Maybe you have heard the phrase, “Christ is at the center of all the Bible.” Or, “the whole of Scripture points to Jesus Christ.” How about, “The Bible is a love-story of God chasing His creation.” Did you know that Jesus is the one who started this type of Jesus-centric thinking? It’s true. We actually see Jesus making this point the very day of his resurrection in his discussion with two men on the road to Emmaus:
“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:26-27).
Someone will will be quick to think, “OK, but the story is so terribly long and complex, where do I start?” Let’s start by first examining how the Old Covenant and New Covenant relate to each other and then build forward until we will eventually see how this impacts to story of Creator and creation today.
To start, think of the Bible as a love story between two people. While there will be numerous details and other characters involved all of the incidental material will exist to point to the relationship between the two lovers. This is exactly the dynamic that the Bible contains as it relates to God and the people of His creation. And, it all starts with a promise…
The ceremony for the making of the promise (or, as it was known in the Old Testament, “covenant-making”) between God and Israel in Exodus 24, provides for us a backdrop on the meaning of the future of Christ’s atonement by providing us with some unique features. While some the information may seem laborious at first, it intentionally creates a vacuum in which the New Covenant fills. Therefore, pay particular attention to the dynamics involved to get a sense of building grandeur and the amazing grace that is yet to come because of Jesus.
First, the dynamic of personal participation.
In other covenants there is a representative person who enters the covenant and by doing so takes with him all of those he represents. For example, this is what Noah and Abraham did. However, in Exodus 24 we have a covenant with the nation, not with Moses. Moses has a role something like that of master of ceremonies. He directs what is done, but he does not enter into the covenant himself other than being a member of the people making the promise. It is vital to notice that twice the people took obligations on themselves; based on their responsibility/ability to act in accordance with the expectations (10 Commandments) of the Lord:
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” (v.3). Then, Moses, “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. (vv.7-8)
A second unusual feature is an extension of the first – putting the blood on the people.
Nowhere are we given an explanation of the meaning of the ceremony with the blood within the story, but the general use of blood in connection with the sacrifice points to cleansing from sin and defilement. There is no reason to doubt that when blood was put on people this was the idea. The whole of the people were being cleansed from sin and at the same time was being consecrated for its new role as the people of God. It is much like our view of a bride being prepared on her wedding day for the adoring husband.
Notice how Moses responds to the people with the blood of the sacrifices:
The first “half of the blood and [Moses] put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar” (v. 6). The remaining blood was taken and Moses”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.” (v. 8).
It is significant to realize that within this Covenant, the blood was put on the people and not on the chosen representatives (see v1-2). The promise of fidelity and devotion were being made by the people to their God. The devotion of the people was to be expected and promised to the God who had delivered them from Egypt.
The third and usual feature for of this covenant was that the people promised to obey God’s law.
It is not said that they were asked to do this or that this was a condition of the covenant. When Moses told them “all the Lord’s words and laws”, they “responded with one voice,” everything the Lord has said we will do.” It is after this event that Moses wrote down what the Lord said (v.4a). It is after the blood had been thrown against the altar that Moses reads, “the book of the covenant” and they respond by saying, “we will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Curiously, Exodus says nothing about what God would do in response. In the other covenants with God it is always what God says he will do that is a significant thing. It is unusual to have a promise in which one party does not specifically promise anything. For sure, it is reasonable and proper to imply that obedience will bring blessing, but it is important to realize that within this promise the people of Israel are the ones bound to obligation. The people’s repeated promise to keep God’s covenant is the focus of the passage and is the ingredient in the love story that remains to be seen. God’s faithfulness has been on display through the Exodus and for generations starting with Abraham (beginning in Gen. 12). Some have understood this to mean that this covenant between Israel and the Lord was based on works. The idea is that Israel agreed to do certain things for God and in response God agreed to do certain things for Israel. This is not the way passage reads. The covenant between God and Israel proceeded from God’s choice of the nation beginning with Abraham. It was God’s choice that was the first and dominant factor, as is made clear in an earlier reference to the covenant:
“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 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 that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4-6).
In Part II, we will see how the love story between God and His people could never flourish precisely because the people of God were more in love with themselves. One would think that this weakness would create a divide that would be insurmountable. But we will see that it serves as a dark backdrop for a love scene that is the greatest that the world has ever known!