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"5 `And now, if ye really hearken to My voice, then ye have kept My covenant, and been to Me a peculiar treasure more than all the peoples, for all the earth [is] Mine; 6 and ye -- ye are to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation: these [are] the words which thou dost speak unto the sons of Israel.'

7 And Moses cometh, and calleth for the elders of the people, and setteth before them all these words which Jehovah hath commanded him; 8 and all the people answer together and say, `All that Jehovah hath spoken we do;' and Moses returneth the words of the people unto Jehovah." (Ex. 19:5-8, YLT)

Why did God need to seek their agreement?

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  • I don't have time for a full answer right now, but it's a little bit similar to the principle of policing by consent. By making this a bilateral covenant which the people agree to, they are agreeing ahead of time to the discipline of God, removing any grounds for saying that they "didn't sign up for this", as we'd say now.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 1, 2022 at 13:41
  • 1
    I'd be very happy for you to make that point in a more complete answer.
    – Gina
    Mar 1, 2022 at 13:45
  • I dont see any question. It is only stating the conditions and rewards. They obliged.
    – Michael16
    Mar 1, 2022 at 17:37
  • @Michael16 - they did not just oblige. They agreed to His terms and conditions. Why did He need them to?
    – Gina
    Mar 2, 2022 at 0:08
  • Because God does not violate man's freewill. They are to choose the covenant. It is a bilateral covenant.
    – Michael16
    Mar 2, 2022 at 5:23

1 Answer 1

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First, let us distinguish between the Israelite covenant as recorded in Ex 19-23 (the so-called, "Book of the Covenant, Ex 24:7) and the ceremonial or Levitical covenant - see appendix below. The Israelite covenant, or "Old Covenant" was essentially a moral covenant to define the relationship between God and His chosen people.

[Note, that this Israelite covenant is distinct from the Abrahamic covenant concerning the promise of the land and ultimately, Messiah.]

The ancient Israelites were often reprimanded for assuming that God’s covenant with them was a mere matter of ceremonies, the stone tablets and the temple. 1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, etc. That is, they confused the Levitical and Moral Covenant. More particularly, the Israelites were repeatedly told that the conditions of the Covenant were a matter for the heart and NOT external regulations (Deut 6:5, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28), because God initiated the covenant to save Israel; it was a covenant of transforming grace and forgiveness! Isa 59:21 says the covenant is the eternal gift of the Spirit. That this Israelite Covenant was a covenant of transforming grace is confirmed by several ideas:

  • The Old Covenant was a covenant initiated entirely by God alone, to save Israel. God alone set out the requirements and blessings. God makes it clear that they were selected as the chosen people, NOT because of any Israelite merit, but simply because God wanted to. Deut 7:7, 9:5, 6, 10:15.
  • The Old Covenant was a matter of the “heart” (Deut 6:5, 10:12, 16, 11:18, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, Eze 11:19, 18:31, 36:26) and NOT mere regulations (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). These references make it clear that the Old Covenant did not really include the animal sacrifices, and that they could not define nor atone for sin. (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). The animal sacrifices and the sanctuary ritual were part of the Levitical covenant which acted as teaching device that anticipated, and was a type of, the High Priestly ministry of Messiah.
  • The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Covenant stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, was constructed in a highly symbolic way. The 10 Commandments were inside the box and the “atonement cover” or “mercy seat” was placed above them. Ex 25:17-22, 26:34, 30:6, 31:17, 37:9, 40:20, Lev 16:13; see also Heb 9:5. This arrangement was placed in the Most Holy Place, in the sanctuary, and always remained at the center of God’s Covenant people.
  • In Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he describes the (Israelite) Covenant as God showing “lovingkindness”, or, “steadfast love”, to people. 1 Kings 8:23, 2 Chron 6:14, See also Neh 1:5, 9:32, Ps 89:28, 33, 34, 103:17, 18, 111:4, 5, 9, Isa 54:10, 55:3. This suggests that the Law of God, or the Moral Law, is an expression of God’s love and is just as eternal.

Note: Most of the confusion about the various covenants arises because people confuse the Israelite Covenant with the Levitical Covenant, or, assume that the Levitical Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are part of the Israelite (Old) Covenant. This confusion is perpetuated by the (erroneous) practice of labeling the Israelite and Levitical covenants, “Mosaic”, as if they are the same thing.

Love Relationship

Now, the central teaching of Scripture is that "God is Love". 1 John 4:8, 16. Further, our relationship with God is to be centered and dominated by love. Deut 6:4-6, Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27. Further, our relationships with each other must also follow the same pattern, Lev 19:18, Matt 5:43, 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Rom 13:9, Gal 5:14, James 2:8.

It is a simple matter of definition that forced love is not love at all. A love relationship must be voluntary or it is become emotional rape. That is, unless the Israelites served God willingly, they would be incapable of having a loving relationship with God.

Therefore, consent to the Israelite covenant was essential, else God's example of loving service to Him would fail.

APPENDIX - Levitical Covenant

The Levitical (or "ceremonial") covenant is referenced in numerous places such as Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8. This is an eternal covenant (Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30) of salt, Num 18:19.

The Levitical covenant is stated in Num 3:11-13, 25:12 where God takes the Levites (especially the line of Phineas as High Priest) instead of the all the firstborn of each family, thus changing the (informal) priesthood from the firstborn of each family to the (formal) priesthood of tribe of Levi. Several Bible writers refer to this Levitical Covenant including:

  • Neh 13:29 – “the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites”
  • Jer 33:18, 21 – “covenant with the Levitical priests.”
  • Mal 2:4-8 – “the covenant with Levi”
  • Num 25:10-13 – the eternal covenant of priesthood was also a covenant of peace and a covenant of “salt” (Num 18:19), ie, very solemn and eternal.
  • Isa 54:10 & Eze 34:25 also describes the covenant of peace with the Levites From other Bible passages we can see what the Levitical covenant was.
  • The purpose of the Levitical covenant was to teach and inculcate the plan of salvation (Deut 33:9, 10, Heb 9:8, 9, 11-14, 10:1-3, Col 2:16, 17). That is, it symbolically taught about salvation by grace through the coming Messiah via His substitutionary death in the place of the sinner. Thus, the sacrifices, Levites, priests and High Priest became a type of Jesus in various ways.
  • A promise by God to set them apart, ie, make them “holy” (Num 3:12, 13), to be a substitute for the first born in Israel, and to have the primary responsibility for caring for the sanctuary, its ritual services and sacrifices, maintaining and transporting its equipment. Ex 32:25-29. In this way, they became the priests of Israel. All these regulations were contained in Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27.
  • Thus, the Levites enjoyed a “blessed” (and privileged) status. Ex 32:29, Mal 2:5.
  • The book of Leviticus (and Num 1 & 18) sets out the responsibilities of the Levites in operating the ceremonial rites and sanctuary services and caring for the sanctuary equipment. See also Num 1:53, 18:2, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, Josh 3:3, 2 Sam 15:24, 1 Chron 15:26.
  • The token/sign (Heb: “oth”) of the Levitical covenant appears to have been the unleavened bread at the annual festival (Ex 13:6, 9, 16, Lev 24:8).

The Israelite Covenant never mentions a formal priesthood; thus the Israelite covenant was distinct from the Levitical covenant. In the NT, this Levitical Covenant with all its ceremonies was often abbreviated to “the Law of Moses”, or just, “circumcision” and are clearly understood as distinct from the Old Israelite covenant laws, 1 Cor 7:19, Eph 2:15, Acts 15. See “Law”, “Ceremonial System”. The formal change from family-firstborn-priests to Levitical priesthood was done using the mechanism of the redemption money as described (in detail) in Num 3:40-51 and Num 18:14-16.

Historical Note: When God instituted the Levitical Covenant with all its rites and ceremonies, it was NOT done “ex novo”, nor, “ex nihilo”. The idea of animal sacrifices of various kinds had been going on in various informal ways since the time of Abel (Gen 4). Even the sanctuary layout had precedents in other cultures which were taken over in modified form to teach about the greater reality of eternal salvation.

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  • Dottard, you have given much info, but the central idea is expressed most closely under your heading The Love Relationship. Wonder if you could define "covenant" as part of the answer? How many parties are there to a covenant?
    – Gina
    Mar 2, 2022 at 0:12
  • @Gina - many books have been written about covenants and I have written much on the subject on this site as well. Covenants are scattered throughout the OT; BUT the five OT divine covenants are: Noahide (Gen 8 & 9), Abrahamic (Gen 12, 15, 17), Israelite (Ex 19-23), Levitical (Lev 3 etc see above answer), Davidic/royal (2 Sam 7 etc. All consist of a series of promises by God consisting of blessings and curses and a series of requirements for the recipient, plus a symbol and a sacrifice.
    – Dottard
    Mar 2, 2022 at 5:58
  • @Gina - divine covenants are made between God and man(kind). Space would prohibit a full description but the essence is God binds Himself to deliver to the recipient(s). See Gen 15 for an exemplar. The Hebrew word is "berith" meaning to cut and refers to the cutting of the confirming sacrifice.
    – Dottard
    Mar 2, 2022 at 6:11
  • Your posts on covenants are always very well-thought out. Well-said on it was a covenant of transforming grace and forgiveness +1 Apr 1, 2022 at 1:44

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