Having brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Land of Bondage, through the Red Sea, and into the wilderness, the people of God were made to encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. God had something special He wanted to say, and to give to the Israelites in the form of a formal Suzerain Treaty or covenant with distinct obligations and penalties if violated.
A Traditional Suzerain Covenant
The Preamble: The preamble identified the parties involved in the treaty.
The Prologue: The prologue listed the deeds already performed by the Suzerain on behalf of the vassal.
The Stipulations: The stipulation stated the terms to be upheld by the vassal for the life of the treaty.
The Provision: Provision was made fora periodic public reading of the treaty. A copy of the treaty was to be read aloud in the vassal state for the purpose of renewal. This implied that a copy of the treaty had to be stored where it could be protected for the time between the readings.
The Divine Witness: The treaty usually included the deities of both the Suzerain and the vassal
The Blessings: The blessings associated withthe treaty were contingent on whether or not the stipulations of the treaty were upheld. There were curses if the stipulations were not upheld.
The Sacrificial Meal: Would be enjoyed by both parties to show a mutual participation in, and commitment to, the treaty.
The Sinai Covenant Exodus 20 – 24
All the components of a traditional treaty, familiar to the Israelites, are found in the Sinai Covenant.
Keep in mind the conditions of the Sinai Covenant were not provided all at once. Though summarized in the Ten Commandments, the Sinai Covenant is more expansive. Fifty-two more commands are given.
The Sinai Covenant as a Suzerain Treaty
The Preamble: Exodus 20:1
The Prologue: Exodus 20:2
The Stipulations: Exodus 20:3-17
The Provision for a periodic public reading: Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Nehemiah 8:8
The Divine Witness: Exodus 20:22
The Blessings: Exodus 20:5b. 6; Joshua 1:8
The Sacrificial Meal / Ceremony: Leviticus 23:2
The Covenant at Mt. Sinai was simply a continuation of the Covenant that God made with Abraham, found in Genesis 12:1-3. Study also Genesis 15:18-21; 17:9-14. Note that Genesis 15:18-21 with Genesis 30:1-10 is often called the Palestinian Covenant
In the Sinai Covenant, the promise given to Abraham of a people is enlarged to reveal what kind of people Abraham’s descents would be if they keep the Law being given to them by the hand of God. The people would become a kingdom of priests to the nations, which means they would represent the nations before God, and God before all the nations on earth. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:1-6).
A Parenthetical Observation: Continuation and Amplification, Not Replacement
As a whole, the nation of Israel failed to become all that God intended, a remnant according to the election of grace did remain faithful to the Lord (Rom. 11:5). All of the faithful Israelites were added to in the New Testament era by Gentiles to form a stronger “spiritual nation”, which became known as “the church of God”. Study Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5, 15
The New Testament expression of the people of God is not a replacement of national Israel, but a confirmation and continuation of the true Israel, consisting of those, Jew and Gentile, who have the faith of Abraham.
“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7).
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
The true church of God continues to exist both physically, and spiritually, to be a witness to all the nations of the earth. There are no boundaries for the invisible church, for the earth is the Lord’s and the kingdom’s thereof (Psalm 24:1-3). There is no end to the holy nation over whom Christ rules, for the royal reign of the resurrected Christ is forever. From a divine perspective, on the day of the resurrection of Jesus, “The kingdoms of this world became the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever (Rev. 11:15). This reign of Christ is a present reality. It is improperly known in theology as the Amillennial Reign of Christ, for it should be known as the Present and Eternal Rule and Reign of Christ.
In the Revelation, John saw the saints ruling and reigning with Christ “a thousand years.” The Greek word translated “a thousand” is chilioi [khil’ee-oy]. The word is an adjective, in the accusative case in order to focus attention on the goal, direction, or extent of the verb (reigning), and is plural in number. In other words, the text says that saints reigned with Christ for thousands of years, not “a thousand” as the KJV has it.
Let the Church rejoice. Our Lord reigns. He is even now King of kings and Lord of lords. Moreover, our sovereign Lord “hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6).
Embracing the Sinai Covenant
After hearing the commandments and conditions of the Sinai Covenant, the people rejoiced and “answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord” (Ex. 19:8).
It was a wonderful experience for the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, filled with a cosmic display of divine majesty. “And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel” (Ex. 24:17).
The spiritual passions of the people were aroused. There was a renewed commitment to keep covenant with God, worship Him properly, and maintain social justice. Israel would be different from other nations.
A Dwelling Place for the Lord Exodus 25 – 31
Because the Lord was pleased with the response of people to His covenant offer, the Lord informed Moses that He would come and dwell in the midst of the people who were to construct a beautiful Ark of the Covenant. “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (258).
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were driven from the presence of God. That is what sin does to the soul. Sin separates the sweet fellowship of the heart with the Creator. In matchless grace God must seek out man to restore fellowship, and He does. “Adam, where are you?” “Abraham, lift up your eyes. I want to bless you.” “Children of Israel, build Me an altar and I will dwell in your midst.” Jesus said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). There is divine movement in human history from the external presence of the Lord, in the Garden of Eden, to His internal dwelling in the heart, which is far better.
A Divine Design
Every detail of the Ark, and then the Tabernacle, was given by God. There was to be an outer courtyard with an altar. In the center there was a tent, overlaid with beautiful coverings, with an inner room and an outer room. Inside the inner room, called the Holy of Holies, was the Ark. Inside the Ark were to be place three items: Aaron’s rod that budded, the Tables of the Law, and a portion of manna. Angelic creatures were to be carved on top of the Ark looking downward on the mercy seat where a blood atonement was to be sprinkled once a year.
Ark of the Covenant
In constructing the Tabernacle, and the Ark of the Covenant, much symbolism was woven into the artistic expression of all the items, including the flowers, angels, gold, and the jewels. Time should be taken to explore the symbolism of the place where God and His people came together, as they once did in the Garden of Eden.
The Golden Calf Incident Exodus 32 – 33
Though the portable Tabernacle was designed to be a place of peace and harmony between God and man, something went terribly wrong. The children of Israel allowed their sensual passions to pervert their rational judgment, leading them into idolatry. The turning away from the Lord began when Aaron proclaimed a feast to the Lord. A day designed to be a holy, soon degenerated into a day of debauchery. We read the people “rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (32:6).
The language of the Authorized Version sanitizes what took place during the appointed time to hold a feast to the Lord. Within a few hours, the children of Israel went from proclaiming their fidelity to God, and His law, to revelry. The music being played became very loud. The movements of the dancers became suggestive, and then sensual. The free flow of fermented wine reduced personal inhibitions. Bawdy laughter encouraged others to openly compete for inappropriate expressions of love, attention, and affection. When the statue of a golden calf was created, religiously minded people bowed to it in mockery.
The behavior of the people did not escape the notice of the Lord, who said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people: 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation” (Ex. 32:9-10).
Though the Lord is long-suffering, sin can reach a saturation point in a nation to the point the Lord will move to destroy it, to work with a new generation.
From a human point of view, the only thing that saved the Exodus Generation from total annihilation in one day was Moses stepped forward to act as a Priest. “And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? 12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it forever. 14 And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (Ev. 32:11-14).
Moses argued against destroying the nation as a whole, by reminding God it would be a violation of the Abrahamic Covenant, and would bring disrespect to His name. The Lord agreed. While the Lord did not destroy Israel, He did discipline the people. Some of the people were made to ingest the golden calf, after it was ground to power (32:20), three thousand died the sin unto death (32:26-28), and some were afflicted with a plague (32:35).
A Divine Self Portrait Exodus 34
Though the Law had been broken, Moses was given a new set of tablets, as the Lord proclaimed His own view of Himself saying, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (34:6-7).
God’s View of Himself: Exodus 34:6-7
- God is merciful
- God is gracious
- God is longsuffering
- God is abundant in goodness
- God is abundant in truth
- God keeps mercy for thousands
- God forgives iniquity
- God forgives transgression
- God forgives sin
- God will by no means clear the guilty
- God will visit the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation
While God is merciful and faithful to His covenant promises, He is also holy and just, and will not let the wicked go unpunished. However, when, and in what form, divine punishment will manifest itself against evil individuals depends upon the Lord. “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (1 Timothy 5:24).
The Work on the Tabernacle Continues Exodus 35 – 40
After reestablishing His Law, and His covenant commitment to Moses, and to Israel, the commission of the Tabernacle moves forward. In five extended chapters, containing precise details, the Tabernacle God would have built for Himself is revealed.
Once the Tabernacle was finished, God’s shekinah glory came and covered the tent. God would dwell with His people. While the word “shekinah” does not actually appear in the Authorized Version, the divine visitation is without question. Manifesting Himself visibly as a Pillar of Fire by night, and a Cloud by day, the Israelites were guided by God’s glory through the desert. “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: 22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Ex. 13:20-22).
“Guide me, O my great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore.”
When the glory of God hovered over the completed Tabernacle as a cloud, because Moses had done according to all that the Lord commanded him (40:16), something remarkable took place. Moses was not able to enter into the Tabernacle “because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (40:35).
Moses had been in the Tabernacle before, in the Holy Place and in the Most Holy Place, to see the furniture in each compartment was put in its proper place. But on this occasion, when the Tabernacle was completed and the glory of God was at it brightest expression, Moses was unable to go inside.
The time would come when Moses, and Aaron, and others would be allowed inside the Tabernacle to minister according to gospel terms, but on the day of its final preparation, when God’s presence was at its fulness, there was a holy hush that took place, and a respectful distance placed between man and God.
With the image of Moses outside the Tabernacle presented as part of the historical record, the book of Exodus comes to a conclusion.
Lessons to Learn from the Book of Exodus
- Those who do not know history will find freedom to be ungrateful, and even hostile to the citizens of society. The Hebrew people had a large and positive impact on Egyptian culture, until the people were considered to be parasites on society.
- There is a natural instinct to have a national identity. The Hebrew people never did fully assimilate into Egyptian ways, and for that they were resented and feared (Ex. 1:9-10).
- When a subculture in a society is feared, the desire comes to control, assimilate, or annihilate that which is different. Because the Hebrew people kept covenant with God, they became a targeted people.
- The wisdom of the world when trying to solve a social concern, is usually cruel and evil.
The Pharaoh and People of the Covenant
Control: Exodus 1:11
Affliction: Exodus 1:12-14
Population reduction: Exodus 1:15-21
Extermination: Exodus 1:15-22
- The beliefs and practices of Fascism, Nazism, Communism, or Secular Humanism are not new. Long ago, the Pharaoh of Egypt believed it was in the best interest of his country to slaughter the innocent and enslave others, for ideological reasons.
- Many of the great spiritual truths associated with the Christian experience takes years to comprehend and appreciate. The life of Moses illustrates this spiritual concept. Moses sincerely believed that if he defended his Hebrew brethren, his actions would be understood and appreciated. “For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not” (Acts 7:25).
Moses was wrong. His brethren did not understand. “And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? 14 And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely, this thing is known” (Ex. 2:13, 14).
- The fact that God knew He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21), did not lessen Pharaoh’s personal responsibility to repent and chose to do right by complying with the known will of the Lord.
The sovereignty of God and human responsibility, offers a challenging concept for Fallen humanity. Nevertheless, what must be affirmed by the Christian is that while there might be a mysterious paradox, there is no contradiction in Scripture.
- Communicate the Bible stories in a creative way that children can understand
- It is a hard and wicked heart that asks, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:6). This is a great sin in the sight of God, for it indicates lack of faith. The God who delivered Israel from Egypt was going to sustain them following their Exodus.
In like manner, there is a wonderful promise given to the New Testament believer. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
- There are many types of Christ in the Old Testament. Look for them as you read, and then make a personal application of the spiritual truths that come to your mind. Ruth Caye Jones understood the Rock which Moses struck was Jesus and wrote her song, “In Times like These.”
“In times like these you need a Savior
In times like these you need an anchor
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
This Rock is Jesus, Yes He’s the One
This Rock is Jesus, the only One
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
In times like these you need the Bible
In times like these O be not idle
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
In times like these I have a Savior
In times like these I have an anchor
I’m very sure, I’m very sure
My anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock.”
- The careful preparations the Israelites made to be in the presence of the Lord, is in stark contrast to the careless presentation people make of themselves for worship today. There is a devolution in attitude, and attire, when the church meets for worship in the modern era. Christians should reconsider the way they dress and the way they prepare their hearts for worship.
- The concept of the “invisible church” has been part of Protestant faith since the days of the Reformation, reflected in the various creeds. The Baptist Confession of 1689 speaks of the invisible church, Chapter 26.
“The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that fills all in all.” Study Heb. 12:23; Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:10,22–23, 5:23,27,32
- So strong are the passions in the body that individuals are willing to sin in plain sight of God. While Moses was on the mountain receiving detailed instructions from the Lord, the people were in the valley defying the Ten Commandments, with no fear of punishment. The people could look up and see fire on the mountain. They knew they were in the presence of God, and did not care what they did. They would have their moment of pleasure at all cost.
Any person who has been, or is, addicted to drugs, violence, gambling, pornography, affairs, food, shopping, the internet, or games, can identify with the Golden Calf Incident. There are stimuli that defy logic, because they demand some form of immediate gratification. Nothing else matters. Not even the presence of God can stop the evil that is being done.