Old Testament Survey - Lesson 9

Covenant Stipulations

This lesson explores the details of the covenant made at Sinai, focusing on the Decalogue, or Ten Words, as Israel's foundational constitution, akin to a bill of rights. The term "words" rather than "commandments" emphasizes their broader implications in governance and ethics. The Decalogue's layout mirrors ancient Near Eastern treaty structures, featuring a preamble, prologue, and stipulations. The covenantal commands guide relationships with God, family, and neighbors, promoting community health and ethical integrity.

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 9
Watching Now
Covenant Stipulations

I. Overview of Covenant Concepts

A. Introduction to Covenant Stipulations

1. Definition and preference for terms

2. Importance of Sinai/Horeb in covenant formation

B. Key Biblical Texts

1. Exodus 19 to Leviticus 27 overview

2. Relevance of different names for Sinai

II. The Decalogue

A. Concept and Misconceptions

1. Decalogue as constitutional foundation

2. Issues with the term "commandments"

3. Hebrew terminology and meanings

B. Covenant Structure and Ancient Comparisons

1. Comparison with Near Eastern treaties

2. Components of covenant structure

C. Detailed Examination of the Decalogue Stipulations

1. Representation and rights of Yahweh

2. Ethical and societal implications for Israelites

III. Implications and Applications

A. Modern Misunderstandings

1. The Decalogue in contemporary context

2. Misinterpretations and correct understanding

B. Covenant Relationship Dimensions

1. Vertical, Horizontal, and Internal Relationships

2. Comprehensive view of an Israelite's duties

IV. Broader Theological Themes

A. Covenant Love and Commitment

1. Hebrew concepts of love

2. Integration of love in covenant obligations

B. Reflections on the Decalogue's Relevance

1. Role in forming Israel's constitutional tradition

2. Discussion on the permanence of the Decalogue

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Covenant Stipulations
Lesson Transcript


Having considered how the covenant was made, or should we say established, at Sinai, it's important that we come back, we take a step back and reflect a little bit more on the way in which the terms of God's expectations for his people are presented in what we call the covenant stipulations. Some people call them the covenant laws. I prefer to view these as constitutional covenant documents that the Lord revealed at Sinai, that is Horeb.

And I keep inserting the word Horeb here because once you get to the book of Deuteronomy and often in Kings, Sinai goes by that other name, by the name Horeb. So we're talking here about Exodus 19 to Leviticus 27. It's a big swath of text, but we want to look at the covenant documents that make up this package of revealed will of God that he gave to his people.

We're going to start with the Decalogue. As I said in the previous session, the Decalogue represents the foundation of Israel's covenantal constitution and the word's first bill of rights. Actually, that's a new notion that I'm inserting here.

But notice my designation of this document, which is usually called the Ten Commandments. There are lots of problems with that. A, the word commandment doesn't occur in here.

B, why do we put “ment” on commands? We never use that in everyday English. It's old French suffix that is attached to this. It's not helpful.

The Hebrew word here, the Lord spoke all these words, and when the document is actually identified by name, it is called the Ten Words, Devarim. It's never called the Ten Commands or Ten Commandments. It's the Ten Words, but of course, we know that the word davar can mean command, but it can mean lots of other things.

Davar can mean a word itself, like the word sheep. That's a word. It can mean a sentence.

It can mean a story. It can mean an event. It can mean a thing.

Ehud, the judge of Israel, goes into Eglon's throne room, and he says, I've got a secret davar for you. Same word, a secret word. Well, he stabbed him.

And he got the point. The Decalogue, Ten Words, this is how the Septuagint translated it. They got it right.

And if it means, if we can't use a Greek word in this, we should at least call it the Ten Words, or in my view, the Ten Foundational Principles of Covenant Relationship, which as a package create a worldview that should govern God's people. This is the foundation stone of a covenant whose terms would be spelled out in increasing detail with subsequent revelation. With ten firm declarations, the Decalogue sketches a worldview and a covenantal ethic to be embodied by those whom Yahweh had graced with redemption.

And of course, when we look at a covenant text like this, we are helped by comparing it with ancient Near Eastern treaty document structures. And Ken Kitchen and Paul Lawrence had done us a great service by representing visually the structures of ancient covenants. The ones on the left represent second millennium covenants, Hittite covenants, and then the biblical covenants.

And the two on the right represent first millennium B.C. covenants. The one in the third column is the Assyrians, and the last one is the Arameans. But you can see from this that the biblical pattern of the Decalogue and other covenant documents mirrors, matches that of the Hittite second millennium treaties far more closely than it does to the first millennium Assyrian and Aramaic treaties.

This covenant structure involves several parts. First, there is the preamble identifying the suzerain. And of course, in the Decalogue, it is, I am Yahweh.

He identifies himself. Then we have the historical prologue, which summarizes how we got here. I am Yahweh, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

That's gospel. Notice, the gospel, I've said it before, always precedes law, so that when God starts talking about his expectations of the Israelites in response to the covenant, it is always in the light of the grace that he has lavished on them, always. Then we have the stipulations.

These summarize the divine suzerain's expectation of his vassal. In the Decalogue, there are ten, because the Lord addressed the stipulations of the Decalogue to male heads of households. I mean, I often ask my students, when you read the Decalogue, the ten commands, who's the addressee? Who is the you in this story? You shall have no other gods besides me.

You shall not make any graven images. You shall honor your father and your mother. You shall keep my Sabbath.

You shall not commit adultery with your neighbor's wife. You shall not steal and whatever else you shall. Who's the you? Of course, at base, it is the head of an Israelite household.

He has a family. He has property. He has neighbors.

This document is addressed to people who have authority in the economic and domestic sphere, and its intent is to prevent the heads of households from becoming little pharaohs. When you look at the way these terms are cast, you can see that this is an ancient Israelite version of a Bill of Rights. Now, unlike our modern Bills of Rights, the Decalogue does not protect the addressee's rights, that is, the head of the household.

It puts all the onus on him to address the rights or maintain the rights of those in his household and in his neighborhood. It seeks their well-being in the context of being under the charge of a head of this household. According to the arrangement of the stipulation of the Decalogue, the next person always involves two parties.

First, the first commands, you shall not have any gods besides me. Yahweh is the other party, and there are fellow members of the vassal community. If you ever make images of other gods, remember I will hold you and everyone in your household responsible for the crime that has been committed.

But Yahweh, the divine suzerain, is the next person in this one whose rights are to be maintained, especially in the first two commands, and then the rest of them deal with the members of the vassal community. Here's a tabulation of these two. You can see how the preamble has it.

I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. This is the gospel basis of the Bill of Rights, and you'll see that reiterated in Deuteronomy 6, 20 to 25. First command, maintaining the rights of God.

You shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.

Yahweh has the right to his people's exclusive allegiance, and at this point, I should mention that in this numbering of the Decalogue terms, I have conflated what are usually separated. We have you shall have no other gods as command number one in the Reformed tradition, and number two is you shall not make any images for yourself and bow down to them. If you look at the grammar, it's very clear that the antecedent for the plural pronouns in the second part of that, you shall not bow down to them, they're all plural, which means that the antecedent, who are the them, you have to go all the way to the previous verse, you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make yourself a carved image to bow down to them or serve them. These are one and the same command, no other gods. Yahweh has the right to his people's exclusive allegiance.

After all, he's their Savior. Two, you shall not bear the name of Yahweh your God in vain. Yahweh has the right to proper representation and loyal service.

What does it mean to bear the name? This does not mean primarily to cuss and swear and use God's name flippantly in our oaths, as we often hear in our cultural context. It means that you shall not claim the brand of the Lord on your hand or on your forehead or anywhere and act as if you belong to Baal. That's the point.

This comes out of the language and custom of ancient slavery where owners would brand their slaves with their names and anywhere they go, these slaves represented the owner. In theological terms, temple servants were often branded with the names of the gods they represented in this temple service. That's what's happening here.

Isaiah 44 speaks specifically of bearing the name of the Lord on your hands. That means claiming to be his possession. He's your owner, but acting as if you belong to somebody else.

Number three, remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Well, now we have a difference in the Exodus perspective, Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy 5 perspective. In Exodus, in six days God created the heavens and the earth, so you're supposed to model your life after God's.

That's the pattern. God has the right to human time, but in the second one, and you shall be sure that everyone else in your household has a Sabbath as well, you remember what it was like to be a slave in Egypt and to live without ever having a Sabbath. That is totally horizontal.

That's a humanitarian. So, you see a difference in the perspective of the Exodus version of it and the Deuteronomy here. They're not contradictory.

They're complementary. Honor your father and your mother. Notice, a man's parents have the right to his respect and care.

Interestingly, it doesn't say if they were good parents. We call these unconditional commands. It's not, if you have a good father or mother, honor them.

It's a blanket statement without qualification, and then Paul picks it up in one of his epistles, in which he says, this is the only command with promise. If you have no respect for your past, you have no future. Honor your father and your mother.

A man's parents have the right to his respect and care. Notice, it does not say a parent has the right to respect the kid's respect. That is the case, but if you put it in those terms, it's self-serving.

When I hear people, parents, say to their children, you have to obey me because the text says to honor your father and your mother. That's wrong. That's self-serving.

But if I see you, somebody, sassing his or her parents, I have every right and responsibility to remind them, stop it. Your parents have a right to your respect. Treat them that way.

Five, you shall not murder. Right to life. Whoever sheds human blood by a human being, his life shall be shed, for as the image of God, he created him.

Six, you shall not commit adultery. Others have the right to sexual purity and secure marriages. By others here, we should say a person's neighbors.

You shall not steal the right to property. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. A man's neighbors have the right to an honest reputation and representation, especially in court.

This is legal kind of language. Nine, you shall not covet your neighbor's house. In Deuteronomy, things are switched a little bit.

In Exodus, you shall not covet your neighbor's house or his wife or whatever, and you shall not covet his neighbor's wife. But in Deuteronomy, it has the wife first. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, period, and then in the next one, you shall not covet your neighbor's house or the field or his male or female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything else that he has.

Our neighbors have the right to freedom from worry about what we're thinking about them and how we can exploit them. It's all about the health of the community. There's another way we can look at it.

We tend to think of these tablets as two tablets. I've often heard them spoken this way. Tablet number one refers to the commands relating to God, and tablet number two involves the commands related to your neighbors at the horizontal level.

Actually, it's more complicated than that. We have four dimensions here. First, after the preamble, I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the slave house.

The first column gives us an Israelite's relationship to his God, and in this I actually have a footnote here. I am using the masculine. It's a patricentric world, and in that patricentric world, the given is a family is by definition a father's household.

That doesn't mean that the mother is irrelevant. The responsibility for the head of the household lies primarily in this world, patricentric world. It lies with the man, therefore an Israelite and his God.

Mothers are addressed in other contexts, so you've got God's rights, no other gods, and secondly, representing God. These two commands actually represent the two sides of what we call the covenant formula. At Sinai, the marriage formula was I will be your God, and you will be my people.

Number one tells us what the first principle means. Yahweh is the God of Israel. Number two tells us what it means to be the people of Yahweh.

It means to represent him well. The next two commands have to do with an Israelite and his household. Remember the Sabbath.

Keep it usual work, and especially in the Deuteronomic version, the emphasis is on every member of the household is to enjoy, have access to the Sabbath rest. This is all about the well-being of the household. Then you have honor your father and your mother.

This is an Israelite and his household. The next four or five have to do with an Israelite and his neighbors. You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not testify falsely against your neighbor.

That represents that relationship, and then the last one, the last two actually, the Israelite and his heart, and isn't this always the problem? What's in the heart is what comes out in action. You shall not covet your neighbor's house, and then the Exodus version, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his maid servant, manservant, servant or maidservant, ox or donkey or anything else. As I said before, Deuteronomy flips that so that that second last one is, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

This term has its own line item in this ledger, and then you have the house and the field in the last one. Well, those are the dimensions of covenant relationship, both vertical and horizontal, and yes, we should say, and internal. It's what goes on between your head and your heart.

That has to be in line with a covenant as well. If we understand the primary Hebrew word to love, and now I'm really switching topics, am I not? We haven't heard anything about love in the Decalogue, but if we understand the primary Hebrew word to love, ahave, correctly, that is covenant commitment demonstrated in action in the interest of the other person. That's what love means.

Have you read 1 Corinthians 13 lately? Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but don't demonstrate love for my neighbor, I'm a clanging gong, or a noisy cymbal, or even John 3 16, for God so loved the world. No, we really should translate this with, for God demonstrated his love for the world in this, that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him would have life eternal, and those who don't believe will be condemned. The word love, Abraham Malamath, a Jewish scholar, has reminded us in a couple of places that when you translate this word, ahave, love, into English, it should never come with only one word, ahave, love.

It's always an action word, and of course it's a key word in the book of Deuteronomy, where it's often love and serve, love and walk in his ways, love and obey. It's always an action word. Now, if you look at it that way, love, we readily understand how Jesus and Paul could reduce all the covenant stipulations to a single command, to love Yahweh and one's neighbor.

Yahweh's objective with the Decalogue was to motivate the head of the household to demonstrate love for God and for his neighbor, with a kind of behavior that puts the interests of the other person always ahead of his own. That's the point. Headship is not about power.

Headship is about care. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and didn't forget to send roses. No, that's not what it says.

Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, or greater love has no one than this, than that he give his life for his friends. It's always an action word. You cannot have love without action demonstrating it, which is why we can actually love people that we don't like.

Have you ever thought about that? To love means to seek the interest of the other person, even if it means detriment to ourselves. Love. We can look at the dimensions of the Decalogue with a diagram like this.

Of course, in Deuteronomy 6, 4, and 5, we have the Shema. You shall love Yahweh. Now you understand.

You shall demonstrate love for Yahweh your God with all your heart, that is mind, with all your being, and with all your resources, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. That's it. The first part of this, you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, that's the vertical relationship.

But the second one, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, that takes care of the other eight commands of the Decalogue. And you notice I have number three at the turning point there. The Exodus version has it as a vertical thing.

The Deuteronomy version has it as a horizontal thing. Hey, if all of us loved our neighbors, we wouldn't need laws. We would automatically be seeking the well-being of others these days in our cultural context.

To every crime that's committed, we'd say we need more laws, or we need more law enforcement agents. No, we don't. We already have far too many.

The problem is not the absence of legal representatives and whatever. The problem is we don't have any love in our community. There's no covenant community.

There's no commitment to the well-being of the other person. We're all looking out only for ourselves. Well, then you need laws.

But you'll never make enough laws to bring order and shalom to that kind of culture. This solves it all. It all boils down to love, which means interest, commitment to the other person's interest demonstrated in action.

Well, that's the Decalogue. It's a hop, skip, and jump of interpretation of the Decalogue as I see it. When we look at how the people responded to the Decalogue in Exodus chapter 20 and again in Deuteronomy chapter 5, they report that the people accepted this document, but they said, stop, stop, stop.

Moses, if God keeps talking to us directly, we're all dead. You go up. You be the lightning rod.

Let God talk to you. You come and tell us. You be the authorized representative.

And the Lord says in Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomy version says, the people have spoken well. That's a good idea. Let's do it.

And that then becomes the moment of Moses' official installation as prophet in Israel. Earlier he had been installed, commissioned as a deliverer, but now he is the mediator of the will of God and the covenant and all the rest of it. That's the official moment of that.

The Deuteronomy version ends with a summary blessing as a reward for obedience, which you also find in ancient Near Eastern, especially Hittite treaty forms. This is clearly a covenant document. That is the Decalogue.

But it is not the covenant document. The expression Sefer HaBerith, which I have there in the Hebrew letters. Sefer HaBerith doesn't mean book of the covenant.

There were no books. I've mentioned that before, but there were official documents. Sometimes they were on tablets of clay.

Sometimes they were on tablets of metal. Sometimes in Egypt, especially, they put them on the temples of gods or palaces. But what we have here in the Decalogue is the stone representation of the covenant, which is put in the Ark of the Covenant as a witness to God's commitment to the people of Israel and his guarantee of the Israelites' commitment to him.

But this term, this covenant document applies to Exodus. The word, technical Hebrew term applies to Exodus 21.1 to 23.19. Indeed, we may interpret the other constitutional documents as elaborations and practical explications of the worldview represented by the Decalogue. We spend a lot of time discussing these days whether Christians have to keep the Decalogue, to keep the Ten Commands, but we never spend any time talking about whether they should keep this covenant document or the instructions on holiness in Leviticus chapters 17 through 26, or the Torah of Deuteronomy.

For some reason, we have isolated the Decalogue as a special document. It's often spoken of as, shall we say, universal laws or natural laws. Well, I've got news for you.

It is neither. This document is written to the recipients of God's grand salvation. It's not written to the pagans out there.

It's written to Israel, and this is not natural law. Every one of the terms comes straight from God's mouth. It is revealed law, graciously revealed by the sovereign to his people so that they know the boundaries between right and wrong.

If we look at the evolution of Israel's constitutional tradition, this is the kind of picture I have in mind. When I first crafted this diagram, I did all of these according to scale, depending on how many verses were devoted to the subject, which is why the Decalogue on the left-hand side, that's a short one. Then you've got the covenant document.

It's a little bit longer, Exodus 21.1 to 23.9. Then the Guidebook on Holiness, usually called the Holiness Code. I don't like that. It's far too legal.

The Guidebook on Holiness, 17 to 26, and then the Torah of Moses, Deuteronomy 5 to 26 and 28. And then, of course, in the New Testament, you have it reduced to the great command. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your resources, and you shall love your neighbor.

It covers everything. This is one coherent worldview all the way through, and if people these days debate about whether or not we should have the Ten Commandments posted in our schools or in our courthouses or whatever, my response is, well, look who's the addressee? The addressee is those who have been redeemed. The problem in our world is not that they don't keep the Ten Commandments.

The problem is in our world, the people have never left Egypt, and you don't legislate morality to people who've never left. There's no motivation. They haven't been transformed from the inside out, but for the Israelites, it's something quite different.

These all have a common worldview, looking out for God and looking out for his people. The covenant document, which encompasses 21.1, derives from the name in Exodus 24.7, and this is the written document of the covenant that Moses read. Then we have the instructions on holiness, Leviticus 17 to 26, referred to by scholars, as I indicated, as the holiness code.

The instructions are distinguished from the other constitutional documents, not by a different world view, but by their emphasis on holiness in several dimensions. Yahweh is identified as the holy one, kadosh. Yahweh identified himself as the one who makes Israel holy, kadesh.

Yahweh challenged Israel to sanctify themselves, hith kadesh, and be holy. You shall be kadoshim. Many of the articles and persons discussed in this section are described as holy.

The tabernacle is holy, the vessels in the tabernacle, the priest is holy, Yahweh's name is holy, sacrificial food is holy, ordinary food is holy, sacred bread, food dedicated to Yahweh, even a time is holy, the year of jubilee. What's the point? All of life belongs to God. You shall love the Lord, demonstrate love for the Lord your God with all your heart or mind.

Jesus got it right when he translated that word with two Greek words, heart and mind, because 50% of the time in the First Testament, this word lev means your seat of emotion and passion, but the other 50% of the time it's your thinker. The two are indistinguishable in Hebrew thinking. The Hebrew Bible has no separate word for brain.

This is the seat of thought and emotion. Well, you shall demonstrate love for the Lord your God. It means your inner being with your whole inner being, with your whole body, nefesh, usually translated soul, but souls don't sin, people do.

The soul that sins, it shall die, the nefesh. In fact, there are a couple, four or five places in Leviticus where the word nefesh refers to the corpse after the spirit, the ruach, has left, which is remarkable. I think in this first place, we've got three concentric circles.

You shall love the Lord your God with your inner being, with your whole body, and then with all your maod. That's strange. In English translated literally, it means with all your very.

It's an adverb. Makes no sense. This happens only twice in all of the first testament.

One is in the Shema, with all your maod, and the other one is the reference to Josiah. There's no one like Josiah who turned to Yahweh with his whole lev, his whole nefesh, and his whole very. So we have to ask ourselves, what in the world is going on here? Septuagint punted, and they said strength, which is not wrong, but it communicates something a little different.

Hebrew has a word for strength. I think what's actually involved, and we get clues to this in cousin languages, Akkadian and Ugaritic, have a word from the same root that uses this root for references to one's wealth, one's property. And I think that's exactly what it means.

You shall demonstrate love for the Lord your God with your inner being, whole inner being, with your whole body, and with everything that has your name on it. Everything devoted to God, no other God. Everything, all is wholly dedicated to God.

Well, as for the context of the content of this long section, it involves a catch-all of moral exhortations, cultic regulations, and legal prescriptions. We don't know how that text was used in ancient Israel. Presumably the Levitical priests, as they did their ministries in the Levitical towns, they would use these to teach the people, but that's all we can say.

The document clarified what Yahweh had meant when he referred to his people as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They are to be holy. There's another class of documents that we could look at, the ritual and constitutional documents.

These have to do with how we practice our religion in church. They didn't have church, but cultically. So you've got instructions for the Passover, instructions about the tabernacle, instructions concerning sacrifice and ritual purity, instructions about duties of Levites, and offerings, and all the rest, which is another way of saying everything is devoted to God.

Everything is subject to his rule. The fact that the Lord would make such detailed provision for his people to relate to him in an ongoing manner demonstrates supreme grace. I know I am going against the grain of a lot of popular opinion.

People feel sorry for the Israelites because the Lord dumped on them a burden of laws nobody could ever keep. Really? Really? Texts like Leviticus 4-6 are not relics of an archaic and primitive worldview in contrast to our modern sophisticated and secularized world. I once was asked to give an address on, do Christians need to read the Old Testament? And of course, that was their word for it on the program, and I prefer a different word by now, you know.

Well, I started my presentation by reading from Leviticus 4-6, and I read about 20 verses, as boringly as these texts are ever read in church, and then when it was all over, I asked, did any of you hear the gospel? There were 300 people there, 600 hands, not a single hand went up. We don't expect to hear it, but listen to this. We feel sorry for the Israelites, and I'm just taking one of these at random.

If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the Lord's holy things, this is from the New American Standard, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary for a guilt offering. He shall make restitution for that which he has sinned against the holy thing, and he shall add to it a fifth part of it and give it to the priest. The priest shall then make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and by now we're all asleep, and when you look at this passage from chapter 4, verse 13, all the way through chapter 6, verse 6, you've got nine different offerings being described like this, and we feel sorry for the Israelites that they have to remember all this, really, but read to the end of this paragraph.

The priest shall make atonement for him with a ram of the guilt offering, and it will be forgiven him. Now if the person sins and does any of these things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, he is still guilty, he shall bear the punishment. He is then to bring the priest, a ram without defect from the flock, according to the priest, your valuation for a guilt offering.

So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning the error in which he sinned unintentionally and didn't know it, and it will be forgiven him, and that's the refrain you find everywhere. Chapter 4, verse 20, so the priest shall make atonement for them, and they'll be forgiven. Verse 26, the priest shall make atonement in regard to his sin, and he'll be forgiven.

Verse 31, the priest shall make atonement for him, and he'll be forgiven. Nine times in this section, this is gospel. Forgiveness is made available to the Israelites in the light of ancient Near Easterners' general desperation to relate positively to their gods and their insecurity before them.

These represent magnificent gifts of grace, and they will be forgiven. And Deuteronomy reflects on this. Deuteronomy 4, 5 to 8, so keep them, that is the commands, put them into practice, for this is the mark of your, hmm, if I had translated this, or if I had written this text as the way I thought about these things, let's say 40 years ago, I would have said, so keep them and put them into practice, for this is the mark of your obligation to God, and this is your duty, and in the eyes of the nations who will hear of these ordinances and say, oy vey, what a pathetic people this is.

But that's not what it says. Notice the world is saying, in the eyes of the nations who will hear of these ordinances, they will say, wow, this great nation is indeed a wise and understanding people. Look, which other great nation is there that has a God as near to it as Yahweh our God is to us? Whenever we call on him, and which other great nation is there that has righteous ordinances and stipulations as this whole Torah that I'm presenting you today? Notice what the nations are saying, and to understand this text, we have to read some of the prayers from the ancient world where they're desperate for forgiveness.

Here's the prayer to every God, and I've just given you abbreviation. It's long, and it's very repetitive. May the God whom I know or do not know be quieted toward me.

May the goddess whom I know or do not know be quieted toward me. In ignorance, I've eaten that forbidden by my God. In ignorance, I've set foot on that prohibited by my goddess.

I mean, did I eat something I wasn't supposed to? How would I know? Did I step on something, a bug, or maybe a sacred piece of dirt? How should I know? Oh my God, my transgressions are many. Great are my sins. Oh my goddess, my transgressions are many.

Great are my sins. I utter laments, but no one hears me. I am troubled.

I'm overwhelmed. I cannot see. Oh my God, merciful one, I address to you the prayer.

Incline to me. I kiss the feet of my goddess. I crawl before you.

How long, oh my goddess, whom I know or do not know before your hostile heart is quieted. Man is dumb. He knows nothing.

Mankind, everyone that exists, what does he know, whether he's committing sin or doing good? He doesn't even know. Remove my transgressions, and I will sing your praise. May your heart, like the heart of a real mother, be quieted toward me.

Like a real mother and a real father, may it be quieted toward me. Is that not pathetic? That's the backdrop for this gift of God's revelation. This pathetic prayer indicts the religious systems of the world around ancient Israel and illustrates the stark contrast between them and the privileged Israelites in their relationship to God, Yahweh, their God.

Oh, to be sure, with his keen sense of sin and his awareness of ultimate accountability before deity, this person in this prayer expresses greater enlightenment than many people in our day. We've pushed God right out of the picture, but at least they know that much. But he faced three insurmountable problems.

He didn't know which God he had offended. He didn't know what the offense was, and he didn't know what it would take to satisfy the gods and restore their goodwill. What will it take to fix this problem? This provides a conceptual framework within which to interpret the Lord's revelation of his cultic provisions.

The Lord had built into his covenant the answers to all three questions that frustrated this ancient Mesopotamian. First, he revealed himself to his people with clarity and invited them to address him by name, I am Yahweh. Second, through his revelation of the covenant stipulations at Sinai, he gave his people a clear view of the boundaries of acceptable ethical and cultic behavior so that the Israelites were without excuse.

In fact, I would say the greater the detail in the laws, the greater the grace. The less you're left to speculate, the clearer are the boundaries, and that's good. And third, he provided his people with a place, consecrated personnel, and a set of rituals through which the universal and personal problems of sin could be resolved, and they will be forgiven.

Unlike many other peoples whose gods of wood and stone, crafted by human hands, neither saw nor heard nor smelled, Yahweh who has no hands, who has no eyes, who has no ears, heard his people when they called upon him. And unlike the nations whose idols had mouths but didn't speak, Israel's God has spoken. In these three provisions, we observe both the scope of divine grace and the brilliance of the gospel embodied in the Sinai revelation.

With their clear knowledge of the will of God, the faithful in Israel were an incredibly privileged people and the envy of the nations. Israel's neighbors' efforts to win forgiveness of sin from their deities were all experimental, never offered assurance. However, in his mercy, Yahweh not only provided sacrifices that worked, he also happily declared to the Israelites that if they brought these sacrifices with contrite and penitent hearts, and in accordance with his revealed will, they could know their sins were forgiven, and their relationship was restored.

Hallelujah. What a Savior.