In Part I, we considered the establishment of the Old Covenant within the ceremony between God and the people of Israel as outlined in Exodus 24. It is vital to notice that within the story of God rescuing Israel, it is God’s choice that is the dominant feature. God’s saving activity was to deliver the people from Egypt. While it is true that a sense of obligation on Israel’s behalf would naturally flow out being rescued; there is no reason to believe that the Covenant of Exodus 24 is the motivation for God’s acting.
God’s motivation was simple; He had made a promise (Gen. 12:1-3; Judges 2:1) to do something great through the people He had chosen so that the world would know of and glorify Him. The only hope that Israel had was that God had promised to act to bring about His desire to spread His fame. This distinction is vital if we are to truly understand the eventual dynamic between God and mankind in the New Covenant. There is nothing like “if you do this for me, I will do that for you”, either in the attitude of God or in that of the expression of the people. The picture is of a people gratefully accepting God’s goodness and pledging themselves to be his servants in response to His goodness. The past has revealed that God is a faithful God. Therefore, it is expected that God can be relied on to fulfill his part of the covenant, even if Israel (the current living members) did not keep their part. Out of all the people-groups on the face of the earth, only the children of Israel could point to a definite time when God entered into a covenant with the God of all creation.
This truth has some striking implications: First, since the God of the Hebrews existed before they did, Israel should never make the mistake of thinking that their God must save His people if he was to save himself. Second, although they were in a covenant with God, the terms of the covenant did not bind God to save that particular generation no matter what. The essence of this truth can be seen when Moses pleads to God on behalf of the people in Numbers 14:17-23:
17 And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19 Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”
20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 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, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.
Notice that it is the “loving kindness” of God that serves as the basis (not obligation) in the plea of Moses. We see this motif again reiterated all throughout the Psalms. For example, in Psalms 117:2 it says:
2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!
Again, the glue that gave the people of Israel confidence within the Old Covenant was not God’s obligation to act but the hope that God would act according to His loving kindness in spite of their disobedience. The core dynamic of the Old Covenant was that God was perfectly and completely fulfilling His role as promise-maker while Israel was miserably failing as a promise-keeper. While Israel clearly knew what being in a covenant-relationship with God meant – they must strive to be like Him as typified in the Ten Commandments, they simply could not do it given their spiritual condition. The decay of the people grew so bad that the prophet Ezekiel was moved by the Spirit of God to cry out, “you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant” (Ez.16:59).
The people of God kept sinning and sinning and sinning against their God (also see Psalm 78:10, Psalm 78:3 to, 37; Isaiah 24:5; Jeremiah 11:10; 22:9; 34:18). It was a hopeless situation. Every attempt to bring the people back and get them to keep the promise they had freely made meant trying to do something new with the same old people. Nevertheless, God was a covenant-keeping God. Amazingly, God would even go so far as to tell the people of Israel, “I will never break my covenant with you (Judges 2:1). So we are at what seems to be an impasse. What was to be done when a covenant-keeping God when He was linked to a covenant-breaking people?
It is at this point we have desperation and failure are met with hope and optimism in a promise of a New Covenant that was yet to come:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
What does this all of this mean to you? If God was so faithful due to His loving kindness in spite of Israel’s disregard of its promise to Him; how much more will God pour out His grace to you on behalf of what Christ has done for you in the New Covenant? We need to devour these sometimes deep and profound truths deep in history in order to better understand in the unfolding relationship between God and His creation. This hard work of study will only strengthen our grasp on the firm hope and confident position we have in Jesus today! If you are trusting in Jesus to be your righteousness (since he fully kept the terms of the Old Covenant), you are standing on firm, ever-holding ground!