THE RELATIONSHIP COVENANT?
In the last blog article, I argued that “the relationship covenant” of the Hebrew Scriptures/ Old Testament is the Abrahamic Covenant – not the Mosaic Covenant (see article, “The Promise of a Lamb: The Connection Between Abraham and the Cross“). In this article, I would like to build on that, by proving and demonstrating from the Scriptures themselves that the Sinai Covenant is not, in fact, the relationship covenant. Although it does serve other purposes, such as –
- to mold Israel into a model nation within God’s Kingdom for the other nations of the world;
- to provide Israel with instructions for operating as a nation;
- to function as a wedding covenant between God and His Bride;
- to provide God’s people with “wisdom and understanding” (Deuteronomy 4:6);
- to provide a written description of the Messiah (John 5:45-47);
- to provide a working definition of what makes God happy and what upsets Him (i.e, sin); and
- to function as an evangelistic tool to bring people to God (Deuteronomy 4:6-8).
Obviously, God’s laws, commandments, ordinances and judgments are much more than just a list of “Do’s and Don’ts.” Also, in contrast with popular opinion, God’s Law is not what establishes one’s relationship with God, rather it guides, teaches, and instructs what one is to do and believe once one is already in a relationship with Him, and this can be easily demonstrated from the Torah (first five books of the Bible) itself.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
This is important in order to have a proper perspective of the Torah (God’s commandments) and its role within the overall Scriptures. Since the second century, C.E., Christians began to have an erroneous perspective of the Torah (God’s Law) due to their separation from their Jewish roots (due to actions on both sides). They began to teach that Yeshua/Jesus died and rose again to do away with the Law of God; that it had ended at the cross. However, as I want to show here, what would be the point of that if the Mosiac covenant is NOT, in fact, the relationship covenant? Also, how can His death and resurrection free me as a non-Jew from the Law of God since, according to Scripture, unbelieving gentiles (non-Jews), are not under the Law of God (Mosiac covenant)?
remember that you [gentiles/non-Jews] were at that time separate from Christ [Messiah], excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers [foreigners] to the COVENANTS OF PROMISE, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12, Emphasis Mine)
The phrase “covenants of promise” would most definitely include the Mosiac covenant. Consequently, when I was an unbelieving non-Jew (or “gentile”), I was a “stranger (or foreigner) to the covenants of promise,” which meant that I was not under them; as a result, Rav Sha’ul (Paul) writes, I had “no hope” and was “without God in the world.” This was my condition in the world before I came into an intimate relationship with the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.
You see, in order to be redeemed from something, you FIRST must be under it. If you are not under it, you can’t be redeemed from it. Therefore, gentiles who are not in submission to the Lordship of Christ (Messiah) can not be redeemed from “the covenants of promise” (including the Mosaic covenant) since they are NOT under them.
But Rav Sha’ul’s (Paul’s) argument does not end there. He then continues,
But now in Christ Jesus (Heb. Moshiach Yeshua) who formerly were far off have been brought near (or made a part of) by the blood of Christ (Messiah). (Ephesians 2:13).
In other words, rather than the death and resurrection of Messiah removing us from the previous “covenants of promise” (as Christians have traditionally taught), it “brought us near” or made us a part of Messiah and the biblical covenants of the Tanakh (“Old Testament,” including the Mosaic Covenant), and in so doing, also made us a part of “the commonwealth of Israel.” The exact opposite of what Christianity has traditionally taught. However, there is a law that every human being, whether Jew or non-Jew (“gentile”), has been born under, and that God, from the very beginning, has seen as bondage, and that is the law of sin and death, and it is from this law that Yeshua/Jesus died to set us free from its power and control over our lives, so we can now live in intimacy with God and Him, and be able to walk in obedience to the Scriptures.
Some may believe that in spite of this argument that the Mosaic covenant is still the relationship covenant of the Tanakh/Old Testament. Fair enough, let me give you at least three reasons from the Scriptures why the Mosaic Covenant could not be the relationship covenant of the Tanakh/Old Testament.
THE RELATIONSHIP PRE-EXISTED SIANI
First of all, Israel was already in a relationship with God before Mount Siani, so how could Siani be the place where that relationship began when the relationship was already there? For example, prior to Israel reaching Mount Siani, God is already involved in doing the following with Israel:
- God hears their groaning due to the intensity of their slavery, and remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:23-24);
- God communicates with Israel through Moses and protects Israel during the plagues (Exodus 6-12);
- God is leading Israel as a pillar of smoke in the daytime and a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:17-22);
- God is defending Israel from the Egyptians (Exodus 14);
- God is providing for the needs of Israel [food, water] (Exodus 15:22-16:21; 17:1-7);
- God is teaching Israel about the Passover (Exodus 12-13) and the Sabbath (Exodus 16:22-30).
And all of this occurs before Israel even gets to Mount Siani. So how is Siani the beginning place of Israel’s relationship with God, if God is already involved in a relationship with Israel before they even get to Mount Siani? Also, how is the foundational commandments for the Sabbath and Passover part of the Mosaic covenant when these are given BEFORE Israel ever reaches Siani?
SIN OF THE GOLDEN CALF
The next evidence that the Mosaic covenant is not the relationship covenant can be seen in the intercession that Moses presents to God after Israel’s sin with the golden calf. Contrary to the classic film, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston, Moses was not up on Mount Siani THE FIRST TIME receiving the commandments when Israel commits the sin of idolatry with the golden calf. This movie’s presentation implies that Israel sinned in ignorance since Moses had not brought the commandments down from Siani yet when this sin was committed. However, as I will show, this clearly contradicts the biblical record.
According to Scripture, Moses goes up on Mt. Siani the FIRST TIME, and he receives from God orally the Ten Commandments, as well as laws and commandments regarding the proper treatment of slaves, personal injuries, property rights, various other laws, laws regarding the Sabbath and the land, the three national feasts, and the conquest of the land (Exodus 20 – 23). Moses then comes down from the Mount, tells the people “all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3), and the people positively respond to the instructions, teachings, laws and commands by saying,
All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do! (Exodus 24:3)
So the people were, in fact, informed of the requirements God had of them. Not only that, but Moses “wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:4). This means that Moses had written out everything that God had told him – including the Ten Commandments – BEFORE God engraved them on tablets of stone. And Israel would have had this written document with them at the base of the mountain when Moses went up the mountain again to receive the tablets. They could have reviewed these documents any time they wanted, so how could they have not known what God expected of them?
Not only did Moses tell the people God’s expectations and write down everything, but they also sealed the people’s agreement with a blood covenant. They offered up burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings. So Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls (Exodus 24:5-6), and then it says,
Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (Exodus 24:7)
So Moses told them God’s expectations TWICE and they agreed to it TWICE. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel go up onto the mountain and have a covenant meal to solidify the covenant with God, and Moses writes,
and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:10-11)
After them hearing God for themselves (Exodus 20), Moses recounting God’s instructions, laws and commands twice and them agreeing twice, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders physically see God themselves, and then eat and drink while sitting up there seeing Him before they go down the mountain.
Then God has Moses come up the mountain again, but this time to receive the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on them, as well as to receive the instructions, laws and commands regarding the Tabernacle, its various elements, the Levitical priesthood, and more on the Sabbath (Exodus 24:15 -31:18). Consequently, it is while God is nearing the end of all these instructions, laws and commands regarding the Tabernacle, priesthood and Sabbath that Israel commits the sin of idolatry with the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-10). Consequently, the Tabernacle and the priesthood are not the result of Israel’s sin with the golden calf, as I’ve heard erroneously taught several times by Christian ministers, since God was completing His instructions on these when the sin of the golden calf was being done.
MOSES’ INTERCESSION FOR ISRAEL
It is after God informs Moses of this heinous sin by Israel that Moses begins interceding for Israel. God was so angry about their sin that He was willing to wipe them all out and start all over again with Moses, as God had begun with Abraham (Exodus 32:7-10).
Moses begins interceding by stating that if God destroys all the people of Israel, then the Egyptians will think that God delivered them and brought them into the wilderness with the evil intent of destroying them (Exodus 32:11-12). This would, of course, impugn God’s character among the Egyptians, especially since He had gone through all the trouble with the plagues to demonstrate His character and power among them. However well formulated this line of reasoning may seem, it did not change God’s mind.
Then Moses brings up the covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is only after he reminds God of His covenant with the patriarchs that He changes His mind.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You did swear by Yourself, and did say to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever. So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exodus 32:13-14)
If the Mosaic covenant was the relationship covenant, then why didn’t Moses bring that covenant up? I mean, God was going to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Their relationship with Him was definitely in trouble, yet Moses does not even say, “Hey, God, don’t you remember the covenant we just made with You? Remember all the sacrifices?Remember Aaron and I, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders coming up and having a meal here?” But he doesn’t. Why? Because the Mosaic covenant is not the relationship covenant, but the covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis 15. (Again, see my article, “The Promise of a Lamb: The Connection Between Abraham and the Cross“)
‘TIL THE LAST DAYS
A third reference which clearly demonstrates that the Mosaic covenant is not THE relationship covenant is found in Deuteronomy 4. In this passage, God prophesies what will happen to Israel in the future:
And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the LORD shall drive you. And there you will serve other gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. (Deuteronomy 4:27-28)
But even though this will be the case, God makes Israel a promise of restoration:
But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, IN THE LATTER DAYS, you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant WITH YOUR FATHERS which He swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4: 29-31)
Notice that this promise is good, even to “the latter days” or “the last days.” This is an example of a passage that has not been fully fulfilled in the Law of God. The other interesting thing to notice is the phrase “the covenant with your fathers.” Who are “the fathers,” according to Scripture? “The fathers” is a biblical term for the three patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel (Exodus 3:15-16; Exodus 4:5; Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 29:13; and Deuteronomy 30:20).
Ask yourself the question, “Why is God going to remember that particular covenant, even when someone confesses their sin before God?”
If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness, which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me – … then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. (Leviticus 26:40, 42)
Notice what covenant is God remembering when people confess their sins: the covenant He made with the three patriarchs of Israel – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – that was established in Genesis 15, and then handed down to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, and then renewed with Israel when they reached Mount Siani. It was this same covenant, found in Genesis 15, that Yeshua/Jesus fulfilled when He died on the cross and was resurrected again on the third day:
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], that God has fulfilled this promise to the children in that He raised up Jesus [Yeshua],… (Acts 13:32-33a)
This is a small part of the sermon preached by Rav Sha’ul (Paul) on his first missionary journey in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch. Notice that he connects the “good news” with “the fathers” and the resurrection of Yeshua/Jesus. By doing this, he is arguing that the resurrection is, in fact, the fulfillment of God’s promise to the fathers.
Going back to the passage in Leviticus, notice that Moses does not say that God will remember the covenant of Siani or Horeb when people confess their sins – but the covenant of the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This, of course, ties in with Rav Sha’ul’s (Paul’s) presentation of the good news: that God had fulfilled His promise to the fathers through the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The Mosaic covenant then did not begin the relationship, but instead, it built upon the foundation of that relationship (Genesis 15), intensified the intimacy of the relationship, and then explained the responsibilities and privileges of those who would choose to participate in that relationship more fully.
MARRIAGE – AN EXAMPLE
My relationship with my wife did not begin the day we were married, rather we began to get to know one another socially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually while we were dating. However, when we got married – a type of covenant – we intensified the relationship by intensifying the relationship in all areas, including becoming one physically, which was not part of the original dating relationship. In the same way, God intensified His relationship with His Bride, Israel, at Siani, but not to the extent He desired since Israel pulled back from Him and committed the sin of the golden calf. The full extent of the level of intensity that He desired would begin to occur centuries later in the Upper Room (see Acts 2:1-4). Even today, God is still working on developing the level of intimacy He desires among His people. It is a level of intimacy that has not yet been fully realized or reached.
Did Yeshua/Jesus die to do away with or annul God’s law? No, what would be the point of that since God’s law is not the foundation of a relationship with Him? There is no reason to do away with it, annul it, or replace it. Instead, Yeshua/Jesus died to deal with the sin issue, and to free us from the power and control of the law of sin and death. God’s laws, commandments, statutes and judgments were given to teach us, God’s people, how to live in this world with Him and with one another. They did not establish the relationship, they merely expounded upon and explained our obligations and privileges as participants within that relationship.