1 Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. 2 Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. 12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
In his book, The Beauty of the Infinite, theologian David Bentley Hart makes the argument that the persuasive power of Christianity rests in the beauty of the person and work of Jesus and in the peace that Jesus gives.
Christ is a persuasion, a form evoking desire, and the whole force of the gospel depends upon the assumption that this persuasion is also peace: that the desire awakened by the shape of Christ and his church is one truly reborn as agape, rather than merely the way in which a lesser force succumbs to a greater, as an episode in the endless epic of power.
He argues that “Christian theology has no stake in the myth of disinterested rationality: the church has no arguments for its faith more convincing than the form of Christ; enjoined by Christ to preach the gospel, Christians must proclaim, exhort, bear witness, persuade – before other forms of reason can be marshaled.” And again:
What Christian thought offers the world is not a set of “rational” arguments that (suppressing certain of their premises) force assent from others by leaving them, like the interlocutors of Socrates, at a loss for words; rather, it stands before the world principally with the story it tells concerning God and creation, the form of Christ, the loveliness of the practice of Christian charity – and the rhetorical richness of its idiom. Making its appeal first to the eye and heart, as the only way it may “command” assent, the church cannot separate truth from rhetoric, or from beauty.
I believe Hart is correct. The beauty, the loveliness, the sheer resplendent glory of Christ and His message, life, and, at her best, Church carry within themselves an inherent evangelistic appeal that transcends cold rationality. Nor is this mere emotionalism, for the beauty of Christ extends to the truth of Christ, buttressing it and undergirding it. What this means is that the Church must remove the ugliness of her own sinfulness, her own pettiness, and her own idols so that the latent beauty of Jesus Christ can shine forth.
On a personal note, let me say that there is something in this idea that resonates deeply with me. I grew up, at least in the early part of my life, in the arid and barren fields of the Christian fundamentalist subculture. I met Jesus there. I was saved there. But I had to discover the beauty of Christ despite my ecclesiological surroundings. As a boy, the church I attended did not much help in this and I can honestly say that the idea of “beauty” is not one I would naturally have applied to the theological understanding of my youth.
I now believe that the person of Jesus and the message of the gospel are overwhelmingly beautiful, joyful, and glorious. Yes, it begins with repentance, a fact that we must not downplay, but it ever ascends to heights of glory. The longer we walk with Jesus, the more joyful we should become and the more transfixed by His beauty.
Exodus 24 is a powerful chapter that demonstrates the unveiling of the beauty of God. It is a chapter in which we see Moses and the children of Israel transported specifically in the beauty of the love of God. God’s love is God’s beauty. We will approach our consideration of His beauty through the path of His love.
The love of God removes distance.
We will first consider the brief opening words of Exodus 24.
1a Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord…”
There are two aspects to the beginning of this verse that arrest our attention: (1) the fact that God speaks to man and (2) the fact that God invites man to “come up to the Lord.” Moses’ going up was utterly dependent upon God’s invitation for Him to do so. “We love Him,” writes John in 1 John 4:19, “because He first loved us.” Without the divine movement toward man in revelation and invitation, we not only could not, we would not go up to Him.
To fail to see the beauty of the divine invitation and the grace revealed in it is to share in the conceit that we have some right to God. But by nature we do not. In Paul Dekar’s Community of the Transfiguration, he quotes a member of a church in California as saying, “Every person, no matter their age, sexual preference, gender, or nationality, has the right to have access to the divine, however they see the divinity made manifest.” What a fascinating sentiment! What a tragic idea!
We have no right to the divine outside of the divine invitation to “come up to the Lord.” God speaks out of His love for humanity and His love for humanity obliterates the distance between God and man.
In Cormac McCarthy’s amazing novel, Blood Meridian, he depicts the villainous Judge as saying, “If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?” But is not the point of our text and seemingly countless others like it simply this, that God has indeed meant to interfere in our degeneracy, that God has indeed come to us and called us to Him? Consider:
For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8a)
Here is but a sampling of the ways in which the people of God are called to come to God. The invitation to come erases distance. The invitation to come reveals God’s love.
The love of God is mediated.
God also mediates His love through one who stands between Him and His people.
1 Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. 2 Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
Seventy-four are invited to come, but, as Victor Hamilton has shown, among the seventy-four there is one great mediator, Moses.
Although the imperative “go up” is directed to Moses and seventy-three others, it is a singular imperative (ʿălēh). The same goes for the verb in v. 9. Again the subject of “went up” is Moses and seventy-three others, but the verb is singular (wayyaʿal). In both cases, the use of a verb in the singular with multiple subjects, with Moses placed first, highlights the role of Moses. Moses stands in Yahweh’s shadow; Aaron, his two sons, and the seventy elders stand in Moses’s shadow.
Moses received the word of God. He did two things with it. He proclaimed it and He wrote it down. As such, He acted as the conduit through which the divine word came to the people of God.
It is a fascinating thing, this mediation of the love of God, and it is consistently represented in scripture. One gathers from the whole witness of scripture that lost humanity is simply not in a place where it even could receive the undiluted love of God outside of mediation. If God were to reveal Himself as He is directly to His creation, we would be obliterated by the sheer intensity of His glory. Surely this is why the biblical witness speaks of God’s appearance and His person so frequently in metaphors, images, types, and anthropomorphisms. Even our language about God serves a mediatorial function. We lack the words to speak directly of Him.
On this side of the cross, we see Moses’ mediation as a type of the coming great Mediator who is above all others: Jesus. Moses goes up on the mountain to stand before God and the people. In doing so, He foreshadows Christ who will go up on the mountain to complete and fulfill all the lesser mediations that preceded Him, as noble and crucial as they were. There is, in other words, a greater Moses to come!
“For there is one God,” Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5, “and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” There were mediators before Jesus, but there has never been a mediator like Jesus and there will never be another as long as the world stands.
We do not think often of this, but we should give thanks for God’s faithfulness in mediating His love to us so that we might receive it. He has been faithful to raise up patriarchs and prophets and great men and women of God through whom He has communicated His word to His people, but all of these were preparatory for the ultimate mediation and revelation of His will. Only Jesus is a perfect mediator.
The love of God is ratified.
There is more. Not only does the love of God remove distance and not only is it mediated, it is also ratified. What Moses does next after giving the people the word of God is jarring in its particulars but important in what it says about the love of God.
5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
What we are watching in this fascinating and strange text is the ratification of a covenant. A covenant was an agreement that had to be sealed, or completed, or enacted, or ratified by both sides. God covenanted His saving love and faithfulness and asked His people to give Him their obedience and their very lives. Having pledged to do so, Moses ratified the covenant by throwing blood first on the altar and then on the people of God.
It is a sign that the people of God had seen before, perhaps most memorably in the Passover of Exodus 12.
21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 28 Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.
There, too, the blood was a sign of covenant faithfulness and covenant obedience. The blood meant that those in bondage were about to be free. The blood meant that those marked by it were of the family of God.
The same blood ratification would be practiced and observed time and time again through Temple sacrifice, but it too was only preparatory for the great sacrifice to come! Hebrews 9 captures the truth of this more powerfully than any other text in the New Testament.
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
Jesus had said the same in His words of institution at the Lord’s Supper when He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
The love of God ratified through blood is at the very heart of our understanding of the gospel of Christ. The Lord Jesus seals His covenant with His people through the covering of His own shed blood, thrown first on the altar and then on the people of God.
The significance of ratified love is that we can now rest securely and confidently in God through Christ. Paul writes at the end of Romans 8:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The love of God is a covenantally ratified through the blood of the Son of God. As such, it is inviolable.
The love of God opens our eyes to the beauty of God.
And now, the beauty of God. After Moses draws near and mediates the word of God to the people of God, and after the covenant is ratified through blood, then Moses and the seventy-three others beheld the glory of God.
9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. 12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
How majestic! How unbelievably glorious! The appearance of God is described, as it ever and always must be, indirectly.
- “There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.”
- “the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire”
These are approximations. They are the best that human language can do. After all, how do we describe the appearance of God?
The very idea of Moses and the others seeing God seems problematic, for the scriptures tell us that no one can see God and live. Tony Merida has offered some helpful thoughts in this regard:
Verses 10-11 tell us that they saw God. What does this mean? What did they actually see? They probably saw some sort of general shape that He allowed them to see vaguely. Ezekiel and Amos had similar visions (Ezek 1: 26-28; Amos 7: 7). Quite possibly they saw God from below since the description we have is of His feet and the pavement. It is also possible this was a vision of the pre-incarnate Christ. No matter what conclusion you arrive at, we know that “no one can see [God] and live” (Exod 33: 20).
However you unpack this, here is the great and grand revelation of this passage: the love of God opens the door for the people of God to behold and dwell within the beauty of God.
It is the beauty of God, not information about God, that captures the human heart. Information must walk hand-in-hand with beauty lest we lapse into vague religious ecstaticism, but let us be clear on the point that cold propositions cannot hold a candle to divine glory revealed. God reveals Himself in His glory and awesomeness and splendor to His people. It is devastating in its overwhelming beauty and holiness.
We are all familiar with the experience of buying something we have long desired only to have the thrill of it fade away soon after we acquire it. With God, this will never happen. The day will come when we see Him in glory. After a billion years of beholding His beauty, the thrill will not have faded one iota. On the contrary, eternity will be the unending arena of our deeper and deeper immersion into the grandeur and glory and beauty of God.
The good news of Christianity is that God has not waited to show us His beauty and His truth. He has revealed it in types and symbols and shadows and through prophets and patriarchs and scripture. But He has revealed it definitively in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the beauty of God revealed.
See Him there! See the beauty of His person, His teachings, His work, and His way! See the beauty of Christ and behold the glory of God!
 David Bentley Hart. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Kindle Locations 87-89, 98-100, 104-107). Kindle Edition.
 Paul R. Dekar, Community of the Transfiguration (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008, p.128.
 McCarthy, Cormac (2010-08-11). Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage International) (p. 141). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Hamilton, Victor P. (2011-11-01). Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Kindle Locations 13824-13828). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Merida, Tony (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Exodus (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 161). Kindle Edition.