THE COVENANT AT SINAI
It will be realized by the intelligent reader, that the various laws we have had under review were most of them communicated to Moses, on the occasion of his first visit to the summit of Mount Sinai when the ten commandments were so impressively promulgated. On coming down from the mountain, Moses rehearsed all the words of the Lord and all the judgments, in the hearing of the people, “and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do” (Exod. 24:3). They had said this in response to the first general proposal submitted to them on their arrival from Egypt before the ten commandments were delivered, but they were called upon, now, to make a more deliberate and formal declaration of their submission. The first was before the Lord had made known His mind; the second was after He had declared to Moses the laws by which He desired them to be guided as a nation. The second response was a full and hearty and unanimous consent on their part to do as God willed.
It was no doubt perfectly sincere for the time being. They were not only under the gratifying influences of the deliverances they had experienced, both at the Red Sea, and on the journey from thence; but they were under the powerful impression produced by the visible demonstration from the summit of Sinai of God’s existence and purpose toward them, an exhibition so impressive, that all the people trembled and withdrew to a distance from the sight.
Moses having received the consent of the people, wrote all the laws which he had rehearsed to them, and later on, read what he had written. He then went through a ceremony of ratification, which is the subject of comment in the apostolic writing (Heb. 9:10–21), as possessing a meaning which could not be obvious at the time.
Paul, remarking on the apparently accidental circumstance of Moses putting a veil upon his face at a certain stage in the transaction, tells us “that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that” which the time had come to abolish in Paul’s day (2 Cor. 3:13). It is doubtful if Moses himself understood the import of that which was enjoined. Nothing indeed is more remarkable in the Mosaic narrative than its entire silence with regard to the meaning of all that was commanded to be done. There is no attempt to convey even a hint of concealed significance. Moses receives instruction as to what was to be done in the time then present, and he faithfully carries out those instructions without presuming to be “wise above that which is written”, He made the Tabernacle according to pattern; and inducted the priests into their various services without knowing that the whole was a figure for “the time then present”—“the Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the holiest (state) of all was not yet made manifest” (Heb. 9:8).
He built an altar under the hill surrounded by twelve pillars, to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. On this altar he poured half of the blood of young oxen which had been killed by the young men (probably Levites) whom he had selected for the service. The rest of the blood he put in basins, and having read what he had written in the book, he dipped in the blood scarlet wool and hyssop, and with this sprinkled the book out of which he had read to as many of the people as were within convenient range, saying with a loud voice, “This is the blood of the covenant which God hath enjoined unto you”.
Paul, commenting on these things, says that” almost all things are by the law purged with blood”, The reason he gives is that no covenant is of force while the covenant-victim liveth. Blood poured out is the symbol of death, and the sprinkling with this blood on altar, book, and people, was an intimation that no covenant of everlasting force, could be made without the death of the men to whom it was offered. If it be asked why, the answer is, that death was due. Death had passed upon all men through Adam, and it reigned over them, although they “had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression”, on account of “the many offences” from which no man is exempt. The multitude to whom God offered the covenant of His favour by Moses was a multitude in this position. Consequently it was not compatible with the greatness of God that any advance could be made to them without the ritual illustration and enforcement of their true position.
This is the explanation of the fact that the first covenant was “not dedicated without blood”, The Mosaic patterns were all purified thus. Blood proclaimed the infliction of death. It was an infliction of death on animals, and therefore not efficacious for final results, yet, as a shadow, it commanded assent to the principle. Blood, as the symbol of death, typically purged the death defilement. Death is always treated in the Mosaic system as a defiling thing. To touch a dead body, or a grave, or a bone was to contract defilement. The whole congregation, as they stood there before Moses, were in the antitypically defiled state. They had not only touched death through descent from the condemned of Eden; but they were in contact with its defiling power in their own bodies. There was therefore nothing but that which was just and seemly in the shedding of blood being made accessory to the establishment of a covenant of peace between God and them.
Paul notes that without the shedding of blood there is no remission—that is, there is no putting aside of sin with a view to friendship, without the fullest recognition of its nature and its unreserved repudiation. This is the reasonable requirement of the wisdom of God in type and antitype.
The type is before us; the antitype is in Christ. He is the altar, the book of the law, and the other things that come after. The sprinkling of the typical blood on both by Moses prefigured the operation of divine love and wisdom in Christ’s own sacrifice. It was a sacrifice operative on himself first of all: for he is the beginning of the new creation, the firstfruits of the new harvest, the foundation of the new temple. He was the nucleus of a new and healthy life developed among men, for the healing of all who should become incorporate with it. As such, it was needful that he should himself be the subject of the process and the reaper of the results. Hence the testimony that “the God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20), and that by his own blood, entering into the holy place, he obtained (middle, or self-subjective, state of the verb) eternal redemption (” for us” is interpolated) (9:12). The Father saved him from death for his obedience unto death (Heb. 5:7–9; Phil. 2:8–9; Rom. 5:19).
The common view which disconnects Christ from the operation of his own sacrifice would have required that Moses should have left the altar and the book of the law unsprinkled. These were parts of what Paul terms “the patterns of things in the heavens”, concerning which he remarks that it was necessary they should be purified with the sacrifices ordained. The application of this to Christ as the antitype he makes instantly; “but (it was necessary that) the heavenly things themselves (should be purified) with better sacrifices than these” (Heb. 9:23). The phrase “the heavenly things” is an expression covering all the high, holy and exalted things of which the Mosaic pattern was but a foreshadowing. They are all comprehended in Christ, who is the nucleus from which all will be developed, the foundation on which all will be built. The statement is therefore a declaration that it was necessary that Christ should first of all be purified with better sacrifices than the Mosaic: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place”; “not into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:12, 23–24).
Among the many shadows of the Mosaic transaction, none is more significant than this, that the people were required to express their consent to the Divine law before God condescended to enter into covenant with them even on the basis of sacrifice. Popular religion makes the Divine advances to man a merely philanthropic affair—a question of saving people in the sense of conferring a benefit on them. That God is love and purposes to confer a benefit on man, is indeed an undoubted and joyful truth; but there is a prior principle and a prior aim which the covenant made with Israel at Sinai illustrates in a way not to be mistaken, just as there was a prior principle in the case of infliction of death. The breach of God’s supremacy was the cause of death: its restoration is the condition-precedent of favour. The lesson of sacrifice is not so much the idea of man’s punishment as God’s vindication. Heathen religions have seized and magnified the former idea, with its concomitant notion of justice finding satisfaction in the blood of a substitutionary sufferer. Revelation through Moses and Christ exhibits it as the enforcement of the will of God as the law of human action. With this every element of divine truth vibrates in harmony. Even the kingdom and the cross unite here: “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”,
The covenant with the people having been ratified by sacrifice, on the basis of previously expressed willingness to obey, Moses was invited, along with Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of Israel, to come to the Mount and worship, and to see the glory of God. In this we perceive a preliminary analogy to the order of events belonging to the fulfilment of the final purpose of God upon the earth: worship after submission and obedience, and the open vision of eternal glory.
Moses was alone to draw near (Exod. 24:2); the others were to accompany him so far and to “worship afar off”, but all were to see the God of Israel, under whose feet there appeared “as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness”, We know from much other testimony that this was the angelic manifestation of the Father—not the Father himself. The shadow character of the events required this. But how deeply interesting even as a literal event, and how richly suggestive in its hidden adumbrations.
In Moses we see Christ, who alone has been admitted to the Father’s presence. Who are the others, who stand afar off? In the absence of precise information we can but surmise. Elijah did not see death, and Moses was with him on the Mount of Transfiguration, speaking with Christ of “the decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem”, Enoch also was translated; and at the resurrection of Christ “many of the bodies of the saints which slept arose” (Matt. 27:52). It is possible that all these may have accompanied Christ in his ascension, but stopped short at an ordained point, while he alone penetrated to the “Secret place”—the throne of the Eternal—embosomed in Light unapproachable in the star-gemmed recesses of the Universe.
Some find in the stupendous distances that divide even the nearest fixed stars from the earth an unsuperable difficulty in the way of such a conception. Their difficulty arises from the mistake of applying the ascertained velocities of finite elements to the movements of the eternal substance—SPIRIT. The Spirit is a unity in immensity. It is a unity embracing everything else, and therefore capable of compassing the ends of Eternal wisdom, without those mechanical movements in space that are inseparable from created phenomena. The divine presence might be vouchsafed to Christ, and the divine glory unveiled to his further-off companions without either of them coming into mechanical proximity to the seat of Eternal power. It is, in fact, not possible that mortal man should conceive the divine method in these loftiest relations. Certainly, we cannot put limits to it, or apply the law of any of the elements to it. The elements-yet the subtlest of them—such as light or heat—are but accommodations of God’s own energy and wisdom to specific objects. The more we know of such things, the more we see that it is man’s part simply to learn facts and receive them, and not to stand in judgment on them when they are established. We know that Christ ascended to the Right Hand of Power—to the Father of all: and the Mosaic type would seem to hint that he was accompanied so far by select companions. There is something pleasing to our social nature in such an idea.
While Moses and his company were absent in the Mount, “the glory of the Lord abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud”, Six days cloud and silence, and on the seventh divine speech. This is striking. We are not told it means anything; but it is impossible not to think of the long six days of a thousand years each day in which God hides His face, and the seventh on which “the tabernacle of God is with men… and his servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face”, The analogy of this is usually found in the creation week of six days, and the seventh, or sabbath of rest. This is also applicable, though in another way—six days’ work, followed by one day of rest. The six thousand years of cloud is also six thousands years of labour towards the kingdom. The seventh is both the day of open vision and the day of rest. Here both analogies converge.
During this time, “the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel”, This was the literal: the spiritual significance has corresponded. The aspect of divine wisdom towards Israel during the long days of cloud and silence has been the stern aspect of judgment against their sins. The divine glory has been concealed in cloud; the divine kindness veiled in silence; the divine majesty visible only in devouring fire. “God has been known in the judgment he executeth”, rather than in the merciful kindness which He is ready to bestow. But the finish will end the terror, and Israel who drew off in fear will draw near in gratitude: “He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old” (Micah 7:19–20).
While Moses was in the Mount with God, he received the commission for the construction of the tabernacle, which was to be the centre of the nation’s life. This Tabernacle was remarkable in a variety of respects, which it will be profitable to consider.
First of all, the plan or pattern of it was shown to him (doubtless in vision). Its correct construction was not to be dependent on a description which Moses might misunderstand, or upon the memory of Moses, which might prove defective. As a divine structure, having divine significances in many details, it was needful that Moses should see with his own eyes the actual representation of what was required; having seen which, he was warned to be careful to follow it faithfully. More than once it was said to him, “Thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was shewed thee in the mount” (Exod. 26:30; 25:40; Heb. 8:5). Not only so; but the correct fabrication of the structure was safeguarded by the impartation of special capacity to the leading directors of the work. “See”, said Moses, “the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri… and he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship… and he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach… to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded” (Exod. 35:30; 36:1).
From all this, we do not deduce a doubtful lesson, when we say that our approaches to God must be in harmony with His own requirements. Men who hope to be accepted in their own way, will find, like Nadab and Abihu, that strange fire in the censer evokes wrath and not favour. There is much self-invented service in our day, as there was in after times in Israel, and usually the invented service displaces that which has been required. God’s question to Israel will rudely awaken many a Gentile expectant: “Who hath required this at your hands?” Christ represents this class as saying to him, in the day of his return, “Have we not preached in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?” to which his response is, “I know you not; depart from me, ye workers of iniquity”, The form of our service must be according to what has been shown. The pattern is in the Scriptures. We must look there for what is pleasing to God. The pattern has been lost in our day in the multitude of human opinions, glosses and traditions.
Next, Moses was directed to invite the people to supply the materials out of which the Tabernacle was to be made. “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering … gold, and silver, and brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, goat’s hair, and ram’s skins dyed red, and badger’s skins, and shittim wood, oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense, onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod of the breastplate. And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exod. 25:1–7).
It is scarcely possible to miss the significance of this. God’s final encampment upon the earth is to be in a Tabernacle made of materials supplied by the human race—living materials answerable to the precious things offered by Israel, gold, silver, precious stones, representing the good and honest-hearted among enlightened men. The Tabernacle was not let down from heaven ready made, though the pattern after which it was made was from that source: so the divine system of things to occupy the earth for ever, does not come down from heaven as a complete literal development, after the manner of some people’s ideas of the New Jerusalem. The pattern comes from there. Christ, even in the days of his flesh, could say, “I came down from heaven”, because the Spirit which caused his appearance emanated from thence. In how much fuller a sense, at his second appearing, will he be able to say the same thing. But the elements of the Tabernacle to be reared up upon earth, for the glory of God, will be supplied from the ranks of Adam’s descendants in conformity with the divine specifications.
Another feature of the work was its perfectly voluntary character, so far as Israel’s participation was concerned: “Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart, ye shall take my offering” (verse 2). Freewill has been the basis of all God’s requirements of the human race, from the interdict of the forbidden tree in Eden to the summons of the Gentiles by the hands of Paul to repent: not that man has ever been at liberty to disobey in the sense of being able to do so with impunity, but that the command has always been taken to presuppose the exercise of voluntary will, and the possibility of non-compliance as the result of that exercise. The doctrine of “necessity” is an artificial interpretation of the ways of God.
God has caused a proclamation to be sounded through the world (though its force is now almost spent): “Speak unto the children of Adam that they bring me an offering. Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering … and let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” The rearing of the sanctuary will not be accomplished till the age to come, but the materials are meanwhile being brought in: “gold, silver, and precious stones: wood, hay, and stubble”. They will all be inspected at the judgment seat, and assorted. When matters have reached this pass—when Christ is actually in the earth, and it is patent to all men that the work of God by him is a reality and not a delusion, there will be sure to be a rush of participants. “Lord, Lord, open unto us.” But by that time, the number has been made up that is needful for the organization of the Kingdom of God: and we may then see the antitype of what happened in Israel’s camp after the issue of the invitation to bring in materials. “The people brought much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing; For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much” (Exod. 36:5–7).
The materials having been brought to Moses, “Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise-hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it: and they received of Moses all the offering which the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the sanctuary, to make it withal”, And so the work of construction proceeded. “According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel made all the work. And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them” (Exod. 39:42).
On the first day of the first month of the second year after Israel’s departure out of Egypt was the Tabernacle set up and furnished with all its appurtenances. It will be our duty, in ensuing chapters, to consider the peculiarities of the structure, its furniture, and the nature of the service conducted in it; with respect to the concealed meanings to which we are admitted in the writings of the apostles. They form in their totality what Paul styles “the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law”, Their indications are plain; They show the terrible majesty and holiness of God, and the impossibility of man saving himself except by strict and reverential and loving conformity to His appointments. These things are revealed in the Gospel; but they become more striking when contemplated over again in the pictures and symbols of the Mosaic example and shadow of heavenly things.
Nothing enables us more powerfully to feel that the professing Christian world around us is as far astray from the righteousness of God as ever were Israel, His own people. Be it ours, to try to fulfil the part shadowed for the sons of God in the Mosaic ritual.
Every true son and daughter of the Lord God Almighty is a miniature tabernacle or temple, as saith Paul, “Ye are the temple of the living God. If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy”, Our minds should be a holy place lined with the gold of a tried faith, in which the one Christ-sacrifice for sins is continually offered, and the smoke of grateful incense, kindled by the fire of the altar, continually ascending, while deeply secreted in the innermost ark of the heart is the law of God in its remembrance, the scriptures in their affectionate study, the institutions of divine appointment in continual reverence, and the bread of God in its continual eating. Thus shall we be the sons of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, misunderstood by all, hated by many, despised and rejected of men, persevering in a bitter probation that will end at last in life and light and joy everlasting, when “the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people … and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”.