The Covenant Meal

He did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank” (v. 11)

- Exodus 24:1–11

Corporate piety under the old covenant also included the covenant meal, the most important of which was eaten in Jerusalem at the Passover (Ex. 12). Since we have already examined the feast of Passover and its fulfillment, we will look at the idea of the covenant meal in general and the Lord’s Supper, which is the covenant meal of the New Testament church.

We speak of the covenant meal because food was an important part of covenantmaking in the ancient Near East. Eating with other people was a significant event in ancient days, for only parties who were at peace could dine together. An illustration of this covenant meal and its attendant peace is seen in Genesis 31:51–54, where Laban and Jacob come to a truce and solemnize their pact with the breaking of bread.

Exodus 24:1–11 records an extraordinary covenant meal that is shared by the Lord and the elders of Israel. Having embraced God’s covenant, the elders of Israel are invited up on the mountain with Moses and the priests to see a vision of the Lord. We are not sure of what this vision actually entailed, but it was a glimpse of God’s glory, for the passage emphasizes what they saw at God’s feet, being unable to gaze at His face directly (vv. 9–10). It is likely that what the elders then ate in the presence of the Lord was the oxen of the peace offering (v. 5), burnt at the covenant-making ceremony (worshipers customarily ate the peace offering; see Lev. 3; 7:11–18).

In any case, that the meal was eaten at all demonstrates that God had made peace with these representatives of Israel and, therefore, the entire nation. Ordinarily, being in the divine presence would have resulted in the death of the sinner, for no unholy person can see the Lord’s face and live (Ex. 33:20). But when the Creator invites people into His presence, they are preserved, since it is His will to set them apart as holy and fit to stand before Him. He makes peace with His people before He calls them into His presence, so they need not fear destruction.

The peace with God that Israel enjoyed on the mountain lasted but a moment, and the history of the old covenant is one of war between the Lord and His unfaithful bride (Jer. 21:1–5; Hos. 1:2). A greater work would be done to secure eternal peace, commemorated by a greater meal that includes people from all nations (Isa. 25:6–8).

Coram Deo

Even today a meal can be a special sign of love and that the parties involved are in fellowship with each other. Having meals with other believers, therefore, is a good way to further peace among the brethren and to show a hurting world the love we have for each other. If your church has fellowship meals, make sure to take part in them. You might also consider sharing a meal with someone in your congregation whom you do not know very well.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 18:1–8
Psalm 23
Daniel 1
Revelation 19:6–9

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