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An Introduction to the Mosaic Covenant (Lesson 6.2)

I. An OVERVIEW of the Mosaic Covenant

The covenant with Israel at Sinai (the Mosaic Covenant) is the next stage in the Covenant of Grace:

I. The Covenant of Works with Adam

II. The Genesis 3:15 promise of a Redeemer:

A) The Noahic Covenant

B) The Abrahamic Covenant

C) The Mosaic Covenant

D) The Davidic Covenant

E) The New Covenant

Among all the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace, the Mosaic Covenant is by far the most difficult to understand. There is a ton of controversy and debate surrounding this covenant at Sinai. And this debate doesn't have to do with smaller points—it has to do with the very essence of the covenant: How do we understand the covenant at Sinai? The debate especially revolves around the question of how God's grace fits together with the Law in the Mosaic Covenant. How do you reconcile grace and Law?

This is an incredibly important question; and we need to be extremely careful here, because there are two different ways we can fall into error. One the one side are Dispensationalists, who tell us that though the covenant with Abraham was one of grace, the covenant at Sinai was something completely different. They say that when the Israelites accepted the terms of this covenant, they gave up grace and went back to works righteousness. They take grace out of the Mosaic Covenant. But on the other side is what has been called the “Lordship controversy”; a debate that started when a few men started teaching that since salvation is by grace alone, we don't need to obey God's Law. Basically, these men were saying that you can accept Christ as Savior without accepting Him as Lord. They took Law out of the Mosaic Covenant. In both cases, what's happened? There's been a misunderstanding about how grace and Law fit together.

Basically, what we're going to see is that the Mosaic Covenant isn't against the Covenant of Grace; nor is it something that's even different from the Covenant of Grace. It's simply part of the Covenant of Grace, just like God's covenants with Noah and Abraham. Sinai is no different; and we're going to see how. But we're also going to see that in the Covenant of Grace, God calls His people to a live a life of obedience.1

II. An INTRODUCTION to the Mosaic Covenant

1. The COVENANT of the Law:

The Mosaic Covenant has often been called the Covenant of Law. This isn't just because the Law is what tends to characterize the covenant at Sinai, but because in Scripture, God himself associates the covenant that He made at Sinai with the Law. For example, Exodus 34:27-28 says: “Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.' So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” And then again, in Deuteronomy 4:12-13, Moses recounts what had happened at Mount Sinai in this way: “Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.” And later in Deuteronomy, Moses says: “When I went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the Lord had made with you, then I remained on the mountain forty days and nights . . .It came about at the end of forty days and nights that the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.” (9:9,11). What do we see in these passages? Primarily two things: 1) God's covenant at Sinai is intimately connected with God's Law; and, 2) God's Law is especially marked by the Ten Commandments.2

2. The NATURE of the Law:

So, the covenant at Sinai is the covenant of Law. But having said that, it's vital for us to not confuse the phrase “covenant of law” with the phrase “covenant of works.” These are two very different things. The Covenant of Works was the arrangement God made with Adam in the garden before the fall, when He commanded him to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Covenant of Law that God made with Israel at Sinai was something very different; indeed, we're going to see that the Covenant of Law is actually one of the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace. In the Covenant of Works, God entered into a covenant with sinless man, and that covenant was based entirely on perfect obedience to God's command. But in the Covenant at Sinai, God enters into a covenant with fallen man, and that covenant is actually rooted entirely in the Lord's mercies. We can see this even in the way that God gave Israel His Law. He doesn't come to them and say: “If you keep these commandments, I will redeem you from Egypt.” No, that's not what happened! God redeemed them by His sheer mercy and great power. It was only after He had redeemed them that He gave them commands to keep. This shows us that the Law was never given as a way to enter into a relationship with God. Rather, the Law is given to those who have already been redeemed; who have already entered into a relationship with the Lord by His grace.3

3. The ESSENCE of the Law:

So again: The heart of the Law is the Ten Commandments. But how are we to understand them? In this way: Basically, they are an external summary of the will of God. Now, these Ten Commandments have, in a very real sense, been etched inwardly on the hearts of all men. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 2:15, where he speaks of “the work of the Law written in [our] hearts”. It was for this reason that the patriarchs had a general sense of God's will, even before the giving of the Law at Sinai. And, at times, God would come to them and give them outward instruction as to what His will was for them. God came to Abraham in Genesis 17:1, and said to him: “Walk before Me, and be blameless.” But what exactly did this mean? What did this look like in particular? Again, though Abraham knew generally what this meant, since the Law had been written inwardly in his heart, still, God's will was never fully summarized in outward form until He wrote it in stone tablets at Sinai. So, with the giving of the Ten Commandments, God gives us not only a summary of His will, but a full and external summary.4

4. The REVELATION of the Law:

A) The Covenant of Law is related ORGANICALLY to redemptive history: We mentioned earlier that some people see the covenant at Sinai as something different than the Covenant of Grace. They see the Abrahamic Covenant as being rooted in grace; and they see God's dealings with us now in the new covenant as being rooted in grace, but the Mosaic Covenant they see as something different. It's almost as though they view the Law of Sinai as a parenthesis in the plan of God: Before the Law, God dealt with His people in grace; and after the Law God dealt with His people in grace; but that time at Mount Sinai? That was different. You wouldn't want to live in those days. Those were the days of works-righteousness. The reality though, is that there was Law long before Moses; and there was also Law long after Moses:5

1) There was Law BEFORE Moses. We already mentioned God's words to Abraham in Genesis 17:1, where He tells him: “Walk before Me, and be blameless.” What do we see here? We see Law. The fact is, there wasn't just Law in the Mosaic Covenant; there was Law in the Abrahamic Covenant. Law wasn't just limited to Mount Sinai. There was Law well before Mount Sinai. Now again, the Law wasn't summarized extensively in outward form until God wrote it on tablets of stone under Moses. But God's people were no less bound to God's Law before Sinai. Abraham wasn't free to live any way he pleased. Long before Moses, God was calling Abraham to live a holy life. Long before Sinai, there was Law.6

2) There was Law AFTER Moses. God's Law also continued to function as the rule of obedience for God's covenant people long after Sinai. Even after the Mosaic Covenant had faded into the background, the Law that God had given Moses at Sinai continued to function as the standard for God's people, even during the Davidic Covenant. David himself, as he was on his death-bed, called for his son Solomon and charged him with these words: “Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn. . .” (2 Kings 2:3). Even in the final chapter of the last book of the Old Testament, Scripture calls us back to the Law. Malachi 4:4 tells us: “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.” So, the Law continued to be the standard for God's people long after Sinai.

Some people might object: Well, that's still the Old Testament. It's different now in the new covenant; everything changed in the New Testament. But did it? Didn't Jesus tell us: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. . .”? (Matthew 5:17). Actually, when we read the New Testament, what we see over and over again is the writers of the New Testament continuing to affirm the role of the Ten Commandments for new covenant believers. James 1:22 says: “But prove yourselves [to be] doers of the word, and not merely hearers. . .” What does it look like to be doers of the Word? Paul says, “He who steals must steal no longer. . .” (Ephesians 4:28). He writes, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices. . .” (Colossians 3:9); and, “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality. . .” (3:5). John admonishes us: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21, ESV). All of these New Testament commands are rooted in the Ten Commandments. In fact, we can find each and every one of the Ten Commandments repeated in the New Testament letters.

B) The Covenant of Law is related PROGRESSIVELY to redemptive history: In our very first lesson, we learned that each successive stage in the Covenant of Grace builds on the one before. We can think of it this way: The promise God first made to Adam in Genesis 3:15 was like the first seed planted in the ground. With Noah, that seed became a sprout; with Abraham, the sprout became a sapling; and with Moses, it grew into a young tree; and then finally, with David, it became a full, mature tree. Well, here's the point: The tree didn't stop growing under Moses. The Mosaic Covenant was just like all the other manifestations of the Covenant of Grace: At Sinai, there wasn't regression—rather, there was actually real progression. Sometimes the covenant at Sinai is almost presented as if it would have actually been better for God's people if they had stayed under the Abrahamic Covenant. But that's simply not true. Scripture teaches us that the Mosaic Covenant was truly an advancement beyond everything that had preceded it:7

1) In its SCOPE. With Adam, Noah, and Abraham, we saw that in the Covenant of Grace, God is not only dealing with individuals but also with families. Well, here under Moses, God shows us that He is not only going to deal with families—He's going to form an entire nation. At Sinai, we see the scope of God's covenant grace extending from a family to a nation. Under Moses, we come to learn that God isn't just calling families to himself—but He's organizing all those families into a single nation, who would be, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession. . .” (1 Peter 2:9).

2) In its CONTENT. Before Sinai, God's people didn't have a full or clear knowledge of what God's will really was. They had to piece things together as best as they could. Just think about how much less you would know about God if all you had was the book of Genesis!8 But now, with this covenant God made at Sinai, we come to learn so much more about who God is and what it is He requires. We also learn so much more about our need of salvation and God's provision through the pictures and types that the Lord gave Israel at Sinai. Just think about how much the sacrifices of Leviticus 1-6 must have taught them.

3) In its EFFECT. Paul says in Romans 3:20, “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin”; and again, in Romans 7:7, he writes: “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. . .” The Law teaches us so much more about what God requires, and as it does so, it also shows us just how far short that we really fall. And so, the Law humbles us. This is a hard thing; but it's also a very necessary thing.9

5. The PURPOSES of the Law:

This brings us to the next point: What we just learned is that the Law serves to expose our sin. Well, what we can