A Series on Divine Covenants
1. What has happened to the Hebrews so far (Ex 12:29-39)?
What challenges do they face?
Enslaved and governed by Egypt, the nation of Israel is suddenly free from captivity and they
have to govern themselves as a group of nomadic people without any land. Consider the challenges of a new
inexperienced government responsible for administering and enforcing civil and religious
laws, and maintaining military readiness and discipline. Consider also that this form of government, government
of a state by direct administration by God through Moses (a theocracy), was unique and had no precedent. Now, 430
years after His covenant with Abraham (Gal 3:16-17), God makes
a covenant with Abraham's descendants, the children of Israel.
2. Examine carefully the Mosaic Covenant (Ex 19-24; Lev 17-26, Deut 1-28;
Josh 24). In general terms what was it? Where do the Ten
Commandments fit in this? What was its function?
The Mosaic Covenant is a conditional promise by God. It promised blessing for obedience and
curse for disobedience.
"Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own
possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine…
"you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests...
"…and a holy nation. (Ex 19:6)"
The Israelites will be a cherished possession of the Lord.
The Mosaic Covenant (Law), all 613 commands (365 negative and 248 positive), directed how the
Hebrews were to live for the purpose of pleasing God and enjoying His favor. The Ten Commandments (Decalogue)
were essentially the basic rules of the Law; the other laws applied and clarified the principles. Exodus largely
expands and explains the Ten Commandments.
Leviticus focuses on the first 4 Commandments:
1) "You shall have no other gods before me,"
2) "You shall not make yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is
in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve
them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God,"
3) "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him
unpunished who takes His name in vain."
4) "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Deuteronomy focuses on the other 6 Commandments:
5) "Honor your father and your mother,"
6) "You shall not murder,"
7) "You shall not commit adultery,"
8) "You shall not steal,"
9) "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
10) "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or… anything that belongs to your neighbor."
For purposes of study, the Mosaic Covenant (Law) can be viewed as having three sections: a)
commandments that refer to moral laws (personal holiness), b) judgments that refer to social laws,
and c) ordinances that refer to the Tabernacle and worship laws. It is important to note that the Law of
Moses is singular and refers to all 613 laws as one unit. Breaking just one of 613 laws was the same as breaking
the whole Law.
Through the moral and social laws, God defined sin
(Rom 7:7) and what constituted just punishment. This was to show
the Israelites' need for and how to seek God's Grace. Through worship laws and the sacrificial system, God provided
the means for an Israelite to seek forgiveness, cover (not take away) one's sins, and continue to receive
the blessings of the covenant; but this was not the means for salvation, the removal of sin. Salvation was
only possible through faith in God.
The Mosaic Covenant established a theocracy but the emphasis of the Law was priestly not
political. The highest office of the state was the Aaronic (Levitical - from the tribe of Levi) priest. In religious
matters, the Levitical priest was integral in administering the sacrifices and offerings of atonement (Lev 1-7,
16). In judicial matters, the Levitical priest decided the most
difficult civil and criminal matters (Deut 17:8-12). In matters
of judicial due process, the Levitical priests owned 6 centrally located Cities of Refuge, which allowed
unintentional murderers safety from retribution until trial
(Num 35). In matters of healthcare, the Levitical priests
declared who was healthy or should be quarantined (Lev 13). In
economic matters, the Levitical priest was the one who decided disputes on financial valuations
(Lev 27). In matters of warfare, the Levitical priest was called
upon to inspire the troops (Deut 20:2-4).
The Mosaic Law also established the Tabernacle, the house of God, and the Ark, the symbol of
God's presence. The Tabernacle was where all worship and sacrifices were performed. The Ark itself was "alive."
It brought judgment (death) if not treated in a holy manner, and on Israel's enemies. [Through apostasy, the Ark
and Tabernacle were separated, and Israel lost a blessing of having God's presence through the Ark.]
Scholars see many similarities with the Mosaic Covenant (Law) and Near Eastern treaties of that
time specifically Hittite Suzerainty Treaties. These treaties were made between kings and their vassals, and
analogously, the Israelites were seen as God's vassals. With regard to laws and governance, the Mosaic Law was
1) The Mosaic Law was God given; in contrast, pagan laws were man made.
2) The Mosaic Law was publicly read regularly every seven years
(Deut 31:10-13); in contrast, pagan laws of the Near East were
not public and published only after the king was leaving the kingship.
3) God governed the Hebrews, not the Mosaic Law, thus, man served God and His Law; in contrast,
pagan laws of the Near East were binding and had to be obeyed by all including the king; thus; the law governed
3. What does Mosaic Covenant fail to do?
The Mosaic Covenant was made with Israel alone and written on tablets of stone; the blood of
sacrificed animals only provided a way to cover their sin (i.e. remove the cause of God’s wrath). While this process
was prescribed and ordained by God, compliance required the efforts of man. And the process of atonement only covered
the sins up to that moment; failure to atone by sacrificing as God prescribed meant that the Israelite's sins were not
covered. The Mosaic Covenant required that Jews repeatedly make sacrifices to atone for their sins.
A later covenant (the New Covenant) would provide a "covenant
written on their heart," the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which results from Jesus’ atoning sacrifice that removes
a sinner's sin and makes him righteous before God (Heb 8:10;
9:11-14). The New Covenant provided for yet another blood
sacrifice; the blood of Jesus Christ. With this one time encompassing and supreme sacrifice, man had complete
atonement for his sins; he no longer had to repeatedly "cover" them.
4. Jesus said that the Law was eternal (Matt 5:18)
and Paul said that the Law ended at the cross
(Gal 3:19). So who's right? Does the Law continue today or
did it end?
As a revelation of God's code of moral and spiritual behavior, Jesus tells us that this is
eternal and immutable. As a covenant by which man atones for his sins to keep God's favor, Paul tells us that
this function has ended.
5. How should the Mosaic Covenant be viewed within the context of the Abrahamic Covenant?
The Abrahamic Covenant is about all the blessings that God will bestow on His people. The
apostle Paul sees the Mosaic Covenant as teaching one what sin was and how to be a holy people
(Rom 7:7). God sees the Mosaic Covenant as teaching how to
atone for sin and the means of defining who His own possession is:
"'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you
shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom
of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."