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).