The Covenant at Sinai
During their journey through the wilderness, God brought the people of Israel to Mt. Sinai. There he presented them with the law of their peculiar nation. His law. This was the first time God’s legal code was given in written form. It was to be the way of life for all twelve tribes as well as for the Egyptians that left Egypt with them and anyone else that joined them along the way. (Exodus 12:38, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:15-16)
Just before speaking the first Ten Commandments within the hearing of all Israel, God made a conditional covenant with the wilderness assembly. It didn’t change anything about the covenant with Abraham. This was a promise that obedience to God’s law would bring reward and the people readily accepted the terms.
“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, 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.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.” (Exodus 19:4-8)
Again, Moses took the conditions to the people and, once again, the assembly unanimously agreed to do all God commanded.
“Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)
Moses read the entire covenant to them. And yet one more time, they vowed obedience.
“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (Exodus 24:7)
Finally, the covenant was ratified with blood, as all of God’s covenants are (Hebrews 9:18-22). It was quite an occasion, especially if you were one of the seventy elders!
“And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.“ (Exodus 24:8-11)
But Israel’s faithfulness to their vows quickly waned. They rebelled against God and, as a result, all but Joshua and Caleb were not permitted to enter the promised land until that entire generation died.
“Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:20-23)
So important was remembering and keeping God’s commands, that God instructed Israel to wear tassels as a reminder (Numbers 15:37-39, Deuteronomy 22:12), write them on doorposts (Deuteronomy 6:8-9), and talk about them throughout the day. (Deuteronomy 11:19-21)
There were a lot of Israelites already, but they were not yet a blessing to all nations or occupying the land of Canaan. Further, they often failed to show evidence of faith by obeying God’s instructions. Just when and how would God fulfill his promises to Abraham?