Then Moses Took the Book of the Covenant

and Read It to the People

24: 4-8

    DIG: Who makes this covenant between the people and God? What did the blood on the altar signify? The blood sprinkled on the people?

    REFLECT: Is God’s covenant with His people, then and now, sustained by their obedience, or by His grace? Why do you think so? How will that affect your promise-making today?

    Part of the process of ratifying a covenant in the ancient Near East entailed putting an agreement down in writing. Therefore, when compared with Suzerainty Treaties of the day, the Torah of Moses would have a formal ceremony.

    Moses then wrote down everything ADONAI said (24:4a). Moses got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of Mount Sinai and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel (24:4b). Pillars often served as testimonials of covenants in the Bible (Genesis 31:45-54; Joshua 24:27). So physical signs represented both parties of the covenantGod by the altar and Israel by the pillars.

    Since the Levitical priesthood had not yet been organized (19:22), young Israelite men from among the people offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to ADONAI (24:5). The burnt offerings atoned for sins and guilt, while the fellowship offerings reflected peace between the LORD and the Israelite community. These two sacrifices demonstrated that, of the two parties to the treaty, God was the suzerain and Isra'el the vassal. In ancient Near-Eastern covenants, the vassal was required to pay homage and honor to the suzerain.458

    Then Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls after he had read the Book of the Covenant to the people, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar, which symbolized the presence of God (24:6). Later, in 24:8, he would sprinkle the other half on the people from the bowls. As several animals were slaughtered, and all of them young oxen, there must have been a considerable amount of blood obtained, so that one half would fill several basins, and many people might be sprinkled with it.459 This formal ceremony sealed the covenant for both parties. To the Israelites, blood was the essence of life. Keeping the covenant meant life would be the result, and breaking the covenant would lead to the shedding of blood and death.

    What Moses wrote down became known as the Book of the Covenant, and it was to be read in the hearing of all the people in order that they might respond to the challenges of God. And they respond by saying: We will do everything ADONAI has said. We will obey (24:7). These Israelites certainly did not lack confidence. In fact, they were overconfident. They actually thought they could keep the commandments of the Torah. But they were only fooling themselves. The natural man believes he can please God, but he cannot. You and I cannot please the LORD, because no one can meet God’s high, perfect standard. We forget that we are actually members of a totally fallen race as far as ADONAI is concerned. If you don’t think so, just look at the news tonight. There is sin, confusion, violence and godlessness at every turn. As the New Covenant says: There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). We live in a time when evil is called good, and good is called evil.460 The prophets said that such a day would come and we are surely living in it.

    As part of the ratification ceremony, Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, which became an official sign of the Covenant. Sealing a covenant with blood was a common custom (Genesis 15:9-13, 17; Jeremiah 34:18-20). This is the only time in the TaNaKh that the people were sprinkled with blood. Later, the New Covenant, established by Jesus was also ratified by His own blood.461 Moses said: This is the blood of the covenant that ADONAI has made with you in accordance with the Torah given at Mount Sinai (24:8). The people were sprinkled with blood to let them know that there must be a sacrifice. In all such ceremonies, the oath of obedience implied the participants’ willingness to suffer the fate of the sacrificed animals, if those who took the oath violated the conditions of the covenant.

    No covenant could be ratified without a blood sacrifice (Hebrews 9:18), leading to the eternal principle that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22).462 As believers, it is as if our hearts have been sprinkled by Jesus’ blood (First Peter 1:2).


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