Yesterday we witnessed Israel, collectively and for the first time since creation, suddenly become perfect. They have agreed to the Holy Covenant and thus far have not transgressed those laws. This gives them a special status which they did not have before declaring “all these things you have said we will do”. More important than the words alone, they have also been sprinkled by the blood of this covenant. Just as was Yah’s declared desire, they are now officially a “Holy People”. To prove this change of status, Yah invites the 70 elders up to the residence of YHWH’s mountain home (Mount Horeb), past the barriers that would have gotten them killed just the day before.
The narrative in Exodus 24 says, “and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as if it were bricks but of Sapphire stone—like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
Besides the obvious coolness (worthy of a memorial holiday to be kept forever), there’s another contrast being made to Egypt here that is subtle but important. Back in slavery, the task that was assigned to Israel was brick-making. We’ve discussed this in a prior post which discussed the command to not use bricks for an altar—only unhewn stones. Nimrod was the first one to make bricks, uniform building blocks that are easy assemble and easy to control. The analogy of Israel making bricks implied that they were being forced to comply with the system of their oppressors—a system of spiritual slavery that makes humanity subject to powerful human governments. The word for “brick” in Hebrew, is spelled lamed, bet, nun. This is the same as the spelling as the name ‘Laban’, the one who enslaved Jacob until his personal exodus. The letter lamed is a staff indicating authority, so in the name Laban, it means “the one in charge”. The next two letters, bet and nun, spell the word for “son”. “Bricks” carry a certain stigma alluding to unrighteous leadership controlling our children, or Yah’s children as the case may be. The word for “stone”, however, as we’ve also discussed a couple of weeks back, is spelled aleph, bet, nun. ‘Aleph’ being the first letter, means strongest, or first. So “stone” implies the “first and strongest son”. A much better material to build with.
However, here above the mountain top in Exodus 24, the image offered to us is not any ordinary stone–they are like gemstones so numerous they appear to be laid out like bricks. The floor of Yah’s own throne-room is paved with brick-like stone. When Yah is the one in charge of construction, the uniformity and usability of bricks are no longer a sign of man’s abuse of his workforce. These aren’t ordinary bricks, made by slaves given less and less straw, they are like Sapphire—these are precocious gem stones. Sapphire is actually a transliteration of a Hebrew word (pronounced ‘sapheere’) and the phrase “like the very heaven for clearness” is telling us they resemble the clear-blue-sky. The elders aren’t just eating and drinking at Yah’s feet, they are sitting on top of “the firmament”. The earth is poetically called ‘Yah’s footstool’, and Jacob saw Yah standing above the top of the ladder that reached up to Heaven.
This is the location where the elders are having this meal… sitting on top of the sky.
In Exodus 24:12 the narrative switches gears. The meal seems to be over, and Yah invites Moses for a private meeting. Why?
“…that I may give you tablets of THE STONE, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” Read that carefully. Despite the fact that most English translations say “the Tablets of Stone”, the Hebrew actually says, “Tablets of The Stone.” What stone? Sapphire! (The only stone anywhere around were these gemstones!) Yah carves the Ten Debarim into a piece of the firmament itself as a reminder of this very event.
When John paints the image of the Word being made flesh, I think this is the image we are supposed to be calling up—Yah’s words becoming solid, a cornerstone you can build our lives upon—brick-like, but still Holy, supernatural, and extremely useful.
Risking spoiling the beauty of this imagery, lets flash forward 40 days. Moses comes back down the mountain to deliver these Holy Stones of Sapphire for the very first time. He also brings down the the instructions for the ark that will contain them, plus the entire Tabernacle system that will ultimately contain the ark. If Israel simply sticks to the plan, these perfect gem stones will be covered by YHWH’s Mercy Seat. Sadly, we are about to learn how essential that mercy is. Moses descends after his forty days aloft and finds Israel breaking the Covenant, so Moses literally does the same thing.
Moving past, the crucial origins of Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur, lets stick with the story of stones and jump to Exodus 34:1, “YHWH says to Moses, ‘cut for yourself two tablets of stone, like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.” This time the English translation is correct—it says “tablets of stone” in Hebrew this time–not “tablets of the stone”. After smashing the perfect and miraculous stones, Moses now has to do the work of cutting out his own rocks. Yah would still write the words, but these otherwise ordinary replacement stones were now a disappointing reminder of Israel’s imperfection, the ramifications of sin, and proof that even those of us who are redeemed and in Covenant are a work in progress that is no where close to as perfect as the model.
Not a small aspect of this ‘New Covenant’, is that the words of it remain the same. This certainly reflects YHWH’s pattern. When Noah got drunk and exposed his nakedness, it didn’t change the terms of the Covenant Yah made with him. Abraham showed a lack of faith from time to time, yet Yah renewed the same promise to him 3 separate times—each time giving him more vision, encouragement, and even better tools for success, but never changing the promise or His expectations of Abraham or his descendants. Here, with Moses, we see the same principle—and we’ll see it again, and again, moving forward through scripture from this point on.
Here is the context of the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (the only Covenant actually called a ‘New Covenant’ in the entire Bible).
(Jeremiah 31:31-37). “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHWH.”
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares YHWH. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
“Thus says YHWH, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— YHWH of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says YHWH: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares YHWH.”
The New Covenant, like each proceeding renewed Covenant, contains the same words and expectations as the one we agreed to on the very first Shavuot. They are the same terms which the faithful Pilgrims lived their lives by since Acts Chapter 2. They are the same terms we recommit to each and every Shavuot. The New Covenant will finally, officially, begin on the day of Israel’s resurrection, at the start Messiah’s one-thousand year reign. In that day the Law will be finally be written on our perfected hearts by YHWH’s own finger, instead of on our current hearts of imperfect stone. Until that day, we remain humble, sustaining ourselves on His grace, and especially his mercy–doing all we can to shema through the power of His Holy Spirit.
Tomorrow is Shavuot, and we’ll wrap up this series with a bit more about the nature of Shabbat as the sign of this Covenant—and how they relate to Tzit Tzit—the fringes on our garments!