The Bible’s Covenant Story. 6. The Covenant at Sinai

The Israelites during the Exodus were the most ungrateful people imaginable.  No matter what God did for them, they always found another problem.  Yet these were God’s chosen people, chosen by him.  He had made a promise to Abraham centuries before that he would continue his covenant with Abraham’s seed (Genesis 17:7).  When Israel reaches Sinai, God renews his covenant, adapted to the circumstances of his people at that time.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 6. Exodus 19:3-6 The Covenant at Sinai.

1. Covenant grace

All covenanting must begin with the grace of God.  In ourselves we have no hope (Romans 3:23).  It was made clear to Israel that God’s choice did not depend on anything in them (Deuteronomy 7:7).  The choice of these people to be his covenant partners was based solely on grace.  He could have chosen whomever he wished – ‘all the earth is mine’ (v5).  At the Exodus God acted when Israel was helpless.  He laid waste a powerful nation, Egypt, for the sake of these miserable slaves.  He brought them into a personal, loving relationship – ‘I brought you to myself’.  Although there is a national aspect to this covenant, it is the same Covenant of Grace to which every believer is a party.  The Lord provided salvation ‘when we were still sinners’ (Romans 5:8).  Apart from an experience of grace, (v4 ‘you yourselves have seen…’) our covenanting is meaningless.

2. Covenant responsibilities

Note v5 ‘if you obey me fully and keep my covenant’.  An obligation rests on God’s people to give willing, joyful obedience to all that he commands.  God’s law shows in practical details what it means to be his covenant people.  Does this not make salvation depend on our obedience, in contrast to Paul’s emphasis on grace alone (Ephesians 2:8)?  Can we lose salvation and our place in the Covenant of Grace?  Our obedience is in fact a proof of the genuineness of our profession to belong to the covenant.  Note James 2:19 ‘I will show you my faith by what I do’.  As the Lord sates, ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15).  A genuine believer will often fail, but graciously the Lord will bring him back in repentance – we will not be content to remain in sin.

3. Covenant privileges

The privileges of faithful covenant people are great – v5-6.  These are not confined to the Old Testament, as 1 Peter 2:9 shows.  There is one Covenant of Grace.

            (i).  ‘my treasured possession’ – we belong to the Lord in a special way.  The Lord sets great value upon us, so great that the Son came to die for us.

            (ii).  ‘a kingdom of priests’ – united to Christ, our great High Priest (Hebrews 8), we are all priests, offering spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5), dedicating all of life (Romans 12:1).

            (iii).  ‘a holy nation’ – we are not just a collection of individuals, but a covenant community, living a corporate life, supporting one another.  The most basic characteristic of God’s people is holiness, reflecting his likeness (1 Peter 1:16).  Holiness indicates separation from everything sinful, separation to God, depending entirely on his grace and strength.

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