By Chester K. Lehman

© 1971 See end of this page for details.


1. Place of Moses in God's Revelation

The opening chapters in the Book of Exodus make it evident that a towering figure is before us in the person of Moses. To begin, there are the unusual providential circumstances which led to his being taken into the home of Pharaoh. Becoming a son of Pharaoh's daughter, Moses was in all probability heir to the throne of Egypt. This accounts for Stephen's comments that "Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," and that "he was mighty in his words and deeds" (Acts 7:22). A similar estimate of Moses was already given in the Book of Exodus where the writer said, "The man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants and in the sight of the people" (Ex. 11:3).

Walther Eichrodt laid hold of Moses' greatness in his discussion of the founder of Israel's religion, in which he described the extraordinary charismatic gifts of Moses. [1] In his enlightening discussion Eichrodt observed: "It is characteristic of Moses that it should be impossible to classify him in any of the ordinary categories applicable to the leader of a nation; he is neither a king, nor a commander of an army, nor a tribal chieftain, nor a priest, nor an inspired seer and medicine man. To some extent he belongs to all these categories; but none of them adequately explains his position." [2] He then proceeded to show how Moses exercised varied responsibilities such as kingly authority, serving as mediator between God and His people, and being God's seer and prophet. Moses became "the messenger who should proclaim God's will for social, political, and cultic life." He was an organizer, the national leader, the man who directed the worship of God. He was a wonder-worker.

Looking more closely into the Bible's presentation of Moses' greatness let us note those aspects of his work which may be compared with that of Christ's. First, Moses was called the servant of the Lord. [3] God's own words lead us into the meaning of this expression. He said, "Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house" (Num. 12:7). What greater responsibility could be expressed than by the language of being entrusted with all God's house! This was the servant Moses' responsibility.

Second, Moses exercised a priestly work that climaxed in the service vice of intercession. [4] This priestly work came to a focus in Moses' responsibility for mediating the covenant at Mt. Sinai. It was he who wrote all the words of the Lord, who built an altar and twelve pillars on which to offer the covenant sacrifice. It was he who sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice both upon the altar and upon the people. His intercessory work became most evident when he interceded for Israel at the time of the making of the golden calf.

Third, Moses performed kingly functions in giving to Israel the laws which were to guide them in daily living. These laws were both civil and religious. While Israel was under the rule of God, Moses acted in behalf of God when he brought to Israel all the laws based on the Sinaitic covenant.

Fourth, Moses was a prophet. [5] He was God's spokesman to Pharaoh ind to Israel. Even a casual reading of the books from Exodus through Deuteronomy shows the extent to which Moses was God's mouthpiece.

Fifth, Moses was a man of the spirit (Num. 11:17-29; 12:9). Though an explicit, statement of the Spirit of God coming upon Moses is lacking, the fact that the Holy Spirit worked through him is everywhere clearly implicit. A case in point is that of the Lord's directing Moses to choose seventy men of the elders of Israel to assist him in fulfilling his many duties. The Lord said that He would take some of the Spirit which was upon Moses and put it upon these seventy elders. When the Lord did this, they prophesied, thus showing that the Spirit rested upon them (Num. 11:16, 17). When Eldad and Medad continued to prophesy, Joshua asked Moses to forbid them as though he was jealous for Moses' sake. To this Moses exclaimed, "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them" (vv. 26-29)! Since Moses was a prophet, the Spirit of God plainly rested upon him. It is entirely in order to say that in all the responsibilities of Moses as servant of the Lord, as priestly mediator, as performer of kingly functions, and as prophet, the Holy Spirit empowered him for this work.

Sixth, later writers and speakers in both the Old and New Testaments placed Moses in a position of greatness comparable to that of Christ. He was excelled alone by the Lord Jesus. Repeatedly throughout the Former and Latter Prophets, the writers made reference to the authoritative Book of the Law of Moses as the record of what God commanded His servant Moses. Several of the psalms - such as 103, 105, and 106- magnify Moses as the recipient of God's revelation. The appearance of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration of Jesus also attested to Moses' greatness. While John's words, "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn. 1:17) magnify the superior position of the revelation through Christ over that of Moses, it should be observed that the law, the high-water mark of Old Testament revelation, was given through Moses.

Perhaps the greatest tributes given to Moses in the New Testament are given by the author of Hebrews in the words, "Consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God's house. . . . Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later" (Heb. 3:1-5). The greatness of Moses undergirded God's revelation through him. Truly Eichrodt and von Rad point the way for the student of biblical theology to take a new look at Moses' greatness and to make a fresh appraisal of this servant of God. [6]

2. Redemption of Israel from Egypt

a. Deliverance Wrought Through the Mighty Acts of God

The Exodus account of Israel's deliverance from Egypt gave special emphasis to the supernatural workings of God. A casual study of these references [7] reveals a vocabulary which unequivocally asserts the demonstration of miraculous power. This vocabulary includes such words as wonders, signs, miracles, mighty acts, and powers. These words most aptly describe the ten plagues, the dividing of the Red Sea, the giving of manna, and the supplying to them water from the rock.

This leads us to observe that the Lord manifested an adequate purpose in performing these miracles. He would lead Pharaoh to believe in His almighty power. The expressed purpose for these mighty acts was to deliver Israel from the Egyptian bondage so that they would know that He was their God (Ex. 6:7). It is inevitable that a far greater purpose lay back of this. God would lead the polytheistic Egyptians to forsake their gods and worship the true God, the Lord of the enslaved Israelites. The heart hardening of Pharaoh showed his unwillingness to believe the adequate evidences for the omnipotence, righteousness, and holiness of the Lord. Very meaningful are the words of the Lord spoken to Pharaoh, "For this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth" (Ex. 9:16).

It is essential at this point to note the real character and significance of these events. Some scholars either reject them entirely or reduce them to commonplace happenings which were heightened by tradition to being supernatural in character. Either of these ways of interpreting the plagues fails to do justice to the intent of the author of Exodus, who represented them as supernatural occurrences. The whole matter of the reality of the miraculous confronts us at this point. For our purposes the following definition expresses the main elements contemplated in the word "miracles": "In the narrowest biblical sense, miracles are events in the external world wrought by the immediate power of God and intended as a sign or attestation. They are possible because God sustains, controls, and guides all things, and is personal and omnipotent." [8] This definition of miracles captures the intended sense of the words "wonders," "miracles," "signs," "mighty acts," "power," and other descriptions of what took place.

With regard to the occurrence of miracles in biblical history let us observe also that the biblical record is very emphatically not a meaningless conglomeration of fantastic stories coming from Israel's folklore but rather that a profound purpose attaches to their occurrence. In the article cited above the authors Davis and Gehman elaborate thus, "The miracles of the Bible are confined almost exclusively to four periods, separated from each other by centuries. The time of: (1) The redemption of God's people from Egypt and their establishment in Canaan under Moses and Joshua. (2) The life and death struggle of the true religion with heathenism under Elijah and Elisha. (3) The Exile, when Jehovah afforded proof of His power and supremacy before the gods of the heathen, although His people were in captivity (Daniel and his comcompanions). (4) The introduction of Christianity, when miracles attested the person of Christ and His doctrine. Outside these periods miracles are rare indeed (Gen. 5:24). They were almost totally unknown during the many centuries from the Creation to the exodus." [9] In the light of this view of miracles as having spiritual purpose, the marvelous acts of God wrought in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt naturally prepare us to anticipate very meaningful spiritual aspects of the deliverance. [10]

b. Spiritual Aspects of the Deliverance from Egypt

(1) A Manifestation of Israel's Election Through the Grace of God. This became evident in God's message to Pharaoh: "Thus says the Lord, Israel is my first-born son" (Ex. 4:22). This language indicates that Israel's relation to God was unique. Concerning no other people of the world had it been said that they bore the relationship of son to the Lord. Forty years later Moses told Israel, "You are the sons of the Lord your God. . . . You are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth" (Deut. 14:1, 2). These words unfold more fully the idea of election. They suggest that God's choice of Israel was not on the basis of any merit on their part but solely as an act of God's grace. Moses spoke more specifically to this point. [11] Their election was not due to their great numbers or uprightness of heart but it was because of the Lord's love for them. He was keeping the oath which He had spoken to their fathers. Through their election God showed Israel that their God is "the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations" (Deut. 7:9). In the same context Moses spoke of the judgment that God would bring upon Israel if they refused to obey His commandments.

(2) A Deliverance from Sin's Dominion. Egypt was a land of idolatry. A careful study of the ten plagues will show that through them God was bringing judgment upon this form of wickedness in Egypt. At a later date Ezekiel likened the sins of Judah and Israel to the lewdness, whether literal or figurative, of the Egyptians (Ezek. 23:19, 21, 27). It may have been the imagery of Egyptian bondage which underlay the teaching of Jesus and of Paul that sinners are in a state of bondage to sin. [12]

(3) A Redemption from Sin. Closely related to the foregoing point is the redemption aspect of this deliverance. [13] The verbs, gaol (claim for one's own, redeemed by paying value for), padah (to free, to redeem, to ransom), and qanah (to purchase, procure, acquire), express the nature of the deliverance. It was the kind of act that sprang from God's love. It was a purchase, a redemption by paying a value to give Israel their freedom. It is noteworthy that this language of redemption constitutes the coining of the terminology used to describe the meaning of the Lord's suffering and death. Jesus said, "The Son of man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). In similar vein Paul wrote, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13). The author of Hebrews wrote of Christ as "securing an eternal redemption [for us]" (Heb. 9:12, 15). It should be noted that the Greek vocabulary used in the New Testament for describing Christ's redemptive work is that employed in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew words used in connection with Israel's redemption from Egypt.

(4) Israel's Redemption Symbolized by the Passover. [14] In biblical history the Passover occupied the highest place among Israel's holy occasions. It symbolized God's greatest act in their redemption from Egypt. Bound up with it were a number of details which added depth of meaning to this sacrifice. We should observe that this Passover sacrifice possessed elements of great significance in the sacrificial system soon to be established at Mt. Sinai. First was the substitutional aspect of the Passover lamb. The lamb was offered instead of the firstborn son. Second was the expiatory aspect. A very significant use was made of the blood; it was put on the two doorposts and the lintels of the houses. In this respect the Passover sacrifice resembled the sin offering. Third was the purification aspect. The bunch of hyssop used to smear the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts carried this significance. Hyssop is aromatic and was used in later times for ceremonial purification (Lev. 14:4, 6, 49-52). David expressed this purification aspect in his prayer, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps. 51:7).

Fourth was the consecration characteristic. Another class of bloody offerings instituted later by Moses was that of the burnt offering. The significant act of this offering was the burning of the entire animal on the altar. It symbolized consecration or self-dedication of the one who offered the sacrifice to the Lord. In the case of the Passover Lamb not a bone of the animal was to be broken. All that remained of the animal after the eating of the Passover was burned. This similarity between the Passover sacrifice and that of the burnt offering suggests that the burning of what remained of the animal symbolized the consecration of the firstborn son to the Lord.

Fifth was the fellowship characteristic. The eating of the Passover lamb bore a close similarity to the peace offering later instituted. Being the last in sequential order of the bloody offerings, the peace offering symbolized covenant fellowship with God. On this account the eating of the Passover lamb would appear to yield the same symbolism. Through this Passover sacrifice the fellowship of Israel with the Lord, their Deliverer, found expression.

Sixth, God gave an unusual command concerning the Passover lamb in these words, "You shall not break a bone of it" (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12). John's quotation of this command in his account of the crucifixion gave grounds for believing that the command in Exodus possessed the potential of a prediction. For this reason John wrote, "These things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled" (Jn. 19:36). This is the ground for believing that the Passover lamb typified the Lamb of God slain on Calvary. Paul confirmed this in his words, "For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7).

Seventh, God commanded Israel to eat the Passover lamb with unleavened bread (Ex. 12:8). This is yet another similarity between the Passover and some of the later instituted sacrifices. Paul grasped its symbolism when he wrote, "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be fresh dough, as you really are unleavened" (1 Cor. 5:7). Regarding Christ as our paschal Lamb, he bade the Corinthians to "celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (v. 8). The conclusion follows that the unleavened bread used in the Passover meal symbolized the absence of corrupting influences as it did in later sacrifices and typified the Christian graces of sincerity and truth.

Eighth, God commanded Israel to observe the Passover as an ordinance forever (Ex. 12:14). Israel's redemption from Egypt was a once for all experience. It did not need to be repeated periodically. Thus the Passover feast, observed annually, brought to mind the finality of God's great saving act. Through it Israel became God's purchased possession. In this also is a rich typical meaning looking forward to the sacrifice of Christ. Because of the efficacy of His sacrifice, "there is no longer any offering for sin" (Heb. 10:18). In conclusion, these eight aspects or characteristics of the Passover become cumulative and give both height and depth to the meaning of the Passover. This justifies the recognition of the Lord's Supper as bearing the same relation to the sacrifice of Christ as the Passover observance bore to the Lord's passing over Israel.

3. Israel Drawn into Covenant Relationship with the Lord

a. Historical Character of the Covenant

Since Walther Eichrodt's Theology of the Old Testament has appeared on the scene, modern scholars are again coming to realize that the Sinaitic covenant had its origin in historical fact. The controlling idea of this scholarly work is the covenant relationship between God and Israel. With utmost skill, Eichrodt structured Old Testament theology on this covenant relationship. He saw the author of Exodus as presenting the account of the institution of the covenant at Mt. Sinai as an authentic event in Israel's history. The frequent references to this covenant throughout the Old Testament and the New confirm this conclusion. Most assuredly the name given to the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament, has its sure foundation in the institution of the old covenant.

b. The Covenant Concept

Since the word "covenant" is so foundational to understanding the Scriptures I shall give further attention to its meaning. I noted in an earlier chapter of Genesis the nature of God's relation to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. While this did not bear the name of covenant, the words of God bound Adam and Eve to obedience. God's covenant with Noah had its leading characteristic in the form of an unchanging promise of God to Noah. God also bound Noah to obedience. We observed in God's covenant with Abraham the special emphasis upon God's faithful promise. God used bloody sacrifices to seal the covenants with both Noah and Abraham. In the covenant with Abraham we discovered also an ethical aspect in that God imposed on Abraham the command to be blameless. From these instances we learned that God sought to draw sinful man into deep and meaningful covenant relationship with Himself. He initiated the covenants and bound Himself to keep them. This prepared the way for God's drawing not just individuals but His people into a similar covenant relation. For Israel this involved a commitment of obedience to God.

The opening verses of Exodus 19 record God's proposal to Israel of entering into covenant relationship. Again God took the initiative for its institution. Likely the people of Israel did not take the initiative in making a covenant with God because of their sinfulness. Israel had not come to realize their need of searching out God for covenant fellowship. The Lord assured Israel of His choice of them to become His people in the words, "I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself" (Ex. 19:4). Herein is the element of election. God had chosen Israel to become His own possession from among all peoples. This fact further teaches that the idea of election is cumulative. We gain its full meaning by considering it in relation to the election of the Shemites, to the call of Abraham, to the choice of Isaac and of Jacob, and now to the choosing of Israel to become His people. The elements of love and grace have become increasingly evident. What greater expression of love can be found than that of the Lord when He said, "I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself"!

The Lord used the most expressive language to describe the position of Israel under the proposed covenant. Israel would be the Lord's own possession among all peoples. The Hebrew word segullak (special possession) is a word used of a private treasure. [15] The KJV rendering, "a peculiar treasure," carried a rich connotation, namely, specially one's own. Later writers picked up this expression and used it as the basis for earnest exhortation. The note of praise in Psalm 135 grew out of the realization that "The Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession."

Peter reached the peak of his exhortations in the words, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Peter also laid hold of the key expressions which described Israel's position under their covenant. The expression "kingdom of priests" gave the idea of "a kingdom whose citizens are all priests, living wholly in God's service, and ever enjoying the right of access to Him. [16] Peter would have us understand that the church of Jesus Christ is now all that Israel was under the earlier covenant. The expression "holy nation" has in it the idea of being separate from other nations and of being set apart to the Lord. The literal idea of separate and aloof leads to the ethical concept of being pure and godlike. Peter enlarged on the implicit purpose of Israel's position in the world when he said, "that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).

God made clear, nevertheless, that this covenant relation into which Israel was now being drawn involved uncompromising obedience to Him. It is noteworthy that three times during the arranging of this covenant Moses spoke the words which made up the covenant, to which the people replied, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" (Ex. 19:7, 8; 24:3, 7). In this covenant proposal two important ideas attach themselves to the concept of covenant. The first was that of Israel's unique position as God's own possession, and the second was Israel's commitment to obedience. From this point onward the two-sided nature of the covenant received special recognition. It was this idea that Jeremiah brought home to his people in most forceful manner at the time of Israel's impending judgment when he said, "But this command I gave them, 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.' But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:23, 24).

c. Making of the Covenant

The portion of Exodus lying between God's proposal of entering into covenant relationship and the account of its institution constitutes the Book of the Covenant. Central to the Book of the Covenant are the Ten Commandments. We shall first study the enactment of the covenant and then examine the contents of the Book of the Covenant.

The covenant agreement had its basis in the written document known as the Book of the Covenant. The manner in which this document came to serve as the basis of Israel's commitment to God was through two bloody offerings: burnt offerings and peace offerings (Ex. 24:1-10). The building of the altar symbolized God's participation in the covenant agreement, and the twelve pillars, Israel's share in the transaction. The two kinds of offerings made in this transaction call for close study. Noah, Abraham, and Jacob had offered burnt offerings but in none of these occasions did the writer give the meaning of the sacrifice. On this occasion of Israel's accepting the covenant this writer also left the meaning of these sacrifices unexplained. Its symbolism becomes clearer, however, as we study all these occasions.

In the foregoing instances the meaning that this sacrifice possessed, according to the ceremonial laws given after this, was projected backward to the earlier occasions. We shall do the same here. On this occasion God's chosen people were being drawn into this covenant relationship. The symbolism suggested in the other instances, that of consecration and self-dedication to God, best describes its meaning here. They were in the act of committing themselves to absolute obedience to the Lord. It involved a setting apart of themselves for God's holy purposes. Since the people of Israel were corporately entering into this relationship, the burnt offerings most fittingly expressed this consecration. In the instance of the peace offerings we follow the same procedure. The ceremonial law recognized the peace offerings as the climax of all bloody offerings. It symbolized the resulting fellowship between man and God after having offered the appropriate sin, trespass, and burnt offerings beforehand. On this occasion these offerings symbolized for Israel the resulting fellowship which they were beginning to experience with God. It was the fellowship symbolized in the eating of the sacrifice in which the Lord was the Host and Israel the guests. In Oriental fashion this was the most significant way of picturing fellowship

This brings us to the official enactment of the covenant. Moses took half of the blood and threw it against the altar; then after reading the Book of the Covenant and receiving the people's commitment to obedience, Moses used the other half of the blood to throw upon the people. The enacting words follow, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words" (Ex. 24:8). This most remarkable use of the blood suggests its relationship to the later instituted sin offering, whose symbolism was expiation through the sprinkling of the blood gotten from a sin offering.

The climax to the whole transaction occurred when Moses and his companions, including seventy of the elders, went up to the mountain where they saw the God of Israel. The grand climax of the entire occasion became evident in the words, "They beheld God, and ate and drank" (v. 11). This is the sublime picture of the covenant fellowship experienced by the people of God's own possession and the Lord Himself. Forty years later Moses explained this experience to Israel with the view of safeguarding them against possible misinterpretation of Israel's having seen God. He said, "The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice" (Deut. 4:12). This explanation served two purposes. First, Moses showed the people that human beings are not able to

behold God in all of His glory. Second, this denial of seeing the form of God served as a warning against their making a graven image of God (v. 16).

Through the institution of this covenant the Lord established His rule over Israel. Moses anticipated this great fact when he sang, "Thou wilt bring them in, and plant them on thy own mountain, the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thy abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. The Lord will reign for ever and ever' (Ex. 15:17, 18). The Lord's proposal for establishing a covenant with His people took on a theocratic character when He regarded Israel as His possession and their being to Him "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:6). Israel's promise of absolute obedience to God was thus an acknowledgment of His absolute authority, kingly in every respect. Balaam's prophecy concerning Israel also took the form of kingly rule when he said, "The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them" (Num. 23:21). In Moses' final blessing of the people of Israel he spoke of the Lord as having come from Sinai: "He came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. Yea, he loved his people; all those consecrated to him were in his hand; so they followed in thy steps, receiving direction from thee, when Moses commanded us a law, as a possession for the assembly of Jacob. Thus the Lord became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together" (Deut. 33:2-5). This made it clear that Moses regarded the establishment of the covenant at Sinai as the setting up of God's kingdom.

It was on this account that Gideon refused to be made king over Israel. He said, "The Lord will rule over you" (Judg. 8:22, 23). The rule of God came into still clearer focus when Israel requested of Samuel that he appoint a king for them. When Samuel prayed to the Lord about this request, he received the reply, "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them" (1 Sam. 8:5-7; cf. 12:12). It is quite evident that Josephus coined the word "theocracy" to express God's covenant relation to Israel. This rule of God brought the entire life of an individual under God's jurisdiction. To use modern terminology, it included the social, economic, civil, and religious aspects of life. No distinction existed between the so-called church and state. As we shall note a bit later, the Ten Commandments brought all these aspects under God's rule.

At this point three fundamental concepts come into close and vital relationship. They are bound up in the words "covenant" (berith), "theocracy" (God's rule), and "congregation" (qahal). Their interrelation becomes evident when we observe that through the covenant God established His rule, and the people of God who were obedient to this rule composed the congregation. This relationship prepares us to understand the new order of things when Christ through the new covenant established the Christocracy under which His people are the church. This profound relationship among covenant, kingdom, congregation (church) unfolds a basic truth underlying both the Old and New Testaments.

The account in Exodus 24 does not define the official position of Moses in the institution of the covenant at Sinai. From one point of view he performed a prophetic function through his writing all the words of the Lord and his bringing Israel to the commitment of obedience to these words. From another point of view he performed a priestly function through the offering of the sacrifices. Plainly Moses stood between the Lord and Israel. His was the work of a mediator. This title comes from the letter to the Hebrews, where the author used this term to define Jesus relationship to the making of the new covenant (8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Just as our Lord was the mediator of the new covenant, so Moses was the mediator of the old covenant. Just as Christ brought the church into covenant relationship with the Lord through the new covenant, so Moses brought Israel into this fellowship through the old covenant.

4. Function of the Law Under God's Rule

Since Moses was the mediator of the covenant, it was entirely natural that he would expound the function of the law under this covenant. Perhaps the most compact statement of the law's function is found in God's words, "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall live: I am the Lord" (Lev. 18:5). In a number of Moses' Deuteronomic discourses he enlarged on the purpose of the law. In 4:1-8 he established the rule that obedience to the statutes and ordinances would be the condition under which Israel could take possession of Canaan. God designed that the peoples of Canaan would see Israel's wisdom and understanding and come to recognize the Lord, their God. In the 6:1-15 portion Moses pointed up the love relationship with their God when he said, "The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." On this account people should teach their children diligently all the words of God's law. In the 8:1-10 section Moses explained the meaning of their experiences in the wilderness. God sought to test them and to prove what was in their hearts, whether they would keep His commandments or not. The 10:12-22 paragraph gives what may well be called the theme of Deuteronomy. Moses said, "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good?" For the foundation for such exhortation Moses pointed to the dignity of the Lord their God as Creator. In Deut. 28:1-19 Moses recounted the blessings that would come upon Israel if they obeyed, and also the curses if they would not obey the voice of the Lord. Moses brought these several messages to a climax in the words, "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. . . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; . . . that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them" (30:15-20).

As we move from the Old Testament into the New, we discover that the law possessed a larger purpose than that actually expressed in the Old Testament. In several contexts Paul showed that one function of the law was to make known to man his own sinfulness of nature. [17] Man is a slave to sin. On this account man cannot depend upon the law for salvation. "For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified" (Rom. 10:4). In slightly different language Paul said, "The law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). Thus while from the Old Testament point of view, people would live through keeping the law, the New Testament advanced to the truth that the law possessed no merit for salvation. It possessed no power to save. The penitent sinner can be accounted righteous before God only on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.

5. The Decalogue

Before entering upon a discussion of the Ten Commandments it appears necessary to recognize that some serious critical problems with reference to the origin of these commandments confront the student of biblical theology. Very few scholars recognize these commandments as having their origin in the Book of the Covenant. My approach here is similar to that followed in other instances where literary criticism holds to different conclusions from those based on internal evidence. How some scholars fail to recognize the subjective character of literary criticism and at the same time give no recognition to the internal claims of authorship is very difficult to understand. This is not to ignore the valid inquiries of literary criticism. In this situation I am seeking to recognize the validity and authenticity of what the final author or authors of the Book of Exodus represented as the source of a given portion. Here the narrator said, "And God spoke all these words, saying." A sound approach to this claim recognizes its authenticity until evidence is forthcoming to the contrary. Add to this the internal claim that "Moses wrote all the words of the Lord" (Ex. 24:4), a statement which refers to the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 20- 23).

Let us now give consideration to the place of the Decalogue as it relates to the Mosaic covenant. We noted above that the Book of the Covenant was that in which the covenant centered. It was the written document to which Israel promised obedience. On the basis of this commitment Moses mediated the covenant between God and Israel. This leads us to believe that the Book of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments in particular, was to function as the fundamental law for God's people. From one point of view, it stands as an advance resume of all the laws given later. In the words of Vos, "It not so much anticipates as condenses, and in condensing eliminates and idealizes. It joins together the beginning and the end of the entire theocratic movement, the redeeming act of God, and the resultant state of holiness and conformity to the nature and will of God into which the theocracy is designed to issue. At the same time it gives these elements in a form that is adjusted to the practical needs and limitations of the people. [18]

More specifically, in the words of John R. Sampey, "It was to Israel that the Decalogue was primarily addressed, and not to all mankind. Thus the reason assigned for keeping the 5th Commandment applies to the people who were on their way to the land which had been given to Abraham and his descendants (Ex. 20:12); and the 4th Commandment is enforced by reference to the servitude in Egypt (Deut. 5:15). It is possible, then, that even in the Ten Commandments there are elements peculiar to the Mosaic system and which our Lord and His apostles may not make a part of faith and duty for Christians. [19] Sampey's closing statement possesses great significance as it has to do with another facet of biblical theology, namely, the relation of Old Testament ethics to New Testament ethics. While it belongs to the discipline of Old Testament theology to evaluate Old Testament codes of ethics in the light of the final revelation in the New Testament, it suffices to say here that Sampey's observation should alert us to examine with scrutiny the ethical teachings of the Old Testament as they confront us. The same is true with reference to the problem as to how long Old Testament institutions possess authority.

The Decalogue presents itself as a direct revelation of God and as such possesses absolute divine authority. In this set of laws God relates all human conduct and behavior directly to Himself. The entire gamut of human conduct thus bears a deeply religious character. Fundamental to the Decalogue is the basic oneness of the ideas of redemption and the resultant life of holiness and conformity to the nature and will of God. The precedent for this approach to human conduct was already set in God's words to Abraham when He said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless" (Gen. 17:1).

A few students have had some difficulty in understanding the negative character of most of the commandments. They feel that a positive approach to setting forth the fundamental laws of conduct would be more fitting for a set of commandments purporting to come directly from God. But this is to misinterpret the stress of these commandments. Moses himself supplied the true viewpoint. In the closing discourse in which he repeated the Ten Commandments he gave this positive approach, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4). This shows conclusively that the apparent negative approach to human conduct found its true expression in the love relation of God to His covenant people and of their love response to the Lord their God. There is hardly to be found in all the New Testament a statement of a love relationship as emphatic and explicit as these words of Moses, especially when considered in the light of God's taking Israel to be His own possession (Ex. 19:4, 5). Jesus emphasized the primacy of this love relationship between man and God when He quoted to the lawyer the great commandment in the law. Thus Christ gave witness to the fact that Moses' command was the great and first commandment. He then quoted Leviticus 19:18, giving it the second place among the commandments: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt. 22:36-40). Jesus added one more essential point when He said, "On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." We may conclude that most profoundly the Ten Commandments found their fundamental expression in these two positive commandments.

The Ten Commandments have as their preamble or introduction, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." These words served as a fitting introduction to the Decalogue. God's commandments had their basis in His redemptive acts. We may have expected God to introduce the Decalogue with words such as "I am the Lord your God, who created the heavens and the earth." Instead, He built the commandments on His great act of redemption. The Lord God acted in history and directed its course.

Since He, the Lord God of the Israelites, had brought them out of the house of bondage, He possessed the authority to direct their manner of life. The special connotation belonging to the name "Lord," the covenant name of God, made it clear that it was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob who was giving these commandments.

The first commandment reads, "You shall have no other gods before me." The expression al-panaa presents some problems of meaning. The RSV margin has besides me. Other versions vary among except me, but me, and before my face. The last appears to be a literal rendering of the phrase. The Septuagint rendering is plenemou which has the sense, except or save me. W. J. Harrelson suggested that it "might better be rendered 'in opposition to me. Yahweh will tolerate no rivals to His authority." [20] While this commandment does not give an explicit denial of the existence of other gods, it plainly prohibits the worship of any other god. To this Sampey added, "If it be said that this precept inculcates monolatry and not monotheism, the reply is ready to hand that a consistent worship of only one God is, for people surrounded by idolatry, the best possible approach to the conclusion that there is only one true God. The organs of revelation, whatever may have been the notions and practices of the mass of the Israelitish people, always speak in words that harmonize with a strict monotheism." [21] For those who might feel that this first commandment should be worded differently to express monotheism, Sampey's explanation is very much to the point.

The second commandment (vv. 4-6) prohibits the making of a graven image or any likeness of God. This was a prohibition against making images for worship. All efforts to make an image of the Lord God are strictly prohibited. The details of this prohibition, together with Moses' rehearsal of it (Deut. 4:15-24), reflected plainly the efforts of their neighboring idolatrous peoples to make graven images in the forms of all kinds of beasts, birds, and fish. The command also prohibits the worship of the sun, moon, and the stars. The Lord their God was a jealous God. He would not tolerate divided affections among His people. Their love for Him must be like a wife's exclusive love for her husband. Unfaithfulness to this love would bring judgment upon idolaters. But to those who are faithful in their love He would show steadfast love.

The third commandment prohibits the taking of the name of the Lord in vain. It is the common notion among idolatrous peoples that man can control the power of the gods and use this power for his own service. God will not permit His people to use His name for their own purposes as the heathen do in their magic or divination. To use God's name in this way is to take His name in vain. This is the sin of false swearing and cursing, which was frequently condemned in the Old Testament. [22] Harrelson says, "The command is, accordingly, a prohibition of the use of the divine name to invoke curses or blessings or to reinforce one's own false oaths by the invoking of the divine name. God's name is not to be placed, by man, into man s service and control." [23]

The kernel of the fourth commandment is, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." The full statement of this commandment, together with Moses' version of it (Deut. 5:12-15), presents a remarkable perspective of man's relation to time under the direction of the Lord God. The word "remember" suggests that a law of the Sabbath already existed. In Exodus 16:22-30 we have evidence of its existence before Israel came to Mt. Sinai. Concerning the seventh day, God had said, "Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord." This is the first clear reference to Sabbath observance.

A close study of the account of the flood leads to the impression that time was being marked by seven-day periods. This may lead to the conclusion that some concept of the Sabbath existed in the time of Noah. This allows us to push the inquiry back to the creation week to search a second time for possible evidence relating to the Sabbath. An eschatological difference was suggested, namely, that God's resting on the seventh day anticipated another era of creation. We noted that in the second part of Isaiah, God spoke of creating new heavens and a new earth (Is. 65:17), and that this prophetic strand was repeated by Peter and John. [24] If an eschatological note does shine forth from this creation account we may have some reasons for concluding that man consciously interpreted the creation week as laying the pattern for his own life; six days of work followed by a hallowed day of rest. Whether or not this interprets correctly God's seven-day creation week, as it related to man's work and rest, the word "remember" still remains.

The six days of labor followed by the seventh day of rest showed that God designed that man should copy God's way in His work of creation. The intent of remembering the Sabbath day was compactly stated in the words, "to keep it holy." It was to be a Sabbath to the Lord, a day of holy rest. This God-centered meaning of the Sabbath says a great deal. Since it is to be a day set apart to the Lord, the command suggests that it is not to be merely a day of idleness but rather one of devotion to the Lord. It gave birth to the idea of man's worship of God on this day. The appended reason for this day of rest lay in God's resting on the seventh day from all His work of creation.

God's pattern of six days' labor before His day of rest provided purpose for man's working six days before resting. Our finite minds are not able to probe into the mind of God as it found expression in the creation week, but we may be able to discover in a small way God's wisdom in establishing a plan for man's week. God designed that man shall involve himself in creative work. He also ordained that man shall spend the seventh day as a day of holy rest to the Lord. When Moses recounted the giving of the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:1-21), he linked the Sabbath observance to Israel's deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. Their six days of work should remind them of their life of slavery in Egypt and their seventh day of rest should remind them of their deliverance from this servitude by the mighty hand of the Lord their God.

In the later legislation given by the Lord through Moses we discover a notable extension of the Sabbath concept into the sabbatical years and the seven weeks of years which culminated in the fiftieth year, the Year of Jubilee. The sabbatical year was a year of rest for their land. The Year of Jubilee marked the return of property to the original owner, the release of debts, as well as the freeing of those who had been sold for their indebtedness. A most remarkable buildup of the sabbatical concept! So evident was the prophetic potential of this arrangement that it became the foundation for God's later revelation in the words, "In a time of favor I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you" (Is. 49:8). Paul grasped this eschatological significance when he declared, "Now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).

But this does not exhaust the eschatological content of the Sabbath. The psalmist saw in the land of Canaan the promised rest for Israel (Ps. 95:11). By reason of Israel's unbelief they could not enter into Canaan rest. The author of Hebrews saw in this psalm a prediction of a sabbath rest for the people of God yet to be realized (Heb. 3:4). This sabbath rest is the rest of heaven. This passing from sabbath rest to Canaan rest and finally to heaven rest is most sublime. It is another sample of the potential truths inherent in the Old Testament Scriptures. We may conclude that the ultimate purpose of the fourth commandment was to prepare the people of God for the realization of heaven rest, of which the Sabbath day was a type. This typical aspect of the Sabbath became clearer in Paul's language when he said with reference to Old Testament festivals, including the Sabbath, "These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Col. 2:17).

The fifth commandment, the statute to honor father and mother, turns to human relationships. Very naturally if man obeys the first four commandments, his attitude in all human relations will be vitally affected. This commandment has to do with fostering the unit of society, the family. Children in their immaturity need parental training and discipline to guide them to maturity. This commandment instills the proper attitude of children to parents. It is one of honor and respect. Moses gave some pointed, detailed instruction on this command. [25] These laws specified some acts of grievous dishonor, such as striking and cursing father and mother. The stubborn and rebellious son who did not obey his parents, even though they chastised him, should be stoned to death. A familiar proverb laid hold of this commandment in reverse. It read, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). The fifth commandment together with this proverb embodied the principle which would perpetuate the covenant relation between Israel and God as each succeeding generation was trained to love God and so insured the attached promise, "that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you."

The sixth commandment, "You shall not kill," sets forth the sacredness of human life. The creation of man in the image of God had already placed supreme dignity on the nature of man as compared with all other living creatures. Cain had failed to grasp this truth and became the first murderer. After the Flood, God laid down this principle, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image" (Gen. 9:6). And now God wrote this principle into the fundamental law, the Decalogue. Later the Lord proclaimed through Moses a fuller statement of this sixth commandment. It reads, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:17, 18). As noted earlier, Jesus raised this last statement to the position of being the second great commandment. This helps us to understand the comprehensive implication bound up with the simple statement, "Thou shalt not kill."

The seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," has its foundation in the creation of man and woman and of their relation as husband and wife. God early established the fundamental law of marriage in the words, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). The act of adultery is a defiance of "the one flesh" nature of marriage. By creation God entrusted the powers of procreation to be exercised alone in marriage. The act of adultery constitutes an irreparable breach of the marriage covenant and of marriage love. Another facet of this commandment has to do with a child's inalienable right to be born in a family with a father and a mother. Adultery robs a child of this right.

The eighth commandment, "You shall not steal," voices man's right to the ownership of property. Through this God declares the responsibility of man to perform the necessary work to secure food, clothing, and shelter, which are necessary to preserve life. It instills the principle of personal responsibility to do these things, and thus establishes the individual's right to possess the things necessary for life. We noted in the discussion of the Sabbath that God had made provision in the Sabbatical Year and in the Year of Jubilee for taking care of human needs when individuals in the various experiences of life had suffered losses. This eighth law affirmed man's right to what is his in the normal circumstances of life.

The ninth commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," protects another very sacred right of man. The dignity of man's creation in the image of God secures for him the right to honor, respect, and a good name. The bearing of false witness robs a neighbor of this right. So flagrant is this sin that the author of Proverbs expressed it in popular form, "A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies" (Prov. 14:5; 19:5). Very bluntly he wrote, "A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow" (Prov. 25:18). Jesus voiced the same principle when He declared, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Mt. 7:1). In the same vein James wrote, "Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law" (Jas. 4:11). Observe that James associated this admonition with the law, evidently referring to this ninth commandment.

The tenth commandment. Here the sin of coveting is prohibited. This commandment touches another aspect of stealing but it goes deeper than the outward act. It condemns the unlawful desire for what belongs to another, for inevitably the unlawful desire will spring forth in actual seizure. This commandment probes deeper than the acts of sin. It condemns the evil which flows forth from the heart. To quote Christ's words, "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts . . . coveting" (Mk. 7:21, 22). This commandment leads us to recognize that the Decalogue probes into the sinfulness of wrong thoughts, as well as of wrong acts.

This commandment brought home to Paul the consciousness of sin. Seeing the purpose of the law in the light of Christian experience Paul wrote, "If it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me" (Rom. 7:7b-10).


For Additional Reading and Reference:

Baab, Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 136-38.
Buber, The Revelation and the Covenant, pp. 39-55, 69-79, 110-46.
Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 38-73, 235-59, 289-300.
Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, Vol. I, pp. 36-48, 289-96.
Heinisch-Heidt, Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 12-18.
Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 209-17.
Kaufmann, The RelIgion of Israel, pp. 223-43, 317-22.
Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 149-66. (Presents a typical case of applying literary criticism to the Pentateuch.)
Kohler, L., Old Testament Theology, pp. 59-71.
Napier, Songs of the Vineyard, pp. 71-100, 109-17.
Oehler, Old Testament Theology, pp. 68-245.
Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament, Consult Index.
von Rad, Old Testament Theology, VoL I, pp. 175-219, 280-305.
Raven, The History of the Religion of Israel, pp. 42-72.
Ringgren, Israelite Religion, pp. 28-40.
Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, pp. 148-59.
The Religious Ideas of the Old Testament, pp. 186-90.
Rowley, The Re-Discovery of the Old Testament, pp. 114-25.
The Biblical Doctrine of Election, pp. 36-68.
Schultz, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I, pp. 125-39.
Titcomb, Revelation in Progress, p p. 52-59.
Vischer, The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ, pp. 166-212.
Vos, Biblical Theology - Old and New Testaments, pp. 115-59.
Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, pp. 253-56.
Weidner, Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 53-61, 117-20.

Consult commentaries on Exodus.

See "Covenant" in:
Allmen, Ed., A Companion to the Bible.
Davis-Gehinan, The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible.
Douglas, Ed., The New Bible Dictionary.
Harrison, Ed., Baker's Dictionary of Theology.
Hastings, Ed., Dictionary of the Bible. Frederick C. Grant and H. H. Rowley, Ed., Revised Edition.
Interpreter s Dictionary of the Bible.
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia.

Richardson, Ed., A Theological Word Book of the Bible.

End Notes:

1. Theology of the Old Testament. Vol. Ii (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), pp. 289-96.
2. Ibid, p. 289.
3. Ex. 4:10; 14:31; Nun. 11:11; 12:7; Deut. 3:24; 34:5.
4. Ex. 24; 32:1l-14; 33:12-16; 34:1-9; Deut. 9:13-21; 10:10, 11.
5. Ex. 5:5.23; 6:8.9; Deut. 4:10; i8:15.
6. Eichrodt. op. cit., I, pp. 289ff. Gerhard von Rad, Old Testsnent Theology. Vol. I (New York:
Harper Brothers. 1962). pp. 289 ff.
7. Ex. 3:20,4:2-9, 21; 6:6, 7; 7:3, 9-12; 8:19; 9:15. 16:14:22, 31; 15:8, 11; 34:10; Ps. 78:42-51.
8. Davis-Gehman, The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1944), "Miracle.' p. 399.
9. Ibid., p. 399.
10. Es. 34:10; Josh. 24:4-7; Ps. 105:23-42; 106:7-38; 136:1046.
11. Mic. 6:4; Acts 7:20-44; 13:17,18; Rom. 9:17; Deut. 7:6-10; 9:4-6; 10:15; 32:6.
12. Jn. 8:33; Rom. 8:20,21.
13. Ex. 6:6; 15:13; Deut. 7:8; 9:26; 13:5; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18.
14. Ex. 12:1-13, 16; Deut. 16:1-8.
15. 1 Chron. 29:3; Eccles. 2:8.
16. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. A. F. Kirkpatrick, General Editor (Cambridge The University Press, 1911), "The Book of Exodus," by S. R. Driver, p. 171
17. Rom. 7:7-20; 10:1-5; Gal. 3:12-24.
18. Op. cit., p. 145.
19. James Orr. op. cit., Vol. V, "The Ten Commamdments," by John R. Sampey, p. 2944B.
20. George Arthur Buttrick. op. cit., B-Z, "The Ten Commandments," p. 570.
21. Op. cit., p. 2946.
22. Ex. 23 1, Lev 19:12; Ps. 12:2; 15:3; 24:4; 41:6; Jer. 5:2; 7:9; Zech. 5:4; Mal. 3:5.
23. Op cit., 571.
24. 2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21:1.
25. Es 21 15-17, Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18,21; 27:16. _________________

This is chapter 5 of Chester K. Lehman's Biblical Theology: Old Testament. Published by Leland M. Haines by arrangement with Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. 15683 . Copyright © 1971 by Herald Press. All rights reserved. Third printing, 1997.

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June 22, 2000