#9: Israel’s Agreement to the Sinai Covenant

exodus_covenant

Diagram Position

Our placement in the diagram above is in the second vertical pillar titled Covenantal. On the third line of this pillar we identify Exodus 20-24. In the previous post we covered several details of these chapters, however there are a couple more events left remaining which need appropriate attention. If you have not read the previous posts (#7 and #8) then you may have missed some critical information and context regarding where we are in the large story of Exodus and Sinai. The aim of this post is to help us understand in a simple way the following two things:

  1. Israel’s Agreement to the Sinai Covenant
  2. Identifying the “remnant” in Scripture

Israel’s Agreement to the Covenant

Now that we have sought a proper understanding regarding the importance of the Ten Words, we can observe the final stages of this Exodus in chapter 24.

The divine Creator has just stepped into human history in the most dramatic way possible. Even with this statement our propensity can be to theologically jump ahead to God in the flesh in His Son Jesus as when He enters human history in the most dramatic way imaginable, but we must not do this… yet! This is when our theology can become a stumbling block and often make us blind to the foundational layers that provide the context for Messiah. As humans, we are often times drawn to the biggest event and thus lead ourselves to believe we understand everything else because the biggest event is in sight. Yet thus far in our story, Sinai is the biggest event in sight and we must process it accordingly.

I know many people, myself included, that never watch soccer/football. Every four years however, these same ones gather together and dedicate many hours to watch the World Cup. Why? Because the World Cup is the grand event! However, one cannot watch the World Cup and actually understand what has taken place the previous four years. Yes, we understand the game of soccer, but of the painstaking amount of hard work, training and preparation that have led these few choice teams to the World Cup we are completely unaware. Before the grand event there are many formulative events, and it is within the context of these events that we ought to understand the grand event.

Likewise, too often a person’s theology begins at the Cross even though this grand event is 2/3 of the way through the story. In such cases one might be able to understand simply the idea of salvation, for God has made it very easy to grasp––repent, believe in Jesus, and let your life reflect His waiting for the hope of His second coming. However, the long and grueling process that has unfurled since creation until the time of the Cross is the story that belongs to Israel and their history. This is why we must stop here and revel in the astonishing events of the Exodus and let them inform our understanding of what will come thereafter.

After God speaks the Ten Words and the ordinances, the people heartily confirm with their own mouths that they will obey what He has said.

“Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!’… Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words,” (Ex. 24:3-8).

The all powerful God of the heavens and the earth spoke words from heaven in a conversation with Israel and the people responded to Him. Does this strike you as incredible? This is not a section of Scripture that can be overemphasized. As I’ve encouraged us many times, we must re-sensitize ourselves to these great events of Scripture. At Mt. Sinai  Moses recounts the words of YHWH and all the people answer with one voice before YHWH, saying, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do!” Moses then takes the book of the covenant and reads it aloud in all of their hearing and the people respond, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”  The implications of this conversation are astounding.

The Creator of the heavens and the earth is purposefully continuing the promises He previously made to Adam, Noah and Abraham by making a covenant with their direct lineage at this mountain. He is remaining infallibly faithful to His previous words to those men because His words are covenantal in nature as we’ve already discussed many times. What is noteworthy here is that whereas YHWH had been their God previously, in these Words He becomes the God of this great slave-people, turned free-men, at the mount. In this covenant, the people are taking responsibility upon themselves to uphold all of the words God spoke. In effect, Israel is now saying their vow to YHWH to become His wife, and He their Husband.

Words from Numbers 30:1-2 come to mind here:

“Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the word which the Lord has commanded. If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

Israel has admittedly made a binding vow to the Lord to keep His words, which by relation make them His people––His possession. We discussed in the creational pillar that the original Creator owns His possessions, which are the heavens, the earth, and man. We also discussed in the bottom portion of that pillar that the only other thing given creational language in the Bible is when God speaks about Israel. He emphatically says,

“But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel,” (Is. 43:1). 

Quite literally the former lineage of Abraham were a no people living in the quagmire of slavery, confined to hard labor within the borders of Egypt. This was not a nation, this was an oppressed slave-people. Yet this was the wisdom of God. His miraculous deliverance of Israel from their bondage is what creates the nation that is standing before Him at the mountain. They had been led through the womb of the Red Sea, and being birthed through God’s very own hand they now stood as His newborn child at Sinai as a fulfillment of what YHWH had spoke to Abraham. He created Israel through this deliverance, and He plans on being faithful to her as the remainder of the above verse says,“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” It is important for us to keep the creational idea at the forefront of our understanding of the people Israel because this is how God identifies Israel in Scripture. The nation of Israel is quite literally God’s treasured possession.

Deut. 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Sinai is also a covenant of blood as was the case with the covenant with Abraham where the animals were cut in half and the pieces laid on opposite sides for God to pass through.

“So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words, (Ex. 24:8).

Then another amazing thing happens:

Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.11Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank. 

Wow. The elders of Israel ate and drank with God. There is a lot one could say about this, but we must refrain at present. God is seemingly making the covenant official by eating and drinking with His new people – a glorious testimony of the event in the future when Jesus returns––the wedding supper of the Lamb. In the midst of this event the Lord calls Moses to come up to where He is.

12Now the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.” 15Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. 18Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

I feel like saying, “It was finished,” here in regard to the truth of the covenant made between God and Abraham’s lineage, Israel. It actually happened in the blazing glory that is described. YHWH Himself, who sits in the heavens, who formed the very earth we live on chose this people to be His own that day and nothing has changed in the days that have passed between then and now. I cannot fathom why or how we could ever arrive at the New Testament and think that all of these passages we have belabored no longer mean anything because they were subsumed in Jesus’ life. The only change I can identify is the tragic loss of reality with regard to what happened that day, and what people, yes even Israel itself, believes happened. We must continue fighting the good fight and recover this truth!

The Golden Calf

It’s only shortly after this covenant is affirmed by the people that we hang our heads in disbelief at the speed with which the people turn from God and His commands to worshiping the golden calf. So often the brazen nature of Israel’s actions can cause us to point the finger at her failure.

After hearing the voice of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth speak from within the fiery, quaking, and thunderous storm that engulfs the mountain, and only days ago having vowed to be obedient to His words–while Moses is atop that very same mountain meeting with their God and speaking in their stead because the people had beheld His power and thought they might die if He kept speaking–– the people renege on their promise and create a golden idol there in the immediate sight of YHWH, breaking the very first Words that had come out of His divine mouth. OMG.

4″You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments,” (Ex. 20:4-6).

The golden cow formed by the hands of man must’ve been so measly compared to the power emanating from Sinai’s summit! Again, it seems so terribly preposterous to consider how these people bow down to something formed of yellow metal when the One true God is seated up there in majesty! But here is man at his finest, and we must not accuse them.

In such an instance we cannot point the finger and wag our heads in disbelief, without first seeing ourselves there also participating in the gross absurdity and atrocity of worshiping this golden beast. We must admit that it would have been us drunken-dancing about the desert bush intoxicated with laughter and immorality. If we deny this, then we are deceived about our own hearts and Jeremiah 17:9 is calling out wisdom to our ear: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? May the lingering blindness to our own condition be recognized as we look upon Israel in hindsight, and let us grieve there with God over what happened to them on that fateful day.

What we should see in this instance follows the very vein of the previous post: Man is totally unable to deliver himself from his own deep rooted depravity and sinful nature. We are incapable of carrying within us the knowledge of good and evil and choosing good apart from Him! It’s only just after the encounter that we are found bowing down to the golden idols. His voice was just heralded through the heavens, yet shortly after drowned out by our befuddled laughter and idolatrous howling. In Israel we clearly see the condition of man and His need for the redeemer promised in Genesis 3:15… and even there in such great loss that promise shines through as the rainbow after a great storm.

Nevertheless, we emphasize again that God did not have an unrealistic expectation concerning Israel and their perfection regarding the covenant. His anger indeed burns against them and Moses intercedes on their behalf before the Lord relents. Moses later recounts this story of Mt. Sinai in Deuteronomy 5:29 relaying to us that when the people said, “We will keep this covenant and be obedient,” then God cried out in response,

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).

The overflow of God’s heart here is not exaggerated! He is not deceived about their inability to keep His commandments on their own. As we discussed, it seems that God in His great understanding and mercy would have looked ahead to the future fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 when the head of the serpent is finally crushed and He puts His Spirit within Israel forever enabling them to keep His commandments perfectly.

“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”’ 18When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19And 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,” (Ezek. 11:17-20).

and,

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances,” (Ez. 36:27).

We strengthen ourselves with the continual reminder of this apocalyptic hope and long for this eschatological reality to come to pass in the physical land of Israel!

The Birth of the Remnant

The idea of the remnant in Scripture is defined from the very beginning of our Bible and traces the veins of Scripture all the way to Revelation. It is something that we must be well acquainted with so that we might understand how God’s plan of salvation functions and how the good news in our Bible comes to fruition. We can simply begin with the flood.

In the flood judgment we see a principle instituted by God: 8 people are saved out of the judgment upon the whole of the earth. Though this may initially offend us, the right response rather would be to ask, ‘Why were 8 even saved?’ God could’ve ended the whole thing at the flood if He had chosen. As we’ve discussed however, it would have broken His promise which He will not allow. It was His mercy to save 8 and continue His promise which would save many more.

Moving forward to Joseph at Pharaoh’s right hand in the midst of the great famine of Egypt, the idea of the remnant is directly articulated by Joseph, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” Again, in the context of judgment a remnant is preserved––this time the direct lineage of Abraham. It should be noted that God Himself is divinely preserving a posterity in order to bring about His original promise of Genesis 3:15–this Seed must be born as a man to crush the head of the serpent and this is done through the preservation of a physical remnant in Noah and his family, and in Joseph saving all of Jacob/Israel’s lineage.

There at Sinai in the midst of gross idolatry there is called out from the midst of the assembly the ones who have not joined themselves to this defiling act. We know that Joshua and Caleb must’ve been among these ones since they are praised by the Lord for their faithfulness to Him, and we also see 3000 Levites come to Moses. Let’s read:

“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. 27He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’”28So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29Then Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves today to the LORD—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.”

Surely as soon as Moses appeared in the camp there would have been an outcry of surprise, utter shock, and dreaded fear of the imminent consequence. They had figured him dead! In the passages just before they had petitioned Aaron saying “We don’t know what happened to this Moses, make us a god to worship!”, and now here was this Moses filled with the fury of YHWH, the stone tablets that had been written by the finger of God leaving his tired hands and flying through the air in protest of their abdication. The face that still shone from its mountaintop experience would’ve certainly held a long scowl of anger and grief as he commanded the Levites who crossed onto his side to slay each one’s brother, friend, and neighbor. A great loss occurs as the correct response to a great sin. Then, he commands them to grind the beast into dust and mix it in the community stream for them to drink as a punishment. While the bitter taste of their idolatry lingers on their thirsty tongues they bury their families in the sands of that great desert. The metallic remnant in their mouths reminds them of their error with each shovel full of dirt covering the corpses of those they loved most. The Prophet whom God had chosen to lead this people then hikes the same trail back up the mountain where he will double-down on the forty-day fast in the glory of God.

Enter the Remnant. 

The Levites, you could say, were the first identified remnant called directly out of the new nation of Israel because it is in the context of necessary judgment that some are preserved from the judgment. This is a principle that YHWH will use from this time forward throughout the journey of Scripture with regard to His mercy and kindness in saving as many wicked men as possible from required judgment or punishment. The Levites who are just as carnal and possess the same heart condition as the others present in the camp make a righteous decision and then become protected from the judgment that Moses declares upon Israel. However, we are told that they fall in the wilderness with the others, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun,” (Num. 14:30). Six-hundred thousand men left Egypt in the Exodus and two crossed the Jordan into the promised land of that entire generation. Remarkable. It is not by exaggeration that Jesus says, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it,” (Matt. 7:14). It is with the remnant that we identify the original context of such a powerful statement.

To be brief and to stay on point, let’s evaluate the idea of the remnant by simply looking at a couple passages of Scripture whilst remembering that the linear trajectory of our Gospel is pushing all things to an apocalyptic end. What I mean in other words is that the idea of the remnant may be found here and there but the idea finds its fulfillment at the very end. Let’s look at a few examples.

Isaiah 10:20-24 Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. 

In this passage Isaiah is prophesying of the Babylonian Exile of Israel, and that after that captivity a remnant will return to the land. Although this prophecy finds partial fulfillment in the context of Isaiah’s day, it also looks towards its final fulfillment out of the final judgment since the context is that they will never again rely upon the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord. This is clearly yet to be the case. We will do well to understand this regarding the prophets: Their words are ultimately prophesying about the end times and millennial fulfillment. Many will disagree with this view but my solace lies within YHWH, His Bible, and a method of interpretation that is consistent from Genesis to Revelation, seeking to let it stand upon itself.

Another passage;

“As for you, son of man, take a sharp sword; take and use it as a barber’s razor on your head and beard. Then take scales for weighing and divide the hair. 2“One third you shall burn in the fire at the center of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. Then you shall take one third and strike it with the sword all around the city, and one third you shall scatter to the wind; and I will unsheathe a sword behind them. 3Take also a few in number from them and bind them in the edges of your robes. 4“Take again some of them and throw them into the fire and burn them in the fire; from it a fire will spread to all the house of Israel… (Ch. 6) However, I will leave a remnant, for you will have those who escaped the sword among the nations when you are scattered among the countries. 9“Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations. 10“Then they will know that I am the LORD; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.”’

In Ezekiel, this idea shines forth over and over but here is one of the clearest pictures of what we are trying to define. The remnant are the hairs tucked into Ezekiel’s robe signifying that the Lord draws the few to Himself (that have sought to be faithful) and protects them for survival in the midst of judgment. The idea is the same in Ezekiel 9 with the men who have their heads marked by the Lord:

The LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.”5But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. 6“Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.”

I would argue that this is the same marking that is seen in Revelation 7 with the 144,000:

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel (v. 2-4).

I believe these two to be the same event of marking in the end-times. It may have also happened in Ezekiel’s day, but the point of the idea is again pushing towards the apocalyptic revelation and fulfillment of what the prophet saw. There will be a very literal number of 144,000 Jewish persons saved/preserved in the land of Israel as the remnant that is present to receive their Jewish Messiah when He returns on the clouds of heaven. This is clearly seen in Zechariah as well:

“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,” Declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones. “It will come about in all the land,” Declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’

Here we see that 2/3 of the people of Israel will eventually be cut off from the land but the Lord will bring 1/3 through the fire of tribulation, at the end of which they cry, “The Lord (YHWH) is my God!” Again we are seeing the Lord’s principle of preserving a remnant. This remnant is the same remnant that is literally in the land crying out when Jesus returns:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn,” (Zech. 12:10). 

This is the same event that Jesus mentions in Matthew 23, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

It is the remnant of Israel that sees Him and it is a very literal seeing since He is descending on the clouds of heaven. It is these ones who are mourning over the One who comes to deliver them out of the great fire of tribulation – the One whom their ancestors crucified on the Cross.

I firmly believe that the Bible presents a final time of judgment which will come upon the house of Israel because of covenantal unfaithfulness stemming back to Sinai. This is known as the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer. 30).

7‘Alas! for that day is great,
There is none like it;
And it is the time of Jacob’s distress,
But he will be saved from it.

As in the judgment that proceeded from Sinai when Joshua and Caleb were preserved to be able to enter the promised land, during this final judgment a few are preserved as the hairs tucked into Ezekiel’s robe, as the 1/3 that passes through the refiner’s fire in Zechariah identified as an actual number of 144,000 Jewish people living in the land during the judgment in Revelation 7 and Ezekiel 9. They are the very ethnic jews who will look upon Him whom they’ve pierced and be saved out of Jacob’s Trouble with Messiah’s return.

The idea of the remnant is also prevalent in the New Testament. Paul says in Romans 11, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” It is actually the very first verse we mentioned in Isaiah that Paul bases this idea off of starting in Romans 9:27, “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED.” So we see that even to the chief apostle the idea of salvation for Israel exists in the form of a remnant being saved.

God has preserved a remnant from man since Adam left the garden with the promise of Genesis 3:15 and that concept translates to the stock of Israel since He made His promise continue in Abraham. Whether Noah’s family, Joseph’s family, Joshua and Caleb, Nehemiah and Ezra, the apostles and the early Jewish church, even to Messianic Jewish believers today, God has preserved a remnant because His promise will not fail. He will continue to do so, even through the coming climactic judgment of Jacob’s Trouble. We will of course take a thorough look at this subject in another post.

Conclusion

The covenant that was confirmed that day at Sinai was with the ethnic lineage of Abraham–his seed. It really happened! Israel has carried these promises for roughly 4000 years, all the way through to Messiah, and rest assured they will carry them into the millennium. Let us not forget their sacrifice and their striving to obey the Lord all those years of their wandering. It is their journey, although feeble and rebellious at times, that has brought about the Messiah Himself, and will bring about His future Kingdom. Yes, even the entire fulfillment of God’s promises depends upon them – the very restoration of the earth and our bodies!

15For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom 11:15)

Indeed, all of our hope as gentiles is attached to the promises of passages such as we’ve examined here, and my prayer is that those promises are beginning to become your hope as well. We press on together in this glorious Gospel, stewarding it as faithful shepherds, and regarding it as holy unto the Lord.

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