A Covenant at the Mountain

Exodus 24:1-18

Our portion closes with a description of how the law was received by the Children of Israel. God invites Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two older sons and seventy elders to worship Him from a distance, with only Moses coming closer. Moses then relates all the laws he has received thus far to the people, who acknowledge their commitment to keeping them. Moses records the words and builds an altar with twelve pillars to bring sacrifices to God. He sprinkles half the blood of the sacrifices on the altar and half on the people, signing a covenant in blood to keep God’s laws.


God then tells Moses to climb the mountain and He will give him two tablets with the law carved on them. Moses tells the nation he will return after a while, and in the meantime they are to follow the leadership of Aaron and Hur. Moses climbs up the mountain and the glory of God descends, described as a consuming fire upon the mountain, which was surrounded by clouds. Moses remains on the mountain for forty days and nights.


The Israel Bible comments on the twelve pillars Moses built to accompany the altar. What was their purpose? As the text says, they were symbolic of the twelve tribes, and commentators explain they represent the future generations, as well. From this verse, the Sages teach that every soul descended from Jacob was present at the revelation at Mount Sinai.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

The Torah describes a transcendental experience in which Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons and the elders see a manifestation of God. They respond by eating and drinking. Do you think this was the correct response? Why or why not? What can we learn from this encounter about interacting with God?

Comments ( 10 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

  • Something I forgot: With a meal together in that time people affirmed their covenant (compare Jehoshua with the Gibeonites) We can learn from this that HaShem is interacting with us, human beings, in a very human comprehendable way. Our thinking is so limited compared with HIS Thinking(Ps.103: 14 – For HE has da’as of yitzreinu; HE remembers that aphar anachnu.)

  • I think this was a correct response. It is the response of celebrating a meal as a sign of the Covenant with G-d.

  • This is a tough question really. I will ponder on all your arguments, they're helpful; thank you.

  • Diana Brown

    This is a special portion because a God who loves us, seeks fellowship with us. We know His Feet were seen and that is all it took for those who dined with God to know He was there, enjoying time with them. Breaking bread is a way of communication so it was appropriate for this group of leaders and priests to dine with their Lord. I believe it is a picture of the Messianic age also…when the Divine and the Kingdom of Priests will dwell together in Jerusalem. According to the prophet Isaiah, Messiah will rule and a resurrected King David will sit on his throne with the twelve patriarchs under him and each patriarch ruling over each tribe.

  • Stephanie

    may I ask, what is the understanding of them ‘seeing’ Elohim, His feet even…when later in Exodus 33 Moses says “Show me Your glory.” Hadn’t Moses seen His glory in this parsha? And then Elohim says “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” and then allows Moses to see His back only…so what are they ‘seeing’ here?

    • Hi Stephanie! You ask a really great question. The classic commentators offer different opinions to this situation, and some see it in a positive light, while others find some negativity in this situation. According to Rashi, they gazed at God, which they should not have done. For this, they were deserving of death, but God did not want to detract from the celebrations of the day ,and so ‘He did no lay a hand on them’ but rather, saved their death penalty for later. Nadav and Avihu were killed later (when consecrating the Tabernacle) and the elders, shortly after, in Num 11:1. Nachmonides has a different approach. He explains that when the text says that they saw God, it was a prophecy. He brings comparisons to other verses in the Bible that write about seeing God and refer to prophecy. He also compares what they saw to the vision of Ezekiel. When the Torah writes that God did not lay a hand on them, it was a positive statement. God had originally commanded to make ‘barriers’ for the people, so they will not ascend the mountain, for if they were to go beyond the barrier, He would have to kill them. The people all remained within their limits, and so He did not have to kill anyone. Even Nadav, Avihu and the 70 elders did not look beyond where they were meant to.

      • Stephanie

        Thanks Aliza 🙂 yes I had seen these possibilities and tend to sense the latter more likely since as you said, it is God who set up barriers and called them to the place He did and allowed them to see whatever that was.
        Any thought on the fact that they had already seen God when Moses asks to see His Glory later? And what about actually seeing God’s feet? It seems that is something that is rarely addressed, I imagine partially due to its anthropomorphic nature.

        • Most commentators believe that the vision in our chapter was prophetic, and not an actual vision of God (perhaps, more of a ‘perception’). In chpt 33, Moses, as you mentioned asked to see God’s glory, presumably something different than what was seen in our chapter. Perhaps Moses is requesting an even greater perception of God. Or, based on God’s answer, perhaps Moses wanted to see God’s face, but God explains that man cannot see God’s face and live, and so He shows Moses His back only. All of these terms (face, back, hand) can be different levels of perception of God.

  • Jesse

    Every time I read this, I can’t help but laugh. First, they’re all in the presence of God, our king. Second, they’re witnessing the ground as practically the sky. Lastly, it mentions that they eat the covenant meal before God and I just think, “How awesome that has to be”! It also reminds me of when Yeshua rose from the grave and when he finally appeared before all his disciples. They’re all staring at him because he was dead and now he’s alive and all he says is, “Hey, you got any food?”

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