In our last discourse, we discussed “Covenants” and how covenants between God and man sometimes resemble contracts, other times resemble promises, but always serve to define the relationship between God and man. In the Bible there are two primary convents–two “biggies.” The Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In order to explain why there are covenants, let’s do just a quick review. Remember that God created mankind “in His image,” so that we might have a personal relationship with Him. That is God’s plan for us (you) and has always been His will for our lives. Sin greatly damages the relationship between humans and a perfectly holy God; it causes a barrier or a separation between the two. The Bible, and the rest of human history for that matter, is the story of God restoring the relationship He once had with humankind.
Exodus (the second book in your Bible) picks up after Genesis and tells a story of the Hebrew people being delivered by God from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. The Bible follows the Hebrew people because they are the descendants of Abraham, the people from which God promised the Messiah (aka Jesus) would descend. After their “exodus” from Egypt, God directed Moses to lead His people to a certain mountain where He would speak to “His chosen people” face to face. When they arrived at the foot of the mountain, they did not hear from the Lord “face to face” but they did received the Ten Commandments carved on stone. Moses later reminds the next generation of Hebrew people of what took place, and why, in Deuteronomy (the fifth book in the Bible) chapter 5:
23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leaders of your tribes and your elders came to me. 24 And you said, “The Lord our God has shown us His glory and His majesty, and we have heard His voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them. 25 But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. 26 For what mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? 27 Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.”
Verse 27 is a pretty good summary of the Old Covenant, “….tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” It is important to notice that when the Hebrew people were given the Law, it was because they asked for it. God had instructed them to come to a certain place where He would speak to them “face to face.” They rejected this idea and asked for instructions rather than relationship. As a result, they received the Law. The Law is summed up in Ten Commandments, but throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy there are over six-hundred specific instructions for God’s people of which they are to follow. Another name for following a pious set of rules is “Religion”. God’s instructions were for relationship, direct communication. The people chose religion, rules to follow.
The Law is indeed God’s commandments to His chosen people and can be broken down into three categories:
- Moral Law (defining right and wrong)
- Civil Law (rules for their society/nation)
- Ceremonial Law (religious rituals preparing them for worship and an encounter with God)
This Law served to govern a new nation (Israel) and set God’s people apart from the rest of the world. Studying what God required of His people reveals certain things about God and man, which are beneficial for us to know. But two primary purposes for the Law are as follows:
- The Law defined and revealed sin and its consequences.
- The Law pointed to something better that was to come (Jesus Christ the Messiah).
A good understanding of the Law gave the Hebrew people a good understanding of some other things: First, they understood very well when they broke the Law. You don’t know you have broken a rule unless there is one. In other words, they understood their sin. The Law served to drive home this point very well–that they all fell short of God’s standards. Consequently, it made them well aware that they needed help; they needed a Savior to take their sins away and enable them to stand before a God with such a perfect standard for holiness. The Old Covenant was harsh because it consistently revealed sin; it convicted people of sin and required them to make sacrifices for their sins. It identified sin and the sacrifice required for sin in order to stay in “good standing” with God.
In conclusion, it is beneficial to understand the Old Covenant. But it is also important to realize that if you know Jesus and have received Him, you are no longer under any such Law.
Hebrew – People descended from Abraham.
Israel – The ancient land of Canaan which God led the Hebrew people to (and gave them) after leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert for 40 years. Israel is named after Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose name was later changed to “Israel.”
Jew – People descended from Judah, (Abraham’s great grandson and one of Jacob / Israel’s sons). The name “Judean” was later shortened to “Jew”.
Holy – To be separate. Technically, to be set apart from sin.