In the diagram above we are continuing through the second pillar under the blue oval reading SEED. Having discussed all of the Scriptures in pillar one that defined why the Biblical Gospel is Creational, as well as discussing Gen. 3:15; 6:18; 12-22 in the previous posts, we have now come to Exodus 20-24 on the third line of pillar 2. These chapters are the subject of discussion in this post as we continue to define why the biblical Gospel is Covenantal.
*This is a successive blog journey building on the concepts and themes as laid out in the previous posts. If you are just joining us you can certainly glean from just reading this post, however we are operating in more of a book form, which is why I suggest reading the previous posts first, or at least Post #1 to have the foundation of what we are slowly working out.
Some clarification on terminology – we shall be employing the term covenantal in direct opposition to Covenantalism, which purports the idea that Israel has no remaining ethnic calling; or that it has all become subsumed in Christ and the Church (For more thoughts on this see post #5:The Words of the Covenant are Literal). Those who hold to this doctrine by its own name incidentally contradict themselves, since theirs is the belief that the covenants no longer have a distinct future fulfillment. Though they name themselves as Covenantalists, they are quite anti-covenant, and it is a remarkable misnomer in the theological world today.
God made a name for himself among the nations of the earth when He delivered Israel from captivity. His name as Creator of the heavens and the earth was something that He had previously held objectively without human witness. In contrast to this former title, in seeking the surname of “God of Israel”, He performs great signs and wonders “in the sight of Israel and all the nations.” His name, YHWH, was now attached to Israel as “their God.” His name carried the reverence and power resultant of the event, even to the fairly distant nations who hear of the acts He performed in Egypt as seen in Joshua 2 when the spies are in Jericho,
“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Seaa for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.b 11When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
YHWH had shown Himself mighty in the sight of all the nations with this great act of deliverance. In the verse above we see the summary of who Rahab perceives this God to be – “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” He is Israel’s God, and He is over the heavens and the earth, confirming the two identities we established in the former post. As promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier, Abraham’s God delivers his descendants through the womb of the Red Sea and gives birth to His chosen people as He leads them to Mt. Sinai. This is where we find ourselves in this post.
The Sinai Covenant
In Genesis 15 we beheld Abraham asleep on the blood-splattered ground of that ancient yet sacred place while God initiated His covenant with him. He needed not respond, for God was declaring what He himself would do. Abraham’s role thereafter was simply to believe what God had said and it was going to be accounted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom. 4:3). At Mt. Sinai however, we have the entire ethnic lineage of Abraham standing wide awake before God and committing themselves to obey His words. In the former event, an unconditional vow was made by God while Abraham sleeps – the terms of which are entirely contingent upon God; yet with Moses, God speaks aloud from a mountain to the very lineage He had promised Abraham, and that lineage is sprinkled with the blood of the covenant which confirms the agreement between the two parties represented––YHWH and Israel. In both covenants, blood is spilled as a confirmation and seal of their veracity.
The Sinai covenant is the expansion or continuation of the covenant made with Abraham. You could say that the Abrahamic covenant takes on flesh at Sinai, in that the barren womb of Sarah had been opened by God to give birth to the promised Isaac who begot Jacob, who became Israel, who then had twelve sons that became this innumerable multitude that passed through the sea. The promise to Abraham which had most likely been so difficult to believe by faith was now a surging throng of beating hearts standing in expectation at the foot of this mountain. God had been faithful to do what He said and He would now take the liberty to speak to this people about the place of responsibility which they now found themselves in.
In Exodus chapter 20 we see God give the terms related to Him being their God. What is usually called The Ten Commandments may be better translated as The Ten Words. These words should be understood, as were the previous ones to Adam, Noah, and Abraham, as being covenantal in nature. To view these words as a list of regulations is to divorce them from the identity of the God they are connected to, since they are a profound revealing of who He is and what He is like. It is from these Ten Words that we learn of YHWH’s attributes.
Without delving into much detail surrounding the Words themselves, we can summarize by saying that God was simply revealing Himself and asking His covenant people to be like Him. He is acting as the initiator of the marriage, having created Israel through Abraham’s lineage and having brought this lineage into freedom from Egyptian slavery, by leading them down the aisle to the altar of Horeb. In this union which YHWH seeks with Israel, there are very serious terms to abide by from here on. Israel was in effect to live in such a way as to represent their God in every aspect of their lives as a witness of their commitment. Hence, all of God’s words to Israel at Sinai in effect are actions that are to be carried out in the likeness of marriage fidelity.
“Turn, O backsliding children, says the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one from a city, and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion…” (Jer. 3:14).
“For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth,” (Is. 54:5).
These two Scriptures among others give a picture of how God Himself views His relationship with Abraham’s lineage. However, the law is binding in more ways than one.
The Ten Words
The laws of how Israel was to understand and represent God are the Ten Words found in Exodus 20. In chapters 21-23 we find the ordinances, which are the things relating mainly to how the people of Israel were to operate in relation to each other as well as with the surrounding peoples that they would interact with while under the covenant of those Ten Words. As you read the ordinances you will see that they convey their own commands, but it is not our goal here to break these down extensively. It should merely be stressed that Israel was commanded to keep the Ten Words, while the ordinances seem to be an infrastructure of sorts therein to enable them to do that. Or to put it differently, if the Ten Words are a lush garden, then the ordinances are the hedge to help keep Israel within its bounds.
For those who are interested in the covenantal terms used in the Bible, Psalm 119:1-8 is the most extensive list found in the Bible.
Aleph. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments. I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments. I shall keep Your statutes; Do not forsake me utterly!
The terms ordinances and statutes are typically used synonymously, as are some of the other terms. But here we are simply trying to keep the big picture of the Ten Words and so we will not incorporate these other terms until a later time.
For now we just need to understand the covenant God makes at Sinai as if it were a single organism with many parts. Even if we do not understand the significance of all the parts, the big picture of the covenant is what is important. I like to picture it as a set of gears that are all connected to each other. As one gear rotates one way, its ridges cause another gear to turn resulting in the turning of another, and so on and so forth. Here is a simple diagram picturing what I mean.
Let us understand God’s covenant with Israel in this way, as if they are the internal gears of a watch upon which time progresses. The main gear upon which everything is set is the Ten Words, or the covenant. Just as the vows in a wedding ceremony are in effect the covenant itself, the Ten Words function in this same way.
Let’s take a moment to look at the instruction of Eden to better understand these Words. In the garden there was the command to not eat from this tree. When Satan tempts them he says, “If you eat the fruit then you will be like God.” In essence, the tree would make them like God because they would possess the knowledge of good and evil.
In Exodus 20 the Ten Words are as the Edenic command, except now there are “ten trees” they are commanded to not eat from. But ironically, here God is actually calling Israel to be like Him, which is the opposite of how the command in Eden functioned. Whereas eating the tree actually made Adam and Eve like God, now, not eating the ten trees makes them like God.
With the command of the tree in the garden it seems that God was seeking to maintain man’s innocence by keeping man from being like Him in possessing the knowledge of good and evil. We could have never known the resultant bondage for humans when they possessed the knowledge of good and evil or the consequences that would befall them. It seems that man’s original desire to be like God and to possess the knowledge of good and evil in the garden is now being imposed upon him full-force at Mt. Sinai.
The Ten Words are truly a perfect representation of how God defines and delineates between good and evil (i.e. His knowledge of good and evil). In effect, you have God simply giving man what he asked for when he ate of the fruit: the knowledge of good and evil. But this seems to be something God did not initially want in the garden, or He at least did not want man to take the matter into his own hands. We unfortunately and very literally did, and the result of us possessing it would naturally be a measure of discipline to the human. The Law given at Sinai also functions in this way.
The point is that God is the Ten Words spoken––they are what He is like! When we originally ate the fruit from the tree, we were choosing to be like Him as Satan said. At Sinai, is it possible that God is just bringing man’s decision to fruition? Since we went after the knowledge of good and evil, ought we not now also bear the burden that comes along with that knowledge?
Therefore you have a type of bittersweet covenant taking effect at that mountain. Bitter in the sense that God is again giving men what He originally did not want them to have by their own strength or decision. Why? Because men weren’t created to steward this knowledge apart from His Spirit… it in fact results in our very death! In Romans 7:7-9 Paul expounds upon this saying,
“I would not have come to know sin except through the Law…I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.”
The know Paul speaks of here is knowledge in the Greek. He is saying, “I would not possess the knowledge of sin (good and evil) without the law.” In other words, this law comes upon Israel as the bitter knowledge of sin, which is the same as the knowledge of good and evil. Since the garden, men have had to carry the weight of the knowledge of sin and we should consider this as a Godly discipline.
You may find it unusual to perceive the Ten Words as discipline, but let’s consider what Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees says.
“for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life…” (1 Cor. 3:6).
It doesn’t become clearer than this. Our choice in the garden, and the resultant giving of the Ten Words at Sinai is actually driving a death in us because it reveals that we aren’t good like God is. But the Spirit is what gives life!
Paul actually calls the law the ministry of condemnation a couple of verses later (1 Cor. 3:9). Once men possessed the knowledge of good and evil there was a responsibility fixed to the knowledge: man understood good and evil and the demand was upon him to choose good. The ministry of condemnation brings condemnation in that it is a very difficult thing for man to choose good, as Jesus, the Psalmist and Paul say,
“Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18
“They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; There is no one who does good.” (Ps. 53:1)
“…as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE.” (Rom. 3:10)
When man chose the bondage of the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God, there was a binding necessity that he be like God in the respect of choosing good, or being good. Since man is not good like God, he then stands condemned. We stood condemned in Eden and we stood condemned at Sinai.
Also in this verse Paul says, “the letter kills” which is very similar to the language of “the day you eat from the tree you will die.” So we have an interesting comparison taking place. As the knowledge of good and evil is proclaimed by the voice of YHWH at Sinai we should consider that it is the continued requirement and responsibility of what man chose in the garden.
“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” (Gal. 3:10).
Therefore, the law, just as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, became a curse upon Israel in regards to the requirement to fulfill it. This serves to give reason as to why God has no misgivings concerning man’s ability to keep the law and why the ultimate goal is His Spirit enabling hearts to keep the law. God Himself cries out in response to Israel’s commitment at Sinai,
“Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut. 5:29).
God did not give the law with the hope that Israel might somehow fulfill His Ten Words in perfection. God gave the law to tutor them in the reality that their hearts were unable to keep His law and that they stood condemned before Him as all men did. This verse reveals that God does not possess some odd ambition for the law to be fulfilled with the current state of their heart. Yet, what their hearts are incapable of at this point, will later be overturned as He reveals in the prophets His end-goal of giving them new hearts. In this way the law becomes their tutor, as Paul says, to show them that they cannot deliver themselves nor fulfill His words in their own strength… that they are in desperate need of the Messiah promised who will give them new hearts at His return.
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith,” (Gal. 3:24).
Paul continues to unravel this tension,
“I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus! (Rom. 7:22-24).
A tutor teaches and instructs a person in a subject they are not competent in. They may be familiar with the general principles, but they are not an expert. When God speaks the knowledge of good and evil at Sinai, the tutoring begins. Sure, people knew some general principles about what their conscience told them was evil, but no one possessed accurate judgment of what was good and what was evil. The Ten Words written on tablets of stone was to tutor them in this. It was the literal concrete definition of what was good and what was evil according to God. It teaches us that we are simply evil and that no one is good. It gently leads us to Christ crucified, the only One who was good and sinless, having no evil in Him at all. In effect, that tutor is spanking us in correction, revealing our sin, showing us the truth about our hearts and pointing us towards Him continually.
Let’s simplify this section with a couple sentences:
Man’s sin in the garden resulted in him possessing the knowledge of good and evil.
At Sinai the Ten Words were given by God as the substance of the knowledge of good and evil.
Man was accountable to possessing the knowledge of good and evil and it rested upon him as a demand (from a holy God) that he be good like God.
Man was incapable of being good like God. The Ten Words tutored man in good and evil, revealing that man could not fulfill the “good” because he was inclined towards “evil”. He thus needed to hope in the Promised One who is good and would ultimately give them His Spirit within to change their hearts.
19“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God,” (Ez. 11:17-20).
If we honestly look upon the world and ask the question, “What would the earth be like if everyone kept these Ten Words perfectly?” it gives us a glimpse into what the Millennial Reign of Jesus could look like. The eschatological reality of man and God living together on the earth is that God’s own Spirit has fully resurrected our bodies and hearts to make us good like Him.
“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.” (Isaiah 59:21).
The Fulfillment of the Ten Words
Looking forward to many of the verses we are familiar with in the New Testament, it is important to first note what God says about Abraham when He appears to Isaac his son in Genesis 26:5,
“…because Abraham obeyed Me and kept my charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws,”
God’s simplified charge to Abraham can be found in Genesis 17:1 “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.”
Gen. 26:5 is the first mention of charge, statutes, laws, and ordinances within God’s interaction with men. This is important because we should note that if Abraham kept them ALL before God ever announced them at Mt. Sinai, there must be some underlying implication of simple obedience and faith upon which they ALL do hinge. For it would have been impossible for Abraham to have somehow mystically kept all of these things before they were ever spoken.
The other option is that what God had told Abraham to do, Abraham did, and this was fulfilling God’s charge, commands, statutes, and laws. It was simply believing God in faith and being obedient to what He said as opposed to completing a checklist of regulations to then be found righteous as a result. This informs us in great detail concerning how Jesus and Paul will later interpret the fulfillment of the Law.
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Rom. 13:8
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Rom. 15:3
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Gal. 5:14
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Mt. 7:12
We do well to keep this in mind as we search out such important matters. It shows that having faith in what God says and then responding to what He said through obedience is actually the biblical equivalent of fulfilling the whole Law when our hearts are currently unable to actually fulfill it. We therefore assume that Abraham simply did this by faith. Looking forward, we are encouraged that we are no longer bound to this curse of the law. As Paul says,
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” (Gal. 3:13-14).
Rom 4:13-16 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. 16For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
Rom. 7:4 “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”
With these passages we are getting a little ahead of ourselves, but I just couldn’t help including the hope found within them! So as we look back at Sinai we can keep this perspective, that in the midst of the knowledge of their inability to keep the law and covenant, is the very tutor that is teaching them to grasp for Messiah Jesus. The hope for the promised deliverer of Genesis 3:15 shines brighter than ever as the intensification of the discipline continues and man’s inability to fulfill the law in his own strength stands out as a lone mountain in a grassy plain.
In summary of this post, we remember that the big picture of the Ten Words is what’s important––that the Ten Words are the actual covenant. The Ten Words function as continued discipline from the garden in that they bring death and condemnation, and they are a curse which reveal our sin and need for something else. It is therefore tutoring us towards the something else––Messiah and His Spirit––in the same way Genesis 3:15 was. The instruction and the tutoring of the law is what’s gravely important to grasp here. Whereas many often perceive the law to be an unfair requirement God gave man to fulfill, we have begun to consider that the law was simply God giving man what he asked for in the garden. In reality it was man’s choice to have the law revealed to him when he ate the fruit in the garden and this resulted in him being in bondage to it (high-five Adam). In God’s manifold wisdom however, this discipline of the burden of knowledge regarding good and evil was actually intended by Him to tutor and lead us to eternal life in His Son Jesus. This deep mystery is profound and holy and beautiful to ponder, and certainly reveals that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose…”
The law is still tutoring to Messiah today and may we be the ones who praise His unchallenged wisdom and remain thankful that as He possesses the knowledge of good and evil “No evil dwells with Him, (Psalm 5:4) and “that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). This is the all-powerful God we serve in newness of the Spirit! Amen.
Photo of Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia. Notice the charred top of the peak on the left that might look photo-shopped, but google “Mt. Sinai Saudi Arabia” and you will see photos like this one. They are certainly very real. Also, for further interest watch this documentary:
2 thoughts on “The Gospel From Genesis to Revelation #8: The Sinai Covenant”
Wow Thank you so much, this is “manner from heaven.”
Mark C Flanagan CFP ADFP