The ‘Old Covenant’ mediated by Moses

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 ‘old 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
“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
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.”

Many of the basic details of the covenant were outlined through Moses to the people of Israel in chapters 20 to 23 of Exodus. 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 were 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.”

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 will cover in a future study). They also agreed to keep ‘laws for civil life as a nation’, which were amplifications and applications of the ten commandments.

The overarching principle was to “love your neighbor as yourself

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 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.

In Exodus chapters 25 to 30 we see the provision of the tabernacle and the priesthood along with the prescribed offerings and sacrifices – all part of the manner in which they were to conduct themselves as Yahweh’s model nation.

Also encompassed within the covenant were promised blessings for obedience and penalties/punishments for disobedience. These can be found in Leviticus 26, which we encourage the reader to read in full, but here include only a few examples:

Leviticus 26:3-4 WEB
“‘If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
4 then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.

Leviticus 26:14-16 WEB
“‘But if you will not listen to me, and will not do all these commandments;
15 and if you shall reject my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant;
16 I also will do this to you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall consume the eyes, and make the soul to pine away; and you will sow your seed in vain, for your enemies will eat it.

Notice that this covenant contained only physical, material promises – Yahweh’s blessings to prosper, heal, protect, give good weather, increase, peace etc, but no mention of His spirit, power, total forgiveness and eternal life.

Yahweh knew they would fail to keep the covenant:

Deuteronomy 5:29 WEB
Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!

Deuteronomy 29:4 WEB
but Yahweh has not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, to this day.

Deuteronomy 31:16-17 WEB
Yahweh said to Moses, Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise up, and play the prostitute after the strange gods of the land, where they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.
17 Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come on them; so that they will say in that day, Haven’t these evils come on us because our God is not among us?

Romans 8:7 NRSV
For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot,

The lesson of the whole of the Old Testament scriptures is that ‘without Yahweh indwelling us it is impossible for us to love Him, obey Him, and keep His laws and covenant’. Even though Israel believed they could, and fully intended to do so, as we saw in Exodus 24:7-8, they failed miserably time after time after time. But Yahweh knew this all along and has unfinished business:

Ezekiel 36:24-28 WEB
For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my ordinances, and do them.
28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Jeremiah 31:31-33 WEB
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.
33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people:

In an upcoming study we will look in detail at this ‘new covenant’ and it’s relevance for us today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *