In Exodus 20, we have the summary of the law of God in the ten commandments. What follows, after 20:17, is an expansion or elaboration on the summary. In chapter 24, having given Israel the law of God, Moses wrote down the laws for permanence into the “book of the covenant” (the only mention of such a book in Exodus). Moses then built a symbolic shrine: an altar surrounded by twelve pillars representing God dwelling among His people.
I find it significant that Moses calls on “young” men to be involved in the offerings. Scholars typically do not comment on this, dismissing it as simply a matter of necessity: the large number of animals would require young people of strength and vigor to manage. But this is such a matter of common sense that it hardly seems necessary to take special note of it. What Israel is about to do is formally enter into a covenant with God. It’s not something just the older people were buying into. It involved future generations. By using the youth, Moses shows that they are a valued part of the covenant agreement. Perhaps the reason we lose so many young people in the Christian faith is that we never allow them to feel that they are a significant part of the Church until their minds are already determined they are not a part by the way we have excluded them from the conversations.
Two types of sacrifices were offered: burnt and fellowship. The burnt offerings were for sin and were totally consumed. The fellowship offerings signified thanksgiving and union with God. Part of the fellowship offerings were to be eaten by the offerers and so, all Israel engages in a meal with God. Union and agreement between them is signified by the sprinkling of blood on both the people and the altar of God.
The Elders of Israel also engage in a meal with the Lord, but their position grants them an even closer communion. Covenants were often concluded with meals (cf. Genesis 26 & 31). The text says they “saw” the Lord (and yet didn’t die!). Without doing damage to the plain expression of the text, I find it significant that rather than describe God as they see him, what is revealed is the “pavement” on which the Lord walked, a sapphire as clear as the sky. It is as if they see God, but all they can bring themselves to describe is the ground on which He walked.
Significant also is Moses calling the sprinkled blood the “blood of the covenant.” The phrase will not appear again until a new covenant is offered by God, sealed not with the blood of animals, but with His own blood, that of Jesus (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).