5.And he sent young men of the children of Israel. He either means that they were the sacrificial attendants (victimarios,) by whose hands the victims were killed, or that some were chosen who might be active and strong to drag the oxen to the altar. The tribe of Levi was not yet consecrated; whereas the word used for “offering,” (310) is only applied to the priests, where a distinction is marked between the Levites and the rest of the people. The first meaning is, therefore, the most suitable.
We have stated elsewhere that the (311) sacrifices of prosperities were designed as acts of thanksgiving; and yet that they were not only expressions of gratitude, but also that prayers were mixed with them in supplication of good success. This offering, however, comprised in it a ratification of the Covenant, as appears immediately afterwards; for, in order to increase the sanctity and security of covenants, they have in all ages, and even (312) amongst heathen nations, been accompanied with sacrifices. To this end Moses, the victims being slain, pours half the blood upon the altar, and keeps half in basins to sprinkle the people, that by this (313) symbol the Covenant might be ratified, whereof he was the mediator and surety. Paul, in allusion to this custom, says, that he should rejoice, if he were “offered upon the sacrifice and service of their faith” whom he had gained for Christ, ( Philippians 2:17;) and he uses the word σπένδεσθαι, which (314) is primarily applied to covenants. But the case of this sacrifice was peculiar; for God desired the Jews to be reminded of the one solid confirmation of the Covenant, which He made with them; as if He had openly shown that it would then only be ratified and effectual, when it should be sealed with blood. And this the Apostle ( Hebrews 9:19) carefully takes into consideration, when he says, that after the Law had been declared, Moses “sprinkled both the book and all the people” with blood; for, although there is no express mention here made of the book, the Apostle does not unreasonably comprise it under the word “altar.” He also alludes to another kind of sacrifice, treated of in Numbers 19:5, and therefore mentions “the scarlet-wool and hyssop.” The sum is, that the blood was, as it were, the medium whereby the covenant was confirmed and established, since the altar, as the sacred seat of God, was bathed with half of it, and then the residue was sprinkled over the people. Hence we gather that the covenant of gratuitous adoption was made with the ancient people unto eternal salvation, since it was sealed with the blood of Christ in type and shadow. Now, if this doctrine hold good under the Law, much more must it occupy a place with us now; and hence, in order that God’s promises may always maintain their power and certainty, let this sealing be constantly kept before us; and let us remember that the blood of Christ has therefore once been shed, that it might engrave upon our hearts the covenant whereby we are called to the hope of the kingdom of heaven. For this reason Christ in the Holy Supper commends His blood as the seal of the New Covenant; nay, whenever we take the sacred books into our hands, the blood of Christ, ought to occur to our minds, as if the whole (315) of its sacred instruction were written therewith; for it is obvious that Christ compares with the figure the truth which was manifested in Himself; to which also the admonition of the Apostle, which I have just quoted, refers.
We must now carefully observe the course of the proceeding. First, Moses states that he read the book before the people; and then adds that the people themselves embraced the covenant proposed to them. Finally, he relates that when the people had professed their obedience, he sprinkled the blood, not without adding his testimony, and that in a loud voice. The context here shews us the true and genuine nature of the Sacraments, together with their correct and proper use; for unless doctrine precede them to be a connecting link between God and man, they will be empty and delusive signs, however honorable may be the encomiums passed on them. But inasmuch as mutual consent is required in all compacts, so, when God invites His people to receive grace, He stipulates that they should give Him the obedience of faith, so as to answer, Amen. Thus nothing can be more preposterous than the invention of dumb sacraments: such as those childish charms which the Papists hawk about as sacraments, without the word of God; whilst, at the same time, it must be added that the word, which gives life to the Sacraments, is not an obscure whisper, like that magical incantation of the Papists, when they blow on the bread and the cup, and which they call the consecration; but it is a clear and distinct voice which is addressed to men, and avails to beget faith in them. Thus Moses here speaks aloud to the people, and reminds them that God enters into covenant with him.
Now, although the profession here recorded might seem to be derived from too great confidence, when the people declare that they will do whatsoever God commands, still it contains nothing amiss or reprehensible; inasmuch as the faithful among them promised nothing, except in reliance on the help of God: and gratuitous reconciliation, if they should sin, was included in it. This was not indeed the proper office of the Law, to incline men’s hearts to the obedience of righteousness; as also under the Law there was no true and real expiation to wash away the guilt of sins; but the office of the Law was to lead men step by step to Christ, that they might seek of Him pardon and the Spirit of regeneration. It is, therefore, unquestionable that the elect of God embraced by faith the substance and truth of the shadows when they voluntarily offered themselves to keep the covenant of God.
9.Then went up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. Thus it is that I connect the history: Moses, having finished reading the Law, and having sprinkled the blood, took with him the companions pointed out to him by God, and having left the people, went with these some way up the mountain. I have thought it well slightly to touch upon this, because some translators render the verb improperly in the pluperfect tense, as if he and the elders had already before (316) been separated from the people; but this is very absurd, for it was necessary for him to remain in the plain, in order to address the people.
There the glory of God was beheld more closely by the elders, that they might afterwards relate to the people what they had seen, and that thus the thing, being proved by competent witnesses, might obtain undoubted credit. For this reason he says, that “they saw the God of Israel,” not in all His reality and greatness, but in accordance with the dispensation which He thought best, and which he accommodated to the capacity of man. The form of God is indeed nowhere described, but the pediment ( basis) on which He stood was like a work of sapphire. (317) The word לבנת, libnath, some translate stone, others whiteness, others brick. Whichever sense it is preferred to take it in, but little affects the main point in the matter; for the color of a sapphire was presented to them, to elevate their minds by its brightness above the world; and therefore it is immediately added, that its appearance was as of the clear and serene sky. By this symbol they were reminded that the glory of God is above all heavens; and since in His very footstool there is such exquisite and surpassing beauty, something still more sublime must be thought of Himself, and such as would ravish all our senses with admiration. Thus the throne of God was shewn to Ezekiel “as the appearance of a sapphire-stone.” ( Ezekiel 1:26.)
Finally, on the footstool Infinite Majesty appeared, such as to strike the elders with astonishment, so that they might humble themselves with greater reverence before the incomprehensible glory of God.
“The Hebrews, (says Willet, in loco,) whom Lyranus and Lippoman follow, — in that the pavement or brick-work was like sapphire, — understand the happy change which was now made for Israel: their servitude in making of brick was turned into glorious liberty, as if a floor should be paved with sapphire instead of brick!”