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The Covenant with Moses

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The Covenant with Moses

This covenant is directly tied to the previous covenant with Abraham. While this is often called the Mosaic Covenant, it is better understood as the Israelite covenant. The Covenant with Abraham was to a man’s entire progeny, but this covenant is for an entire culture. But this does not mean that the covenant has gotten broader in terms of who it applies to, rather it has gotten more selective. It is no longer enough to simply be a descendant of someone, but it also now calls ones lifestyle into question. Where the other covenants were the subject of a few verses, or in Abraham’s case was clarified and expanded over the course of his life, the Mosaic covenant encompass all of God’s requirements for the nation of Israel from the moral requirements of the Ten commandments to the social requirements of Leviticus and so on.
This covenant also comes with its own greater challenges to explain and apply for a contemporary Christian, how far do we go in the application of works and grace based merit for God’s favour? The previous covenants were given out on a grace based system, something happened, God responded, no further action was required. Where we see a shift in this is with Abraham, where circumcision is meant to be a sign of the covenant, but this covenant goes even broader in its requirements. Where the covenant with Abraham was limited to one man and his household, the Mosaic covenant governed all that was required for a functioning society. From religious rights and services, legal parameters, diet, and a economic system this covenant left no area of a persons life untouched. God was determined to see them become a symbol to the nations around them that service to YHWH was a higher calling than service to these other gods.
So what then do we do with these parameters, should we all stop eating shrimp, should we observe the requirements of sacrifice, should we live in the same exact familial system that they did? Even the early church struggled with how to apply this way of life to those who professed belief in Christ but were not raised in the Jewish system. Questions of eating pagan sacrificial meals, issues of circumcision, and obedience to the Law all were hotly debated issues for the New Testament Believers, and from what was settled by them as well as what has been discussed over the history of the church I believe that there are several safe conclusions that can be drawn from this. First, the moral requirements of the Old Testament, specifically those outlined in the ten Commandments are common to all of mankind and dictate God’s ethical standard. This standard further demonstrates our need for a saviour. The extreme conditions placed upon holiness are untenable by any person born into sin, it was so difficult that it prompted Jewish rabbis and elders to come up with further rules, expanding the boundaries placed upon them. Secondly, there are societal and cultural issues that should be approached with caution and concern for fellow believers, so if one is offended by eating meat sacrificed to idols don’t be a stumbling block in their lives, while it may be lawful for you to partake in whatever activity it is, it may be detrimental to the other person’s walk with God and therefore improper for you to do it or publicize it in that context. Thirdly, there are things that have passed away from requirements, from diet to religious observances, we have been freed from many of the cultural bindings of the old covenant and live in grace in the new covenant. In each of these we can see the significance of the work of the saviour and the transformation that one goes through in becoming a part of the church.
With that out of the way, let us begin to look at Scripture, and seeing as the covenant in question spans entire books, the sections we will look at are in reference to the initiation of the covenant, and some particular reminders or clarifications of the covenant. In each of these passages I recommend taking note who is being spoken to, who is responding, and who they are responding to. The first passage is in Exodus Chapter 19: On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3 Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” 7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 The people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. 9 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”
7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 The people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. 9 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”
In this passage we see that the Children of Israel have arrived at Mount Sinai, this is significant, as the mount symbolizes a great deal of God’s dealings with Israel, and where he revealed most of his covenant. The preceding portion was God’s grace enacted on the behalf of the Israelites in accordance with his promises to Abraham, and now that he has drawn them near he instructs them how they will now live. Alec Motyer makes this statement concerning this passage, “The law of God is essentially his instructions on how to live a life pleasing to him, and it has this meaning not only in the Old Testament but throughout the Bible. God’s law is not a ‘ladder of merit’ by which we try to climb, by grim obedience, into his ‘good books’; it is a way of life revealed to those who are already by redemption in his good books. He brings us to himself and then requires us to live so as to please him” This passage highlights the first of seven scents that Moses makes up the mountain and into God’s presence. Each of these are prompted by the massages that God has for the people, and while the Lord made a cloud rest upon the mountain to demonstrate his physical presence with the people, his particular instructions were still relayed through one person. This is meant to signify Jesus’s ministry. He is the embodiment of the Word projected into human history, and much like Moses in this passage he relay’s the words of the Father to us, instructs us on how to live, and then ascends back to the father bearing our eternal response to him as our mediator. And this is precisely the same sort of role that Moses is filling here, he is the mediator between God and Israel, and he is the one who is both able to bear the will of the people but also the glory of God.
This passage also serves to instruct the Children of Israel on God’s previous acts on their behalf, and to promise further blessings but also requirements on those who would seek to be his people. Later developing in the Ten commandments, we can see that the response of the people here are content with Moses, he is another person with whom they can relate, but the God that they are serving is something that fills them with fear, he is inapproachable. We see that they still promise to do all that the Lord, and as a result of their entering into this covenant with him he makes his presence with them manifest.
Alec Motyer, The Message of Exodus: The Days of Our Pilgrimage, ed. Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 191.
Moving onwards from this passage, we move to , shortly after he delivered the ten commandments as well as the Lord’s further requirements for them. Beginning in verse one we read, “Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. 2 Moses alone shall come near the LORD; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), .
3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the LORD. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank. “
This passage is meant to serve as a bookend for chapter nineteen. In the first we read that the Israelites have been delivered from Egypt, but they now are being invited into a deeper relationship with the one who delivered them. This chapter follows God’s explanation of his requirements, laying out the way he expects them to live, behave, worship, and interact with one another. It is in the in between that God demonstrates his power and his commanding presence most readily, and presently in their midst. The very mountain being set apart and sanctified for his presence, and Moses probably wishing each time that there would be an escalator on the mountain processes and recesses bearing God’s message for the people. This chapter, this passage, is where things get real, the Israelites can’t blindly claim that they haven't read the terms and conditions or that they weren't explained sufficiently. God has just laid out everything he would have them do, and how each would be done for his glory. he has brought them to himself, but now they must live according to his standard in order to remain his chosen people.
God does the same thing in our lives. I am sure that many of us could recount some of the key figures God used in leading us to himself, people that whether aware or unaware were stepping stones that brought us into his presence, but once we were there we had to make a decision. You see, much like how God was both the deliverer and the provider for the Children of Israel, Christ is both our Savior and our Lord, and it is this last one that seems to be a bit more difficult to swallow. We like to believe in a god that delivers us from evil, we like to believe in a God who is there when things are hard, difficult, or unpleasant and that is what the Savior is emblematic of, the God who identifies with our suffering and enables us to overcome it, But the God who is Lord, is the God who is concerned with how we live, with how we got into those situations in the first place, and has placed certain conditions for our behavior as representatives of his kingdom.
But despite how difficult it is to admit God’s lordship over us, it is only by doing so that we are transformed. The guiding of the Holy Spirit and the inspiration of the Word are less effective if we are unable to admit the authority that has in our lives. This is where the Israelites struggled time and time again. They wanted a god who operated on their beck and call, a god who was logical and predictable, one who would deliver them in times of trouble and would bless them so long as the requirements were easy. But as we know from the rest of Scripture, the Israelites are about to enter a long period of contemplation, about 40 years long, as to who God is and how they ought to obey him. Beyond that we still see them struggling with God’s leadership, they require judges and prophets to make sense of God’s will, they have years of obedience and they have years of folly. Abd while we may like to sit back and say that we would have done better in their situation, it isn’t likely that we would. They had regular, physical examples of God’s power and providence as well as his judgement and authority, yet they found it so easy t turn astray, to grumble and complain, despite that God dwelled in their very midst. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of the Son of God. We have all of Scripture illuminated by God’s providence full of his promises to those who are faithful, yet we find it hard to determine which direction he may be leading us in, we struggle when his desire for our lives seems at odds with our own. When our comfort is threatened we quickly turn to grumbling, we are not so different than they were. But it isn’t hopeless, this is simply the result of the human condition, this indecision, this conflict, this repulsion to what is good for us due to the sacrifices it may require.
On the Mountain with God9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
If we can learn anything from the covenant of Moses, let it be this, that it is both good, necessary, and impossible. It highlights what is good and right in the eyes of God, and is the best course for mankind to take. It is also necessary, their is no other means by which the human heart can be transformed in itself than by adherence to these laws and rules. But it is also impossible to fulfill, God’s standard cannot be met by our own efforts. Praise God tat we are not the ones solely responsible for transforming our lives,rather it is Christ in us that brings about this transformation through the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God the Father. We exist today in two spheres of life, we are in the world, we are still carnal, we still struggle, and we are still divided against one another and against ourselves, but as the Church we live in Grace as well. We live in the transformative power of God who compels us, guides us, and causes us to grow. We entered into this relationship and continue to be in this relationship through the grace of God, but how we progress, how we move forward in determining the will of the father in our lives and how to live accordingly is through admitting his authority, through living in service to him, and following his Son’s example of living in service to those around us.
This brings an end to today’s lesson, nest week we will be looking at the covenant with David, so if you have the time or are looking for something to read, I recommend taking the time to freshen up on David’s life and God’s purpose for him. With that let us close in prayer.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), .
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