The Mosaic covenant – What is it?
The Mosaic covenant is an agreement that was made between God and His people, Israel. Because the covenant was made at Mount Sinai, it is sometimes called the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19—24). The Mosaic covenant was named after Moses, the man who God had chosen to lead Israel, and to whom the first Ten Commandments of the Law were given. The Mosaic covenant was a bilateral, or conditional covenant, meaning that both parties were responsible to fulfill a duty to the other. The people were responsible to follow the Law, and in return, God promised to abundantly bless and protect Israel (Exodus 19:5-8).
The conditional nature of the Mosaic covenant makes it very different from the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, which are unconditional. In the unconditional covenants, God's favor, promises and blessings are based on His decision, rather than on the actions of the people. In the Mosaic covenant, the blessing or lack thereof was a direct result of the obedience or disobedience of the people. This is outlined in detail in Deuteronomy 28.
There is a great deal of confusion over the Mosaic covenant. Why would the gracious God of the New Testament, who loves and forgives unconditionally, and whose salvation is not merit-based, create a conditional, merit-based covenant with His people in the Old Testament? Is this not contradictory? We can find the answer to this puzzle in several places in the New Testament epistles, where the Apostle Paul discusses the old covenant vs. the new covenant. The old covenant he is referring to is the Mosaic covenant, also called "the Law." The purpose of the Law, says Paul, was to make people aware of their inability, so that when Christ came, they would recognize their need for Him (Galatians 3:24-25). When the Mosaic covenant was formed, the people of Israel responded to God's reminder to obey with the words "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exodus 19:8). However, the rest of the biblical history of that nation shows that they never obeyed Him for long. They were hopelessly unable to accomplish the requirements of the Law. Sacrifices and offerings were prescribed for sins, but even these were done incorrectly or half-heartedly (Malachi 1:6-10). Also, there was always a remnant in Israel, even under the old covenant, who understood their inability to please God. King David was one of these. It is clear from the Psalms that he knew himself to be sinful in a way that could only be forgiven by God's mercy (Psalm 51:1-12). Also, we know that Abraham and the other patriarchs were men of faith, believing in God for their salvation, rather than trusting in works (Hebrews 11:4-12). Therefore, the existence of the Mosaic covenant is not a contradiction of God's grace, but instead it is an illumination of man's need for that grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 1:16-17).
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