Moses and the Old Covenant

1. God promised to bless Abraham’s descendants and give them the land of Canaan. But first, they had to move into Egypt, and then become enslaved. About how many years would they be in Egypt? Exodus 12:40.

Abraham’s descendants moved to Egypt. Although the stories of what they did there and how they escaped are interesting, they are not directly related to our topic of interest, so we will skip them and pick up the story at Mt. Sinai.

2. What kind of covenant did God offer to make with the Israelites? Exodus 19:3-6. Did the blessings depend on obedience? Verse 5. Did the people agree to make the covenant? Verse 8.

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In this covenant, the promises would be given if the people obeyed. God had already rescued the people from slavery, but further blessings depended on their obedience. The people promised to obey, but their promise seems to have been based more on fear than on faith. They did not understand what God would require of them, and they did not understand their own inability to do all that the Lord said. During the journey from Egypt to Sinai, the people had already disobeyed God several times, and they would disobey again soon after Sinai and repeatedly in the years to come.

In this covenant, Moses was the mediator. God spoke the words to Moses, and the people were able to listen to God talking to Moses (verse 9). Moses spoke on behalf of the people, and he told them what God said (verse 25).

3. What did God command? Exodus 20:1-17. How did the people respond?

God spoke the Ten Commandments, and the people were afraid. They wanted God to speak to Moses only, rather than hear God directly. As mediator, Moses would thereafter tell them the words of God and they would not have to hear God’s voice.

4. Did God command altars for worship? Verses 24-26. Did he prescribe rules for Israelite slaves? Exodus 21:1-11. Did the covenant also include rules about death penalties and other punishments for crimes against human life and limb? Verses 12-32.

5. Were there regulations for crimes against a person’s property? Exodus 21:33–22:15. Were more penalties prescribed for mistreating other people? Verses 16-27.

6. Did God claim ownership of certain people and animals? Verses 29-30. Did he make restrictions on agriculture? Exodus 23:10-11. Did he restrict the workweek? Verse 12. Did he require annual festivals? Verses 14-17.

7. Did Moses then report all these words to the people? Exodus 24:3. Did the people agree to obey? Same verse. Did Moses repeat all the commands, and the people repeat their agreement? Verse 7. How did Moses signify that the covenant had been formally ratified? Verse 8.

The covenant included laws about worship, economics and civil courts. It included general principles of human relationship with God and with neighbor, and it included some specific details of how those principles should be applied in specific situations. All these different types of laws were mixed together in the covenant.

The covenant was completed by a ceremony of sprinkling blood. Moses said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.” God then promised to give Moses some tablets of stone on which the laws were written (verse 12).

8. Did God continue to add commands to the covenant that had been made? Exodus 25:1-22. What did the Israelites do while God was speaking to Moses? Exodus 32:1-6.

God gave very detailed instructions for the tabernacle and the way the Israelites were to worship him. These details fill several chapters of Exodus and contrast sharply with the Israelites’ impatience and idolatry. As God said, they were a stiff-necked people, stubbornly disobedient (verse 9). God was willing to destroy them all, but Moses, acting as a mediator, asked for mercy (verses 10-11, 31-32). When Moses saw the idolatry and revelry, he became angry, too. He broke the tablets (verse 19) and destroyed the idol (verse 20).

9. Since Moses had broken the tablets of the covenant, what did God command him to do? Exodus 34:1. Did God again make a covenant with Moses? Verse 10. Did he use the exact same words as before? Verses 10-26. What did he write on the tablets of stone? Verse 28.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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This article was written by in 1997 and updated in 2014. Copyright by the author. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online.

The words of the covenant — the Ten Commandments — were written on the stone tablets. Exodus 20:1-17 (the Ten Commandments) formed the beginning of the covenant, and Exodus 20:24–23:33 was also included in the covenant. When God restated the covenant in chapter 34, he mixed some of the Ten Commandments in with other regulations from chapters 21-23. The Bible does not put any stress on the precise order and structure of the covenant. All of God’s commands were to be kept, for all were given with divine authority.

The worship regulations in Exodus 25–30, even though they were given after the covenant had been ratified, were also part of Israel’s covenant with God. So were the additional rules found in other writings of Moses, such as the book of Leviticus. Deuteronomy is a restatement and expansion of the same covenant. Some regulations expand on the concept of worshiping God; other regulations expand on the concept of holy time; and others give details on how people should treat their neighbors. They were all part of the same covenant.

The rituals and sacrifices in Leviticus do not apply to Christians today. Christians do not have to enforce the civil laws and punishments commanded in Exodus. But why? Why is it that Christians, who should obey God, do not observe these laws that were clearly given by God? To understand, let’s move forward in our study — from the covenant mediated by Moses to the covenant mediated by Jesus Christ.

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