Have you ever noticed how easy it is to parent children when you’re asking them to do what they want to do? It’s amazing. It’s the same with dogs, managing employees, and, I suspect, even cats give the appearance of obedience in such situations. But what about when the need is to do what needs to be done, and the need is no fun, not easy, and not quick? What happens to the obedience of children, dogs, employees, and possibly cats?
The story of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt has pictures of this beautiful relationship between the sons of Israel and their God, Yahweh. One of those is found in Chapter 19. God describes what He wants of the people in glowing, wonderful terms.
Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on beagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the 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 sons of Israel.” Exodus 19:3-6 NASB
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation
These sons of Israel, who rebelled when thirsty, and questioned Moses when hungry, even when provided with Manna, are to be special to Yahweh. They will be the “possession” of His, from all the nations on the earth. As Americans, being someone’s “possession” doesn’t sound great. In our culture, this sounds subservient, inferior, or oppressed. In Hebrew, this word has much different meaning. The Hebrew word is only used about 8 times (according to the Strong’s Concordance numbering), and of those, twice it is used for the treasure of kings (1 Chronicles 29:3, and Ecclesiastes 2:8), and the other six times, it’s used in reference to Israel, as Yahweh’s chosen people. If you want to look it up, it’s Strong’s 5459, and you can view the definition and usage here.
It’s enough to say that “possession” in English doesn’t truly do it justice. It would be like what we’d keep in the vault, and not the little one at home, but the impregnable one at the bank or something. It’s not just something owned, but something precious. That’s idea of what God is giving to the people. And for this special position within the other nations of the world, they are to keep His covenant. There’s an agreement involved, and already, American minds and hearts, go “Of course, there are strings attached!” And there are. And these strings are more like ropes of chains to be fair.
The people are to obey the voice of Yahweh, and keep His covenant. That sounds easy on the surface, but it never is for these people. Even so, they like the sound of the offer, and agree to it:
So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. Exodus 19:7-8 NASB
This is a beautiful picture of a relationship between the Creator of the universe, and His human creatures. Out of all these He created in His image, He selects this nation. It’s amazing, wonderful, and should make us somewhat jealous to be included. And, to be honest, we are. We too, are in a covenant with our Master, Jesus. Or, another way to say it, we are in a covenant with our Creator, through Jesus, our Savior. Either way, the truth of this covenant is clear. And we may respond like the sons of Israel, but we need to remember that par of the covenant includes us being a “possession”.
The covenant established by Jesus is different, in many ways, from this covenant established between Yahweh and Israel. But it has a lot of similarities too. For instance, this covenant is established by God, not by us. This covenant includes a relationship with God, a relationship established and defined by things on both sides, ours and His.
This next statement is where many will disagree with me. Which is fine, because it’s an interpretation, and nothing more. The covenant established with Israel at Horeb/Sinai was not predicated on their obedience. It sounds like it is, to be fair, yet, in practice, this covenant is maintained in the face of their disobedience, and flat out rebellion, by God. It was the blessings of the covenant that were predicated on their obedience.
If this is true, that the covenant at Sinai was established and maintained by God, then we have yet another similarity with our own covenant with God through Jesus. They, too, were saved (i.e. set apart from all other people by being in relationship with God) by grace, not by works. Our own covenant with God is established through the sacrifice of Jesus, our Christ, our Redeemer, and Savior. These titles of Jesus make Him the One through Whom we have access to our Creator (through His sacrifice), and there is no other. Yet, in similar fashion, Jesus is Lord, making Him synonymous with Yahweh of the Hebrew Scriptures. Meaning Jesus established this covenant with the people of Israel as well.
The differences between the two covenants are in how they are carried out, the definitions of “obedience” between God and His people. In the covenant with Israel, they brought sacrifices over and over, from what God provided to them. In the covenant through Jesus, He becomes the eternal sacrifice, once for all sin. So, sacrifice, that form of worship in a single place where God placed His name, that is changed by a single event. In this way, Jesus truly does sum up all of the law and prophets in Himself.
But what remains is similar is that we too are to be obedient. And that’s the part we miss. We call that being “legalistic”. But is it? It’s not about following the law to enter the covenant, because the covenant was not established on our obedience. It’s about enjoying the benefits of the covenant through obedience. And, before you run amok thinking this refers to circumcision and Sabbath keeping, remember how Jesus sums up all the law and prophets, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Sabbath-keeping and circumcision were to mark the people of Israel from among the other nations of the earth as holy to Yahweh. If you want to do that, go to church, and be immersed. Like “Sabbath-keeping”, attend church every week. Like “circumcision”, be immersed once. After that, simply “walk about” living life as in the presence of your Savior. Live and make decisions based on being the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Live out the love poured into you by your Creator and Redeemer. Love the Lord (Jesus is Lord) with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
See, we don’t need to view the covenants as that much different. They are, but they are much more similar than they different. They are, in this interpretation, much more connected with obedience than we seem think.