The covenants of the Old Testament – between God and Noah, between God and Abraham, between God and the people of Israel through Moses, and between God and David – are all reflections of what we call the New Covenant – between all of humanity and Jesus. The first covenant was God’s promise to start anew with Noah, and to not destroy the world again through flood (a reflection of resurrection and everlasting life through baptism). Both of those promises, you will note, involve God’s action. The second covenant, with Abraham, also involves God’s actions, where He promises: 1) Abraham will be the father of a great nation; 2) his children will be given a land of promise; and 3) all the nations will be blessed through Abraham and his offspring (fulfilled through Christ).
Now we come to the covenant of the Law, given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. This covenant is the first covenant between God and man that involves mutual relationship. We now have a role to play. We choose blessings if we choose to follow God’s law, or curses (consequences of our actions and choices) if we do not (see Deut. 28). By this covenant, God separates Israel from others (in other words, sanctifies and makes holy).
Only God is intrinsically, inherently holy. It is His presence with us and in us that sanctifies us and makes us holy. What does that mean? It means we are set apart, separated into God’s realm. This separation is in two elements; the first is separation to God, meaning we are included in His realm with Him as part of the Kingdom, and the second is separation from the world, which presents a threat to our sanctification. All creation is divided into one of two categories: either common (meaning of the common realm, profane) or holy (meaning of God’s realm). What God offers Israel is the opportunity to choose to remain holy (separate to God) through observance of the Law. 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 began bringing idols into worship (idolatry), hedging their bets just in case one of those foreign gods could help out with such issues as fertility and crop production. Rather than imitating God (Ephesians 5:1), Israel imitated the world around them, and the cultures that surrounded them.
According to the Law, impurity (loss of holiness) taints in four ways: 1) it taints the sinner; 2) it taints the community of the sinner; 3) it taints the land; and 4) it taints the sanctuary (the abode of God). Ritual sacrifice for Israel was given as a way to deal with these consequences of impurity. Offering blood (life force given by God) back to God in payment for the debt against (meaning the harm/death blow done to) the person, the community, the land and the sanctuary temporarily paid that debt, but 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.
Do you see how these 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 of the debt against God 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 sin is already paid for in full. 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 is the New Covenant – but as you can see, it 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 has left me wondering what we are now doing to the land beneath our feet. We are very concerned about ecology, global warming, 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? The consequences of the tainting of sin still stand today, if the blood of Christ is not appropriated as payment for sin. That points to 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 will also be vomited from the land.
The same is true for our community. As we continue to sin and refuse to accept the blood of Christ as payment for that debt to make amends for the harm done to others, our community disintegrates and is destroyed, like the land. And finally, what about God’s sanctuary? Now His dwelling place is in our hearts. So what does our sin do to our hearts? They 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. Which covenant will you choose?