Sinai—The Christless Covenant?
The Stonecutter's Bride
by Samuel N. Pestes
What would you think if someone told you that the covenant God made with Moses on Mount Sinai was a Christless covenant?
Some Christians might be challenged by such a thought. Conservative Jews, on the other hand, would have no problem with it.
With all due respect to our Christian friends, people of the Jewish faith seem to understand the nature of the Mosaic Covenant much better than we do. So what was the nature and purpose of the Sinai agreement? Let us explore it from its inception.
Why did God give Israel the Sinai Law that is defined as the law of sin and death? (See Romans 8:2, 3). In Genesis 15, we found that Abraham did not participate in the making of the covenant that bears his name. God the Father, in the symbol of a smoking furnace, appeared together with [the preincarnate] Jesus Christ who was represented by the symbol of a burning lamp. Together they honored Abraham's offering, and made a covenant, which, after he awoke, Abraham accepted purely on the basis of faith.
Abraham had no part in drawing up the terms of that covenant, and he did not promise to do anything that might qualify him to enter into its benefits. He was the happy recipient of God's free gift of love and grace. As we shall see, this was in stark contrast to the actions and behavior of his descendants.
As we saw in chapter 4, when God apeared to make the covenant on Abraham's behalf, He did not appear alone. He appeared as the "smoking furnace." The "burning lamp" appeared with Him. By contrast, at Sinai, the burning lamp was strangely absent.
Abraham recognized his need of a Savior to stand in his place and to represent him.
Israel felt no need of a divine mediator, so Christ, who was previously represented by the burning lamp or the "Light that lights every man that comes into the world," was not evident. This, then, was a Christless covenant, because it was Moses, not Christ, who represented Israel in the ceremonies! This is indicated in the following passage we find in Exodus 19:16-18.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning,
with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet
blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the
people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the
foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke,
because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke
billowed up from it like the smoke of a furnace, the whole
mountain trembled violently, . . .
In Abraham's case, God the Father entered into a covenant with God the Son who represented mankind. At Sinai, the Mosaic Covenant was endorsed not by Christ, but by Moses, on behalf of Israel. Only when we see the Christless nature of the Mosaic Covenant can we understand why God's Word tells us,
Did Moses replace Christ as mediator?
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no
place would have been sought for another. (Hebrews 8:7)
Are you puzzled by this question? Did God really endorse a "faulty" covenant? What was wrong with the Sinai Agreement? It was simply that Moses, a human person, was selected by Israel to act as mediator between God and themselves. Jesus Christ was never mentioned as Israel's mediator under the Sinai Covenant.
You remember reading that Israel had withdrawn from personal relationship with God, by asking Moses to act as the mediator between themselves and God. They asked to be veiled from the glory of God. That is also why a veil was placed in the tabernacle to shut out God's glory from the people. They had become strangers to the Divine grace, which had so marvelously delivered them Egyptian bondage. When God approached to talk to the people, instead of falling on their faces in reverence and listening,
They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us
yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or
we will die." (Exodus 20:19)
Thus, Israel looked on Moses not only as their leader to take them into the Promised Land, but also as the mediator between themselves and God. Christ, whose mediation is always by invitation only, was completely left out of the Mosaic Covenant. It is true that the Sinai Covenant pointed Israel to the coming Messiah, but they were not yet convinced that they needed divine intervention. They felt they were well able to meet God's requirements on their own. In this situation, Moses, who knew God's heart, simply represented the will of the people.
The Divine Stonecutter at work
When Moses first went up Mount Sinai to receive the law, God presented it to him on tablets of stone that were carved by His own hand. He was the divine "Stonecutter," who alone could melt Israel's hearts of stone and change them into vessels capable of taking up the mission He had given to their father Abraham.
Upon returning, Moses saw Israel dancing around a golden calf. He threw down the tablets and smashed them, indicating that Israel had broken the covenant even before it was delivered and thereby disqualified themselves for the mission to which they were called. They identified themselves as vessels of dishonor, ruined even in the land of the divine Shaper of destiny (Jeremiah 18).
The second time Moses ascended Mount Sinai, God instructed him to chisel out a new set of stone tablets by himself. These represented not God's work but man's own work. This reflected Israel's attitude in determining to carve out their own destiny and that the law would henceforth be applied to unresponsive hearts of stone. They refused to be shaped and transformed by the divine Stonecutter. Only the death of the coming Messiah could rescue them from the abyss into which they had fallen.
The distance that was created between God and Israel at Mount Sinai was accented in the very structure of their sanctuary. First, as a sign that Israel had rejected personal communion with their God, Moses put a veil over his face, shutting out God's glory from their view. In 2 Corinthians 3:14-16, Paul stated that the same veil, separating the adherents of Judaism from the presence of God, was still there. Only now it had become a spiritual veil isolating them from the very person of their long awaited Messiah. The literal veil was now gone, but the spiritual veil still covered their hearts.
But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil
remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been
removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this
day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But
whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
By contrast, under the New Covenant, "whoever will" may approach God directly with confidence and receive the help they need, just as the ancient patriarchs did. Please read James 1:5. That promise is for those of us who may wish to enjoy the personal kind of relationship with God that the pre-Sinai saints enjoyed. Sinai was a step backwards into darkness. Who was the Sinai agreement intended for?
Was the Sinai Covenant intended only for ancient Israel or for all races?
The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not
with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with
us, with all of us who are alive here today. Deuteronomy 5:3
What God and Moses agreed upon at Mount Sinai was designed to meet Israel's immature children at their level of understanding. Ignorance of this basic difference between the two covenants has created a tension that remains to this day.
Galatians 3:15-17 tells us that the Sinai Covenant could not be added to the Abrahamic Covenant because it came four hundred thirty years too late for inclusion. The covenant of faith was complete in itself because it spoke of Christ who would confirm that covenant with His own blood. It did not need enhancing with a covenant ratified with animal blood.
Does the Covenant of faith allow for two mediators?
The most dramatic contrast between the two covenants was the fact that whereas the Abrahamic Covenant was built on Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and fallen mankind, the Sinai Covenant was structured on a human mediator. Moses had been selected by Israel to stand as their mediator. We quote from Galatians 3:19, 20 (AMP).
And it (the Law) was arranged and ordained . . . through the
instrumentality of angels [and was given] by the hand . . . of a
go-between—and intermediary person (Moses) between God
and man . . . There can be no mediator with just one person—
and He was the sole party in giving the promise to
Abraham. But the Law was a contract between two, God
and Israel; its validity was dependent on both.
Some, who think of God as someone like themselves, stumble over the question, "Who gave Abraham the Everlasting Covenant of faith? God the Father, or God the Son?" A more reasonable question would be, why do these people insist on trying to break up the Godhead into pieces as though God can be defined in human terms? Jesus said that "I and the father are one" John 10:30.
[. . .] No human had any part in creating the Abrahamic Covenant of faith. God the Father is its Author and God the Son is its Mediator. They are one God. Abraham was the recipient of a contract into which he had no input. He promised nothing. That covenant was created and guaranteed by God alone! Therefore, it stands forever!
This excerpt from Chapter 7 of The Stonecutter's Bride is shared here by permission of the author, Samuel Pestes. All emphases are the authors.