The Old Covenant

The Bible is a collection of books divided into two sections, the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains thirty nine books and the New holds twenty seven given a total of sixty six books in all.

Why do we call these two sections testaments?

The word “testament” is an old English word that means “covenant”. When the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were translated into Latin the original words for “covenant” became “testamentum” which then became “testament”. When we talk about the old and new testaments what we are really talking about are the old and new covenants.

 What then is a covenant?

A covenant is an agreement between two parties, and a Biblical covenant is an agreement between God and humanity. There are five noteworthy covenants in the Bible:

  1. Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:15-17)
  2. Noah (Genesis 9:9)
  3. Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)
  4. Moses (Exodus 19:4-5)
  5. David (2 Samuel 7:9-10)
  6. The Church (Matthew 26:26-28)

 Which is the Old Covenant and which is the New?

"The day is coming," says the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife," says the LORD. "But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day," says the LORD. "I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. - Jeremiah 31:31-33 NLT

The Old Covenant is the agreement between God and the people of Israel, mediated by Moses. The Israelites were required to obey God and keep the Law, and in return God protected and blessed them. The old covenant was conditional. If they obeyed the law they would be blessed, if they did not obey the law they would be cursed (Deuteronomy 30).

In Exodus we have the beginning of the Old Covenant. The Law is given at Mount Sinai outlining the relationship between God and man for the rest of the Old Testament.

'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.' This is the message you must give to the people of Israel." ... And all the people responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has commanded." So Moses brought the people's answer back to the LORD. - Exodus 19:4-6, 8 NLT

Through this covenant, God wanted to create a unique nation, a people that would share Himself with the world, a nation of priests. A priest was a man who stood before God representing the people, but he also stood before the people representing God. Being a kingdom of priests, they were to be a special people who would represent God before the world. God is looking for people to represent Him. Israel was to be God's representative to the world. That was God's desire and intention for these people that they might represent Him to the world. "A kingdom of priests, a holy nation.” The Old Testament is the story of how God sought to create a unique nation as a global witness of Him and how the people struggled with or ignored His expectations.

When the Israelites left Egypt there were six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children (Exodus 12:37). Scholars estimate around 2.4 million Israelites plus an unknown number of Egyptians and the herds and livestock. This is a group of people who were oppressed in slavery for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). Isaac and Jacob were nomads with no nationality. The last of their family to be a part of an established government was Abram before he left the city of Ur.

2.4 million plus people in one place who knew nothing about how to worship God or run a nation with one man in charge. Order would need to be established quickly or chaos would soon result. The law was given to teach the people how they were to worship, how to treat each other, and to set them apart as a unique people amongst the nations.

They saw the plagues, the red sea, the pillar of cloud and of fire, they know God is among them, but they don’t know what God wants, only what Moses tells them. They believe Moses speaks for God but they are not going to like everything in the law so what happens when someone questions Moses' ability to convey God’s commands?

Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you. Then they will always trust you." Moses told the LORD what the people had said. ... On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram's horn, and all the people trembled. ... All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram's horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. - Exodus 19:9, 16, 18-19 NLT

Then God gave the people all these instructions: "I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. - Exodus 20:1-2 NLT

The Ten Commandments are not just rules given to Moses to give to the people; God Himself was heard by all 2.4 million people thundering out of a cloud of fire.

God has always wanted His people to be unique in the world. To be in the world but not part of the world. To be a group that makes everyone else wonder why and want to know more. The law is a list of do’s and don'ts, it is about how to get along with your neighbor, but that is only where the law begins. The law is also about being unique, it is about being holy and set apart in an unholy world, it is about making all other nations ask why and want to know more.