From Abraham to Moses
After God had made His Covenant with Abraham and his fleshly descendants through Isaac, God established this Covenant with Abraham’s son Isaac and then again with Isaac’s son Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to ‘Israel’ and at this time the twelve tribes of Israel were formed. Eventually, during the time of Joseph, the ‘children of Israel’ moved into Egypt and Joseph gained favour with Egypt’s leader, the Pharaoh. But after this promising and prosperous beginning, new rulers subsequently gained power in Egypt and the ‘children of Israel’ fell out of favour. Thus, four hundred years after Abraham, the ‘children of Israel’ found themselves in slavery in Egypt under hard and cruel taskmasters. Many called out to God, groaning and suffering under their servitude. ‘God heard their groaning and he remembered His Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob’ (Exodus 2 v 24). ‘As the time drew near for God to fulfil his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die. At that time Moses was born’ (Acts 7 v 17 – 20).
Many will be familiar with the story of Moses. As a descendant of Abraham he was destined for a life of slavery, but his mother placed baby Moses in a basket in the riverside reeds where the baby would be discovered and have a chance of a better life. A princess, the daughter of Pharaoh, Egypt’s leader, discovered him. As a result, Moses was brought up in the palace as an Egyptian. But in due course God appointed him to lead the ‘children of Israel’ out of Egypt to the land promised by God to Abraham and his fleshly descendants through Isaac. There was a series of confrontations with Pharaoh and these resulted in various plagues. Eventually, after letting the ‘children of Israel’ go and then changing his mind and going after them, Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the Red Sea. This event of the ‘children of Israel’ leaving Egypt is known as the Exodus.
The Covenant at Sinai
God came down from the spiritual realm of heaven to meet Moses on Mount Sinai. It was here that God made a further Covenant with the ‘children of Israel’ – not with all of humanity – but with Abraham’s fleshly descendants through Isaac. This Covenant is an elaboration or enhancement of the Covenant that God made with Abraham. In it, God revealed more details, more information about His plan of restoration in general and his purposes for the ‘children of Israel’ in particular. ‘Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my Covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19 v 3 – 6).
Note that once again this is a conditional Covenant. It is a Covenant that is restricted to the ‘children of Israel’ – to the fleshly descendants of Jacob. It is a Covenant whose promises will come into effect only if the ‘children of Israel’ obey God and keep God’s Covenant. If they disobey or break the Covenant, then the promises will not come effect or they will begin to fail – but if they turn back to God again, then God will show favour: “‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors – their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies – then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord”. These are the decrees, the laws and the regulations that the Lord established at Mount Sinai between himself and the Israelites through Moses’ (Leviticus 26 v 30 – 46).
Covenant promises at Sinai
In addition to and as an elaboration of God’s promises in His Covenant with Abraham, God now declared that the ‘children of Israel’ would be God’s treasured possession. Out of all the nations of the earth, they would be the most favoured by God. God promised that the ‘children of Israel would be:
- 1) God’s treasured possession out of all the nations of the world
- 2) A Kingdom of Priests
- 3) A nation of cleanliness, set apart and pure
The Book of the Covenant
Accordingly, in due course, God said: “These are the laws that you are to set before the children of Israel” (Exodus 21 v 1). God gave the Ten Commandments to the ‘children of Israel’ (Exodus 20 v 1 – 17). ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a Covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the Covenant – the Ten Commandments’ (Exodus 34 v 26 – 38)
But the Ten Commandments are just part of a whole collection of laws that make up the ‘the Book of the Covenant’ (Exodus 24 v 7), the collection of laws and promises that we have in Exodus 20 v 22 to Exodus 23 v 33. These are made up of civil, social and religious laws and it appears from Exodus 24 that these laws, received by Moses on Sinai immediately after the delivery of the Ten Commandments, were at once committed to writing and collected into the book known as ‘the Book of the Covenant’ (Exodus 24 v 7) This was regarded as an especially sacred volume. First and foremost are the laws that concern the worship of God, which fall into two groups: –
- 1) Laws against idols
- 2) Laws concerning altars (Exodus 20 v 23 – 26).
Second, laws respecting ‘human rights’ occupy thirty-two verses of Exodus 21. They fall under some twenty different headings, beginning with the rights of slaves and ending with compensation to be made for injuries to a person caused by cattle. Third laws concerning ‘property rights’ and these extend from Exodus 21 v 33, to Exodus 22 v 15. After this comes a miscellaneous selection laws, under about twenty-five headings, some concerned with Divine themes, others with human themes such as the civil organization of the state. The ‘Book of the Covenant’, in little more than three chapters, contains about seventy distinct laws.
The ‘children of Israel’ agree to the Covenant
The ‘children of Israel’ agreed to abide by God’s Covenant and this was formally established: ‘Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24 v 5 – 8).
God’s Law is given a place of honour
God’s Law had a place of honour among the ‘children of Israel’. Many will be familiar with the Ark of Covenant from the popular ‘Indiana Jones’ movie.
The Law was placed in this Ark. Here it is described in the Bible: “Have them make an ark of acacia wood – two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold moulding around it. Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you…..Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant Law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25 v 10 – 16; 21, 22).