Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:3-8

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. – Deuteronomy 5:1-3

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward [i.e., after the promise to Abraham], does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God [the Abrahamic covenant] , so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave  it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. – Galatians 3:16-19

“When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger,26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. – Deuteronomy 4:25-31

God already had a gracious covenant, a covenant of promise, with God’s people through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why another covenant? Why did God make another covenant with Israel through his intermediary, Moses?

This Mosaic covenant is different from the Abrahamic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant is a unilateral promise to Abraham and his offspring. It is a covenant of pure grace, i.e., a covenant of promise. The covenant God made through Moses was a covenant of law. Some have said it is a republication of the covenant of works that was in play in the garden with Adam and Eve. Essentially, this is true. The principle is, “Do this and live.” Of course, the corollary is, “Fail to do this and die.” The reward is, however, a little different. If Adam and Eve had obeyed perfectly, they would have inherited eternal life. But perfect obedience to the law of the Mosaic covenant only gave a wonderful life in the land of promise as the reward. (Deuteronomy 7:14-15; 8:7-10; 11;13-15; 15:4-5; 28:7) It is interesting to note that the description of the reward in the land reads almost identical to the description of the New Earth.

Adam in the garden and Israel in Canaan are analogous. Adam failed to obey and was expelled from the garden. Israel failed to obey and was expelled from the land. These are two big illustrated sermons. The object of these stories is that we need a Savior, one who can obey for us. One who can pay the price of our sins for us.

Paul tells us in Galatians 3 that this is exactly what the law of Moses was about. God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the fathers). Then, he introduced another administration of grace under Moses that contained the law. This more recent covenant did not nullify the earlier covenant that God had previously ratified. Salvation was still by faith, not by law. The law was intended to show us how badly we need the promise.

You will notice as you read Old Testament history that when Israel repents from its idolatry, etc., it never does so on the basis of the law. It always does so on the basis of the promise to the fathers. This is God’s covenant of grace running all through the Biblical narrative from one end to the other. In Deuteronomy 4:25-31 (see above) God predicts his judgment on Israel and tell how he will expel them from the land because of their disobedience to all of his law. Then he says, however, that he will bring them around because he remembers his promise to the fathers. Restoration is due to the promise, not because of their obedience.

How should we define the Mosaic covenant? The Mosaic covenant is God’s law covenant with Israel, wherein he graciously leads them to Christ by showing them the perfect righteousness that only Christ could fulfill to redeem sinners. (from Sacred Bond p. 106)

Related Posts:

Covenant: The architecture of Scripture

The mother of all covenants

The first covenant in time – a covenant of works

The mother of all promises

Everybody needs a rainbow

Episode #1 The Abrahamic covenant: the promise given

Episode #2 The Abrahamic covenant: the promise confirmed

Episode #3 The Abrahamic covenant: the promise signified


If you would like to do more indepth reading on the concept of covenant in Scripture, I recommend this book, Sacred Bond. Click on the book and you will be taken to Amazon where you can purchase a copy.