18 October 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law--The First Covenant

What we have seen over the last few months is God has been speaking with Moses, giving him not only the Ten Commandments, but also many commands and ordinances that would act as a kind of interpretation of those Ten Commandments. And today we are going to look at the birth of the nation of Israel. And starting today we are going to begin a study of the Old Covenant that God made with the people of Israel. 

Alexander MacLaren, a Scottish preacher from around the turn of the 20th Century, said this—
“An effort is needed to feel what a tremendous and unique fact is narrated in these words. Next to the incarnation, it is the most wonderful and far-reaching moment in history. It is the birthday of a nation.”
Today, if you found enough people who have been alive long enough, and you asked them “When was the nation of Israel created?” If they knew their recent world history they would tell you the nation of Israel—as we know it—was founded on May 14, 1948. And depending on their political outlook, they may say that the United Nations stole the land from the Palestinians and gave it to the Zionist Jews. And that perspective is very faulty and has no basis in historical fact. Because, if we look at the end of Exodus 23:30-31“30 I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land. 31 And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River.” So the land that God promised the people would extend from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Arabian Desert to the Euphrates River. So if the United Nations had really given Israel all the land they deserved, they should have given them part of Iraq as well. 

There will also be those who will say that the only reason Israel gained the land that we read about them gaining in Scripture was because they took it by force from the peaceful inhabitants living there. Well, they did take it by force, but that force was the hand of Almighty God. Listen again to Exodus 23:30“I will drive them out from before you.” It was God who drove the people from the land. And if we stop and think about it, all the earth belongs to God anyway, and if He wants to give a portion of land to a certain people—well, it all belongs to Him and He certainly has that right. Psalm 24:1The earth is the LORD's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. Deuteronomy 10:14Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it. 1st Chronicles 29:11“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all.” So God has taken a small portion of this great big planet we live on, that belongs to Him anyway, and He has given that little portion to the people of Israel. 

Now this was not some new idea that God came up with. Back in chapter 19, God makes His covenant with the people that He will give them that little portion of land that belongs to Him anyway. Exodus 19:5“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” Well, in Exodus 24, the covenant between God and the people of Israel is ratified. Let’s start with Exodus 24:1-61 Now He said to Moses, "Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. 2 And Moses alone shall come near the LORD, but they shall not come near; nor shall the people go up with him." 3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has said we will do." 4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 

What’s happening here is this: God has finished giving all the commandments found in chapters 21-23. And He sends Moses down the mountain to speak those words to the people. Whereas Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, Moses delivered what might be called the “Sermon Beneath the Mount.” And when Moses finishes delivering these words to the people, they all cry out, “You betcha! We’ll do everything God says to do!” And once the people agree, verbally, to bind themselves to these commands from God, Moses puts the whole thing in writing. And then he does what was customarily done by his ancestors, which is to build an altar to God, and to offer sacrifices. The first example of this is found immediately after the flood, in Genesis 8:19-2019 Every animal…went out of the ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

 After Noah, the next person we read about building an altar to the LORD was Abraham. When God called Abram out of the land known as Ur of the Chaldeans, God promised to make a great nation of him. And it was at this time that God promised to give his descendants the land we read about in Exodus 23-24, and doing so hundreds of years before. Genesis 12:1-81 Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. 6 Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. 

So God called Abram out of the land of Ur—what we now know as SE Iraq—and God has promised Abram that he will make a great nation of him. And as a symbol of his belief that God will do what He says He will do, Abram builds an altar of stones to the LORD. The Geneva Bible Translation Notes—
“It was not enough for him to worship God in his heart, but it was needful to declare by outward profession his faith before men, of which this altar was a sign.”
And here, Abram makes a public display of faith in God by means of this altar. And after Abram displays his faith in God, God ratifies—seals—the covenant He has made with Abram, and we see that in Genesis 15:1-20. Now, I realize we’re looking at some big pieces of Scripture, but in order to get the full picture of what’s going on in Exodus 24, we do need to look at these sections whole. Genesis 15:1-201 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." 2 But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!" 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." 5 Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. 7 Then He said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it." 8 And he said, "Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?" 9 So He said to him, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." 17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites." 

In many cultures at the time, this was how a covenant was ratified. An animal was killed and cut in half. Put one half over here, the other half over there. Then the two parties walked through the middle of the split flesh. There were other ways this was done, but there was always the shedding of blood to seal a covenant. So the covenant between God and Abram was sealed with a sacrifice, and we will now see that the covenant between God and Moses was sealed with a sacrifice. Let’s flip back to Exodus 24:5-85 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said, we will do, and be obedient." 8 And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words." And believe it or not, this is another one of those places where we see Christ in the OT. God who made this first covenant with Israel, and it was ratified by the shedding of blood. Now, this sealed this FIRST covenant--the covenant by which God swore He would accept their sacrifices as a way to cover over sins. However, this covenant said nothing of taking away and forgiving their sins.

However, as we will see in a more in-depth way next time, when Christ shed His blood on the cross, the NEW covenant was ratified and all those who lived by the terms of that old covenant were forgiven of their sins. Hebrews 9:15-20 (NASB)15 He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. 18 Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you." Listen to verse 17 again—For a covenant is valid only when men are dead. God made this covenant with Moses. We know that Moses died. But is the writer of Hebrews talking about Moses? No. Did God the Father die? No. Then who is the one who died—the one who made this covenant with Moses? The blood that Moses sprinkled on the people was a picture, a symbol, a shadow of the blood Christ would shed for them—and us. When God made His covenant with Abraham, they sacrificed the three heifers and so forth to ratify that covenant. But God ratified the new covenant that we are under by the sacrifice of His Son. 

In Exodus, God was making a covenant with the people, that not only would they would inherit this land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants, but also that He would provide a means by which they could offer a substitute for themselves when they sinned. That is, even though the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and by the righteousness of God that person deserved to die, God provided a way by which their sin could be transferred to a being which had not sinned, and that sin could be dealt with in that manner. Hmmm...I wonder what (or, rather, Whom) THAT would be pointing to? But, those sins would not be blotted out until the NEW covenant was in force. So until Christ died, the sins of the people who believed the promises of God were not blotted out and taken away—they were simply covered over by the blood of bulls and goats. Again from the Geneva Bible Translation Notes—
“A reason why the covenant must be established by the death of the Mediator, because this covenant has the condition of a testament or gift, which is made effective by death, and therefore that it might be effective, it must be that he that made the Testament, should die.”
When Grampa Joe makes out his will, and promises to leave his double wide to Cousin Billy Joe, when does Billy Joe get that double-wide? While Grampa Joe is still alive? Or does he have to wait until Grampa Joe passes away? In much the same way, God promises, throughout the giving of His Law, that He will forgive the people’s sins. But that forgiveness was not given until Christ died.

Exodus 24:9-189 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. 11 But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank. 12 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them." 13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, "Wait here for us until we come back to you. Indeed, Aaron and Hur are with you. If any man has a difficulty, let him go to them." 15 Then Moses went up into the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain. 16 Now the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. 18 So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
In verse 12, God tells Moses that He will give him tablets of stone. It was on these two tablets of stone that God would write His Law. And it is that Law by which all the world is judged. Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter—the Law of God is the Law for all mankind. Romans 3:19-2019 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. However, at the time God gave Moses that Law, were the Israelites to judge the other nations by that Law? Were they to go out to the Hivites and stone all the Hivites they found working on the seventh day? No. It was given TO Israel, FOR Israel's sake. By the same token, does ignorance of God's Law excuse those who live contrary to the commands in that Law? Whether the Hivites or Perizzites 3500 years ago--or the savage in New Guinea today? No. As Paul said, Romans 2:12--For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law.
It’s not by trying to keep the Law that one is saved, because no one can keep the whole Law. In fact we probably break God’s Law more times than we know even in the course of a normal day, and without really even trying. So God promised to, as we would say, “Put it in writing”—God would put His Law in writing, written in stone, so that when someone transgressed that Law, and they were brought before the judges, the judge could say, “You saw your neighbor’s donkey going astray and you did nothing. You even took possession of it. And in the Law it says ‘You shall return your neighbor’s donkey’ and if you take possession of that donkey you will restore it and give him 3 or 4 more.” And it was under that Law that the people of Israel lived for the 1500 or so years before Christ. 

But they were not saved by trying to keep every jot and tittle of that Law. In fact, the ones who were saved were saved because they knew they couldn’t keep every jot and tittle of that Law, and who knew they were sinful creatures who fell far short of the glory of God. And even now, unless one accepts the terms that God provides for forgiveness of sin, that person who tries their best to be "good" and yet dies apart from forgiveness from God will die in their sins, be judged by the Law, and be found unrighteous and condemned. Those who trust in their own righteousness, and think that they are good enough and that they are keeping every letter in the Law are in fact trusting in their own righteousness and as we talked about last week, in about as gentle of terms as possible, they are trusting in dirty rags. “Monthly” rags, if you will. 

That’s why Jesus said that it’s not simply the physical act of killing someone that is murder, but even using hateful words is tantamount to murder. That lusting after someone in your heart is just as much adultery as sleeping with them. And since it says in Psalm 119:96Your commandment is exceedingly broad, we could almost say that coveting is theft in the heart, and in fact Paul calls it idolatry (Colossians 3:5). The Law was not meant to save anyone (Galatians 3:21); it was given to show that every human being is lost apart from Christ. It was not meant to make our “good deeds” exceedingly good, but as the apostle Paul says in Romans 7:13So that sin…might become exceedingly sinful.
That’s why God declared, through the prophet in Jeremiah 31:31-34“31 Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
John Gill wrote—
“[It is new] because of its new mode of exhibition; not by types, shadows, and sacrifices; but by the ministry of the word, and the administration of Gospel ordinances…and because it is a…better covenant, best of all; better than the covenant of works, even better than the covenant of grace; in the clear manifestation and extensive application of it; and in the ratification of it by the blood of Christ; besides, it provides and promises new things, as a new heart, and a new spirit.”
We will talk more about the differences between the "old covenant" and the "new covenant" next time.

Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.