The Sinai Covenant

16 Ratified, Broken, and Renewed

by Hubert F. Sturge, , December 2013

And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. Exodus 32:7

The promises of the people, without the response of faith, made up the historical old covenant. Forty-six days after ratification, the people took part in a rebellious, heathen festival at the base of Sinai. They broke the law of God and the covenant they had just ratified. A large part of the people took part in this festival, though most repented in shame when Moses came down from the mount. Moses called the tribe of Levi, who did not take part in the festival, to execute judgment on those who persisted in rebellion. Three thousand fell that day. The next day a plague broke out among the people.

Without the favor of God or an effective covenant, the whole enterprise of going to the Promised Land was in doubt.

What God Intended

The everlasting covenant, is a term used for the covenant of redemption, a covenant of what God would do to restore humans to His image. It is renamed the new covenant in Jeremiah because Israel failed to understand it when it was given to them at Sinai. It is in this sense that God gave the new covenant to Adam and Eve and to Abraham. In each case, it was received by faith. The covenant given to Adam and Eve was for the whole human race. The covenant with Abraham was to go to his seed after him. This included Isaac and Jacob. It also included Moses at the burning bush, the elders of Israel when Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt, and Israel at Sinai. The covenant given by God at Sinai was the Abrahamic covenant, with promises that were to extend throughout Jewish, and later, church history.

The Abrahamic covenant, the foundation of the new covenant, was ratified or confirmed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Then Jesus became the mediator of the new covenant, which He continued for the Christian church. On Mount Sinai, God demonstrated His majesty, holiness, power, and grace by which He fulfills the promises of the covenant.

At Sinai the people needed to fall on their faces and believe that God would do what He said. Instead, they repeated their human promises. The covenant of human promises was “another covenant” ratified by the blood of animals.1

Ratified and Then Broken

After the ratification ceremony, God called Moses and Joshua to meet with Him in the mountain. While waiting on the Lord for six days, they had time to confess all sin in their lives. On the seventh day, God called Moses into the cloud. There he stayed for forty days, during which time he neither ate nor drank. God gave Moses the ten-commandment law, which God wrote on stone with His own finger. He also gave Moses instructions for the priesthood and for building the sanctuary (Exod. 24:12-31:18). Abruptly, God announced that the people had corrupted themselves.

After forty-six days, the people in the camp imagined that something had happened to Moses. They approached Aaron and insisted that he make them a golden calf to represent the only god they knew (Exod. 32:1-6).2 Before long, there was a rebellious heathen festival at the base of the mountain. Thinking they would be returning to Egypt, the people chose the security of slavery over the freedom and hope of going to the Promised Land (Exod. 14:11, 12; 17:3; 32:23; Num. 14:4). It seemed the easy way. They forgot all that God had done for them.

As Moses and Joshua came near the camp, they realized what was going on. In anger, Moses threw the tables of stone onto the rocks and broke them to pieces, just as the people had broken their covenant of human promises. The covenant the people ratified lasted just forty-six days. It was faulty only because the people failed to accept God’s gift of grace by faith.

Ever since the sacrifice of Cain, human beings have tried to earn their salvation (Gen. 4:3, 5). Animal sacrifices and ceremonies in themselves could not forgive sin. Only in looking forward to Jesus’ true sacrifice on the cross were animal sacrifices effectual (Heb. 9:13-15).

Some people now, as well as in the days of Jesus, believe the ceremonial law was a part of the old covenant. However, in the old covenant, the people promised obedience but did not ask for God’s grace (Exod. 16:6; 19:8; 24:3, 7; Deut. 5:27). The ceremonial law illustrated grace and provided pardon through animal sacrifices, which pointed forward to the promised Redeemer. It was an illustration of the Abrahamic or new covenant. From beginning to end, the ceremonial law was an instrument of grace! The provisions of the new covenant continue today through the priesthood of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary.

Intercession by Moses

The heathen festival at Sinai was a calamity. Because of the people’s rebellion, Moses melted down the golden calf and caused the people to drink it. The Levites slew 3,000 rebellious Israelites, including all the ringleaders of the rebellion. God plagued the people. He would have abandoned the whole enterprise except for the intercession of Moses.

Moses, with desperate faith, interceded with God for another forty-six days to restore the covenant. Initially, God offered to destroy Israel and make of Moses a powerful nation. Though accepting his role as a messenger of God to the people (Exod. 32:10-14), Moses realized that he could be nothing more. God then directed that an angel go with them to the Promised Land. Moses insisted that God personally go with them on their journey and lead them. He talked with God “face to face” but did not see His person. As he got to know God better, he finally asked, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory” (Exod. 33:18).

God granted his request. He put Moses in a cleft in the rock, covered him with His hand, and passed by, allowing Moses to see His back as He moved into the distance (Exod. 33:22, 23). As He passed, He proclaimed His name and His attributes:

And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exod. 34:6, 7)

Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.’” (Exod. 34:10, NIV)

God heard Moses’ intercessions and promised His presence as Israel journeyed to the Promised Land (Exod. 33:14). The reason God answered Moses’ prayer is useful to us in our prayers. “The Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name” (Exod. 33:17).

The Covenant Renewed

More than anything else, Moses desired the presence of God as the people traveled to the Promised Land. As God passed by, Moses saw that the glory of God is neither His power, His majesty, nor His consuming fire. His glory is in His character, and this He proclaimed as He passed by Moses. His character includes “keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:7). Moses took this blessing from God as a reason to ask one more thing-the thing he desired most for the children of Israel.

And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance. And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the Lord: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. (Exod. 34:9-11)

Moses was permitted to enter the very presence of God (Exod. 33:21-23). It was an experience the people had refused on Mount Sinai. God did not renew the “old” covenant of human promises. He did much better; He brought the people back into the Abrahamic covenant. He would go with them and give them the Promised Land. He would do “marvels” among His people, taking them as His “peculiar treasure” and making them into a “kingdom of priests and an holy nation,” which would be an example to the heathen nations around them. He pardoned sins through the blood of the sacrificial lamb. The Messiah would come through the seed of Abraham. Jesus Christ confirmed this covenant at Calvary.

The people joyfully responded with sacrifices. They brought so much gold and other valuable materials to build the sanctuary that they had to be stopped. If people today would respond in a similar fashion, just think what the churches could do in carrying the gospel!

They then built the sanctuary, following detailed instructions from God. The ceremonial law was to become their pattern for worship and an illustration of the covenant. The sacrifices pointed forward to the Messiah who would pardon sin through His death on the cross.


1. “Another compact-called in Scripture the “˜old’ covenant-was formed between God and Israel at Sinai, and was then ratified by the blood of a sacrifice.”|” (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets [Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005], p. 371). Why was another covenant formed at Sinai (Exod. 24:3-8) if the “everlasting covenant”-God’s “My Covenant” (Gen. 17:7, 9, 10, 13, 19, 21)-was already in effect? “In their bondage the people had to a great extent lost the knowledge of God and of the principles of the Abrahamic covenant. In delivering them from Egypt, God sought to reveal to them His power and His mercy, that they might be led to love and trust Him.”|” (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets [Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005], p. 371).

2. It is possible that the golden calf was an image of the goddess Hathor, “Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of love, beauty, music, dance, motherhood and joy.”|” Hathor was “worshipped in Canaan in the eleventh century BC, which at that time was ruled by Egypt.”| The Sinai Tablets show that the Hebrew workers in the mines of Sinai about 1500 BC worshipped Hathor, whom they identified with the goddess Astarte” (“Hathor,” article at, accessed 3/23/13).