Exodus 24 provides an excellent example of a slippery text to teach. The difficulty does not arise from the text itself; every word of the text came from God himself. Therefore, the origin of the text’s teaching difficulty cannot come from the actual text. Rather, it comes from our own deficiency as fallen creatures.
What makes Exodus 24 so hard to teach?
The text reads as a pure narrative, coming after much in the way of legal material. The teacher can easily recap the material in a way which offers more excitement to a contemporary reader. Teachers often add some spice to narratives, particularly those of the Old Testament, and think they provided insight into the text. As I prepared to teach Exodus 24, I found myself falling into the spice-up-the-narrative trap.
We must remember every narrative event in Scripture stands in a sort of narrative and/or canonical sequence. The sequence begins in Genesis and does not finish until Revelation. While we tend to think of the books of Scripture as rigidly self-contained, they each bear on one another. Genesis ends in the death of Joseph; Exodus begins a new chapter in the narrative, but it helps the reader locate its depicted events in relation to the death of Joseph. We see easily Genesis connects with the Gospel of John in the first chapters of each, but we should also remember the Gospel of John connects with Exodus as well.
When John tells us the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, as readers of Exodus, we should see a giant contrast. In Exodus 24, God Almighty visited the top of Sinai, and a selected few fellowshipped with him. They saw only his feet standing on sapphire (imagery smacking of something like Revelation), and v. 11 notes the astonishing fact of the men continuing to live after coming into such a proximity to God. In Exodus 24, God comes close, and his presence brings might and terror; in John, God becomes a man and lives among his people. 1 John 1:1-2 says the people of God saw him with their eyes and touched him with their hands. The mighty God of Exodus 24 became humble flesh to establish a new covenant in his own blood.
What remains similar on both counts?
God initiates fellowship with his people in both the Old and New Testaments. In Exodus, God beckons the few to himself. In John, God comes to dwell with the people he will save. God’s people would not have the right or ability to call him their own without his coming to them first.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves—if God stands as the establisher of his covenant relations with his people, can anyone look to their inner strength or their heart to guide them? Lynyrd Skynyrd remains one of my favorite rock bands of all time; however, when they sing “Simple Man,” they say the words, “All you need is in your soul.” It would seem not! Despite the messaging of good, ole American songs and television shows for children, we cannot follow ourselves. We must instead follow the God who takes the initiative with us for our salvation.
God initiates the old covenant, and he gives Moses the task of sealing it in blood—the blood of bulls. The offerings of the people yielded blood, and as they confirmed their understanding of the covenant and bound themselves to abide by it, Moses flung the blood on them. Yet, we know of a significant event in the narrative: the idolatry of the golden calf. These same people, in the same place would worship a different god—a false god.
They said they understood. They promised to obey. We know they became idolaters in short order. More importantly, the incredible, almighty God at the top of the mountain knew they would worship and praise an inanimate hunk of gold. Does he get sarcastic with them here? I would; he does not.
The people of God remain the people of God because God remains the God of his people. His faithfulness to his word, his covenant promise to save them provokes as much awe as his mighty power. He will ultimately conquer the sinfulness of the hearts of his own people as he conquers the sinfulness of the world. Grace and mercy abound to the chiefest of sinners, even those with the red marks of idolatry on their record. No idol, nor idol worshiper holds the power to overcome the blood of Jesus applied by the Holy Spirit according to the plan of the Father.