Grafted In, Part 4
You came down on Mt. Sinai and spoke from heaven; You gave them right rules and teachings, good laws, and commandments. You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, and You ordained for them laws, commandments, and teachings through Moses Your servant.
The location and identity of Mount Sinai has been hotly disputed over the years. A significant part of the debate is this mountain’s relationship to Mount Horeb—whether they are the same location or two different places altogether. Currently, the most widely accepted location is in the Sinai Peninsula; in fact, the peninsula is named as such because of the Mount that is believed to be there. But is this the true location of Mount Sinai?
When Moses fled Egypt, we are told that he escaped to Midian. Scholars believe that Midian was located in the northwest Arabian peninsula on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea. It was there that Moses shepherded the flocks of Jethro, who became his father-in-law. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah, whom he married after the death of Sarah.
One day when Moses was pasturing the sheep on the west side of the wilderness, he came to Horeb—the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1). It was there that Moses encountered the burning bush. Exodus 3:12 tells us “And He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you; when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” Once again we see God speak to His servant, telling him that He is sending them and that He will be with them, and He will bring them back.
As we see in Exodus 19, Mount Sinai is the mountain on which Moses received the Ten Commandments. While at first glance this may seem to contradict the previous promise that God would bring them to this mountain (referring to Mount Horeb), upon closer examination, we see strong evidence which supports the claim that they are in fact at the same location. The name Horeb has been known to mean “glowing/heat,” while Sinai is considered to have come from the name Sin, which was the deity of the moon in Sumerian culture. This could mean that there were two peaks of that mountain range, one associated with the sun and the other associated with the moon. John Calvin believed them to be the same mountain: Sinai being the eastern side of the mount and Horeb being the western side. Scriptural references linking Sinai and Horeb are abundant in Deuteronomy (4:10, 4:15, 5:2, 9:8, 18:16) as well as other places in Scripture (1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chronicles 5:10, Psalm 106:19).
If this is true that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same place, we see a problem with the traditional placement of Mount Sinai in the Sinai peninsula. There is no evidence of the Midianites living there, but rather they are seen living east of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Arabian peninsula. By looking at scripture, we can see evidence for the idea that Mount Sinai is in Arabia.
In Exodus 18, we see Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, coming to meet Moses. This takes place in the chapter right before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Since Jethro was a Midianite priest, it would make sense that Mount Sinai is indeed somewhere in Midianite territory.
Exodus 19:18 tells us, “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.” This has led some scholars to search for volcanoes, which they found in northwestern Arabia.
Galatians 4:25 tells us, “Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem.” This would seem to agree with the idea that Sinai was in Arabia; however, at the time Paul wrote the letter, the territory known as Arabia encompassed a large portion of the southwestern Middle East, including both modern-day Arabia and the Sinai peninsula.
Taking this evidence into account, scholars have found a few other plausible locations which may be Mount Sinai. One which has gained a large amount of support is Jabal al-Lawz in Arabia. At this location, researchers saw that the top appeared to be scorched, which would support what we saw before in Exodus 19:18. This location is near to where Jethro lived. A rock was found here that appears to be split open with evidence of water erosion. Other altars and formations have been found which would seem to also support this location. However, other researchers have rejected this location for various reasons. When the people had arrived at Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses and said, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). Here God begins to reveal His ultimate plan for His redeemed people. It is clearly God making the move as He once again extends His grace and mercy. God is calling a people to be His own special treasure, His segula, His pride and joy, His special love, the apple of His eye. God is in love with His people; He speaks words of endearment. He reaches out in love and goes on to say, “If you faithfully obey me and keep my covenant, if you have no other gods before me and if you serve only me then I will be your God and you shall be My people.”
What a deal! But He doesn’t stop there: “You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (verse 6). This shows the national sovereignty and the fulfillment of Yisrael’s mission. The function of the priest within society was to serve as the model for Yisrael’s self-understanding of its role among the nations. The priest was set-apart by a distinctive way of life consecrated to the service of God and dedicated to ministering to the needs of the people.
Yisrael understood that they were to be a light to the nations among the Gentiles. Why? To bring them truth. The Bible tells us that salvation is through the Jews. God entrusted them with His teachings and a knowledge of His ways to be a light to lead the nations to Him. God “cut” a covenant with Avraham and it was passed down to Isaac and then to Jacob and finally to the whole nation of Yisrael. God gave them what we call the Ten Commandments, taken from the Hebrew phrase Asert HaDevarim that appears in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13. The Hebrew means “the ten words,” which the Jews of ancient Alexandria in Egypt translated literally into Greek as deka logoi (the English rendering of this being “Decalogue”). These words were not DOs and DON’Ts as we have been taught, but words on how to live as a people who were to be set apart and a light to the nations. It was a way of life for God’s redeemed people, the Bride, to stay in fellowship with their Groom, the one who has now betrothed them to Himself. This is all about a marriage covenant, a relationship. It included all the blessings given to Avraham and now even more. We will see as we study this covenant that God adds to it not only blessings for keeping the covenant, but also curses or penalties for not keeping it. Before, it was all God, but like any marriage, it takes two to keep it going. Chapters 21-24 are called the Law of Moses or the Book of the Covenant, in Hebrew sefer ha-berit. Exodus 24:4 & 7 recount Moses writing and reading the commands to the people.
This is a picture of how God’s community of people ought to relate to one another. These “laws” were not given so that they could survive the wilderness, but they were given to show the nations how God’s people were to relate to one another. People say that the Torah or God’s teachings were for then and not for now, but even our laws in this country were taken from the Torah.
In 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul addresses the issue of pay for those who make a living by the gospel, which is still used today. Verses 8-9 are a reference from the Law of Moses. We, the grafted-in church, are to be set-apart, a light to the nations, and there is only one way to do that and that is God’s way. Yeshua Himself lived by these ways, and we will see this in further chapters.
Acts 28:23 tells us how as Paul brought light to the Gentiles, he used the Law of Moses and the prophets (the Torah) to lead them to Yeshua. The Torah is definitely for today!
What is the Torah?
The Torah is usually referred to as the first five books of the Bible. Christians refer to it as the Law of Moses. The Torah can actually contain all of the Hebrew writings, or what we call the Old Testament. This course is intended to teach not only the truth of the Torah but why Christians should be living by it. First, we must understand the truth of the Torah: what it is and what it is not. Throughout this study we will answer these questions. We will start with what the Torah actually is.The word Torah comes from the root word yara, which means “to shoot,” such as shooting a bow and arrow in order to hit the target, or in other words, to “hit the mark.” On the spiritual level it means “teaching” or “instruction.” So we could say that the Torah teaches us how to hit the mark concerning God and His righteousness. We can then broaden the Torah to include the New Testament, for it also shows us the way to righteousness and it also is instruction and teaching. Paul tells us in
2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.” At the time Paul is writing this, there is no other Scripture except the Hebrew writings. His writings and the others currently in the New Testament were not canonized as Scripture until hundreds of years later.
Psalm 19:7-10 tells us that the Torah of the Lord is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous. Nowhere is the concept of Torah denoted as law. This is an incorrect rendering of the word Torah.
What the Torah is Not
If the Torah is not Law, then what are the Ten Commandments? Though the Ten Commandments are DOs and DON’Ts, they are not considered as laws to God, but as guidelines for His redeemed to walk in. As you will see, the Ten Commandments were not given by an angry God waiting for one of us to get out of line so He could punish us, but a God who was in love with His people and wanted us to remain in fellowship with him. The word yara, as we have seen, means to “hit the mark.” The word chata means “sin,” which is to “miss the mark:” two different words with opposite meanings. The Torah is the instructions on how to hit the mark, thus also the Ten Commandments are instructions on hitting the mark. The word Law is an incorrect rendering of the meaning of Torah. The word Law was used as its meaning because people of non-Jewish descent who did not know the clear meaning of Torah or its historical giving at Mt. Sinai incorrectly drew that conclusion from the Ten Commandments. While there is much speculation regarding the exact physical location and identity of Mount Sinai, there is no doubt that the events which took place there are an essential part of our spiritual foundation. All throughout scripture, we hear mention of sin.
Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So if all have sinned and the wages of this sin is death, then we better understand all we can about it. So what is sin? The word for sin in Hebrew is chet, which means “to miss the mark.” It is an archery term meaning to miss the bullseye. What is this bullseye? It is the Torah. So in order to better understand sin, we must first take a look at what the Torah is. The root word of Torah is yarah, meaning “to pour, shoot, teach.” Another word which comes from this root is moreh, meaning “the early rain, archer, teacher.” From these definitions we get the imagery that the believer’s walk is like an archer shooting a target. When we sin, it is as if we are missing the target of righteousness. The traditional understanding of the Torah is the 613 commandments laid out in the first five books of the Bible; yet even before the covenant at Mount Sinai, we see evidence that the Torah was a standard meant to be lived out by followers of the one true God. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
If there was no way to measure wickedness, then there would be no cause to blame them. However, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
We see many of the commands given to those at Mount Sinai were already a lifestyle lived by their fathers. We see that the Sabbath
(Genesis 2:3), the Appointed Times (Genesis 1:14, where “seasons” is the word moedim, meaning “appointed times”), and clean/unclean meats (Genesis 7:2) are present long before Sinai. Abraham displayed his great faith through obedience: “Because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Genesis 26:5). There are many more examples of this standard of righteousness expected of all of God’s creation, even before the physical giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
These laws are all important for being able to continue hitting the mark—each one, no matter how minor, holds weight: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Torah until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Throughout the years, Torah scholars have searched for a central motif—a single command that summarizes the entire Torah. We see one such attempt in the Jewish Talmud:
Rabbi Simlai said, “613 commandments were given to Moses—365 negative mitzvot (commandment), the same as the number of days in a year, and 248 positive mitzvot, the same as the number of parts in a man’s body. David came and reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isaiah 33:15), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah again to two—“Observe and do righteousness” (Isaiah 56:1). Then Amos came and reduced them to one, “Seek me and live (Amos 5:4)—as did Habakkuk, “The righteous one will live by his trusting [or by faith] (Habakkuk 2:4). (Makkot 23b-24a, abridged) (Jewish New Testament Commentary, by David Stern, p. 565)
These men were not advocating a rejection of the instructed Torah in favor of one or two teachings; rather, they were attempting to display the true motivation behind the keeping of the rest of the commands. This should bring to mind Yeshua’s response when He was asked which commandment was the greatest: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’” (Matthew 22:37). Paul also alludes to this when he says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Torah” (Romans 13:8). The command to love does not replace the other teachings; in fact, it refers back to and relies upon the Torah for instruction on just how we are to go about showing our love both to God and our neighbor. What other standard of love can we use than the one given us by God?
God knew that we would miss the bullseye every now and then, and so He made the way for us to be redeemed, and that way was through Yeshua’s sacrifice on the cross. It is called God’s grace. This is not something new, for God’s grace goes back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first missed the mark. But let’s make it clear: just because we have grace, as Paul tells us in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
So what do we need to do to keep hitting the mark? Well, that is what the Torah is all about. The Torah is our protector. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 119:11, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.” When we treasure something, we keep it safe. Well, God told us that we are His treasured possession
(Deuteronomy 7:6, Exodus 19:5).
So God gave us His word to protect us. He also gave us His Holy Spirit to help us. The whole Word of God separates us from the world. The Holy Spirit helps us to be separated. The Torah was given so that God’s people would be different among the people in the world. They would be the light in the darkness. They would be as different from the world as day is from night.
One example of this distinction is the instruction of not eating pork. Did God have anything against pigs? No, these were His creation; yet He tells us not to eat pork. Why? So that we will be separated from the world. It is an act of obedience. It is called holiness.
God created the Sabbath on the seventh day. Why does He tell us to rest as He rested? Because it is what separates us from the world. Six days we labor and on the seventh day we rest. Again, it separates us from the world who cannot rest from their labors because they are constantly going after worldly appetites that God’s people restrain from on their day of rest. Again, holiness and separation are what keep us different from the world. It is in keeping the whole Word of God that we are made holy and blameless and clean. The writer of Proverbs tells it correctly:
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. For its profit is better than the profit of silver and its gain than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast. The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By knowledge the deep were broken up, and the skies drip dew. My son, let them not depart from your sight. Proverbs 3:13-21
The Ten Commandments are not for the purpose of wrath, but for the purpose of love. We are loved by God and so we are treasured in His eyes, and He keeps us well-guarded and protected from the consequences of our sin, which is death. For God so loved ME that He sent His only begotten son that whoever believes (an action word; we must put that belief into action by living out God’s commandments) in Him should not perish (John 3:16). What we believers always miss is that in this passage, Yeshua tells Nicodemus first that he must be born again: born of the Spirit, who is our counselor, who leads us in the truth of God’s holy word—the whole counsel of His word. He protects us from missing the mark because he convicts us of our shortcomings and our sin and shows us our need for our Savior. It is in repentance (which in Hebrew means “to turn back to Torah”) that we can get back on the path that leads to life. What did the living Torah, Yeshua, say? “If you love Me, then keep my Torah (commandments)” (John 14:15).
Up and Coming
As we go on, we will discuss this historical and meaningful giving of the Torah. For now, we will look at Paul and see what his definition of the Torah is and then we will look at what the Torah does for us.
The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much pure gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
We see that the Torah is perfect, sure, right,
pure, clean, true and righteous.
There are two principles that must be taken into account when seeking to understand Paul: first, look at the harmony of the scriptures (scripture cannot contradict scripture), and second, look at the context in which the passage is written as well as the context of the whole book.
Let’s take a closer look!
1. The Torah is not to be observed in order to gain justification before God. This is the whole point of Galatians. Romans 3:20a says, “By the works of the Torah, no flesh will be justified in His sight.” The Torah was meant to be a lifestyle for somebody who is already justified and redeemed.
2. Torah helps man to recognize his own sinfulness. Romans 3:20b goes on to say, “For through the Torah comes the knowledge of sin.” The Greek word here for “knowledge” should actually be rendered as “recognition.” Through the Torah, people can see the sinfulness of sin (this function of the Torah concerns those who are not yet redeemed).
3. Torah helps to bring about God’s wrath (Romans 4:15). If any person attempts to earn justification by trying to obey the Torah, then for him the Torah will serve only to condemn, for no one can achieve justification by the Torah, because no one can succeed in keeping the Torah perfectly.
4. Torah acts as a protector (Galatians 3:24). How? In Paul’s day, well-to-do families would hire a person to care for their child while on the way to their teacher. He was responsible for the child’s safety. In the same way, the Torah hems us in for our protection rather than our imprisonment, preserving the mental, moral, and social environment into which an individual was born and raised. The person was protected until the Spirit of God would lead him to the teacher, Messiah.
In a letter to Timothy, Paul says this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work.”
How Does the Torah Protect Us?
Let’s look at the word Torah. The meaning of this word is “teaching” or “instruction.” There are many such torahs in the Torah, which is the first five books written by Moses in the Bible. If we broaden the scope of Torah, we could include the historical writings: the psalms, poems, and prophets, or what we refer to as the Old Testament or better yet, the Hebrew Scriptures. Let’s go one step further and broaden the scope of the Torah to include the “New Testament,” or the Scriptures of the renewed covenant. God’s Word is one as He is One.
Let’s look at the word mitzvot. The English rendering of this word is “judgements, commandments and ordinances.” These words emphasize the legal aspect of the Torah. This gives the Torah its rendering as “Law.” It is not a law to be obeyed in order to gain righteousness or salvation, but rather it functions as a protective barrier just like any law governs a people and protects that people in society.
The Torah, through its judgements, commandments, ordinances, and teachings, is designed to put a hedge around people to protect them. This hedge of protection operates in two ways: first, for the children on the way to the teacher as in Galatians 3:24 tells us, “ Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Messiah came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.” and second, it protects God’s redeemed community.
Let’s look at the first way. The Torah, as we saw earlier, is like one who cares for a child on the way to a teacher. This is called a pedagogue (note that the Greek word paidagogos differs from the modern English usage of “pedagogue”), which was like a bodyguard. So the Torah helps to create a safe environment. The person who lives within its confines will be relatively safe. This does not make the person automatically saved, but it will protect him on the way to the moment of salvation. You might say that this would be like the person who attended your church, or was part of your family, but had not yet accepted the Lord. The Torah will show them what they are missing until that life begins for them as one of the redeemed. As for the second way, if the Torah helps protect the lives of those not yet part of the redeemed community, how much more is it a safeguard for God’s holy ones, those who believe?
The Torah with its judgements, commandments, and ordinances deals with two types of kingdoms: light and darkness, life and death, holy and unholy, clean and unclean.
The picture is an illustration of these two kingdoms. Within the borders lies blessings or curses. It is important, then, to know the boundaries of these two kingdoms; this is the importance of the Torah (using the Torah in its full meaning, Old and New Testaments). The Torah is a safeguard, a protective hedge, keeping us so we do not step over the boundary; for there are no gray areas: you are either in the kingdom of light or in the kingdom of darkness. The Torah tells us clearly what is clean and what is unclean, what is holy and what is not holy, what is life and what is death. God meant the Torah to be a protection for the redeemed community. This is truly a picture of God’s grace. Inside this protective hedge lies the blessings of God. Psalm 19:10-11 tells us, “The statutes that God laid down for us are sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, and righteous altogether. By them your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.” The Torah is a training manual for the redeemed, a lifestyle full of blessings when observed. All this gives a positive look at the Torah. It shows a God full of love and grace who cares for his redeemed people. God wants to remain in fellowship with His people and only sin, which is disobedience to the Torah, keeps us from that fellowship and puts us in the Kingdom of Darkness.
So we see the function of the Torah for the believer; now let’s look at the function of the Torah for the unbeliever. We already discussed the Torah as one who protects you on your way to the teacher (Galatians 3:19-29). It also helps reveal sin (Romans 7:7). If the Word of God is complete, then it must show you that you need God and His redemption in your life. The Torah reveals the Messiah to an unbeliever (Luke 24:27, Galatians 3:24). We also already discussed how the Torah brings about God’s wrath. This is what happens when you step over the protective borders of the Torah through sin: you enter into the kingdom of darkness where there is death. So in actuality, we bring God’s wrath upon ourselves and even condemn ourselves all on the basis of the Torah. The Torah helps to reveal what unbelievers are missing (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). As believers, we are to be witnesses, a light in the darkness and this is done through our lifestyle, living out the Torah; like Paul said, “We are living Epistles.”
Torah’s function for the Redeemed.
As we saw in 2 Timothy:16-17 all scripture is profitable. This includes the Torah.
We see as babes in Messiah the Torah is our spiritual food. 1Peter 2:2-3 says, ”Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, and like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
And the Torah is our spiritual food as we see In Matthew 4:4 Yeshua said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God.”
The Torah is wisdom as we see in 2 Timothy 3:15, it says, “And that from a babe you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through the faith which is in Messiah Yeshua”
Let’s look at a few scriptures that tell us the function of the torah for the unredeemed.
Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Far from it! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
Galaltians 3:24 speaks of the Torah as a guardian leading us to Messiah. “ Therefore the Law has become our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith.
We see in John 12:48 that the Torah, God’s word, will judge us. “The one who rejects Me and does not accept My teachings has one who judges him: the word which I spoke. That will judge him on the last day”.
Deuteronomy 4:5-8 speaks of us as witnesses to the unbeliever. “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you are to do these things in the land where you are entering to take possession of it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole Law which I am setting before you today?
– A legally binding agreement between God and His people
– Redemption in the Old Testament is marked by the ratification of covenants in which God affirms His will for His people.
– Those legal agreements are the base upon which all relationships with God are built and maintained.
– The very existence of the nation of Israel is connected to a series of covenants with God.
– Hebrew word for covenant is brit
– Several types of covenants between people in Bible times
– Wedding covenants
– Treaties bound together two or more nations
– Covenants in the Bible itself represent agreements between men and God
– Ancient covenants have a great deal in common with those found in the Bible
1. Common language
A. Ancient Near East Mari covenants dating from the 18th century BCE contain the phrase “to kill an ass in peace.” The statement in Ezekiel 34:25 & 37:26, “to make a covenant in peace” is the same.
B. Hebrew word brit had its equivalent in Akkadian, the language of many Mari documents.
C. The ancient Suzerainty Treaties (International Covenants) employed such phrases as “stipulations,” “oath,” “blessings and curses,” and “witnesses.” These same terms are essential to many of the important covenants in the Tanakh (the Torah of Moses, prophets, and other writings or what we call the Old Testament).
2. Religious features
A. Another feature of many ancient Near Eastern covenants was the religious elements. Most if not all of them had religious sanctions of some kind.
B. Animals were sacrificed both to the gods and for mutual consumption of the covenant parties. The meal, therefore, was a religious act.
a. One common practice was for an animal to be sacrificed and all its parts cut in half. The symbolism illustrates a grave consequence for the party who failed to uphold the terms of the covenant. They would say, “Just as this beast is cut up, so may the party who failed be cut up.” The man who would recite this would declare his fate if he broke his treaty obligations.
b. Example: God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15)
I. God had Abraham cut the sacrifice in halves, then God walked between the halved animal parts. Normally both parties making the covenant would walk between the halves of the animals being sacrificed, but in this case it was only God. God was making an unconditional covenant with Abraham. Abraham had no obligations on his part other than to receive it by faith. All the responsibility of this covenant was God’s.
C. Another common feature to the ancient Near Eastern covenants was the use of covenant signs. When an ancient covenant was made, an appropriate sign often accompanied the event. This generally took the form of an outward, visible symbol that served to remind the parties of the covenant and its terms.
a. Example: Noah
I. The sign of the covenant with Noah was the rainbow. This signified that mankind would never again be destroyed by a rain (Genesis 9:12-13). The bow, from God’s perspective, was upside down which signified, in ancient times, that the battle was over.
b. Example: Abraham
I. According to Genesis 17:11, circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham, showing that this covenant would be passed down through Abraham’s seed.
c. Example: Moses
I. Exodus 31:12-13 indicates that the sign of this covenant was the Sabbath.
3. The Suzerainty Treaty
A. This was a national covenant between a nation and its vassal or dependent nation. Scholars have discovered that the format for many of these ancient treaties, such as those from the 13th and 14th century BCE Hittites, closely parallels the format of the Torah
The Suzerainty Treaty
The Suzerainty Treaty is an ancient Hittite treaty. It goes back to the 13th-14th century BCE. When we look at the Torah, it is set up as one of these covenant treaties. The question is, how could the Israelites be familiar with this kind of treaty when they were slaves in Egypt? The answer must be that Moses would have been familiar with these treaties growing up and being educated in Pharaoh’s court. During this time, the Hittites and the Egyptians fought for the land that had been promised, and would soon belong, to the Israelites. Let’s look at what makes up one of these covenants/treaties:
1. Preamble – a basic introductory paragraph of the covenant
2. Historical prologue – the acts of the great king, what he has done for the vassal nation
3. Stipulations – the main bulk of the treaty/covenant, the expectations of the vassal nation
4. Blessings and curses – rewards for compliance and penalties of noncompliance with the covenants
5. Witnesses – the signatures of certain prominent figures who are party to the enactment of the covenants
6. Means of succession (optional) – provision in the covenant for determining who will take the place of the great king
7. Provision for depositing the covenant (optional) – discusses where the covenant or copies of the covenant will be stored
Now let’s compare it to the Torah according to Deuteronomy:
1. Preamble (Deuteronomy 1:1-5) – gives basic introductory remarks about the book of Deuteronomy
2. Historical prologue (Deuteronomy 1:6-4:49) – a recounting of what the Great King (God) has done for Israel
3. Stipulations (Deuteronomy 5:1-26:19) – the bulk of the book, known to laymen as the “law;” more accurately, the stipulations given by God, the Great King, to Israel for the maintenance of this covenant
4. Blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 27-30) – the consequences for Israel of keeping or breaking the covenant.
5. Witnesses (Deuteronomy 30:19) – God calls upon heaven and earth to witness this covenant
6. Succession (Deuteronomy 31:1-8) – God provides for Joshua to follow Moshe when he dies
7. Deposit/Reading (Deuteronomy 31:9-13) – Provision made to store the covenant in the Ark and to read it publicly at a certain time
Several unique features of the Suzerainty treaty may shed more light on the Mosaic Covenant:
1. The treaty made a distinction between those who were parties to the treaty and those who were not. The covenant alone distinguished between people dealt with by force and those according to normal peaceful procedures—those under the covenant enjoyed peaceful interaction with the Sovereign. This thought takes us back to an earlier point about the relationship between the covenants with Abraham and Moses. Specifically, it reminds us that the covenant with Moses was designed to help the recipients enjoy the blessings promised under the Abrahamic covenant.
2. Another characteristic of the Suzerainty treaty is that the treaty/covenant implies the existence of a community. God did not make the Mosaic covenant with a single individual, but with a nation. This nation was bound together with a common purpose and will. Moreover, the purpose and will of this nation was to be in complete harmony with God’s purpose and will. The covenant was meant to help facilitate that end. In order for it to function properly, the whole community of God’s people had to be united in living that covenant.
3. The third characteristic of the Suzerainty treaty is love. In the secular treaties, the graciousness of the king initiated the covenant and he agreed to enter into such a covenant with a people who were in many ways subservient to him. Likewise in a Biblical covenant, it was the graciousness of God that caused Him to institute all of His covenants.
4. The last characteristic is the provision for renewal. When the covenant makers died and new generations took over, covenants were often renewed. When covenants were renewed, new documents were prepared which brought up to date the stipulations of the earlier documents. We see evidence of this in the Tanakh. For example, when Moses and his generation died, there was a covenant renewal, such as the one recorded in Joshua 24:24.
When a covenant was renewed, the stipulations were sometimes altered to fit the needs of the generation that was renewing the covenant. However, One covenant does not set aside another; one does not invalidate another so as to nullify its stipulations. Rather it renews, expands, adapts, updates. This is the point Paul makes in Galatians 3:17.