Having heard the cry of his people in Egypt, having come down to the burning bush on the mountain, having sent Moses—however reluctantly—having done wonders in Egypt so that his people were begged at last to leave, plundering the Egyptians, having drowned his enemies in the sea, having made the water sweet, provided bread from heaven, given victory over Amalek, poured water out of the rock, and brought them at last to Sinai, God thunders his terms to the people till they can stand no more.
They beg Moses to deal directly with God instead. Moses is the intermediary.
Which makes for a lot of work for Moses.
He goes up and down the mountain some seven times. He writes the book of the covenant. On the day he ratifies the treaty he gets up early and builds an altar. God had specified that the altar had to be made of earth or of uncut stones. One of the reasons for this is that the altar is a mountain: it evokes a mountain. The mountain with fire and smoking before which this altar is, is where God is. In the treaty they are about to make, the altar represents God. The pillars that Moses then raises, represent the people, the twelve tribes of Israel.
What is interesting is that Moses then has young men do the slaughtering of animals. We might think he should get help building altars and raising up memorial stones, and then do the priestly slaughtering himself. Why doesn’t he?
Because he is the mediator, he’s the intermediary: he brings the people and God together, so he has to be the one who builds the representative objects. When it comes to the slaughter, he has something more important to do as mediator: he handles the precious blood.
Half of the blood he splashes on the altar he’s made. He soaks the thing in blood probably—we don’t know how many animals were slaughtered, but if each tribe contributes just one to each kind of sacrifice, we get 24 total. Half of that precious and costly life goes to the altar. When you make a covenant it is solemnized with something serious, something to do with life and death. Hence the blood.
The other half of the blood is collected in pans. It says he ‘sprinkled’ it, but what is more likely here is that he hurled it out in an arc over the people in an attempt to get blood on as many of them as possible. It was probably more than one pan he had on hand, and though not everybody could have been in range, no doubt many were thus spattered. And knowing what it represented, they received it willingly.
Blood is a cleanser, and that is what these people who have purified themselves, used up precious water in the desert washing their clothes to stand in them clean and receive the blood, that is what they needed: cleansing. They were owning the covenant verbally and now through the cleansing and solemnizing that this ‘sprinkling’ involved. You can’t approach a holy God without cleansing, and that is driven home again and again. This sprinkling is a culminative moment for that.
That is why, when the 70 representatives of the people went up the mountain to eat the fellowship sacrifice—half of which was burn on the altar, as God consumed his part of the meal, and then half of which was eaten by the human participants—it says that they saw God and he did not lay hand on them. Who can approach God and not die? They were cleansed, they had a kind of access to him, they saw a vision of God and did not die.
They are in a way returning to Eden. The Garden of Eden, you remember, had four mighty rivers coming out of it. It is hard to picture what exactly the layout was, but one thing is certain about running water, it flows downhill. Which means that Eden was a mountain, the mountain where God came down to and communed with his people. Sinai is a similar mountain, but the access is restricted, mediated, temporary, and partial. It is a picture of what they want to return to, but not the whole way back.
The whole way back is with better blood, blood that truly cleanses us from sin, blood which obtains real pardon. The way back is through the offering of a better sacrifice, one that was obedient as no animal can be, perfectly willing always to do what God required, and whose obedience can be imputed to us. It is only through these merits we can approach God. Jesus Christ came down from heaven and he took up humanity. He is the mountain of the Lord, where God dwells with his people and they with him. Where he is, there is Zion, where God has determined to dwell among his people forever. Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, Jesus Christ mediates the new covenant, uniting God and man, bringing heaven to earth, sprinkling us clean forever.