The covenants of the Old Testament—between God and Noah, between God and Abraham, between God and the people of Israel through Moses—offer echoes of aspects of the New Covenant between all of humanity and Jesus. The first covenant, God’s promises to start anew with Noah and to not destroy the world again through flood, points toward resurrection and everlasting life through baptism.
In the second covenant with Abraham, God’s promises three things.
- Abraham will be the father of a great nation
- Abraham’s children will be given a land
- All nations will be blessed through Abraham and his offspring. The third promise points to Christ as the blessing of salvation to all people, not just Israel.
The third covenant, the Law given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, is the first covenant between God and man that involves mutual responsibility and relationship. We now have a role to play. We choose blessings if we choose to follow God’s law, or curses, meaning the consequences of our actions and choices, if we do not (Deuteronomy 28). By this covenant, God separates Israel from others. In other words, God sanctifies them and makes them holy. This covenant points toward the sanctifying blood of Jesus which cleanses us and makes us holy.
Only God is intrinsically, inherently holy. It is His presence with us and in us that sanctifies us and makes us holy. At the introduction of sin into the world, all creation was divided into one of two categories—either common, meaning of the common realm or profane, or holy, meaning of God’s realm. To be holy means we are set apart, separated from the world and ushered into God’s realm. We can’t live in both the holy and the profane, because the world presents a threat to our sanctification. What God offers Israel through the Law is the opportunity to choose to remain holy and separated to God. As the Deuteronomy verses indicate, Israel has been marked as holy—but they have a choice.
And we know the rest of the story. Instead of following the Law and remaining set apart to God, Israel brought false gods into worship (idolatry), hedging their bets just in case one of those foreign gods could help out with such issues as fertility or crop production. Rather than imitating God (Ephesians 5:1), Israel imitated the world and the cultures surrounding them.
According to the Law, impurity (loss of holiness) taints in four ways.
- It taints the sinner
- It taints the community of the sinner
- It taints the land
- It taints the sanctuary, the abode of God.
Ritual sacrifice was given to Israel as a way to deal with these consequences of impurity. They offer blood, which is the life force given by God, in payment for the harm or death blow done to the person, the community, the land, and the sanctuary. Giving blood back to God temporarily paid that debt, but the sacrifice had to be offered again and again, as Israel continued to taint all four through their sins. Ultimately, as promised by God, the land vomited Israel out, and they were taken into bondage (Leviticus 18:28).
Do you see how these sacrificial elements of the Law reflect the actions of Jesus and demonstrate our need for Him to do exactly what He did? We often talk about the blood of Christ, but do we really understand why He had to die, why His blood was needed as payment against all that we had incurred? He gave His life back to God as payment for my life. His blood paid the ransom once and for all. All we are asked to do now is to appropriate that payment for our personal sin. We only need to choose to receive what Jesus freely gave. He is the perfect Lamb without blemish whose blood covers us and seals us as holy and sanctified, separate to God and set apart from the world. The angel of death passes over us, as it did Israel, because of the blood of the Lamb. This New Covenant is really the culmination of all the covenants of God. All of the Old Testament points directly to Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill the Law, and He has done so, fully and completely.
Studying these verses leaves me wondering what we our sin is doing now to the community around us, to the land beneath our feet, and to the sanctuary of God, which is now our hearts. We are very concerned about the environment—global warming, recycling, etc.—but we do not seem to be as concerned about spiritual ecology. Will one day the land vomit us out as the Promised Land did Israel? If the blood of Christ is not appropriated for sin, the consequences of the tainting of sin still stand today, which points toward a certain outcome, unless we turn back to Christ. We would do well to put as much energy into our spiritual conservation as we do our earthly conservation. Otherwise, we may also be vomited from the land.
The same is true for our community. As we continue in sin, our community disintegrates and is destroyed. We can see the evidence of the destruction all around us—in our country, in families, in children’s lives, and in our churches. And finally, what is happening to God’s sanctuary when we sin? What does our sin do to our hearts? Scripture tells us our hearts are hardened like Pharaoh’s heart. We become more selfish, more cold, more isolated, more estranged from each other and ourselves, and more and more distant from God. Put simply, our hearts are strangled, and we are left bereft of love.
God offers us peace, joy, hope and love, if we choose being set apart, sanctified, and holy over the strangle hold of pride, fear, and shame. The Old Testament covenants with God point us toward a cleansed and resurrected life, salvation through Christ, and holiness and sanctification by His blood. A covenant with the world binds us to sin, which taints our minds, our community, our land, and our hearts. Which covenant will you choose?