jdg. 6:11-22). The name “Yahweh,” is literally “in his midst.” Therefore this Angel can be understood as none other than God himself, the second person of the Trinity. In fact “his words” and God’s “voice” are synonymous (23:22). Likewise, obeying the Angel of Yahweh is “serving” Yahweh (23:25). Serving and obeying the Angel of God cannot mean anything less than serving God Himself since all other gods are forbidden to Israel (e.g. 23:24, 33). This “Angel” is apparently also synonymous with the “fear” of Yahweh (cf. Gen. 31:53) that will be sent before Israel into the land to cause confusion among their enemies (23:27). Serving Yahweh faithfully will mean that he will be enemy to their enemies (23:22), and he will slowly drive them from the land (23:28-33). This Angel will go before them to provide food and life for Israel (23:25-26). All of this is tied to keeping covenant with Yahweh and not making covenants with their enemies or their gods (compare 23:32 and 24:8).
The point of covenant is fellowship and communion with God. Yahweh calls Moses, Aaron, and his sons, and the 70 elders up the mountain to “worship” (24:1). Again, this is in contrast to “worshipping” the Canaanite gods (23:24). But they will worship from “afar” in contrast to Moses who shall “come near Yahweh” (Ex. 24:2). Drawing near is worship, and the entire sacrificial system is for Israel to draw near to God (e.g. Lev. 1:2-3). Because of sin, blood must be shed for humanity to draw near to God, but even this must be done in the context of covenant. So the people make promises (24:3, 7), and the covenant is sealed with blood and a feast (24:5-8). The people offer ascension offerings and peace offerings (24:5). And then Moses and company “go up” and eat and drink with God. Moses and the elders more literally perform that which the rest of Israel have done. With out going into the details too much, it is most likely that Moses and the elders see the Angel of God. As we have already noted, when people see the Angel of Yahweh, they often say that they have seen God. Remember that the Angel has God’s name in him or in his midst (23:21), and literally it is in his “nearness.” The Angel of God is God’s nearness to Israel. To be in covenant with God, to have his blood cover us, is for God to be near to us. But where the elders draw somewhat nearer than the rest of Israel, Moses and Joshua drawn the nearest to God at the top of the mountain in the consuming fire (24:17). But notice that Moses goes up into the mountain, and the glory of Yahweh called to Moses out of the “midst” of the cloud (24:16). Finally, Moses goes into the “midst” of the cloud (24:18). While the word for “midst” is not the same as the one related to drawn near or nearness, the idea is the same. God has come near.
Conclusions and Applications
Notice the pattern: Israel is at the foot of the mounting eating and worshipping God, the seventy elders and others are halfway up the mounting eating and worshipping and seeing God, and Moses ascends even further into the presence of God where God is a “consuming fire.” There is eating going on at every level. This is the covenant that God has drawn us into: it is fellowship with God, eating and drinking with God, being drawn near to him so that he may have all of us.
We serve the God who draws near. In eternity, the persons of the Trinity “draw near” to one another. Theologians call this perichoresis, the idea that the persons of the Trinity indwell and fill one another. And because we serve the God who draws near, when we were far from God, he drew near to our forefathers and ultimately came near in Immanuel, God with Us. Jesus is God’s nearness to us. He was acquainted with sorrows and has tasted life and understands our weaknesses. And now he is our Moses standing in the presence of God, in the consuming fire, near to God for us.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty and gracious God, we thank you for drawing near to us. We praise you for Jesus who is you Angel, your Messenger, in whom you have put your name. We thank you that in him we have the forgiveness of sins, and that you have brought us near through the blood of the new covenant. Teach us to trust him, to obey him, and give us faith to do so more and more.