In many households people don’t think much about the place where they eat their food; many simply eat their fill anywhere and move on to more important things. But for Christians, the table where we eat carries far more significance; it is a place where we gather, at least once a day, to thank the Lord for providing us with food. Without the Lord’s provision we would have nothing to eat at all. It is also a place where our families fellowship together, discussing the events of our day among other things in our lives.
In Exodus chapter 25 we find Moses upon the mountain of the Lord receiving instructions from God concerning the building of the Tabernacle. After first describing what was to be collected for the Tabernacle’s construction in verses 3-9, God tells Moses how to construct the Ark of the Covenant, which is where they were to keep the commandments of God, and where God would dwell and speak to His people (verses 10-22). The ark would later be placed in what is called the Holy of Holies, in the Tabernacle. The Lord next instructs Moses to build a table. The table, like the Ark, is to be made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. A bit smaller in size than the Ark, the table nevertheless will hold a special place in the Tabernacle as it would be placed right outside the Holy of Holies, in the Holy Place. The table was to hold plates and dishes of pure gold, and verse 30 says, “And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly.”
Like the dinner table in a believer’s home, this table of the bread of presence in the Tabernacle holds a deeper meaning than just a place for food. The table and the bread represent the Lord’s provision for Israel. He would provide their daily bread (Exodus 16:4). It points to the covenant the Lord made with His people – how they would worship Him alone (Exo 20:1-3). It also represents fellowship with the Lord. Once per week, as the priests replaced the bread, they would eat the bread in the Lord’s presence (Lev 24:5-9). This would take place as Israel journeyed in the wilderness and finally entered the Promised Land. But these things also point to a time when not only the priests, but all true children of God, would commune with the Lord, and remember – He is our sustainer and provider and the One we worship.
Last time we entered a new section in Exodus wherein the Lord instructed Moses how to build the Tabernacle beginning in chapter 25. After first directing Moses how the offerings were to be collected, the Lord then instructed Moses on the dimensions and materials of the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark holds a prominent place in history recorded in the Old Testament. It was this Ark that held the Commandments written with the Lord’s own hand (Exo 31:18). The Ark led the people through the wilderness (Numbers 10:33-36). The waters of the Jordan River parted as the Ark was carried into the river so Israel could pass through on dry ground (Joshua 3:13-17). The walls of Jericho fell as the Ark was carried around the city seven times (Joshua 6:6, 20). And in our text (chapter 25:10-22) the Ark also takes up a prominent place in the Tabernacle itself. One might suppose that a description in the construction of the Tabernacle would begin with the Tabernacle itself, but the Lord starts with a description of the heart of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant; in fact, the Ark is what the Tabernacle was made for. It was here that the Lord would meet with His people, as Exodus 25:22 describes.
The Ark of the Covenant had at least two purposes: First, to hold the commandments the Lord would give Israel (25:16); and second, to house the mercy seat, which covered the Ark (25:17-22). Further, in Leviticus 16:11-16, the Lord tells Aaron to make a sacrifice and place the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for sin on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The word for “mercy seat” in Hebrew is kapporet, which is related to the word Kippur, meaning to atone or propitiate. This word is translated in the Greek version of the Old Testament, hilasterion, which is the same word ascribed to Jesus in Romans 3:25: “whom God put forward as a ”hilasterion” a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” At the cross, Jesus is the final atonement; He is our mercy seat! In this way the Ark of the Covenant points us to Jesus Christ and His once-for-all, final, perfect sacrifice.
We’ve come a long way since we began our journey in the book of Exodus – from Israel’s bondage, to their being set free by the Lord on the Passover night, to their wanderings in the wilderness through Sinai, until they arrived at the mountain of the Lord. At the mountain, the Lord appeared to Israel powerfully as they came under another covenant which was made up of laws God’s people were to live by.
But there is more to what God revealed to His people on Mt. Sinai than the law. In chapter 25, the Lord will now reveal to Moses and the people how they are to build the tabernacle. These instructions will cover most of the remaining chapters of Exodus—a total of 13 chapters! To put this in perspective, only two chapters are devoted to the creation of the world and all living things, and four chapters are devoted to the law itself. This section on the tabernacle is one of the largest sections in scripture dedicated to one topic; the Lord has providentially given us a large in-depth description of the tabernacle and its construction. That said, this is not a section of scripture that is high on most of our lists to study. Our new section opens up in chapter 25 verses 1-9, which takes place as Moses is on the mountain alone with the Lord. We left off in chapter 24 with Moses on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. Chapter 25 opens: The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.”
The offering that God requires is described in very specific detail in verses 3-7 of the chapter. Yet, while the offering is very specific, they are commanded to give from their hearts! The main purpose of the sanctuary was so that God may dwell in their midst. The people needed to understand that their giving was ultimately to the Lord, and that would also benefit them. The section ends in verse 9 with a description of the Architect of the tabernacle. “They are to build it exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” The Lord Himself is the architect of the tabernacle!
Next Sunday we reach the high point of the book of Exodus – the concluding covenantal scene on the mountain of the Lord. All the previous events, from Israel’s salvation from bondage, to the Lord leading them to this mountain and giving the Law, point to this climatic scene in chapter 24 where the Covenant laws were given by the Lord and accepted by His people. In this last scene the covenant is confirmed in blood and celebrated in worship.
At the heart of this chapter is the idea that those with whom the Lord makes a covenant, He also brings into fellowship. This is seen first in their call; the Lord says, “Come up to the Lord” (v 1). From the foot of the mountain they worship the Lord with sacrifices (v 5). After the covenant is confirmed in blood, Moses and the people witness a wonderful rare sight in scripture: Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel (v 9-10). The prophet Ezekiel saw a similar vision (Ezek 1:26). Significantly in Exodus 24:10 we find only that which is below the Lord’s feet described: “under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself;” this is because the Lord declared in Exodus 33:20, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” In verse 11 of our text, the Lord in His mercy “did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; instead we witness a scene of intimacy between the Lord and His people as, “they saw God, and they ate and drank;” a brief yet glorious moment – the people share a meal with the Lord.
The chapter ends in verses 12-18 as the Lord calls Moses to come up a second time to receive the tablets of stone. Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 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. 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. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
In Exodus chapter 24 we come to the climax of the Covenant that God introduced to Israel back in chapter 19, when Israel camped in the wilderness of Mt. Sinai and the Lord spoke to Moses. From chapters 19 to 24 the Lord elaborates what the Covenant entails. Known to us as the Old Covenant or Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant includes not only the Ten Commandments (chapter 20) but also various laws on how Israelites were to deal with one another as they entered the Land. In Exodus 24:7 the various laws God commanded Israel to follow are called “The Book of the Covenant.” In Exodus 19:8 and again in 24:7, after Moses explained these commands and laws to Israel, the people replied, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
We will open up chapter 24 in two sermons. The first one, on verses 1-8, will focus on the Covenant’s confirmation, and the second will cover the culmination of chapter 24, a vision of the Lord. This week we will see the Covenant confirmed in verses 6 – 8: And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”
Sacrifice and blood are nothing new to us in our study of the Bible and Israel’s history. When the Lord made a Covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, He told Abraham to bring animals that were to be sacrificed. In Exodus 12 a lamb was to be sacrificed and its blood applied to the doorposts, which protected Israel from judgment that was about to come upon Egypt. But in Exodus 24:6-8 as the Covenant is confirmed we see something we haven’t seen yet. Not only is the blood applied to the altar, but it’s sprinkled upon the people also! The Lord is revealing to Israel and to us, the importance of the sacrificial blood being applied to His people, foreshadowing the commencement of the New Covenant where redemption was accomplished by Jesus’ shed blood – a sacrifice that will never have to be repeated!
In our text the Lord elaborates further on His law and covenant which He had given to the people of Israel. In the sixth commandment the Lord commanded Israel, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). Here in chapter 21:12-14 the Lord gives Israel regulations to apply the commandment to specific cases or situations. We find that not every case warrants the same punishment, as our just Judge decrees that His people and nation are to administer different punishments depending on the details of the crime, both in the wilderness and as they enter the land. In the first of three types of crimes in our text, we see the intentional killing of one made in God’s image is a capital offense, punishable by death. But if the killing was unintentional, the Lord would appoint a place of refuge. In verses 15 and 17, the Lord elaborates on the fifth commandment, “You shall honor your father and mother” (Ex 20:12): “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.” Honoring God also entails honoring those He put in authority over us in this life, namely our father and mother.
After this, the Lord addresses personal injury in verses 18-27. Some acts of violence against others do not lead to death. It is from this section we find the well-known verse: “But if there is harm then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Jesus quoted this text in Matt 5:38-39. Lastly in verses 28-36, the Lord addresses criminal negligence, which deals mainly with animals.
These laws deal with justice and are based on the Lord’s righteousness. But we also see the Lord’s mercy in our text. Israel was not to be as the nations around them, but to be a people set apart for His purpose as displayed in His law. They were to be just when justice was called for, and to show mercy when mercy was called for. While we are not the people of Israel, or under the Law as they were, these verses have much to teach us about the Lord and His righteousness. There’s much wisdom to learn from this text and from what the New Testament has to say about these things.
In Exodus so far, we’ve seen Israel in bondage under Egypt. We’ve seen Moses raised up by the Lord to be His mediator between Himself and the people. The Lord rescued Israel from their bondage and brought them to Mt. Sinai, where He spoke with them audibly and gave His Law to the nation as a whole in preparation for moving into the promised land. In our text this Sunday the Lord expands His Law to their everyday lives. In this section, and on to Exodus 23:33, the Lord explains how the Ten Commandments are to be applied in a case-by-case manner. Some refer to this section as “case laws.” In the first, the Lord addresses how Israelites are to treat their slaves or servants.
Today when we hear the word slave we immediately think of the early days of the USA. Slavery was wicked and cruel in our history as a nation. But that’s not how the word is used in our text. Israel has just come out of bondage, being slaves in the cruelest sense, but this is not what the Lord is speaking of here at all. During this time in Israel’s history and as they enter the land, some Israelites didn’t have enough to survive on their own. Others may have been in debt and in need of money to pay the debt off. And so, Israelites under monetary burdens like these would sell their services to another. They would live with the one who helped them and serve him until their service was paid off. In our text, the Lord sets standards on how to treat those that sell their services to another.
Today this may be equivalent to a live-in servant who serves for room and board plus a small payment. Or it may possibly be similar to one who joins the military for a four-year enlistment. The Army agrees to house, train, and care for you with pay. For all intents and purposes, for those years you belong to the Army until your contract is finished!
The Lord tells Israel they are to treat their fellow Israelites with kindness. Also, they are to be set free after six years of service.
The Lord has treated Israel well and they are to treat their neighbors well, as we’ll see in our text. Jesus summed up the commandments in Mark 12:30-31: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.