God’s Covenant with Israel
Exodus 19:1–6; 24:3–8
Exodus 19:1–6; 24:3–8
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the covenant relationship that God designed for Old Testament Israel.
Discuss the meaning and importance of God’s covenant relationship with Old
3. State one specific way he or she will demonstrate greater faithfulness to the new covenant.
How to Say It
Amalekites. AM-uh-leh-kites or Uh-MAL-ih-kites.
Moses. MO-zes or MO-zez.
Padan Aram. PAY-dan A-ram.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Sept. 11—Our Pledge to God (Psalm 119:33–40)
Tuesday, Sept. 12—Moses Chooses Judges (Exodus 18:13–27)
Wednesday, Sept. 13—Moses Goes Up to God (Exodus 19:1–9a)
Thursday, Sept. 14—Preparing for God’s Covenant (Exodus 19:9b–15)
Friday, Sept. 15—God Gives the Commands (Exodus 20:1–17)
Saturday, Sept. 16—The People Vow Loyalty (Exodus 24:3–8)
Sunday, Sept. 17—Moses Enters God’s Presence (Exodus 24:12–18)
“Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. —Exodus 19:5b, 6
Why Teach this Lesson?
“Where are you from?” “What’s your favorite restaurant?” “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” We often use simple, even silly questions to learn about each other.
The learning process, though, is essential to relationship building. Building a relationship with a holy God is a different process, yet also dependent upon knowing what God is like and what he will and will not allow from people who have a relationship with him. Today’s lesson shows the birth of another covenant between God and people. This one spells out laws of behavior that Israel must keep in order to be God’s cherished people, a kingdom of priests.
We as Christians are also called to be God’s children, a royal priesthood. We too are called to behave in ways that often set us apart from others. Your learners should remember that the covenant-making God still has a covenant for us. It’s not the old covenant with Israel, but the new covenant that comes through the blood of Christ. It requires that we die to our old way of life and live in a way that honors him.
A. Keeping Your Word
Governor William Penn arrived in North America on October 27, 1682. One of his first actions was to confer with the leaders of nearby Indians. Penn and his men arrived unarmed, as did the Indians. Penn spoke through an interpreter and gave the principles that he intended to follow. Penn said that since they were all of one flesh and blood, and therefore brothers, they would settle any disputes in council, not with warfare. There would be openness and love. One account notes that the Indian chiefs said that as long as the rivers ran and the sun shone that they would live in peace with Penn’s children.
For over 70 years there were no battle cries between the two groups. It is easy to conclude that the original participants kept the words that they had spoken as a treaty or covenant.
When an individual becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a part of the new covenant that is provided through Christ. It is evident that many people want the benefits of the covenant, but they do not desire to fulfill their covenantal obligations. To keep one’s commitment to Christ seems to have an extremely low priority—unless there is a crisis, and then prayers and laments are expressed that implore God to hear and answer the prayers.
The conscientious person will always try to keep his or her word. Whether that word is simply spoken, involves a handshake, is a lengthy business contract, concerns marriage vows, or confessing Jesus as Lord: keep your word!
B. Lesson Background
The statistics given in Genesis and Exodus show that there are 621 years between the lesson of last week (Genesis 17, which states that Abraham was 99 years old) and the initial giving of the law through Moses at Mount Sinai. The first of the 621 years is the time between the promise of Isaac’s birth and its fulfillment when Abraham was 100 years old.
Three references account for the other 620 years. Isaac’s age is given as 60 when Jacob is born (Genesis 25:26). Jacob, upon the occasion of his family’s entering Egypt, states that he is 130 years old (47:9). Finally, Exodus 12:40, 41 states that the Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt.
Many familiar events of biblical history are within that period of 620 years. With the help of his mother, Rebekah, Jacob deceived his father in order to receive the patriarchal blessing. Jacob was compelled to flee from the wrath of his brother, and he goes to Padan Aram to find a wife. (He never saw his mother again.) Jacob himself was deceived by his Uncle Laban: on Jacob’s wedding night he received Leah as his wife instead of Rachel—the younger sister for whom he had worked seven years. After one week Rachel became his wife also. These two women plus their two maidservants became the mothers of the 12 sons of Jacob.
The providential work of God shows itself in the fascinating account of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph rose to be second-in-command of Egypt. In a time of famine, Joseph was able to provide for his father, his 11 brothers, and their families.
The Israelites entered Egypt as a family, but 430 years later they left as a nation. The military census of men over age 20 totaled 603,550, and that did not include the tribe of Levi (Numbers 1:46, 47).
Moses became the leader of that nation. The events of his birth, exile at age 40, and his initial call by God at age 80 are thrilling to read. The 10 plagues credentialed Moses’ leadership for the nation. They demonstrated to the Egyptians that the God of Israel was the only God. As a result, the pharaoh finally allowed this “nation of slaves” to begin its journey back to the land that had been promised to Abraham.
In Exodus 12 several things of importance are noted. First, instructions were given so that the Israelites could be spared the death of their firstborn in the tenth plague. Second, the departure from Egypt gave rise to the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14, 15, 43–49; 13:3–10). Third, the Lord announced that the nation of Israel was to have its own calendar, beginning with the month that they left Egypt (Exodus 12:2).
I. Arrival at Sinai (Exodus 19:1, 2)
As our lesson opens, the year is about 1446 b.c.
A. Departure Remembered (v. 1)
1. In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on the very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai.
The experiences of the Israelites after leaving Egypt involved several miracles that should have developed trust in the Lord. These mighty works of God included the pillar of fire or cloud (Exodus 13:21; 40:36), the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), the making of bitter water into sweet water (15:25), the provisions of manna in the mornings and quail in the evenings (16:12), Moses’ striking of a rock to produce water (17:6), and an unusual method of victory over enemies (17:11–13).
The Israelites reach the area Desert of Sinai in the third month. The exact meaning of that phrase is uncertain. Does it mean the first day of the third month, or does it imply that it is exactly three months since leaving Egypt? The traditional view is that it is the first day of the third month.
Visual for Lesson 3
This timeline will remind your students of God’s patient watchfulness through the centuries.
B. Destination Reached (v. 2)
2. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
Three major events occur after the Israelites reach Rephidim (Exodus 17, 18). This is (1) where the Israelites receive water from a rock, (2) where they are victorious over the Amalekites, and (3) where Moses receives advice from his father-in-law on the importance of delegating leadership duties to others.
The arrival at Sinai fulfills the promise that was made to Moses. In this very place he had turned aside to see the burning bush (Exodus 3:2, 4). God had promised the sign that when Moses brought the people out of Egypt that he would serve God here. The exact location of Mount Sinai is uncertain. About 15 different sites are suggested! Recently a theory has been proposed that a certain mountain in Saudi Arabia (ancient Midian) could be Mount Sinai, but access to it is denied for any thorough investigation.
The Israelite nation spends almost a year at Sinai. It is interesting that archaeologists are not able to find evidence of such an encampment at the traditional site. The important fact is that the events recorded did take place, even if archaeology cannot accurately determine the location.
II. Announcements at Sinai (Exodus 19:3–6)
This new nation needs a constitution—a covenant to guide them in living before God and with their fellow humans. Sinai is the place where it is to be given.
A. Ascent by Moses (v. 3)
3. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:
What a privilege it is to be addressed personally by God himself! But with great privilege comes great responsibility. God isn’t just making small talk with Moses. God has a vital message to deliver to the house of Jacob and the people of Israel.
The expression house of Jacob is used only here in the writings of Moses. The phrase the people of Israel is probably just a parallel expression of the previous phrase. This is typical of Hebrew literature. If there is any significance in the difference, it may be a subtle reminder that to be able to change another person’s name (as God changed Jacob’s name to Israel in Genesis 32:28; 35:10) indicates that you are superior to that person. (See examples in 2 Kings 23:34; 24:17.) By using both terms, God may be asserting that he has the right to grant covenants. He is both God and Lord!
B. Assertions by the Lord (vv. 4–6)
4. “ ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
The opening phrase You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt is a reminder that the Lord has the credentials to provide a covenant. The second assertion how I carried you on eagles’ wings is a reminder of how God has provided for the Israelites’ every need on the journey to Sinai (compare Deuteronomy 32:11). The implication usually given is that an eagle may force its young out of the nest to compel flight, but the older eagle is ready to catch the fledgling bird if necessary. In a similar way the Lord has provided care for his people.
5. “ ‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine,
The little word if indicates that the Lord is ready to announce the stipulations of the covenant. The requirement is that Israel is to obey the Lord and keep the covenant’s terms. Accepting and entering into a covenantal relationship is often rather simple. It is the keeping of a covenant over an extended period of time that becomes difficult!
The first stated blessing is that Israel will be elevated above all nations. God does not, however, surrender his control over the nations, for the final phrase is a reminder that God owns the entire earth. The expression treasured possession may refer to a valuable possession owned by a king. The concept shows the special relationship that God’s people have. In the New Testament the concept is applied to Christians (Ephesians 1:14; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9).
6. “ ‘… you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
The second blessing of the pending covenant is that Israel will be a kingdom of priests. A priest has access to God in prayer. This concept is also applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:10.
The final phrase that Moses delivers is a challenge for Israel to be a holy nation. God’s holiness is foundational. Those who serve God are commanded to be holy as he is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 1 Peter 1:16).
A Treasured Possession
If you ever stand in check-out lines, you know the name of Anna Nicole Smith from the tabloids. While working as an “exotic dancer” in 1991 at age 23, she met J. Howard Marshall II, age 86. They married in 1994; he died about a year later. Very quickly, the legal fight for the “treasured possession” of Marshall’s $780 million estate began. Smith claimed her husband had promised her half of his estate.
After six years, a court awarded her $475 million. Another court subsequently ruled in favor of Marshall’s son and left Smith with no money. Still another court later ruled in her favor and gave her $88.5 million. Then in 2004, that ruling was reversed and Smith was again without an inheritance. As they say at the end of some television programs, “To be continued”!
Israel was to become God’s treasured possession, a concept that cannot be valued in monetary terms—not $88.5 million, not $475 million, not $780 million! But along with privilege came the responsibility to be a holy nation. Sadly, this was a duty that the people failed to perform. God’s covenants contain both duty and privilege. Our covenant with God through Christ is no different from the others in this respect. “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). —C. R. B.
III. Accepting the Covenant (Exodus 24:3–8)
The material between the two segments of today’s lesson contains the covenant’s fundamentals, including the Ten Commandments. The Israelites may be free from their slavery in Egypt, but this new freedom must be accompanied by virtuous living. Otherwise, chaos and anarchy will be the result.
A. Resolve of the People (v. 3)
3. When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”
The first two verses of the chapter tell of yet another trip up the mountain by Moses, and this time he was accompanied by others. When Moses descends the mountain, his purpose is to tell the people all that God has prescribed. The people pledge their obedience with one voice. This is the second such affirmation by the people (see Exodus 19:8 for the first one).
If you plan to lie to someone, make sure you aren’t near an MRI machine! Magnetic Resonance Imaging can show a difference in brain activity between liars and truth tellers.
A 2004 study at Temple University School of Medicine showed that different parts of the brain are used for lying and truth telling. Seven areas of the brain were activated in subjects who lied and only four were used in the brains of those who told the truth. One conclusion drawn from the study was that it takes more work to lie than to tell the truth. And that’s not counting the work it takes telling more lies to cover up the first one!
We’ve all heard the phrase promises, promises spoken with sarcasm and disdain when someone has a history of not keeping his or her word. We don’t know whether the Israelites were telling the truth when they gave multiple assurances to Moses that they would do whatever God commanded them to do. Probably they were sincere.
Yet we all know how easy it is to make promises under the influence of a moment’s emotional pressure and then forsake the promise when the moment is gone or when other pressures are at work on us. God could well have responded, “Promises, promises!” Israel’s example should be a caution to us about the need to speak the truth and then faithfully follow through with what we have vowed to do.
—C. R. B.
B. Responses by Moses (vv. 4–7a)
4. Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
Three responses by Moses are given. First, he wrote down what the Lord had communicated through him. In the past it was sometimes taught that Moses may have used picture writing because at this time in history alphabetic writing is not yet developed. Such a theory is now proven to be invalid because examples of alphabetic writing have been found from the era in which Moses lived and even before his time. In 1999 the earliest alphabetic writing discovered to date was found in Upper Egypt. It is dated to around 1900 or 1800 b.c., hundreds of years before the exodus (see www.jhu.edu and www.archaeology.org).
Since Moses was trained in all the learning of Egypt (Acts 7:22), his writing with an alphabet is not a problem. If you had lived a century ago, you would have been hard pressed to answer the critics on this issue. One lesson from this is that it is essential to maintain your faith against such attacks. You may not have the answers personally; however, in the places where God’s Word can be tested against the evidence of archaeology, the integrity of the Bible is validated.
After writing, Moses begins work early the next day to construct an altar. He also erects twelve stone pillars, one for each of the tribes of Israel. These pillars not only represent the tribes, but they seem to become a part of the ratification of the new covenant (see v. 8, below).
5. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord.
Aaron (Moses’ brother) and his sons are not yet functioning as priests; that won’t come until Exodus 28. So Moses commissions young Israelite men to offer burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Ordinarily, a burnt offering is completely burned (Leviticus 1). For the fellowship offering, however, only a portion is burned, and the remainder becomes something of a fellowship meal (Leviticus 3). This sharing is a part of the ceremony of commitment. The fact that blood is shed to confirm the covenant adds to the solemnity and seriousness of the event.
6. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.
The reason for taking half of the blood and putting it in bowls will be made clear in verse 8, below. For now, the other half of the blood is sprinkled on the altar, perhaps to sanctify it.
7. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.
The things that Moses had written are now read in the presence of the people (or at least before the leaders). The phrase Book of the Covenant is the designation for this early form of the covenant (compare 2 Kings 23:2).
C. Ratification Completed (vv. 7b, 8)
7b, 8. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
This marks the third declaration by the people that they will keep the covenant (see comments on 9:3, above). They test the Lord’s patience before Sinai with their constant complaining, but for now they express a determination to do what the Lord has said.
Moses completes the ceremony by taking the other half of the blood that was collected and sprinkling it on the people. Many have assumed that the blood is actually sprinkled on the leaders who are near or that it is sprinkled on the 12 pillars as representing the people (see v. 4). For New Testament references to the sprinkling of blood, see Hebrews 9:13–22; 11:28.
The final part of the ratification is Moses’ declaration that this is the blood of the covenant for all the words that the Lord had spoken. The ratification of the new covenant is complete, and it is in effect for this new nation. God’s ultimate purpose for the nation is that the promised Messiah will be an Israelite of the tribe of Judah. History records that these things are fulfilled just as God had promised. We have the blood of Jesus sprinkled on us (Hebrews 12:24; 1 Peter 1:2).
Almost 2000 years ago a young man in Galilee said something about seeking first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God (Matthew 6:33). The current culture prefers not to be reminded of such claims by Jesus, so it has become preferred to avoid mentioning even his name.
That same young man also said something about the importance of confessing him before men (Matthew 10:32). Only then will he acknowledge such persons to the Father in Heaven.
As each Christian goes through life, he or she will be making decisions that involve loyalties to the Christ who gave the new covenant. It is possible, but often difficult, to maintain the proper priorities when others have no respect for Jesus. The consequences of faithfulness are not always pleasant, but to do otherwise is a violation of covenant. It is a serious thing to be ashamed of Jesus.
New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati