13 The Sinai Covenant
by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com , December 2013
Ye have seen what I did unto the
Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto
myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my
covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people:
for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests,
and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the
children of Israel. Exod. 19:4-6
God intended that the Abrahamic
covenant should continue throughout Israel’s history (Gen. 17:7). God
renewed the Abrahamic covenant with Isaac and Jacob. He also renewed it
with Moses at the burning bush at Sinai and with the elders of Israel
through Moses and Aaron. Now back at Sinai, the people promised to obey
God’s voice and keep His covenant (Exod. 19:8).1
These were excellent
promises; yet, they were faulty in that they focused on law and the
people’s doing rather than on the grace that God offered them. The
people reacted out of fear rather than faith when God came to them on
the mount. Within forty-six days of the ceremony of ratification, they
broke the covenant.
Abrahamic Covenant Presented
presence before Sinai was evidence that God was fulfilling His covenant
with Abraham. Now a nation, Israel was as figuratively numerous as the
stars of the heavens. They were on their way to Canaan with promises
from God that they would succeed and settle in the land. The covenant of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must now be given to the nation of Israel. The
law of God must be written so all could understand and remember it. God
called Moses into the mount and presented the covenant.
after they had been exposed for 215 years to the wanton idolatry of
Egypt, that they had forgotten the covenant of Abraham and were not much
different from the Egyptians. Slavery left the people dejected and
ignorant. In saying, “Now, therefore,” God reminded the people how He
had delivered them from Egypt. He was saying that, by the same power
that He used to free them, He would make of them His covenant people.
By His power and grace, God would write the law in their hearts and
minds. Yet, they must consent to the work of grace, obey the law as He
spoke it, and keep His covenant. They must respond as did Abraham; by
faith “he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for
righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). They were not to depend on mechanical
obedience. God gave humans the gift of free will, which He will not
override. Only when we believe and commit ourselves to God can He act
for our benefit.
He gave them glorious promises on condition that
they obey His voice (Exod. 19:5). God spoke 72 More Than a Promise the
ten commandment law in the hearing of the people to instruct them
regarding what obedience entailed. God wrote the Commandments on stone
so that they would not forget. They were to “keep my covenant” (Exod.
19:5), He said. It was a covenant that had previously been given to
Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17:7): Isaac, Jacob, the children of
Israel, and, through Jesus, the church (Gal. 3:29).2
hope for us only as we come under the Abrahamic covenant, which is the
covenant of grace by faith in Christ Jesus. The gospel preached to
Abraham, through which he had hope, was the same gospel that is preached
to us today, through which we have hope. Abraham looked unto Jesus, who
is also the Author and the Finisher of our faith [Heb. 12:2].3
This covenant was the ten commandment law. It was a law that was “holy,
and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12)-very different
from the harsh demands of
the taskmasters in Egypt.4
The Sinai covenant was unique in that it
emphasized obedience, yet it also promised grace to make obedience
possible. Through His law, God would make of them “a peculiar treasure
“| a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exod. 19:6).
the Sinai Covenant just for the Jews?
The promises given to
Israel as a nation were an extension of those given to the patriarchs
(Exod. 19:6; cf. Gen. 22:18). These promises are also applied to the
church today (1 Peter 2:9), indicating that the covenant itself was not
temporary, nor “old,” neither was it about to “pass away.” For the first
time, in this covenant at Sinai, God asked a response of obedience. With
Adam, Eve, Noah, and Abraham, He was already confident that they would
Compare these two verses:
• “I will establish my
covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their
generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to
thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7).
• “If ye be Christ’s, then are
ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).
Christians need to realize the debt we owe to Abraham and to the
Jews. The covenant given Abraham was to continue to all “his seed.” The
phrase, “if ye be Christ’s,” makes all true Christians a part of that
The people at Sinai knew about the
covenant given to Abraham, the father of their nation and race. They
could also understand that God had again given them the covenant. The
promise of the land of Canaan was part of their heritage from Abraham.
They knew and loved the God who had delivered them from Egypt, yet they
knew very little about Him. They also knew about the gods of Egypt, and
it was reasonable for them to imagine that the Lord God of Israel was
like them. The heathen gods were selfish and demanding. Sacrifices were
necessary to appease them. The gods were whimsical, threatening one
moment while kind and helpful the next.
God saw that the people
had much to learn and to unlearn. They had become too accustomed to the
idolatry of Egypt and had largely forgotten the Redeemer who was
promised in the sacrifices. They had seen the plagues on the Egyptians,
experienced delivery through the Red Sea, been provided manna to eat and
water to drink, and had stood under the pillar of cloud by day and the
pillar of fire by night. They had good reason to trust God.
God presented the covenant, He asked for a response, “If ye will obey my
voice indeed, and keep my covenant “ (Exod. 19:5, emphasis supplied).
The people promised, “All that the Lord hath said we will do,” and they
repeated this promise twice more when they ratified the covenant. Their
promises have come to be called the historical old
covenant or the
covenant of works. There is a sharp distinction between the covenant
presented by God (Exod. 19:4-6) and the promises made by the people
(Exod. 19:8; 24:3-11). The covenant they made through their promises was
temporary, and their promises were broken within forty-six days.5
Two Classes of People
There have always been two classes of
people on this earth: the people of the world and the people of God.
This has been true all through history. Today there is the thinking,
believing remnant, and there is the unthinking, unbelieving multitude.6
Two classes can even be found in the church. We can see the contrast
between true understanding and commitment to the covenant among the
remnant and the thoughtless disregard of the covenant among the
Among the majority of the Jews, the sacrifices and
sanctuary services became the people’s focus. They forgot the Redeemer
to whom the symbols pointed. The sanctuary services and the sacrifices
became a form of idolatry when they were seen as a means of salvation.
It was a short step from this to frank image worship, which was a
continual problem in Israel.7
The righteous remnant was sometimes
a small remnant. Noah and his family are an example of this. So were
Abraham and his encampment, the 7,000 of Israel in the time of Elijah
who had not bowed the knee to Baal, those who waited in expectation for
Jesus to come the first time, the early Christians who faced
persecution, and the church in the wilderness during the Dark Ages. At
present, the remnant are those who pray and read the Bible for
themselves, following the Bible’s teachings.8
It was a remnant
who waited in expectation for Jesus to come and who understood the
meaning of the covenant, the judgment, and the atonement. It is a
remnant again who will sacrifice the world in preparation for Jesus’
return.A Parallel Track
It was the believing remnant who
kept alive the hope of a Redeemer who would bring them forgiveness and
everlasting life. At this same time, the unbelieving multitude developed
an idolatrous view of the sacrifices and sanctuary services. They held a
corrupted view of the Temple service as being redemptive in itself. It
was this second view that was predominant when Jesus came to earth and
that led to His rejection and eventual crucifixion.
was a testimony about who He was. His teaching, healing, and raising the
dead were signs that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God”
(Matt. 16:16). The majority of the leaders and people refused to believe
that Jesus was “Immanuel, God with us.” They refused to believe even
with the very direct testimony of the guards at the tomb when Jesus
arose from the dead. Yet, God is patient. He
gave Israel another three
and a half years to observe the teaching and healings accompanying the
work of the early church. The probation of Israel as a nation would come
to a climactic end in Stephen’s testimony and his stoning by the
Sanhedrin. What more could God do to reach His people?
The people’s response is recorded in Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7, as
part of the ratification ceremony of the historical old covenant. This
covenant is both the first covenant and the old covenant because it was
ratified before Jesus ratified the new covenant at Calvary.
The Abrahamic covenant is identified by the promises
given to Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would have as many
descendants as the sand of the seashore or as the stars in the heavens.
This is referring to the people of the world who would be brought to God
through his descendants. God promised:
• The land of Canaan was to be their home, an
• Abraham’s descendants would be a
blessing to all families (Gen. 12:3) and to all the nations of the earth
(Gen. 22:18). They were to be a strong influence for righteousness in
the earth, especially through the “one seed,” which is Christ (Gal.
• Abraham’s continued blessing would be on condition of
obedience, for which God commended him. He said that Abraham commanded
his household after him (Gen. 18:19) and that he kept God’s laws,
statutes, and ordinances (Gen. 26:5). Abraham’s greatest test of faith
and obedience came when God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount
Moriah (Gen. 22:1, 2).
• The Abrahamic covenant was to extend to
Abraham’s seed. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He
remembered His covenant, which He had given “unto Abraham, unto Isaac,
and unto Jacob” (Exod. 6:3), and Moses repeated to the elders of Israel
what God had said when He spoke with him (Exod. 6:8, 9).
G. White, The Youth’s Instructor, September 22, 1892.4.
Ten Commandments are the covenant is substantiated in Exodus 31:18;
34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 11, 15; and Hebrews 9:4.5.
I discuss the
details of this event in the next two chapters, and Paul’s exposition on
Jesus’ heavenly ministry, in chapter 37, “Christ Our High Priest.”
There are always two classes of people: the righteous remnant and
the unbelieving careless multitude. It is the righteous remnant who kept
the covenant, looked for a Redeemer through the sacrifices, and expected
Jesus when He came.7.
The unbelieving careless multitude went
through the forms of religion, but forgot the Redeemer whom the symbols
prefigured; then they rejected Jesus when He came and crucified Him in
the end. The leaders in Judah fell into this group, making the rejection
of Jesus a national tragedy. They compounded their error by the
persecution of the church and the stoning of Stephen.8.
concept of the righteous remnant and examples of the same are found in
Genesis 4:25, 26; 6:8-10; 12:1-3; 1 Kings 19:18; 2 Kings 19:31; Ezra
3:8; 9:8; Isaiah 1:9; 10:20-22; 11:11, 16; 37:32; Joel 2:32; Amos 5:15;
Zephaniah 2:7, 9; 3:13; Haggai 1:12, 14; Romans 9:27; 11:4, 5; and
See chapter 35, “The Vision of Stephen.”