The seventy elders of Israel had already seen enough to have a healthy fear of God. They had seen his great power displayed through the ten plagues in Egypt. They had walked through the Red Sea and then watched their pursuers drowned. And now at the foot of Mt. Sinai, they beheld and heard the thunders and lightning and thick cloud and the very loud trumpet blast. They saw the smoke rising from the top and felt the trembling of the mountain. They did not need persuasion when Moses warned the people not to come up least the Lord break out against them.
Imagine then their feelings when days later, after being on the mountain, Moses came down and selected them to come up on that same mountain. Perhaps their nerves were settled a bit when Moses told them they would worship God from afar. Only Moses would come near to the Lord.
The day comes when they are to go up. Moses first builds an altar. Sacrifices are offered on it. The Book of the Covenant is read and the people profess obedience to it. Moses then takes blood from the sacrifices, throws it on the people, referring to it as the “blood of the covenant.” Now comes the moment for the elders of Israel – now sprinkled with blood – to accompany Moses up the mountain.
All is going well. They have been through a ceremony to confirm the covenant that God has made with them. They will now walk up a piece; Moses will tell them where to stop and continue worship while he goes to the top. They get a closer view than the rest of the people, but still far enough away to be safe.
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness (Exodus 24:9-10).
It is the most extreme understatement to say that these men saw a wondrous sight. It is truly the ultimate experience of a human. And yet, we can be sure that at the time the seventy elders were not slapping each other on the back for their good luck. Most likely they were lying prostrate on the ground and crying out the same words as Isaiah would years later, “Woe is me!” Surely they had climbed too high; they had broken through the barrier onto sacred ground to God, and they were not prepared.
But they did not die. The story goes on: And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel…He did not destroy them; on the contrary, they beheld God, and ate and drank. They fellowshipped with God! The particulars we are not told, but in essence God prepared a table for his guests to express his covenant fellowship with them.
Bible commentator Philip Ryken notes that “it was not uncommon for people making a covenant to sit down and share in a meal together afterward.” He then gives two examples: Isaac setting a feast for Abimelech and his army after making a covenant (Genesis 26:30), and Jacob and Laban having a meal after being reconciled (Genesis 31:46).
Sharing a meal is a form of bonding. Here God was bonding with his people Israel through the meal of the seventy elders. Think about the Passover. When the last and most terrible plague was visited on the land of Egypt – the death of the firstborn – God provided one means to protect the Hebrews living in the land. They were to gather in their homes and have a meal. Blood taken from the lamb killed for the meal would be spread on their doorposts and be the sign for the Lord to pass over that house and not bring death. Why would he pass over their homes? If Egyptians heard about the blood sign and smeared blood on their doorposts, would they have avoided the plague? The bloodstains had no power of their own; they merely signified the bond that God had with his people, a bond expressed through the meal.
But there were other fellowship meals as well. Do you know what the covenant people of Israel was to do with at least a portion of their tithes? They were to throw a thanksgiving feast! Deuteronomy 14:22-26 spells it out:
And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.
How do you like that? God took their tithe so he could throw a party for them in his house! Are you getting the connection between having a communal meal and fellowshipping with God? The meal bonds people together as they bond with their God.
Let me give one more example involving the peace offering for thanksgiving. The offerer takes an animal to the temple for sacrifice. But the whole animal is not burnt up, only a portion. Some of the remainder is given to the priest to have. The rest is to be eaten by the offerer with his family at the temple. There in the temple they commune together with their God through the sacrifice they offer.
It is a beautiful sentiment, isn’t it – this act of sharing a meal in the presence of God as a way to both express fellowship with one another and with their God. It is a covenant act, that signifies and further seals the covenant God made with his people. It is the act which found new expression in the Lord’s Supper which our Lord Jesus Christ instituted for the people of the New Covenant. As we partake of this sacred meal, so we participate together in covenant fellowship with God. We commune with our Lord. How beautiful, how blessed is this holy act.
How revolting then to participate in the same type of act that expresses communion with demons. That is what the Corinthians were doing.
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
What was this idolatry of the Corinthians? A number of them attended religious meals in the pagan temples. They thought it was acceptable to do because they knew that they idols were actually nothing. Paul expresses well their view (and his) in 8:4-6 that idols have no existence and there is no God but one. He then admonishes them not to participate because they have weaker brothers and sisters who do believe in the reality of the idols, and who may be led to participate against their conscience when they see the “stronger” Christian participating.
But in chapter 10 he leads them into a deeper understanding of the real issue. It is true that idols are nothing. (He says that again in verse 19). But there is a supernatural reality that is behind them; there are such things as demons. In essence, what is offered to an idol in place of the true God, is being offered to Satan’s demons.
Paul reasons with them. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
To help them understand what is going on at the temple feasts, he uses their own Lord’s Supper to illustrate. You know what our partaking of the cup and bread signifies. We are “participating” in the blood and body of Christ. We are having koinonia. That is the Greek term used here. We are having fellowship with our God through Christ. What is the cup? Jesus tells us that it is the “new covenant in his blood.” Remember what the feast of the seventy elders was about – it signified covenant fellowship with God? Our very act of partaking of the cup signifies that we belong to him; we are having communion with him.
Then the bread. Eating it also is communion with God in Christ, but it carries a further significance. 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
Remember the concept behind the meals of the Passover and the Thanksgiving feast and the sacrifices. These were not meals of private individual dining with God. They included households and public gatherings of God’s people, so as to say “we together” share in the covenant fellowship with God. We together enjoy the blessings of a covenant relationship.
Paul refers back to the peace offerings we looked at. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?
The sacrifices are acts of thankful worship. They are offerings of thanksgiving for God’s covenant blessings. And thus to then sit down and eat the sacrifices together is an expression of receiving God’s covenant blessing together.
Now look, Paul is saying. Are you going to take the same ritual and perform it in a pagan temple with sacrifices offered to idols that in themselves may be nothing but behind which is demonic activity? You need to understand that whatever opinion you may have about statues, there is nevertheless the reality that you are participating in a religious activity that expresses covenant fellowship with the kingdom of Satan. And that isn’t going to work.
20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
If being thoughtful toward their weaker brothers and sisters was not enough motivation, then they need to consider God’s reaction to their behavior.
22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
Paul knows his scriptures. He likely had in mind Deuteronomy 32:16-18:
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
and you forgot the God who gave you birth.
He knows of the plague that killed 24,000 people when they attended the Moabite “sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods” Numbers 25:1ff.
You can’t do this! You can’t participate – you can’t have fellowship with – demons. You cannot sit at the table of the Lord, partaking of his cup and bread, and sit at the table of demons partaking of their spread.
There is much more to be examined here, but as this is a communion service, I want to apply one lesson being taught in the passage regarding the Lord’s Supper. The reason I started with the long discussion about meals is to shed light on what is meant by participation in the blood and body of Christ. There is no doubt great mystery taking place in the sacrament, the very term of which means mystery. And there is much written and debated over what takes place in this mystery.
But here is the mystery I want you to contemplate tonight as you partake of the Lord’s Supper. It is the mystery of God’s mercy by which he invites you to sit down for a meal with him. Why did God pass over the houses of the Hebrews who were just as sinful as the Egyptians? Why did God “not lay his hand” on the seventy unholy elders? Why did he accept thanksgiving from people who throughout the year had sinned against him, and why did he accept peace offerings from people who every day violated peace?
Why, instead of punishing them, he prepared a meal for them to express his covenant love and protection? Why does he invite you now to receive the same?
For that is what this Supper is. Your host is Jesus Christ. He offers to you this meal, which is himself.
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