The Blood of the Covenant
Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
On the Mountain with God
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
It is hard for most of us to imagine what life must have been like for those Hebrew people recently liberated from Egypt. They, like Abraham before them, were called to follow God out into the wilderness and worship Him. While they were set free from harsh bondage, digging clay and making bricks without straw, building the pyramids of Egypt… they had no real plan for the future and did not know where they were going. Moses, their prophet and leader had never been one of them. He had first appeared as an adopted prince of Egypt and then later as a Midianite foreigner. Multiple tribes had come together and likely had some individuals vying for power and leadership over the others. These were many people who had been strangers brought together under the common enemy of Egypt and Moses was trying to bring them together under the common benefactor of YHWH.
Generally it is easier to unite people under a common enemy, playing on their prejudices and hatred. This is where the idea of political unification by going to war comes from. Gratitude is often harder to facilitate in the short term than prejudice. God was taking Moses the long way around building this new community of Israel. Instead of war, they were going to worship themselves into unity.
From the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the potlucks of today’s Protestant and Catholic congregations, eating together has been an important connection between worship and community. On one level, it makes sense that, having traveled several days into the wilderness, they would want to stop, make camp, and cook up some food for the community. Furthermore, it would make sense to cook some of the livestock they brought with them from Egypt. Where we run into some of the logic issues is in terms of which livestock were picked.
Think about it. If you were wandering through the Sinai wilderness (read desert) with no sure plan about where you were going to end up, would you offer up your own livestock first? Even if everyone was pitching in, would you offer up your bulls and oxen first or would you rather start small with some sheep or goats and save your oxen to continue carrying your possessions until you got to the Promised Land, wherever that was? Sinai was too soon to celebrate for anyone who was even half a skeptic, so these sacrifices, whose meat were shared by the community were more than a community picnic. They were costly. They were sacrifices.
The Hebrew people became the nation of Israel not through the invitation to a free meal or pitching together for their common good, they were unified by the commands of God which required real sacrifice from them. As they slaughtered and cooked their best chances for surviving in the wilderness, they were turning over their faith to God and the community around them. It was, in its own way, an act of love and trust to God and their neighbors.
What does this tell us about worship? Real worship is much more than a feeling. It involves trusting God and your community sacrificially. And it probably involves food. Let’s be honest now. We’ve been to many concerts where worship music was played and we felt warm and fuzzy, but we couldn’t tell you the name of the person sitting three seats away from us because real relationships were not formed there. The concert may have inspired us to get closer to God, but we did not pack our bags, quit our jobs, and head off on tour with the band. We just waited until they came around next year. Real worship asks more of us than that,