We have seen in our studies already that ‘covenant’ was a very serious business, and can be described as ‘A binding, formal agreement between two parties defining the kind of ongoing relationship they are to have with each other. Conditions and promises and or penalties are laid down for both parties, and it is sealed or ratified formally, usually by sprinkling of blood.’
As we go through the details concerning the ‘Sinai covenant’ please note that ‘the law’ can be the basis of the conditions built into a covenant, but the covenant is not the law itself.
Many scriptures liken the covenant Yahweh made with Israel to a marriage covenant:
Isaiah 54:5-6 WEB
For your Maker is your husband; Yahweh of Hosts is his name: and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall he be called.
6 For Yahweh has called you as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off, says your God.
Ezekiel 16:8 RSV
Now when I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine.
Jeremiah 3:8 WEB
I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorce, yet treacherous Judah, her sister, didn’t fear; but she also went and played the prostitute.
Jeremiah 3:20 WEB
Surely as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, house of Israel, says Yahweh.
Jeremiah 31:31-32 WEB
31 Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Yahweh.
Yahweh ‘proposes’ this marriage covenant to Israel through Moses:
Exodus 19:3-6 WEB
Moses went up to God, and Yahweh called to him out of the mountain, saying, “This is what you shall tell the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:
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 will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine;
6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (all bolding is ours for emphasis)
The details of the covenant proposed by Yahweh were outlined through Moses to the people of Israel in chapters 20 to 23 of Exodus. Notice that Yahweh intended the people to hear Him directly:
Exodus 19:9 WEB
Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” Moses told the words of the people to Yahweh.
Exodus 19:17 WEB
Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the lower part of the mountain.
Yahweh got as far as the ten commandments and the people became afraid and asked for Yahweh to cease speaking to them and for Moses to be the ‘mediator/go-between’:
Exodus 20:18-22 WEB
All the people perceived the thunderings, the lightnings, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they trembled, and stayed at a distance.
19 They said to Moses, “Speak with us yourself, and we will listen; but don’t let God speak with us, lest we die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come to test you, and that his fear may be before you, that you won’t sin.”
21 The people stayed at a distance, and Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
22 Yahweh said to Moses, “This is what you shall tell the children of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
So Yahweh spoke with Moses, and Moses passed it on to the people.
Remember, Yahweh intended them to be ‘a kingdom of priests’, ones who would come into His presence, set an example and teach others:
Exodus 19:5-6 WEB
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine;
6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
But they wanted a mediator themselves!
Moses therefore received the rest of Yahweh’s proposal and passed it on to the people.
How did the people respond?
Exodus 24:3 WEB
Moses came and told the people all the words of Yahweh, and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which Yahweh has spoken will we do.”
They accepted the proposal. At this time they really believed they could keep the terms of the covenant, but they were trusting in their own strength – ‘we will’ was their answer! So the marriage went ahead. The making of this covenant was a solemn event. To impress upon the children of Israel the gravity of what they were agreeing to, an alter was built and sacrifices given upon it, twelve pillars for each tribe was erected as a witness of the proceedings:
Exodus 24:4-6 WEB
Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mountain, and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.
5 He sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen to Yahweh.
6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
Were the people under any illusion as to what they were agreeing to:
Exodus 24:7 WEB
He took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that Yahweh has spoken will we do, and be obedient.”
Notice that Moses wrote everything down in ‘the book of the covenant’ which was read out to the people as part of the formal ceremony and they responded ‘we will do everything and we will be obedient’.
And the marriage covenant was sealed and ratified with blood:
Exodus 24:8 WEB
Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Look, this is the blood of the covenant, which Yahweh has made with you concerning all these words.”
Notice also that it was the ‘young men’ who were acting as priests making the offerings at this time, as Moses had instructed them.
So what were the terms of the covenant that Israel agreed to? Firstly they agreed to keep the ten commandments detailed in Exodus 20:1-17 (these were already in existence prior to this covenant, which we cover in a separate study). They also agreed to keep ‘laws for civil life as a nation’, which were amplifications and applications of the ten commandments, ordinances (Exodus 21:1). These are outlined in Exodus 20:22 to 23:19 – what the people had to do.
The overarching principle was to “love Yahweh your God and to love your neighbour as yourself”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 WEB
Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one:
5 and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Leviticus 19:18 WEB
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh.
Some examples from the covenant are below:
Exodus 22:22 WEB
“You shall not take advantage of any widow or fatherless child.
Exodus 23:1-2 WEB
“You shall not spread a false report. Don’t join your hand with the wicked to be a malicious witness.
2 You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; neither shall you testify in court to side with a multitude to pervert justice;
Exodus 23:9 WEB
“You shall not oppress an alien, for you know the heart of an alien, seeing you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
There were also ‘judgements’ – precedents in cases of conflict or violations of God’s laws, for example:
Exodus 22:1-2 WEB
“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it, or sells it; he shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.
2 If the thief is found breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt of bloodshed for him.
The principle was that the offender paid a penalty equivalent to the damage done or caused:
Exodus 21:22-24 WEB
“If men fight and hurt a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, and yet no harm follows, he shall be surely fined as much as the woman’s husband demands and the judges allow.
23 But if any harm follows, then you must take life for life,
Exodus 21:12 WEB
“One who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death,
The death penalty was prescribed for murder, adultery and kidnapping.
Read all this section in your own bible – Exodus 20:22 to 23:19.
What Yahweh promises to do is in Exodus 23:20-33. Read this also in your bible – it included protection, victory over their enemies, provision of nourishment, healing, fruitfulness, increase and possession of the land.
Notice also at this point in time there is no inclusion of some key things later included as ‘precepts of the law’, such as sin offerings, the priesthood of Levi, central worship before the temple or tabernacle and national curses. Also note ‘The books of the Law’ (Genesis to Deuteronomy) didn’t exist at the time of the Sinai covenant (possibly written during time at Moab, 39 years later – Deuteronomy 1:1-5). When they did exist, they had to be summarized for the book of Deuteronomy, the second law.
The covenant was sealed and ratified in Exodus 24:1-11 as we saw earlier, there was even a covenant meal with the seventy elders:
Exodus 24:5-11 WEB
He sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen to Yahweh.
6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
7 He took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that Yahweh has spoken will we do, and be obedient.”
8 Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Look, this is the blood of the covenant, which Yahweh has made with you concerning all these words.”
9 Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up.
10 They saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was like a paved work of sapphireor, lapis lazuli stone, like the skies for clearness.
11 He didn’t lay his hand on the nobles of the children of Israel. They saw God, and ate and drank.
Notice ‘the book of the covenant’ was read to the people and the covenant was ratified with the blood of oxen or young bulls, half against the alter and half upon the people.
Yahweh then called Moses back up the mountain and the elders and the people were instructed to wait below with Aaron and Hur in charge:
Exodus 24:12-14 WEB
Yahweh said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and stay here, and I will give you the tables of stone with the law and the commands that I have written, that you may teach them.”
24:13 Moses rose up with Joshua, his servant, and Moses went up onto God’s Mountain.
24:14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us, until we come again to you. Behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever is involved in a dispute can go to them.”
Now remember that Israel were expected to “obey my voice, and keep my covenant” (Exodus 19:5) – Yahweh called Moses up because He had further instructions to give. These concerned building the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, tablets of stone etc in Exodus 25:1 to 31:18.
Exodus 25:8-9 WEB
Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
9 According to all that I show you, the pattern of the tent, and the pattern of all of its furniture, even so you shall make it.
Exodus 25:10 WEB
“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Its length shall be two and a half cubits, its breadth a cubit and a half, and a cubit and a half its height.
Exodus 25:23 WEB
“You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth, and one and a half cubits its height.
Exodus 26:7 WEB
the rings shall be close to the rim, for places for the poles to carry the table.
Exodus 26:31 WEB
“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. Of hammered work shall the lampstand be made, even its base, its shaft, its cups, its buds, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it.
Exodus 27:1 WEB
“You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and its height shall be three cubits.
Exodus 28:1 WEB
“Bring Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, near to you from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.
Exodus 29:1 WEB
“This is the thing that you shall do to them to make them holy, to minister to me in the priest’s office: take one young bull and two rams without blemish,
Exodus 30:1 WEB
“You shall make an altar to burn incense on. You shall make it of acacia wood.
Exodus 30:18 WEB
“You shall also make a basin of brass, and the base of it of brass, in which to wash. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it.
Exodus 31:1-3 WEB
Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “Behold, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:
3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
Exodus 31:18 WEB
He gave to Moses, when he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with God’s finger.
Notice also Exodus 31:16-17, the Sabbath was a covenant sign between Yahweh and the people of Israel:
Exodus 31:16-17 WEB
Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.'”
But while all this was taking place with Moses up the mountain conversing with Yahweh, what were the people doing?
Exodus 32:7-8 WEB
Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.'”
They made and worshipped a golden calf! Breaking their covenant with Yahweh within forty days.
Notice Yahweh now refers to them as ‘your people’ that ‘you brought out’! And His initial intention was:
Exodus 32:9-10 WEB
Yahweh said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and, behold, they are a stiff-necked people.
10 Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
Will Yahweh destroy them? Next time we will continue to see the outcome.