Two-million Hebrews. That is the number of people that Biblical scholars estimate left Egypt in the Exodus. Two-million slaves who had never tasted freedom before. Two-million men, women and children, with no structure; no organization; no laws. Two-million wanderers following an eighty year old shepherd, prophet, and former prince of Egypt.
I’m sure that they had heard stories of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and how they each had encountered a God who claimed that He would care for and bless them. There may have even been some faithful within the nation who spoke of an ancient promise to Abraham. “Our father Abraham’s God told him that after four hundred years of captivity, we would leave carrying out great possessions!” they would say. Then this peculiar man named Moses showed up and started doing the miraculous, preaching about how “I Am” was going to set them free.
Now they had crossed through the Red Sea on dry land, and seen the armies of Egypt utterly destroyed. They made their way to the base of a mountain called Sinai. For the first time in four centuries, they were a free people.
Along with great joy, they must have been terrified. Was this God a good God? What would He expect from them? Where were they going? What were they going to do when they got there, just tell the inhabitants of the land to give it over to them, because God said so?
There are 613 “provisions” in the Torah, or Law. These provisions were the requirements of God on Israel as a nation. The Mosaic Covenant is between God and Israel. This covenant is a conditional/bilateral covenant. In Exodus 19:5-6a, God tells Israel “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.” We see the conditional, “If you…I will” present here.
Israel agreed to this covenant: “Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8) The Mosaic Covenant was, in essence, the national constitution of Israel – a Theocracy ruled by God, Himself. God, as Sovereign, had the right to set regulations over the conduct of every aspect of life within Israel. God desired to establish a people who would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” They would be set apart. They would be different from the nations of the world. This would be necessary, as God’s ultimate plan for Israel was to use it to facilitate the fulfillment of the Adamic Covenant, as well as the “blessing to the nations” aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant. The promised Seed still must come.
There are several aspects of the Mosaic Covenant that we must understand. First, the Torah governed every aspect of life. There are 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands in the Torah.
Second, being a conditional covenant, the nation would be blessed for obedience and judged for disobedience.
Third, blood sacrifice was instituted. God is Holy. The people would have a daily reminder that sin required judgment. The calendar of the nation would center on this truth.
Fourth, circumcision was made a means of submission to the Law. Circumcision was originally instituted in Genesis 17, as God commanded Abraham and all males within his household to be circumcised as a symbol of the Abrahamic Covenant. But the purpose of circumcision was now changed to be a sign of submission to the Law. That is why the Apostle Paul warned the Gentiles in Galatia that submitting to circumcision required that they obey the Law entirely. (Galatians 5:3)
And finally, the Sabbath is instituted as a sign of the nation’s faith in God. All work would cease on the seventh day of each week. In a world where it was necessary to prepare food daily – remember, there is no refrigeration or pre-packaging – this would be a symbol to the nations that Israel trusted in God, and a reminder to Israel that they were to depend on their Sovereign.The nation struggled from the very beginning with honoring this covenant. Rebellion, complaining and lack of faith are common throughout Israel’s history. This lack of faith causes a delay of forty years before they are allowed by God to enter the Promised Land. After conquering it, a pattern of rebellion, judgment, repentance and deliverance continue for several hundred years. This rebellion would eventually result in the people being taken into captivity and scattered throughout the earth. Because the Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant, it would seem that this would be the end of Israel’s existence as a nation in the land of their forefathers. But a promise was made to Abraham, and that promise would be remembered.