The Old Covenant
Exodus 19:3-6; 20:2-4, 7-8, 12-17
Although the system of law given through Moses at Mt. Sinai is generally referred to as the old covenant, its oldness is not a matter of origin, but of historical development. So far as divine purpose is concerned, the everlasting covenant of grace, otherwise called the new covenant, both antedates and outlasts the old.
Read Galatians 3:2-25 for a fuller statement of the fact just stated. Quoting verse 17, "And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." Note also the argument of Hebrews, chapters 6 to 11, where the covenant of faith is traced back to Abraham and Melchisedec, and even to Abel, though in historical development it is called the new and better covenant [8:6-8]. Note especially Hebrews 8:13: "In that he saith, A New covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away."
This lesson on the old covenant considers the moral law summarized in the ten commandments. The morality commanded in the old covenant is fulfilled in the new [Romans 8:4]. The lesson may be outlined as follows:
1. Conversion, Exodus 19:3-6. a. Salvation and Savior, 3. b. Salvation from slavery, 4. c. Salvation for service, 5. d. Salvation to sanctify, 6.
2. Consecration, Exodus 20:2-4, 7-8 a. First commandment, 2-3. b. Second commandment, 4. c. Third commandment, 7. d. Fourth commandment, 8.
3. Conduct, Exodus 20:12-17. a. Fifth commandment, 12. b. Sixth commandment, 13. c. Seventh commandment, 14. d. Eighth commandment, 15. e. Ninth commandment, 16. f. Tenth commandment, 17.
NOTES ON THE TEXT: CONVERSION, Exodus 19:3-6. Like Israel of old, God's people today need to be often reminded of their former condition and of "what would still be their condition if God had not converted them to Himself. We "were by nature the children of wrath, even as others" [Ephesians 2:3]; if we have received special blessings from God we ought to remember the debt of gratitude we owe to Him. Salvation and Savior, 3. Yet we are prone to forget that we did not save ourselves and that we could not have been saved by any power less than that of God our Savior. Moses was no match for Pharaoh and his armies, but the God of Moses had no difficulty in saving Moses and all his people. So today, whatever human instruments God may be pleased to use are too weak in themselves to save anyone; but if they are true ministers of His they point us to the God Who is still mighty to save. Salvation from Slavery, 4. Egyptian bondage was a sore affliction for the ancient Israelites, but slavery to sin and Satan is far worse. As God saved Israel from slavery in Egypt, so Jesus saves His people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. The "eagles' wings" figure a deliverance as miraculous as if the people had actually been flown out of Egypt in this way. Salvation for Service, 5. Freed slaves can never pay for their freedom, but they can show their appreciation by loving service to their Redeemer. All the earth belongs to God by right of creation, but the redeemed people who love and obey Him in His covenant are His special or peculiar treasure. Salvation to Sanctify, 6. God not only saves from sin, He saves to holiness. The people who formerly slaved under the cruel whips of the taskmasters had the opportunity to become "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." If Israel failed to live up to its opportunity, are we doing any better? We need to translate into everyday life the sanctity of our position in Christ.
CONSECRATION, Exodus 20: 2-4, 7-8. Duties owed to the Creator must take precedence over obligations to fellow creatures; the first four commandments, therefore, are concerned with our attitude toward God. Above all else, we must recognize His holiness and fear Him. First Commandment, 2-3. To know the true God is to know that there can be no other god. Still "there be that are called gods" [1 Corinthians 8:5]; therefore we are commanded to have no such gods in His presence. A genuine experience of His salvation, as Israel was delivered "out of the house of bondage," is reason enough to recognize Him alone as God. He alone created us; He alone redeemed us. Second Commandment, 4. Images and likenesses forbidden, as the next verse shows, e those made for purposes of worship. Pictures and statues supposed to represent Him are an abomination to the jealous God, Who must be worshipped "in spirit and in truth" [John 4:24]. Third Commandment, 7. God's name is expressed in many different words in Scripture, and the form of that name is further multiplied by translation into different languages. We cannot avoid the sin here forbidden merely by changing the pronunciation and spelling of some name or title referring to God. Men take His name in vain not only when they swear falsely, but whenever they make light, careless, frivolous references to Him in their conversation. "Holy and reverend is his name" [Psalm 111:9], and not to be taken lightly. Fourth Commandment, 8. Reference here is to the weekly sabbath, one day out of seven set apart as a holy day for the worship of God, in distinction from the other six days in which we are commanded to work. As to the choice of days, let us note Romans 14:4-6. At any rate, there remains a rest or sabbatism to the people of God [Hebrews 4:9]; and since the resurrection of Christ His followers have generally observed the first day of the week in celebration of that event. Secularization of the entire week, so that God's people no longer have time to turn aside from worldly occupations to worship him, is clearly contrary to this commandment.
CONDUCT, Exodus 20:12-17. As the first four commandments call for consecration of the life to God, the last six set limits upon conduct with reference to other men. This division of the ten command- ments corresponds to Jesus' summary of all the law in just two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. Fifth Commandment, 12. Paul calls this "the first commandment with promise" [Ephesians 6:1-3]. By their disrespect for parents, a large part of the younger generation today have cut themselves off from this promise. It is true also that parents who neglect or abdicate their parental responsibilities can hardly expect their children to honor them. Sixth Commandment, 13. "Kill" here means murder. Only hypocrites or persons grossly ignorant of Scripture teaching misuse this command-ment as an argument against capital punishment or against killing in self-defense or in war, etc. We might as well apply it to pulling a weed or swatting a fly. Murder is the crime here forbidden, and this crime involves deliberate malice. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" [I John 3:15]. Seventh Commandment, 14. So far as the Scripture distinguishes between adultery and fornication, we may note that adultery is the worst kind of fornication, because adultery is a violation of the marriage relationship. Divorce generally involves the sin of adultery [Matthew 19:9], and the sin may be committed in the heart even without the outward act [Matthew 5:28]. Eighth Commandment, 15. Whether the amount is little or much, and whether the act is clearly a violation of human law or is done under the protection of corrupt law, God says simply, "Thou shalt not steal." The commandment assumes a right to private property to which persons other than the owner have no right. Ninth Commandment, 16. This is, in effect, a command to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth. We cannot always tell the whole truth, because generally we do not know it all; or if we did, there would not be time enough to tell it; but at least we should be careful that what we do say is true. Tenth Commandment, 17. Maybe we would not kill a neighbor to get his house or his wife, and maybe we would not steal his property, but this commandment forbids us even to covet anything that is his. So again the divine command goes deeper than the outward act, reaching into the mind and heart.
CONCLUSION [Exodus 24:7] Well, of course -- what else could they say, unless in open ingratitude and rebellion? It remained for modern dispensationalists to suggest that Israel rashly erred in agreeing to obey God! No: the expressed intention of the people of Israel was no more than all creatures owe their Creator, no more than believers in the new covenant owe and willingly undertake; and we have no reason to doubt the momentary sincerity of their intention. History given by divine inspiration demonstrates that Israel was a pathetic failure in performance. Before we judge too harshly, let us remember that we who believe in Christ and in Him enjoy infinitely greater privileges and advantages than the nation of Israel ever did -- we also in ourselves are wretched failures. Our victory is only in Christ I Romans 7:21-25". ================
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, April 18, 1975, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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