By Eugene Garner
THE MOSAIC COVENANT
AND THE THEOCRATIC KINGDOM
At Mt. Sinai "God placed the chosen people in the relation of covenant fellowship with Himself, founded His kingdom in Israel, established in the covenant relationship an institution of salvation, furnished the covenant people with the means of obtaining the expiation of their sins, and securing righteousness before God and holiness of life with God, in order that by the discipline of His holy commandments, under the guidance of His holy arm, He might train and guide them to the holiness and glory of the divine life," (Keil, in, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament). It was by the counsel of God's own love that Israel was chosen to be His special treasure, His peculiar people and elect nation.
II. GOD PROMISED TO RULE OVER THIS ELECT NATION AS THEIR THEOCRATIC KING.
To this end, He dictated, through Moses, a righteous system of statutes and ordinances that would keep the nation aware of its covenant-responsibilities. This was given in three parts, and was recorded in what is called "the book of the covenant," (Ex. 20:21-24:8).
A. THE DECALOGUE (10 commandments) WAS GIVEN FIRST, AS A BRIEF STATEMENT OF ISRAEL'S TWO-FOLD MORAL RESPONSIBILITY, (Ex. 20:1-17).
These words were spoken audibly, by God Himself, in the presence of the whole nation; they would, henceforth, recognize Moses as God's representative -- the recipient and mediator of the covenant. The audible voice was the divine attestation of Moses' authority to speak to them in God's stead, and that they might believe him.
Pre-supposing the existence of sin and evil desire in their hearts, the commandments were given in a prohibiting and negative form. They were later written on tables of stone "by the finger of God." They set forth God's will for the lives of men.
B. THE LAW OF THE ALTAR PROVIDES A SYMBOLIC REMEDY FOR SUCH AS FAIL TO MEET THE STRICT REQUIREMENTS OF THE DECALOGUE, (Ex. 20:24-26; 23:14-19).
- Israel's first allegiance, love and responsibility must be toward God.
- "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (vs. 3).
(1) Prohibiting polytheism and idolatry in thought, word or deed, (Deut. 8:11, 17, 19); Jehovah-God must be the exclusive object of their worship.
(2) Commanding men to love, fear and worship the true God, (Deut. 6:4-5, 13, 17; 10:12, 20).
(3) To love anything more than God, or to account anything more worthy of obedience than His commandments, is to violate this commandment.
(4) Ruskin has suggested that the worst of all infidelity is to say, by our actions: "There is a Supreme Ruler, only He cannot rule, His laws won't work; no laws but those of the devil are practical."
- "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images . . ." (vs. 4-6).
(1) God must be worshipped spiritually, (John 4:23-24).
(2) Acceptable worship and praise cannot be offered to something symbolizing the invisible and spiritual God; nor can such a symbol aid in the impartation of spiritual understanding.
(3) Such symbols desecrate true worship and misrepresent the true nature of deity.
(4) This does not mean that natural objects cannot be used to illustrate spiritual truths; but to attempt an artistic representation of deity is an abomination to the invisible God, and will be considered a breach of His covenant, (Rom. 1:21-23; Comp. 2 Cor. 5:16).
- "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain"
-- lightly, thoughtlessly, carelessly, insincerely, or in mockery, (vs. 7).
(1) Forbidding perjury -- swearing falsely.
(2) Forbidding profanity.
(3) A single affirmation ("yes") or denial ("no") of a statement is the strongest argument a man of integrity can make.
- "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy," (vs. 8-11).
(1) This recalls God's rest -- following six days of creative activity.
(2) The law of the Sabbath was for man's physical and spiritual need; even the land needed rest.
(3) It looked forward to the sabbath-keeping that still "remains," for the elect, in Christ's coming Kingdom, (Heb. 4:9).
(4) But there is a "rest" that God's people may experience in this present life, (Jer. 6:16; Matt. 11:28-30). To know this rest:
(a) We must consider ourselves naturally unrighteous, un-done, unclean and unprofitable; but as reconciled, justified and made fruitful in Christ.
(b) Abiding in Him, and allowing His perfect will and life to be manifested through us, we may enter into His rest, and know His peace.
(c) A poem that speaks:
"Lord, I believe a rest remains,
To all thy people known,
A rest, where pure enjoyment reigns
And thou art loved alone.
A rest, where all our soul's desire
Is fixed on things above;
Where grief, and pain, and fear expire --
Cast out by perfect love.
This is the feast of saints on high,
But I may taste below;
And sweeter tastes God will supply,
As into Christ I grow."
- Israel's second obligation, as expressed in the Decalogue, was toward their fellow-men (and each other) -- made in the image of God.
- "Honor thy father and thy mother," (vs. 12).
(1) This is the connecting link between the two "tables of the law"; since God is the Father of Israel, the nation should give Him due honor and obedience as such, (Mal. 1:6).
(2) No person truly honors God who fails to honor his earthly parents -- obeying God's Word, (Comp. Matt. 15:3-9).
(3) A promise of prosperity and long life is made to those who obey this commandment; the present generation could well profit by giving attention to this ancient precept.
- "Thou shalt not kill," (vs. 13).
(1) This is the supreme crime against mankind and deserves extreme punishment -- modern psychology to the contrary notwithstanding.
(2) The heinousness of this sin appears when we remember that man is made "in the image of God."
(3) Jesus demonstrated how many are guilty of violating this commandment who have never imagined their guilt, (Matt. 5:20-26).
- "Thou shalt not commit adultery," (vs. 14).
(1) Physical adultery, a sin against the body, is unspeakably abominable in God's sight, (Matt. 5:27-32).
(2) But spiritual adultery -- desecrating God's holy name by unholy flirtations and alliances with falsehood and evil -- is far worse, (Jer. 3:6-10; Ezek. 23:36-42; Rev. 2:22).
- "Thou shalt not steal," (vs. 15.)
(1) Selfishness is inappropriate in God's people; it causes one to claim much that is not rightfully his -- and to the hurt of another.
(2) We must learn contentment with God's provision -- giving thanks for His faithfulness.
- "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor," (vs. 16).
(1) One must not speak slanderously of his brother, or listen when others do so; his good name IS our business.
(2) Every derogatory word about a brother must pass certain tests: Is it true? kind? necessary?
(3) God will not allow scandalous gossip, or vicious misrepresentation, of His anointed people (or churches) to go unpunished. BEWARE!!
- "Thou shalt not covet . . . anything that is thy neighbor's," (vs. 17).
(1) This is not merely a desire for more; it is a desire for what belongs to someone else.
(2) It leads to hatred of others, and actually lies at the root of all sin, (I Tim. 6:10).
(3) The seriousness of this sin is illustrated in many ways, (Mark 7:21-23; Eph. 5:5; Josh. 7:21; I Cor. 6:10; Luke 12:15).
- The requirements of the law are succinctly stated by Jesus, (Matt. 22:35-40; Rom. 13:8-9).
Had God stopped with the giving of the Ten Commandments, the nation of Israel would have been left in complete despair; its prospect for the future would have appeared hopeless. This would have revealed the terrible heinousness of their sin, the total bankruptcy of human merit and self-effort, without showing the way out of this terrible impasse. But God deals mercifully with those He is preparing for glory, so He shows them His own sufficiency -- and His faithfulness to meet their need. He will show them the way out, but He will also keep them reminded of their own inability to measure up to that standard of perfect righteousness required for maintenance of covenant fellowship with Himself, (Rom. 3:19-20; Gal. 3:19-24). They must ever realize their utter dependence on Divine grace. Sin's wage is death; God's free gift is eternal life to such as commit their way unto Him.
There are several basic ideas revealed in these few verses which help one to get an over-all picture of what may be called "the law of the altar."
C. A CIVIL LAW WAS ALSO GIVEN THE KINGDOM PEOPLE TO GOVERN THEIR NATIONAL LIFE, (Ex. 21:1-23:13). Briefly stated, this involved:
- God can be approached, without death to the sinner, only as He seats Himself on a throne of grace.
- Though the approach of Adam and Eve in the Garden was direct and immediate, that was before sin had established a terrible enmity.
- The roaring thunder, flashing lightning and piercing trumpet blasts from Mt. Sinai awakened fear in the heart of the nation because of sin; Israel dared not approach God face-to-face.
- Since man's best is as an unclean thing to God, it is only by grace that He may be approached at all.
- God prescribes, in the law, a way whereby He may be approached - it is by way of an altar.
- It may be an altar of dirt or stone; it must be made of something that will not burn.
- It may not be of hewn stone; the tool or craft of man will pollute it. No skill or merit of man is acceptable to God when dealing with sin.
- There must be no steps up to the altar; the nakedness, even of the priest's ankles, must not appear to defile the ritual.
- The altar was not an end in itself; on it sacrifices and offerings were made to God.
- Burnt-offerings were necessarily first in order; in them man confessed himself a sinner and offered as God had prescribed for his cleansing.
- Peace-offerings could only follow an acceptable offering that had been made for sin.
- Seven specific offering are dealt with in Leviticus and Numbers -- each depicting a different aspect of the Sacrifice that Christ would eventually make for us all.
(1) The whole burnt-offering, (Lev. 1:1-9; 6:8-13).
(2) The meat, or meal-offering, (Lev. 2:1-16; 6:14-18).
(3) The peace-offering, (Lev. 3:1-17; 7:11-21).
(4) The sin-offering, (Lev. 4:1-21; 6:25-30).
(5) The trespass-offering, (Lev. 6:1-7; 7:1-7).
(6) The red heifer-offering, (Num. 19:1-10).
(7) The Yom Kipper-offering, (Lev. 16); made once each year when the High Priest entered into the Most Holy Place.
- In his approach to God, the sinner required the assistance of a mediator.
- Israel, at Mt. Sinai, was willing to do whatever God required; but ran and stood afar off saying to Moses: "Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die."
- So, the priests were ordered to assist the offerers as they brought their sacrifices before the Lord. And provision was made for a High Priesthood in the house of Aaron, (Ex. 28:1; 29:9).
- We have but One Mediator -- the Lord Jesus Christ, (I Tim. 2:5-6).
- There was an ordered time of approach; three times a year every male in Israel must appear before the Lord to keep a feast, (Ex. 23:17; 34:23-24).
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread, (Ex. 23:15).
(1) This commemorated Israel's historic deliverance from Egyptian bondage, (Ex. 10:2; 12:8, 14; Lev. 23:5).
(2) It involved 7 days -- beginning with Passover on the 14th day of the first month.
(a) During this time they abstained from all servile work and ate unleavened bread.
(b) The first and seventh days were holy convocations when sacrifices were offered, (Num. 28:16-25; Deut. 16:1-8).
- The Feast of Harvest, Weeks, or First fruits, (Ex. 23:16; 34:22). The first fruits of the land must be brought to the Lord -- ever remembering that their possessions were not of their own getting, but of His giving. This foreshadowed the resurrection of Christ, (I Cor. 15:20, 23).
- The Feast of Ingathering, or Tabernacles, at the end of the year -- after all work had been completed. For seven days all native Israelites must dwell in booths made of tree branches and boughs -- remembering that God made them to dwell in booths when He brought them out of Egypt.
- Specific ritual-instructions were given, in connection with each offering, for use in approaching God.
- In the fullness of time Jesus came -- offering Himself without spot to God, (Gal. 4:4-5).
- He came as the fulfillment of every symbolic representation under the law, (Heb.9:11-14; 10:1, 4, 11-14).
- By His perfect righteousness, He satisfied every demand of the law in behalf of those who trusted, and those who are trusting, in God's faithful provision, (Heb. 7:25-28).
- Through Him, as our Mediator and Great High Priest, we may draw near to God with boldness, confidence and assurance of acceptance; His blood was truly shed for many "for the remission of sins," (Heb. 4:14-15).
- Laws concerning the rights of persons, (Chapter 21).
- Property rights (22:1-15); and inter-personal relationships (22:16-28); but God also emphasizes His claim on the first fruits of men and beasts, (22:29-30).
- Chapter 23 emphasizes the necessity of absolute integrity.
- Verses 1-9 are specific applications of the Golden Rule.
- Verses 10-13 deal with the law of the Sabbath -- stressing God's absolute claim on the lives of His covenant people.
It must never be forgotten that the law, as given by God, was good; everything that God does is perfect, (Rom. 7:12; I Tim. 1:8). Though it "made nothing perfect" it was a necessary element in bringing men to perfection.
It was truly a wonderful and blessed fellowship to which Israel had been called in the covenant. But everyone recognizes the fact that maintenance of this covenant-fellowship was conditional.
In obedience to God's Word (faithfulness to His covenant) the covenant-fellowship-life would be maintained; by disobedience it would cease (die) -- the covenant life-line being broken.
The one indispensible element required to fulfill the law was love,
(Rom. 13:8-10). Were men to love God perfectly while ignorant of this law, its discovery would add no new feature to their behavior; nor would it discover anything in such a life that had to be discarded. Our obedience to God can only be in proportion to our love for Him. Jesus' love was perfect; so the law was nailed to His cross and taken out of the way -- because fulfilled. But love is still the supreme necessity of our lives. We must be "by love possessed," or our lives are vain.
Someone has set Paul's love-poem to metre, and it will be an appropriate note on which to close this lesson.
"Had I the tongues of Greeks and Jews,
And nobler speech than angels use,
If love be absent, I am found,
Like tinkling brass, an empty sound.
Were I inspired to preach, and tell
All that is done in heaven and hell;
Or could my faith the world remove,
Still I am nothing without love.
Should I distribute all my store
To feed the bowels of the poor;
Or give my body to the flame,
To gain a martyr's glorious name, --
If love to God and love to men
Be absent, all my hopes are vain;
Nor tongues, nor gifts, nor fiery zeal,
The work of love can e'er fulfill."
May we truly learn to LOVE -- with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength; in such love may we serve God and each other.
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
- What did God do for Israel at Mt. Sinai?
- How did Israel receive the law?
- What was its purpose?
- What was "the book of the covenant"?
- Into what three general parts may the law be divided?
- What was the Decalogue?
- How did Israel receive it?
- Why was it delivered in this manner?
- How might the Decalogue be summarized as regards human responsibility?
- How did Jesus summarize the requirements of the law?
- What was the "law of the altar"?
- Name the seven offerings covered in this lesson.
- On what three occasions was it necessary for every male in Israel to appear before the Lord each year?
- How were the requirements of the law ultimately fulfilled?
- What was the purpose of the "civil law" given to Israel?
- Was there anything wrong with the law that God gave to Israel?
- How, according to the law, was the covenant-fellowship between God and man to be maintained?
- Is it any different today?
- Can you see any evidence of God's grace in the law He gave to govern His chosen nation?
- What two great facts were taught by the sacrifices? (See Romans 6:23)