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Theology Tuesday- Covenant Theology #7

Rembrandt 10 Commandments

Last week, we analyzed the covenant with Abraham and saw its implications and fulfillment for today and in the future. This week, we will look at the covenant with Moses.

At the end of the book of Genesis, we see that God has come through on one part of His promise to Abraham, that Abraham would have offspring. His offspring have multiplied and they are now identified as a nation, Israel. But they are not yet in the promised land, the second big promise that God had made to Abraham. They are in Egypt, living as slaves.

Yet, the promises of the covenant are not forgotten, as we see at the beginning of the book of Exodus: During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob (Ex. 2:23-24).

God acts by calling Moses to deliver His people out of Pharaoh’s hand. Exodus 4-14 tells the dramatic story of Moses’ interactions with Pharaoh and the plagues that God sends to show up the false gods of Egypt and to force Pharaoh to let the people go. Exodus 15 begins the story of the Israelites in the desert making their way to Canaan, the land God had promised to Abraham (a journey that will take forty years).

However, before they get very far on the journey, these newly released slaves have to be organized and taught how to live as free people. So God gives the people His law, the basis of the covenant with Moses. The law is given its foundational form in the Ten Commandments that God has Moses write down in Exodus 20. Right before God gives the Ten Commandments, He repeats His love for Israel and his promises: Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Ex. 19:3-6).

In the Ten Commandments, we can see the 6 parts of a typical Ancient Near Eastern covenant that we have been talking about in this series:

  1. Preamble. “I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:2)
  2. Historical Prologue. “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2)
  3. Stipulations. “You shall have no other gods before me…” (Ex. 20:3)
  4.  Depository. They were to keep the law in the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:16)
  5. Witnesses. There was no need for other divine witnesses, for God does not swear by anyone greater than Himself.
  6.  Sanctions. “You shall not bow down to [carved images] or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6)

The rest of the book of Exodus, as well as parts of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy contain laws that expand upon the Ten Commandments. These laws fall into three categories: Civil laws that dealt with how Israel specifically was to function as a nation. Ceremonial laws regarding how worship and animal sacrifice were to be handled in Israel. Moral laws specifying how people were to act. However, the only one of these three types of law that are still in force today is the moral law. This is because the civil laws were for the special case of Israel, a theocracy that Jesus redirected into the all tribes, all nations community of faith that we call the church; and the ceremonial laws were fulfilled on the cross, when Jesus put an end to the sacrificial system by offering the perfect final sacrifice of Himself.

The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes the continuing relevance of the moral law very well when it says in 19.5: The moral law binds all people at all times to obedience, both those who are justified and those who are not. The obligation to obey the moral law is not only because of its content, but also because of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. In the gospel, Christ in no way dissolves this obligation, but greatly strengthens it.

Now, as we’ve been talking about the different covenants since Adam being all a part of one big Covenant of Grace, you might ask, ‘How was the Mosaic Covenant, that was all about law, an advancement in the Covenant of Grace?’ The answer is that the law was an expression of God’s character. The more you know about someone the more you can love them. And the law was never without grace, as the introduction (what we call The Prologue) to the Ten Commandments makes clear: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

You see, the Exodus from Egypt was a foreshadowing of the work of Christ. Just as Moses delivered Israel from their bondage to slavery in Egypt, Jesus delivered us from our bondage to slavery in Satan’s kingdom. Moses slaughtered a goat to have death pass over God’s people (Ex. 12:21-27), and Jesus gave Himself to be slaughtered so that death would once and for all pass over God’s people.

God is the One who initiates with sinners, and His saving work precedes His commands for how we are to live. This is the pattern in the Ten Commandments- first God saved the people, then He taught them how to live- and it is the pattern for Christians today, as we are saved by Christ and then learn to live in covenant with God and His people. We don’t work in order to earn our salvation, we are saved and then work out of the joy and thankfulness of our salvation. That’s one of the important lessons we learn from the Mosaic covenant, and it is a truth we need to remember all the time if we are to live well, free from condemnation, as holy and beloved believers in Christ.