Covenants of peace made in the ancient Near East usually included a meal at which the parties to the covenant ate together and enjoyed fellowship. To dine with others was a significant act, requiring those who gathered at the table to let down their guard and trust that the others present would not take advantage of them. Even today, of course, inviting someone over for dinner says something about the relationship of the people present, for one does not normally dine with an enemy. But in the ancient world, eating together was an even greater sign of peace. One of the best examples of this reality in Scripture is found in Genesis 31. For many years, Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban, had been at odds, but Genesis 31 tells us how they entered into a covenant not to harm one another anymore, and this covenant was followed by a meal, evidencing the harmony between the men (see vv. 51–54).
In light of that historical context, the meal we read about in Exodus 24:9–11 is especially meaningful. After the ratification of God’s covenant with Israel, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel ate and drank in the very presence of God. No doubt they ate a portion of the peace offerings that we read about in verse 5 (see Lev. 7:11–18). These men represented the nation of Israel as a whole, so their meal with the Lord signified that the corporate body was in a right relationship with Him. This is emphasized by the fact that when they ate before God, He “did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel” (Ex. 24:11). Their sin having been atoned for in the burnt offerings (v. 5), they could enjoy the holy Lord’s presence unafraid.
Exodus 24:10–11 tells us that the men who ate with God also saw God. In light of all Scripture, this does not mean that they saw the Lord directly (see John 1:18), which is confirmed by the fact that the text gives no description of what the Creator looks like. As one commentator notes, evidently the Lord made Himself visible enough so that the people would know He was with them, but they had no direct apprehension of His essence. They did, however, eat in the Lord’s throne room, as it were, for beneath God was “a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness,” which has the connotation of a palace environment. In any case, the Israelite elders’ vision of the Lord anticipates the day when all of God’s people will see Him face-to-face (1 John 3:2).