A Covenant is a man-God Contract
A “contract” is an agreement between two parties which obliges each party to do or not to do a certain thing. It is an agreement with promises of delivery, but also with stipulations and penalty clauses. In the time of Moses God made a contract (the Bible calls it a “covenant”) with the people or nation of Israel, and initially they agreed to abide by it. But over hundreds of years Israel repeatedly broke the covenant and the penalties eventually kicked-in. This led to much suffering, as in the holocaust. That said, God has not given up on Israel.
Summary of God’s Covenants
The major divine-human covenants are Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New Covenant, link. All support and advance God’s redemptive goal for His creation. Each covenant provides further divine assurance that God will realize his purpose for creation in general and humanity in particular by fully establishing his kingdom on earth (in the Millennial age). Summarizing each covenant:
God’s Covenant through Moses
God made this covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai via His servant Moses, link. It is found in detail in Exodus chapters 19-34. They were to follow the statutes of holy living by adhering to some 613 laws and instructions, including the observation of mandated Holy Feasts at their appointed time. Their mission was to be God’s witness and servant in the world and to glorify God (Isa 43:10, 49:3,6). They were to teach the world about God by their example. That’s why the Bible often refers to “the God of Israel”. Most importantly, Israel was to “give birth” to a male child who would reconcile man to God (Isa 9:6-7, 53:4-6, Rev 12:13).
Moses was instructed to spell out God’s covenant to the Israelites. In Exodus 19:5-8 we read:
Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
This is confirmed in Deuteronomy 7:12:
If you listen to these commands and obey them faithfully, then the Lord your God will continue to keep his covenant with you and will show you his constant love, as he promised your ancestors.
The key point: The “if-then” statement in these verses reveals that the contract was conditional. Israel had to be obedient to God’s requirements in order to receive His blessings.
Blessings and Penalties of the Mosaic Covenant
Let’s read some of the fine print in this man-God contract. In Deuteronomy 28:1-16, we read:
Blessings for Obedience
1 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:
3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.
8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.
9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him.
10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you.
11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.
12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.
13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.
14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.
Curses for Disobedience
15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
The remaining verses of chapter 28 list the many penalties that Israel will suffer if they break the contract, notably:
64 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other …
Israel broke God’s Covenant – So the penalties ‘kicked-in’
Clearly, given the nature of man, the 613 laws and instructions in the Mosaic Covenant were going to be broken, with serious consequences (Deut 28). History shows the dramatic consequences of Israel’s disobedience – much suffering. The prophet Jeremiah conveyed God’s condemnation:
They have … refused to hear My words and they have gone after other gods … the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers (Jer 11:10)
Israel’s Diaspora: As punishment, the tribes were sent into captivity by the ferocious Babylonians and subsequently many were scattered amongst the nations link. There they would live in fear of their lives. And when Jesus met the remnant Jews in Jerusalem He wept – He knew they too were soon going to suffer and be dispersed amongst the nations.
A New Contract or Covenant
As noted, Israel failed in her mission (broke the contract) and all twelve tribes were scattered throughout the nations (James 1:1). The contract was then offered to the Gentiles, namely, the church (Rom 11:11-15), and today the church has the opportunity to receive the blessings of the contract. All the church has to do is keep her side of the contract by being God’s witness to the nations. She has to preach the good news of reconciliation to God through His Son Jesus Christ (Mat 28:19).
Israel is not Totally Rejected
Today we are in the so-called ‘church age’, when the true i.e. non-apostate church is serving God. That said, God still has compassion upon His people Israel and today is reconciling her to Himself:
I will heal their apostasy and faithlessness; I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from Israel (Hosea 14:4)
I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you … Then you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be ashamed … when I provide you an atonement for all you have done, says the Lord God. (Ezek 16:60-63)
I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers … My covenant which they broke. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jer 31:31-33)
This is of course the New Covenant given through Christ (Heb 8:7-13) and we note it was first promised to God’s chosen people, Israel! Rather than abrogate the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) it embraced it by writing God’s law unconditionally upon man’s heart (Mat 5:17). So at the end of this age (and after much ‘correction’ through tribulation) Israel will once more fulfill her original mission as God’s witness to the nations. Prophecy indicates that she will take over from the church when the (true) church is removed from the earth, link. God has not given up on His people Israel.
The New Covenant fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant (the Law). In a sense it is again conditional since it is gracious to those who believe (trust) in Christ, and wrathful to those who don’t (Jn 3.18). Significantly, it was to run alongside, not replace the Abraham Covenant. And the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional, a done deal! So the land promises given to Abraham and his descendants still stand. Israel is promised “the whole land of Canaan”.
Aliyah – the Regathering
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12)
Today we see Jews (essentially the tribe of Judah) returning to the homeland (ancient Canaan) promised to Abraham and his descendants. Israel’s Jewish population grew by an amazing 7400% between 1915 and 2013. We see the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. We see a nation turning to the statutes God laid down under Moses. We see the majority of the nation (some 80%) now following God’s Holy Feasts and keeping the Jewish Sabbath.
As a result, the nation of Israel is once more being blessed in the country (innovative agriculture), blessed in the city (technological innovation) and blessed in the sea (discovery of large natural resources). We also see God’s amazing protection, as in the 6-day war.