Hebrew Roots/The Law/Two Covenants at Sinai
THE TWO COVENANTS AT SINAI
It is often overlooked that there were two covenant made at Sinai, particularly in the implications of the differences between the two of them. The first was based upon His spoken Word to them, with the ten commands given to them directly and the remainder spoken to Moses and then delivered verbally to them. The first covenant is contained between chapters 19-24 of the book of Exodus and the requirements for the Tabernacle and the High Priesthood through Aaron and his sons continues from Chs.25-31, ending with an exhortation to keep all the Sabbaths and then Moses was given the two Sapphire Tablets (Exodus 31:18).
The second covenant was made after the first was broken by the sin of the Golden Calf and was not a re-institution of the same covenant. The broken covenant incurred the death penalty (Exodus 32:33-35). Moses goes up the mountain again with two stones which he had to cut and Yahweh makes a new covenant with them, this time on Moses behalf as a response to his intercession and mediation (Exodus 33:17; 34:8-10).
This covenant is based upon His grace and mercy to them as revealed to Moses with the promise that in spite of their stubbornness of heart that He would miraculously take them into the land and drive out its inhabitants from before them (Exodus 33:12-23; 34:11). The main points to the terms of this covenant which renews the previous covenant, is an emphasis on the issues of their previous sin - not having any other gods or making agreements with the people of Canaan, and performing His Feasts as He prescribes them and not after the pattern of how the nations worship their gods, which they had done (Exodus34:26; Deuteronomy 12:29-32).
Then Yahweh makes the statement, "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." (Exodus 34:27) Moses is again told to write down the words of this covenant, as he had done with the previous covenant (Exodus 24:4) and that this covenant was with him and with Israel, no longer one directly with the people. He was the mediator of this covenant and that is the reason why it is often called the "law of Moses".
Notice that in all of the time Moses is up the mountain with Yahweh after instituting the first covenant, there is no mention of the service of the Levites in the Tabernacle. The only ones mentioned are Aaron and his sons for the service of the High Priesthood. This period covers Exodus 24-31. The Levitical priesthood only came to be mentioned after the sin with the Golden Calf where the tribe of Levi was chosen because it proved itself faithful to Him. Previously, from the time of the Exodus to the time of their sin, the function of priesthood had been undertaken by the heads of the tribal families (Exodus 19:7, 24; 24:1, 5, 9, 14).
We see that immediately after Israel was redeemed and delivered from Egypt, Yahweh had called for the consecration of the Firstborn sons, "Consecrate to Me all the Firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both man and beast; it is Mine." (Exodus 13:2)
The Firstborn had always carried the family inheritance and responsibility before Yahweh God and thus, served as a priest before God on behalf of his family. We see the lineage from Adam to Noah was always named by the Firstborn. Abraham functioned as a priest over his extended household, building altars and offering sacrifices and in the case of Lot, interceding and petitioning God for his deliverance. The pattern follows through to Jacob who receives the Blessing of the Firstborn and likewise functions as the priestly head of the family (Abraham - Genesis 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18; 18:23-32: Jacob - 28:18-19; 35:1-7, 13-15).
The consecrated Firstborn sons were intended to serve as priests under the Aaronic order as High Priests. Hence the instructions in the first covenant, "An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice upon it your burnt offering s and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool upon it, you have profaned it. Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness be not exposed upon it." (Exodus 20:24-26)
These altars had no place in the Tabernacle. The altars there were of bronze overlaid upon Shittim wood in the outer court (Exodus 27:1-2); and of gold overlaid upon Shittim wood in the Sanctuary (Exodus 30:1-6). The only function these altars would serve would be for the leaders of the various divisions and heads of households within the tribes to perform their priestly service according to the firstborn status. This is borne out by the instruction given for the Levites when they replaced the order of the failed Firstborn priesthood.
"Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they might serve him. And they shall attend to his needs and the needs of the whole congregation .. .. .."
"Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of the firstbron who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites are Mine" (Numbers 3:6-7, 12)
Under the first covenant the Firstborn priesthood was to continue to function within the nation according to their divisions within the tribes and the Aaronic priesthood was to represent the nation as a whole before God. There were very few instructions for the priesthood in the first covenant. The patriarchal pattern of priesthood had been well established and was well understood. They were the ones who taught their families God's laws and precepts and judged matters within the household. Apart from some basic instructions for the altar, there was no added rituals or ceremonial rites attached to it. The Levitical priesthood however, was replete with ceremonial rites and rituals and required new laws to instruct the new priesthood in all their service.
In the first covenant they failed to function as a "kingdom of priests" and a new order had to be established. They failed to teach and direct the people in the true worship of God and represent Him back to the people. And so, they were replaced by the Levites who proved themselves zealous for the honour of Yahweh God.
Just as the people failed to keep the terms of their betrothal contract while He was preparing the Tabernacle so that He could dwell among them, so the priesthood was also unfaithful to their charge. Therefore, both the covenant and the priesthood had to be replaced by a more elementary system that required less responsibility. Even then, the northern kingdom broke the covenant and was dispersed and the southern kingdom was judged for their unfaithfulness but with the promise of a new covenant which would be a restoration of the first type of covenant, but this time with His law written on their hearts and an individual priesthood with every man knowing Him, "I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord." (Jer.31:33-34a)
APPLICATION OF THE LAW TO THE NEW COVENANT
Just as the broken covenant required amendments to accommodate the weakness of their flesh, so also the priesthood required a different system with different laws to train them in the concepts of holy service through rituals and physical patterns of spiritual realities. Each change in the covenant between God and man requires changes in the priesthood which has an outworking in the form of the priestly service under each covenant.
With the advent of the Melchizedek priesthood in the new covenant, all the laws, rituals and ceremonies which applied to the Levitical priesthood were not relevant. In becoming a High priest on our behalf according to the order of Melchizedek, the Aaronic order was also made redundant. He also became our Supreme Sacrifice for all sin in the one offering of Himself, so making obsolete the whole sacrificial system using animals. Most of the laws in the old covenant, revolved around the priesthood and the sacrificial system and are therefore not applicable to the Melchizedek order. They were only relevant to that priesthood.
The laws given in the first covenant after Yahweh spoke the ten commands, were primarily for the institution of their social and judicial system as a nation (Exodus 21-23) and so, they are only applicable for a government submitted to God. After the nation of Israel was dispersed for their rejection of Messiah, Jews and all believers have been subjected to living under the laws of the nations wherever they were and are in the similar situation to Abraham, the father of faith, walking in the Law of the Lord (essence of the Law - 10 commands) amongst the ungodly and applying the precepts of the rest of the Law to their individual lives wherever it was possible. The principles of the Law remain constant but can only be applied individually in a non-observant society.