Covenants 03

There is a sense in which we could say that Law is grace.

It’s hard to say how well the growing nation of Israel held onto their Mesopotamian culture and education, especially during their sojourn in Egypt. It would seem obvious that Joseph’s generation (the Twelve Sons) still held it, but we can’t be so sure their descendants held it that strongly by the time Moses was born roughly 400 years later. The context would seem to indicate a lot was lost.

Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s household with a very Egyptian education, though it should be obvious he knew something of his nation’s unique ways. Still, he was essentially Egyptian in his outlook, even if he strongly sympathized with is own people. Driven into the wilderness for the second forty years of his life, Moses lived with Jethro, known to be a priest of Mesopotamian style worship of El. Thus, Moses was reacquainted with Abraham’s brand of education.

If we examine the cultural elements in the Covenant of Moses, we discern threads of both Mesopotamian and Egyptian intellectual assumptions. This was God’s doing. While essentially Mesopotamian in character, the Covenant features a range of mystical imagery previously found only in Egypt. For example, there is a very strong notion in Scripture that the natural world itself enforces the divine moral character of God, something not found among the Sumerian or earlier literature we have today (Abraham left before Sumeria was conquered). In Scripture, we have frequent images of the natural world vividly supporting God’s Word, echoing an Egyptian notion. There are other examples where the Hebrew outlook shows this mixing.

Again, we can be certain this was by God’s choice. Consider that Moses spent more than a month on Mount Sinai receiving God’s editorial guidance on what to include in Genesis. Moses had to sort through all of the lore he had learned from two major cradles of civilization, a task possible only by using a strong heart-led sense of moral purpose to sift out what was extraneous and misleading. Sitting in the divine Presence, away from the raucous interference of distracted humanity, was naturally the best atmosphere for such a task.

The result was unique in human history. For example, we see that the Ten Commandments were not different from the 7 Noahic Laws, but more of the same, and more specific. While the human race is adopted into God’s Creation domain, Israel was to be adopted into God’s personal household. Instead of a generalized requirement to be heart-led in discerning what was morally proper, Israel was granted specific examples of what holiness looked like in their own context. The Covenant of Moses was for that people, in that land, at that time in history. It was a national covenant, the very foundation on which Israel had any claim to being unique. The bottom line was that it had nothing to do with Abraham’s DNA, and everything to do with Abraham’s faith.

This is something not obvious to Western minds. The Covenant was not “law” in our Western sense. It was God’s grace reaching out to a people who were born rather far from the Gate of Eden. The Covenant was the key to that gate, and a map of the path to it. The general assumption was that the Israeli people were expected to devote their lives to observing this Covenant code until they had rebuilt their brains, making the flesh a slave to the heart. At some point, it was expected that they would see morally, not in terms of concrete facts. While there was no threshold sharply defined, it was presumed a sincere soul would find spiritual birth this way. The idea is that such rebirth was there waiting to be discovered.

The whole nation was called and chosen, but most of them never escaped the bondage of the flesh to receive that divine heritage. The history of Israel recounted in Scripture is a long sad tale of all the ways and reasons people have for rejecting the terms of divine adoption.

So while the Covenant offered this to everyone who embraced it, the code was structured in a way to create the proper enabling atmosphere, not to force the issue. It should be obvious God in His wisdom knew the hard-headed people of Israel would mostly refuse to take the full path. Still, a nation constrained by the code would allow at least some of the people to find that spiritual birth. For the rest of humanity, it was far more random and rare, but frankly simpler. For Israel, it was much more extensive, but more powerful. The nation living under the Covenant should produce an atmosphere where a much higher ratio of people would genuinely connect with their God on a personal level. After all, He was portrayed as their ultimate feudal Lord, who had redeemed them from slavery and granted them choice real estate and all the explicit promises of shalom if they simply obeyed.

Then again, even their own prophets tell us that nation made a hash of this golden opportunity.

About Ed Hurst

Avid cyclist, Disabled Veteran, Bible History teacher, and wannabe writer; retired.
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4 Responses to Covenants 03

  1. Jack says:

    Found some typos. I think this should read…
    “The nation living under the Covenant should produce an atmosphere in which a much higher ratio of people would genuinely connect with their God on a personal level.”


  2. Jay DiNitto says:

    Pre-Moses, there was no scripture for those men to reference. God had to deal with them in a different, more direct way. Interesting to think about that from Noah up to Moses, the men had nothing else to rely on but some kind of direct communion to determine their mission.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ed Hurst says:

    There would have been a growing oral lore, but nothing authoritative. The existence of such a lore shows up in the story of Balaam. Still, direct communion was presumed by what lore their might have been.

    Liked by 1 person

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