What is the Covenant Code or the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22—23:33)?
The Covenant Code is an academic term used to describe the laws given by God to the Israelites through Moses as written in Exodus 20:22—23:33. It is not a term in the actual biblical text but a way of referring to this section of God's Law. It is sometimes also called the Book of the Covenant.
God's Law to the Israelites can be divided into these sections:
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17)
The Covenant Code (Exodus 20:22—23:33)
The Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomy 12—26)
The Leviticus Code (Leviticus 17—26)
Each of these sections seems to have a special emphasis from God. However, the terminology of Covenant Code can be used to apply to an overall understanding of every law God gave starting with the rules for Passover in Exodus 12:14.
Covenants in general are binding promises with rules. One or both parties of the agreement have a part to play. For example, God made a covenant with Abraham and then extended that covenant through Abraham's offspring in Isaac and Jacob. The Mosaic covenant, of which the Covenant Code is a part, was given by God through Moses to the Israelites after the Exodus. God also made covenants with Noah and David. God is the initiator and fulfiller of these covenants. Humanity is incapable of keeping a covenant forever because of our sinful, imperfect state.
The Covenant Code, also referred to as the Mosaic law when understood in a broader sense, was meant to govern the relationship between God and His chosen people, the Israelites, as well as between the people themselves. God intended through each rule or code to establish a system that would reflect His holiness. His people were also called to be holy (Leviticus 19:1–2).
God asked the Israelites to keep these rules perpetually or in an ongoing manner (e.g., Exodus 29:9), yet God was always using these rules and worship systems to point to a better covenant. As Hebrews 8:5 explains, "They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, 'See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.'" Jesus always was intended as the mediator of a new and better covenant (Hebrews 8:1–13; 9:15; 10:1–14; 1 Timothy 2:5–6). The author of Hebrews points to Jeremiah's prophecy regarding the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34) and explains, "in speaking of a new covenant he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13). The covenant codes were intended to last in an ongoing manner as long as the covenant was in place. Jesus fulfilled the covenant (Matthew 5:17–18; Galatians 3:16–29).
Every law, rule, ritual, and vessel of the covenant codes of the Old Testament are a shadowy representation of a heavenly reality and fulfillment of Jesus Christ. For instance, the Passover was both a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt and a foreshadowing of the coming Passover Lamb in Christ Jesus (Exodus 12; 1 Corinthians 5:7). The entire sacrificial system pointed to Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice on the cross; after His resurrection, there was no further need for it (Hebrews 10:12–14).
The Levitical priesthood was established by God, but it was always going to be replaced by Jesus Christ's eternal and perfect priesthood (Hebrews 7:11–17). He meets all the qualifications of a priest but not through the Levites. His priesthood is of a different order through Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:17). He also is a priest who understands our utter humanity, since He is fully human as well as fully God (Hebrews 4:15–16).
There is much we can learn about God and His character through the Covenant Code as a whole and in its parts. We can also be sure that His ultimate fulfillment of that code in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The best news is probably that this new, better covenant is not only for the Israelites but for anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Romans 3:21–26; Galatians 3:8–9, 27–29; John 3:16–18).
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