Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
These two verses form part of the address of God in Ex 20:22-23:33; for אמר משׁה ואל ("but to Moses He said") cannot be the commencement of a fresh address, which would necessarily require מ אל ויּאמר (cf. Exo 24:12; Exo 19:21; Exo 20:22). The turn given to the expression מ ואל presupposes that God had already spoken to others, or that what had been said before related not to Moses himself, but to other persons. But this cannot be affirmed of the decalogue, which applied to Moses quite as much as to the entire nation (a sufficient refutation of Knobel's assertion, that these verses are a continuation of Exo 19:20-25, and are linked on to the decalogue), but only of the address concerning the mishpatim, or "rights," which commences with Exo 20:22, and, according to Exo 20:22 and Exo 21:1, was intended for the nation, and addressed to it, even though it was through the medium of Moses. What God said to the people as establishing its rights, is here followed by what He said to Moses himself, namely, that he was to go up to Jehovah, along with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders. At the same time, it is of course implied that Moses, who had ascended the mountain with Aaron alone (Exo 20:21), was first of all to go down again and repeat to the people the "rights" which God had communicated to him, and only when this had been done, to ascend again with the persons named. According to Exo 24:3 and Exo 24:12 (? 9), this is what Moses really did. But Moses alone was to go near to Jehovah: the others were to worship afar off, and the people were not to come up at all.
The ceremony described in Exo 24:3-11 is called "the covenant which Jehovah made with Israel" (Exo 24:8). It was opened by Moses, who recited to the people "all the words of Jehovah" (i.e., not the decalogue, for the people had heard this directly from the mouth of God Himself, but the words in Exo 20:22-26), and "all the rights" (ch. 21-23); whereupon the people answered unanimously (אחד קול), "All the words which Jehovah hath spoken will we do." This constituted the preparation for the conclusion of the covenant. It was necessary that the people should not only know what the Lord imposed upon them in the covenant about to be made with them, and what He promised them, but that they should also declare their willingness to perform what was imposed upon them. The covenant itself was commenced by Moses writing all the words of Jehovah in "the book of the covenant" (Exo 24:4 and Exo 24:7), for the purpose of preserving them in an official record. The next day, early in the morning, he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and erected twelve boundary-stones or pillars for the twelve tribes, most likely round about the altar and at some distance from it, so as to prepare the soil upon which Jehovah was about to enter into union with the twelve tribes. As the altar indicated the presence of Jehovah, being the place where the Lord would come to His people to bless them (Exo 20:24), so the twelve pillars, or boundary-stones, did not serve as mere memorials of the conclusion of the covenant, but were to indicate the place of the twelve tribes, and represent their presence also.
After the foundation and soil had been thus prepared in the place of sacrifice, for the fellowship which Jehovah was about to establish with His people; Moses sent young men of the children of Israel to prepare the sacrifices, and directed them to offer burnt-offering and sacrifice slain-offerings, viz., שׁלמים, "peace-offerings (see at Lev 3:1) for Jehovah," for which purpose פּרים, bullocks, or young oxen, were used. The young men were not first-born sons, who had officiated as priests previous to the institution of the Levitical priesthood, according to the natural right of primogeniture, as Onkelos supposes; nor were they the sons of Aaron, as Augustine maintains: they simply acted as servants of Moses; and the priestly duty of sprinkling the blood was performed by him as the mediator of the covenant. It is merely as young men, therefore, i.e., as strong and active, that they are introduced in this place, and not as representatives of the nation, "by whom the sacrifice was presented, and whose attitude resembled that of a youth just ready to enter upon his course" (Kurtz, O. C. iii. 143). For, as Oehler says, "this was not a sacrifice presented by the nation on its own account. The primary object was to establish that fellowship, by virtue of which it could draw near to Jehovah in sacrifice. Moreover, according to Exo 24:1 and Exo 24:9, the nation possessed its proper representatives in the seventy elders" (Herzog's Cyclopaedia). But even though these sacrifices were not offered by the representatives of the nation, and for this very reason Moses selected young men from among the people to act as servants at this ceremony, they had so far a substitutionary position, that in their persons the nation was received into fellowship with God by means of the sprinkling of the blood, which was performed in a peculiar manner, to suit the unique design of this sacrificial ceremony.
The blood was divided into two parts. One half was swung by Moses upon the altar (זרק to swing, shake, or pour out of the vessel, in distinction from הזּה to sprinkle) the other half he put into basins, and after he had read the book of the covenant to the people, and they had promised to do and follow all the words of Jehovah, he sprinkled it upon the people with these words: "Behold the blood of the covenant, which Jehovah has made with you over all these words." As several animals were slaughtered, and all of them young oxen, there must have been a considerable quantity of blood obtained, so that the one half would fill several basins, and many persons might be sprinkled with it as it was being swung about. The division of the blood had reference to the two parties to the covenant, who were to be brought by the covenant into a living unity; but it had no connection whatever with the heathen customs adduced by Bhr and Knobel, in which the parties to a treaty mixed their own blood together. For this was not a mixture of different kinds of blood, but it was a division of one blood, and that sacrificial blood, in which animal life was offered instead of human life, making expiation as a pure life for sinful man, and by virtue of this expiation restoring the fellowship between God and man which had been destroyed by sin. But the sacrificial blood itself only acquired this signification through the sprinkling or swinging upon the altar, by virtue of which the human soul was received, in the soul of the animal sacrificed for man, into the fellowship of the divine grace manifested upon the altar, in order that, through the power of this sin-forgiving and sin-destroying grace, it might be sanctified to a new and holy life. In this way the sacrificial blood acquired the signification of a vital principle endued with the power of divine grace; and this was communicated to the people by means of the sprinkling of the blood. As the only reason for dividing the sacrificial blood into two parts was, that the blood sprinkled upon the altar could not be taken off again and sprinkled upon the people; the two halves of the blood are to be regarded as one blood, which was first of all sprinkled upon the altar, and then upon the people. In the blood sprinkled upon the altar, the natural life of the people was given up to God, as a life that had passed through death, to be pervaded by His grace; and then through the sprinkling upon the people it was restored to them again, as a life renewed by the grace of God. In this way the blood not only became a bond of union between Jehovah and His people, but as the blood of the covenant, it became a vital power, holy and divine, uniting Israel and its God; and the sprinkling of the people with this blood was an actual renewal of life, a transposition of Israel into the kingdom of God, in which it was filled with the powers of God's spirit of grace, and sanctified into a kingdom of priests, a holy nation of Jehovah (Exo 19:6). And this covenant was made "upon all the words" which Jehovah had spoken, and the people had promised to observe. Consequently it had for its foundation the divine law and right, as the rule of life for Israel.
Through their consecration with the blood of the covenant, the Israelites were qualified to ascend the mountain, and there behold the God of Israel and celebrate the covenant meal; of course, not the whole of the people, for that would have been impracticable on physical grounds, but the nation in the persons of its representatives, viz., the seventy elders, with Aaron and his two eldest sons. The fact that the latter were summoned along with the elders had reference to their future election to the priesthood, the bearers of which were to occupy the position of mediators between Jehovah and the nation, an office for which this was a preparation. The reason for choosing seventy out of the whole body of elders (Exo 24:3) is to be found in the historical and symbolical significance of this number. "They saw the God of Israel." This title is very appropriately given to Jehovah here, because He, the God of the fathers, had become in truth the God of Israel through the covenant just made. We must not go beyond the limits drawn in Exo 33:20-23 in our conceptions of what constituted the sight (חזה Exo 24:11) of God; at the same time we must regard it as a vision of God in some form of manifestation which rendered the divine nature discernible to the human eye. Nothing is said as to the form in which God manifested Himself. This silence, however, is not intended "to indicate the imperfection of their sight of God," as Baumgarten affirms, nor is it to be explained, as Hoffmann supposes, on the ground that "what they saw differed from what the people had constantly before their eyes simply in this respect, that after they had entered the darkness, which enveloped the mountain that burned as it were with fire at its summit, the fiery sign separated from the cloud, and assumed a shape, beneath which it was bright and clear, as an image of untroubled bliss." The words are evidently intended to affirm something more than, that they saw the fiery form in which God manifested Himself to the people, and that whilst the fire was ordinarily enveloped in a cloud, they saw it upon the mountain without the cloud. For, since Moses saw the form (תּמוּנה) of Jehovah (Num 12:8), we may fairly conclude, notwithstanding the fact that, according to Exo 24:2, the representatives of the nation were not to draw near to Jehovah, and without any danger of contradicting Deu 4:12 and Deu 4:15, that they also saw a form of God. Only this form is not described, in order that no encouragement might be given to the inclination of the people to make likenesses of Jehovah. Thus we find that Isaiah gives no description of the form in which he saw the Lord sitting upon a high and lofty throne (Isa 6:1). Ezekiel is the first to describe the form of Jehovah which he saw in the vision, "as the appearance of a man" (Eze 1:26; compare Dan 7:9 and Dan 7:13). "And there was under His feet as it were work of clear sapphire (לבנת, from לבנה whiteness, clearness, not from לבנה a brick),
(Note: This is the derivation adopted by the English translators in their rendering "paved work." - Tr.)
and as the material (עצם body, substance) of heaven in brilliancy," - to indicate that the God of Israel was enthroned above the heaven in super-terrestrial glory and undisturbed blessedness. And God was willing that His people should share in this blessedness, for "He laid not His hand upon the nobles of Israel," i.e., did not attack them. "They saw God, and did eat and drink," i.e., they celebrated thus near to Him the sacrificial meal of the peace-offerings, which had been sacrificed at the conclusion of the covenant, and received in this covenant meal a foretaste of the precious and glorious gifts with which God would endow and refresh His redeemed people in His kingdom. As the promise in Exo 19:5-6, with which God opened the way for the covenant at Sinai, set clearly before the nation that had been rescued from Egypt the ultimate goal of its divine calling; so this termination of the ceremony was intended to give to the nation, in the persons of its representatives, a tangible pledge of the glory of the goal that was set before it. The sight of the God of Israel was a foretaste of the blessedness of the sight of God in eternity, and the covenant meal upon the mountain before the face of God was a type of the marriage supper of the Lamb, to which the Lord will call, and at which He will present His perfected Church in the day of the full revelation of His glory (Rev 19:7-9).
Exo 24:12-18 prepare the way for the subsequent revelation recorded in ch. 25-31, which Moses received concerning the erection of the sanctuary. At the conclusion of the covenant meal, the representatives of the nation left the mountain along with Moses. This is not expressly stated, indeed; since it followed as a matter of course that they returned to the camp, when the festival for which God had called them up was concluded. A command was then issued again to Moses to ascend the mountain, and remain there (והיה־שׁם), for He was about to give him the tables of stone, with (ו as in Gen 3:24) the law and commandments, which He had written for their instruction (cf. Exo 31:18).
When Moses was preparing to ascend the mountain with his servant Joshua (vid., Jos 17:9), he ordered the elders to remain in the camp (בּזה i.e., where they were) till their return, and appointed Aaron and Hur (vid., Exo 17:10) as administrators of justice in case of any disputes occurring among the people. דּברים מי־בעל whoever has matters, matters of dispute (on this meaning of בּעל see Gen 37:19).
When he ascended the mountain, upon which the glory of Jehovah dwelt, it was covered for six days with the cloud, and the glory itself appeared to the Israelites in the camp below like devouring fire (cf. Exo 19:16); and on the seventh day He called Moses into the cloud. Whether Joshua followed him we are not told; but it is evident from Exo 32:17 that he was with him on the mountain, though, judging from Exo 24:2 and Exo 33:11, he would not go into the immediate presence of God.
"And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights," including the six days of waiting, - the whole time without eating and drinking (Deu 9:9). The number forty was certainly significant, since it was not only repeated on the occasion of his second protracted stay upon Mount Sinai (Exo 34:28; Deu 9:18), but occurred again in the forty days of Elijah's journey to Horeb the mount of God in the strength of the food received from the angel (Kg1 19:8), and in the fasting of Jesus at the time of His temptation (Mat 4:2; Luk 4:2), and even appears to have been significant in the forty years of Israel's wandering in the desert (Deu 8:2). In all these cases the number refers to a period of temptation, of the trial of faith, as well as to a period of the strengthening of faith through the miraculous support bestowed by God.