Covenant, Law, and Ritual

“If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (vv. 5-6a).

- Exodus 19:1-5

In our last study, we made the important point that the Mosaic covenant is part of the covenant of grace, through which the Lord redeems His people from their failure in Adam to keep His covenant of works. Ultimately, God does this in the person of His Son, who fully obeys the Mosaic law and thus keeps the covenant of works, for the law of Moses is a reminder of the demands the Lord gave to humanity in Eden (Matt. 5:17-20). Yet the Mosaic law is not a covenant of works for the sinner, and was never intended as such. For sinners, the law points out their sin, drives them to Christ for salvation, and shows them how to live in gratitude for the redemption wrought by Christ (Rom. 7:7-13; Gal. 3:19-28). The fact that God did not reveal His law until after He had rescued the Israelites from Egypt shows the priority of grace; thus, the Mosaic covenant takes its place alongside the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic covenants as part of the one overarching covenant of grace.

Today, we will consider three other noteworthy aspects of the Mosaic covenant. First, let us examine the circumstances of the enactment of the covenant after the liberation of Israel. After escaping the Egyptians, the Israelites gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, where they pledged to follow the Lord who had rescued them (Ex. 19:7-8). Before God would give His commandments to them, however, a process of cleansing was necessary so that the people were prepared to serve Him (vv. 9-15). Ultimately, this points to the more thorough cleansing we must receive from our Savior before we can serve Him gladly.

After the demand for cleansing, our Creator revealed His law—particularly, the Ten Commandments—to Moses (chap. 20). These ten rules are the foundation for any ethical system that pleases God, and all other commands in the law of Moses and the rest of Scripture are actually applications of the Ten Commandments, which are themselves applications of the fundamental law of love for God and neighbor (Luke 10:25-28).

Finally, in the Mosaic covenant, God gave a number of sacrifices and other ceremonial regulations. These rituals were reminders that Israel would fail and that atonement would be necessary. Furthermore, the repetitive nature of these things would indicate their insufficiency and call out for a final atonement to be made. As such, they were types and shadows given to cultivate hope in the One who would keep the old covenant perfectly in Israel’s behalf and establish a way for full and final reconciliation to the Lord (Heb. 10:1-18).

Coram Deo

Simply blotting out our sin would be insufficient to make us ready to obey the Lord. Our Creator must also regenerate and sanctify us, cleansing us from ongoing sin and reorienting our desires so that we love Him above all else. This happens decisively at conversion, but cleansing and confirming us in our love for our Creator continue to occur throughout our lives. Let us daily confess our need for His cleansing and His work to make us love His law.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 24
Jeremiah 32:36-44
Romans 13:8-10
Ephesians 5:15-21

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