At the morning service this past Lord’s Day the focus of the sermon was God’s covenant, from Exodus 34:10-28. The Lord responded with these words to Moses’ prayer that God would continue to be present with his people despite their sin: “Behold, I am making a covenant” (v.10). This was not a brand-new covenant, but God was promising Moses that he would restore his covenant with the Israelites that they had broken by worshiping the golden calf.
A covenant is God’s gracious act in taking to himself a people, making them his and promising to be their God.
Since as Christians we are in covenant with God through Jesus Christ, this renewed covenant with the Israelites teaches us lessons about God’s covenant with us.
First, in his covenant, God magnifies his grace towards us. When they made and worshiped their golden calf, the Israelites shattered the covenant God had made with them as completely as the stone tablets shattered in pieces when Moses dashed them on the rocks (32:19). Yet the Lord did not carry out the judgment they deserved, which was complete destruction (32:10). Instead, through the faithful intercession of Moses, God renewed his covenant promises to Israel. Though they didn’t deserve it, he would lead them to the Promised Land and be their God. What amazing grace! This is the kind of abounding grace Paul speaks of in Romans 5:20 where he says, “… where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
And behind this grace of God was the still-future reality that Christ, the Son of God, would suffer and die to atone for the sins of God’s people. God was gracious to the Israelites because of Christ. And he is gracious to us, despite our sin, because of Christ.
Just as the Israelites’ hopes for entrance into the Promised Land were not based on their own righteousness, so as Christians our hope of entering God’s eternal rest is not based on our own righteousness, but on the faithfulness of God to his covenant promises to us in Christ.
Second, in his covenant God demands our loyalty to him. After the Lord promises Moses that he will restore his covenant with the people of Israel, he commands them (through Moses) not to make covenants with the nations of the land of Canaan, and to destroy their idols. They are to worship no other god, for he says, “… the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (v.14).
Here is the introduction of a major biblical theme: God is the husband to his people, who are his wife or bride. Just as a husband ought to have a righteous zeal for his wife and the sanctity of their marriage, so the Lord has a holy jealousy for the devotion and affection of his people (“jealousy” here is positive, not a sinful envy).
As Christians we are the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33). Jesus, who loved us and saved us by his death and resurrection, calls us to be devoted and faithful to him as our Lord and Savior.
Third, in his covenant God calls us to obedience to his commandments. The Lord also declares to Moses certain of the laws that he had already given him concerning the worship and service of the Israelites. At least one common theme of these various laws is that the Lord’s covenant commandments were life-encompassing. The Israelites were not part-time members of God’s covenant, but he demanded nothing less than that they orient their entire lives in serving and worshiping him.
God calls us to this same whole-life and whole-hearted obedience. Yet if we truly know Christ and delight in him as our savior, this will not be a burden. Rather, it will be our delight to live lives completely devoted to Christ. As John says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3).
The more we rejoice in God’s covenant grace to us in Christ, the more ready we will be gladly to offer him our covenant obedience.
Soli Deo Gloria!