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The Mosaic Covenant

The Mosaic Covenant

A Marriage Proposal

Building upon the promise made to Abraham, God entered a new phase of His program for the ages. 0n the day God marked as the first day of the first month (fourteen days before the Passover), the physical birth of the promised nation occurred. Although debated by many scholars, it appears as if the day marked the beginning of a new dispensation – an age that has been called “The Dispensation of Law.” During this age, God more fully revealed and implemented many features of his unfolding plan.

During the dispensation of law, which lasted thirteen hundred years, God worked only through His chosen nation. We recall that God gave the Gentile nations up, and allowed them to become subjects of the kingdom of Satan. It is through the nation Israel that God will fight against the forces of evil. It will be through this chosen nation, to whom He is about to enter into a marriage relationship, that He will bring forth the promised “Seed of Woman” who will defeat Satan and his kingdom of evil forces.

Without realizing the implications, Israel’s commitment to a marriage relationship with their Creator placed them in an environment that completely revealed the depraved nature of mankind. God showed them, though first hand experience, that it is impossible for man to be obedient to a set of rules or laws while he is under the bondage of a sin nature. The Holy Spirit came upon only a few of the chosen leaders of Israel; the people were required to keep the law under the control of the flesh. For the next thirteen hundred years, Israel struggled between a commitment to their Creator/husband and the influence of Satan through the Gentile nations. By the end of the dispensation of law, man’s helplessness was completely exposed. When this dark reality was adequately demonstrated, God, through his glorious grace, would send His Light into the world, The “Lamb of God” and “Seed of Woman”, who would redeem all who are under the law.

Turning back to Mount Sinai, we observe the appointment that God kept with his chosen people. “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 children of Israel: ‘You 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, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Ex. 19:3-6, NKJV).

God is proposing marriage to the children of Israel, and never has anyone offered so much to a potential partner. God reminded the people that the whole world belongs to him. He is the creator of all things and, therefore, has control over all things. It is true that Satan has temporary control of the world, but he can be defeated whenever God chooses. The Potter always has control over the clay.

Let us quickly note that, unlike the covenant God made with Abraham, this covenant is conditional upon the response of the people. Even though this covenant is temporary, this fact was not revealed at that time. We should also note that this covenant clearly stated the conditions under which God would have fellowship with his people. The questions of redemption and salvation for Israel were settled at the Passover, but the conditions for a living relationship is the present issue.

Exodus 19:7-8 records the response of the people. “So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD’” (NKJV).

By this commitment, the people took themselves out of a courtship of grace, as subjects of God’s kingdom, and placed themselves into a marriage of law by becoming the wife of God. We might question their motivation for this giant step into the unknown. Probably to a large extent, fear and the need for a sense of security motivated it. These people had been protected in their bondage, but are now facing new threats in the wilderness. They needed God as a provider and protector. We will see later that they quickly will turn their back on God when they find other apparent sources of security. Evidently, there was little love for God on the part of the people. Today, men see God in a loving relationship when they view him through Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit living within them.

We may also ask the question, what was the motivation of God? His love and His desire to bless and have fellowship with mankind motivated God. This is the reason that he created man in the first place.

Now, before we proceed further, let us look at some Scriptures about this marriage relationship. The prophet, Isaiah, sums it up best. “‘For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. For the LORD has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,’ says your God” (Isa. 54:5-6, NKJV). In the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah, God reveals that He will take the nation Israel out of the bondage of the law and give them a new covenant. In verse thirty-two, God states: “I was a husband to them” (NASB 1995). Also, we are reminded that the entire book of Hosea draws a parallel between Gomer, Hosea’s adulteress wife, and Israel, the adulteress wife of God.

A Marriage Contract

The people took an oath of allegiance and submission to serve God as their lawful, sovereign ruler. God set up a complete system of government known as a theocracy. He would rule over this new state of Israel with divine authority working through His specially elected servants and messengers. The Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Son of God, would lead the way and serve as Chief of security. He would lead the people into battle and would deliver the enemy (Ex. 14:19-31; Ex. 23:20-33; Ps. 34:7; and Ps. 35:5-6).

The theocratic reign, a complete system of government, would govern all facets of the lives of the people. The laws which God gave unto Israel, commonly referred to as the Mosaic Law, fell into three classes: 1) Commandments, which govern moral conduct; 2) Judgments, which govern social order; and 3) Ordinances, which were ceremonial legislation for religious services. Having submitted themselves to the legally binding covenant, the people were to see the manifestation of the Lord’s presence, and hear his voice as he explained the details of their agreement. They were about to hear God’s detailed requirements for their daily life and worship.

God revealed to Moses that He would speak directly to the people in three days. The people had to be sanctified by a cleansing process before they could stand before Him. They had to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual relations. This entire procedure, which was a ritual of consecration, demonstrated to the people that the approach to God must be taken seriously. Anyone approaching God must do so with a thorough awareness of His awesome Holiness.

On the third day, the entire congregation of Israel, approached the mountain of Sinai. “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Ex. 19:18, NKJV). The people had witnessed God’s visual descent upon the mountain. As they were standing there in fear and trembling, they waited for the curtain to rise on the next act of the divine drama.

“And God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments’“ (Ex. 20:1-6, NKJV).

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20:7-11).

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:12-17, NKJV).

For the first time, the details of God’s law were given for our review. These Ten Commandments show the directive will of God for all from Adam to the last person to be born. Prior to this occasion at Mount Sinai, God’s requirements for man were communicated on an individual basis. Now He takes His primary law and states it as the first commandment; “You shall have no other gods before Me.” When man turns away from his Creator, immediately, he begins to create gods from his other interests. Our god’s may take the form of people, animals, other objects of the creation, or even pleasures of the flesh. God, in the first commandment, clearly states that he is a jealous God, and there can be no other god’s before Him.

Upon this foundational commandment, God established specific laws relating to man’s relationship to Him and man’s relationship to man. The first four commandments relate to man’s relationship with God; the last six relate to man’s relationship with man. If we could keep the first commandment, we would have little trouble with the others.

Jesus discussed these laws in the Sermon on the Mount, and made it clear that they were not to be repealed. Jesus stated that we violate the law even when we meditate on evil in our hearts; a physical act of disobedience is not required. To hate your brother is the same as murder, to lust after a woman, who is not your wife, is the same as committing adultery. These laws of God are binding upon all men – Jew, Gentile and Christian alike. They are a standard for human moral conduct. Jesus clarified the status of the law in His sermon. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18, NKJV).

These Ten Commandments were first given to the nation, Israel. God spoke directly to the people as He made known His demands. Later, they were written on clay tables by the hand of God and were entrusted to Israel for safekeeping. Israel was God’s channel of blessing to the world, and God would reveal Himself more fully through them. A vital part of God’s revelation was that it is impossible for us to keep God’s law while we are under the bondage of a sin nature. For the next thirteen hundred years, the sin nature of the Israelites struggled against the perfect law of God. The law served as a mirror reflecting the total depravity of man. Now, with the revealed law, sin takes on an additional meaning. Not only is it rebellion against God’s will, but it becomes a direct transgression against His stated laws.

After hundreds of years of bondage to the sin nature of the flesh, God provided a way for man to meet the requirements of His law. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 4:4-6, NKJV). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23, NKJV).

The Ten Commandments became the foundation of the Mosaic Law and the fundamental law of the nation Israel. In fact, It was the constitution of the theocratic republic. These principles embraced the whole order of life for God and man relationships. They encompass, in summary form, the whole law of God. Expanding upon this moral code of conduct, God added other rules governing social order and religious ceremony.

At the people’s request, Moses went up on the mountain of Sinai to receive the laws and rules governing social order and religious activity. Unlike the commandments, the judgments and religious ordinances were given only to Israel. In Exodus chapters twenty through twenty-three, we have recorded for us these laws and rules governing daily living. They have been called “The Book of the Covenant”. This code of law contained rules regarding: 1) Provisions for sacrifices; 2) Master and servant relationships; 3) Personal injuries inflicted upon others; 4) Property rights; 5) Crimes against humanity; 6) The land and the Sabbath; and 7) National feast days.

Ordinances (Ceremonial Law)

Israel’s marriage to God consummated a relationship that reflected many of the great things God had planned for mankind. The daily activities in the lives of the people were filled with celestial patterns, examples, types, and shadows to remind them of their special privileges and their unique relationship with their God, their Husband. These patterns, examples, types, and shadows looked forward to the person and works of the Christ who would come. The unique nature and the significance of everyday events were obvious in the area of religious affairs.

There are multitudes of specific rules discussed in Exodus, Leviticus, and the first ten chapters of Numbers. God required the people to wait at the foot of Mount Sinai until all the details of the ceremonial law were completed. It seems that the Levitical rules are parenthetical to the wilderness march as God is trying to make sure that all of the details are understood. This becomes clear when we observe that the wilderness march began twice – in the last chapter of Exodus, and again in the tenth chapter of Numbers. In fact, so many details are given that we often lose sight of specific subjects, and miss much of the overall impact. We will attempt to organize and focus on some of the details of the Levitical or ceremonial law while observing the new nation camped in the shadow of Mount Sinai.

Just why did God choose to set up so many specific rules for the religious ceremonies of the Levitical law? There is no doubt that God wanted to clearly set the worship services of the Nation Israel apart from those of the Gentile nations. The Gentiles performed elaborate ceremonies and offered sacrifices to many gods. Through marriage, Israel was committed to one God who claimed to be the one and only God – the Creator of all things. The Israelites promised to be faithful and accepted His will to direct them. Their faithfulness would be measured primarily by their obedience to ceremonial detail and their dependence upon their Creator.

God’s nature is pure and holy. It does not allow Him to fellowship with anything that is unclean. If any person, animal, or object that is brought into His presence is not properly cleansed, it must be destroyed or rejected. He, alone, established the rituals of purification that must be followed to ceremonially cleanse all participants.

God’s rules also made it clear to the people that He expected them to recognize Him as the exclusive source of their blessings. His chosen people were given specific instructions regarding their returning to Him a portion of all that they received. God required a return of all firstborn sons, the firstlings of all flocks and herds, first fruits of the field, and one-tenth of all cattle and produce. They were told to give Him part of the great wealth that they had taken from Egypt. This wealth was to be used for constructing the tabernacle and for clothing the priests. God’s requirements served a practical purpose in supporting the priesthood, but His primary intent was to motivate them to direct both their treasures and their hearts to Him.

The religious ordinances are also very prophetic and beneficial in teaching by types. The writer of the book of Hebrews makes it very clear that the tabernacle, priesthood, and animal sacrifices were prophetic shadows or types that were later fulfilled in the life of Christ. Scripture clearly indicates that the national feasts were prophetic, and at least four of them have been fulfilled. Since we are following the golden thread of Scripture, we will explore, in summary form, the typical teaching of the ceremonial law. Many Biblical writers neglect this emphasis, but it is essential to understand this if we are to see the unfolding eternal plan of God.

Before moving to the next section, which is a detailed description of the tabernacle, it would be beneficial to read chapters seven through ten of the book of Hebrews. After our study of the Levitical law is concluded, a review of these chapters may also prove rewarding. For those who would like a more detailed study of Biblical types, “Gleanings in Exodus” by Arthur W. Pink and “Tabernacle, God’s Portrait of Christ” by J. Vernon McGee are highly recommended.

The Wilderness Tabernacle (Exodus 25-27)

Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see God’s desire for fellowship with man, and His efforts to establish a place where we can dwell together. Scripture opens in Genesis with God coming down to walk in the garden with Adam in the cool of the day; it concludes with man fellowshipping with God in the New Jerusalem. The tabernacle is a significant link in the golden chain stretching from Genesis to Revelation.

The great contrast between the holiness of God and the depravity of man presents a real dilemma that must be overcome in order for God and man to dwell together. Even though God promised them that He would go with them, and help them conquer and possess the Promised Land of Canaan; He could also separate himself from the people by the boundaries set upon the mountain. In order, for His presence to dwell among them, a special place would have to be prepared and consecrated. A special group of people, known as priests, would have to be selected to serve before the Lord, and act as mediators between Him and His people. For this reason, the Lord instructed Moses to collect a special contribution, and also gave him a detailed list of things to acquire.

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it” (Ex 25:8-9, NKJV).

The tabernacle has at least three meanings which we must quickly examine: 1) It was to be a dwelling place for the presence of God; 2) It was to be the sanctuary of all religious ceremonies; and 3) It was to be a typical picture of Christ who would come to redeem man from his depravity.

Moses was given every minute detail of the plan for the tabernacle; even colors, threads, designs, and related trimmings. After the specifications were given, God filled craftsmen with the Holy Spirit (See Ex. 31:3-5) so they could be guided in all manner of workmanship. Why are all these details regarding perfection in workmanship necessary? Why did God demand perfection in the construction of this wilderness tabernacle? The answer lies in verse nine of chapter twenty-five. God told Moses to build the tabernacle “According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle” (Ex. 25:9, KJV).

Notice that the wilderness tabernacle was to be patterned after another tabernacle. In Hebrews chapters 8-10, the writer makes it clear that the wilderness tabernacle was patterned after the Lamb of God who is in heaven. Let us not forget that Christ, the Lamb of God, was slain in the mind of God before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:19-20). It is fitting that the wilderness tabernacle was patterned after Christ, and that it foreshadowed Christ and the work that He was to complete on the cross.