The Story of Scripture, Part 7 – The Covenant at Sinai

Having journeyed through the biblical story thus far, at this point we should take a moment to consider the great importance of the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. For the purposes of seeing the greater unity of the whole biblical narrative, it is vital to understand that this Sinaitic covenant was intended to mimic the very first works-based covenant in the Garden of Eden. In the same way that Adam received God’s moral law (written on his heart), as well as the the positive commandment not to eat of the tree; even so Israel also received the moral law on Mount Sinai (10 commandments), as well as it’s associated contextually specific commandments. Moreover, the same promise was given: Sabbath rest, conditioned on obedience. 

Of course, the nature of the rest promised to Israel was different in that it was typological, yet as the author of Hebrews later demonstrates, it was profoundly connected to Adam’s original promise of eternal rest by way of a type-antitype relationship. Viz., Even as eternal Sabbath rest (heaven) was promised to Adam for his obedience, temporal national rest (land of Canaan) was promised to the people Israel for their obedience. Canaan was to stand as a figure of nothing less than the New Heavens and the New Earth, all of which constituted a vital part of the biblical story. Indeed, it was through these very types and shadows, that God would show Israel (and later, the Gentile world) of their great need for the Saviour first promised in Gen 3:15.

We see this dynamic start to play out immediately. Because sin had spread to all men through Adam, Israel had proved to be no better than their first parents in keeping God’s law. In the very same way as Adam, Israel became guilty of severe covenant transgression, and so incurred the rightful judgment of God.  But if God knew that Israel was going to break the law, what was the point of giving it to them in the first place? Romans 5:4 provides the answer;

Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam… .

While the people of Israel had always been sinners, until the point of the Mosaic Covenant, they did not understand that they, like Adam, were covenant-breakers. In other words, if they had not received the Law, they would not have seen that their sin deserved the very same covenant judgment as Adam’s sin had. And even though they might have forgotten about what had happened in the garden, their failure to keep the law proved to them that they were in fact ‘in’ Adam (and just as guilty of breaking the covenant as he was). In fact, this is the very reason that this function of the law applies not only to Old Covenant Israel, but to all who come from Adam (me and you)! And this is why Paul tells us in Gal 3:24: 

“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith”.

By the establishment of all the covenant laws, God showed His holiness to the people. The message that came to Israel was this: Your God is Holy. And you, a sinful people, cannot approach Him . . . unless He makes a way for you! Indeed, the only way that they could gain access to the presence of God was through the mediation of a priest and the offering of a blood sacrifice. This, of course, gave them an astounding picture of the Messiah who was to come; the Messiah who would be the very fulfillment of the ‘way’ (which God had made). He would be the Great and Eternal High Priest; His own body and blood would provide the sacrifice (the perfect Lamb of God); and he would even be the true fulfillment of the temple itself (by standing as God’s ultimate meeting place with men).

The Story of Scripture, Part 6 – Closer to Christ With Each Covenant

Over a period of four hundred years, since their first move to Egypt, Jacob’s sons (Abraham’s descendents) grew from a large family into a massive people group. Indeed, so much so that Egypt’s king at the time began to perceive this fast-expanding racial minority as a real threat to his kingdom. To stamp out the potential danger, Pharaoh reduced the Israelites to slavery. The ultimately satanic nature of this oppression was clearly manifested when Pharaoh ordered that all the male babies be taken from their mothers and killed (this occurs once again later at the time of Christ’s birth under Herod). Very significantly, however, we note that on both of these occasions, God protected the birth of the chosen deliverer.

When Moses was a grown man, God called him to lead his people out from under the yoke of Egyptian slavery. In a series of amazing incidents, ten plagues brought God’s judgment upon the Egyptian gods (each plague an intentional provocation and defiance of Egypt’s so-called gods). Eventually, the Israelites were enabled to leave Egypt and travel through the wilderness toward Mount Sinai. God miraculously parted the Red Sea for them, allowing nearly three million people to walk across the dry ocean bed. Soon, the Egyptians decided to chase after the Israelites, but God caused the ocean to close in upon them, drowning the entire army.

With this deliverance behind them, God made a covenant with Israel, and set them apart as a priestly nation,  chosen to mediate God’s promised blessing to the nations. This then, leads to the next covenant in the biblical story: the Mosaic covenant;  bringing us another step closer to the Saviour first promised in Gen 3:15. Where the Noahic covenant promised to preserve a humanity from whom the Saviour would come, and the Abrahamic covenant narrowed this promise down from that of humanity to a specific race (seed of Abraham); now, in the Mosaic covenant, God was promising to set apart a specific nationality from among Abraham’s descendants. In this way, we see how God’s plan of redemption was continuing to unfold. The lineage that led to the promised Messiah was becoming more and more specific.