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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–8
Verses 1–8

The first two verses record the appointment of a second session upon mount Sinai, for the making of laws, when an end was put to the first. When a communion is begun between God and us, it shall never fail on his side, if it do not first fail on ours. Moses is directed to bring Aaron and his sons, and the seventy elders of Israel, that they might be witnesses of the glory of God, and that communion with him to which Moses was admitted; and that their testimony might confirm the people’s faith. In this approach, 1. They must all be very reverent: Worship you afar off, Exod. 24:1. Before they came near, they must worship. Thus we must enter into God’s gates with humble and solemn adorations, draw near as those that know our distance, and admire the condescensions of God’s grace in admitting us to draw near. Are great princes approached with the profound reverences of the body? And shall not the soul that draws near to God be bowed before him? 2. They must none of them come so near as Moses, Exod. 24:2. They must come up to the Lord (and those that would approach to God must ascend), but Moses alone must come near, being therein a type of Christ, who, as the high priest, entered alone into the most holy place.

In the following verses, we have the solemn covenant made between God and Israel, and the exchanging of the ratifications; and a very solemn transaction it was, typifying the covenant of grace between God and believers through Christ.

I. Moses told the people the words of the Lord, Exod. 24:3. He did not lead them blindfold into the covenant, nor teach them a devotion that was the daughter of ignorance; but laid before them all the precepts, general and particular, in the foregoing chapters; and fairly put it to them whether they were willing to submit to these laws or no.

II. The people unanimously consented to the terms proposed, without reservation or exception: All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. They had before consented in general to be under God’s government (Exod. 19:8); here they consent in particular to these laws now given. O that there had been such a heart in them! How well were it if people would but be always in the same good mind that sometimes they seem to be in! Many consent to the law, and yet do not live up to it; they have nothing to except against it, and yet will not persuade themselves to be ruled by it.

This is the tenour of the covenant, That, if they would observe the foregoing precepts, God would perform the foregoing promises. “Obey, and be happy.” Here is the bargain made. Observe,

1. How it was engrossed in the book of the covenant: Moses wrote the words of the Lord (Exod. 24:4), that there might be no mistake; probably he had written them as God dictated them on the mount. As soon as ever God had separated to himself a peculiar people in the world, he governed them by a written word, as he has done ever since, and will do while the world stands and the church in it. Moses, having engrossed the articles of agreement concluded upon between God and Israel, read them in the audience of the people (Exod. 24:7), that they might be perfectly apprised of the thing, and might try whether their second thoughts were the same with their first, upon the whole matter. And we may suppose they were so; for their words (Exod. 24:7) are the same with what they were (Exod. 24:3), but something stronger: All that the Lord hath said (be it good, or be it evil, to flesh and blood, Jer. 42:6) we will do; so they had said before, but now they add, “And will be obedient; not only we will do what has been commanded, but in every thing which shall further be ordained we will be obedient.” Bravely resolved! if they had but stuck to their resolution. See here that God’s covenants and commands are so incontestably equitable in themselves, and so highly advantageous to us, that the more we think of them, and the more plainly and fully they are set before us, the more reason we shall see to comply with them.

2. How it was sealed by the blood of the covenant, that Israel might receive strong consolations from the ratifying of God’s promises to them, and might lie under strong obligations from the ratifying of their promises to God. Thus has Infinite Wisdom devised means that we may be confirmed both in our faith and in our obedience, may be both encouraged in our duty and engaged to it. The covenant must be made by sacrifice (Ps. 50:5), because, since man has sinned, and forfeited his Creator’s favour, there can be no fellowship by covenant till there be first friendship and atonement by sacrifice.

(1.) In preparation therefore for the parties interchangeably putting their seals to this covenant, [1.] Moses builds an altar, to the honour of God, which was principally intended in all the altars that were built, and which was the first thing to be looked at in the covenant they were now to seal. No addition to the perfections of the divine nature can be made by any of God’s dealings with the children of men, but in them his perfections are manifested and magnified, and his honour is shown forth; therefore he will not be represented by an altar, to signify that all he expected from them was that they should do him honour, and that, being his people, they should be to him for a name and a praise. [2.] He erects twelve pillars, according to the number of the tribes. These were to represent the people, the other party to the covenant; and we may suppose that they were set up against the altar, and that Moses, as mediator, passed to and fro between them. Probably each tribe set up and knew its own pillar, and their elders stood by it. [3.] He appointed sacrifices to be offered upon the altar (Exod. 24:5), burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, which yet were designed to be expiatory. We are not concerned to enquire who these young men were that were employed in offering these sacrifices; for Moses was himself the priest, and what they did was purely as his servants, by his order and appointment. No doubt they were men who by their bodily strength were qualified for the service, and by their station among the people were fittest for the honour.

(2.) Preparation being thus made, the ratifications were very solemnly exchanged. [1.] The blood of the sacrifice which the people offered was (part of it) sprinkled upon the altar (Exod. 24:6), which signifies the people’s dedicating themselves, their lives, and beings, to God, and to his honour. In the blood (which is the life) of the dead sacrifices all the Israelites were presented unto God as living sacrifices, Rom. 12:1. [2.] The blood of the sacrifice which God had owned and accepted was (the remainder of it) sprinkled either upon the people themselves (Exod. 24:8) or upon the pillars that represented them, which signified God’s graciously conferring his favour upon them and all the fruits of that favour, and his giving them all the gifts they could expect or desire from a God reconciled to them and in covenant with them by sacrifice. This part of the ceremony was thus explained: “Behold the blood of the covenant; see here how God has sealed to you to be a people; his promises to you, and yours to him, are both yea and amen.” Thus our Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant (of whom Moses was a type), having offered up himself a sacrifice upon the cross, that his blood might be indeed the blood of the covenant, sprinkled it upon the altar in his intercession (Heb. 9:12), and sprinkles it upon his church by his word and ordinances and the influences and operations of the Spirit of promise, by whom we are sealed. He himself seemed to allude to this solemnity when, in the institution of the Lord’s supper, he said, This cup is the New Testament (or covenant) in my blood. Compare with this, Heb. 9:19, 20.