A study by the
Biblical Church of God 1985
On the whole I think this is a fine study. Where I disagree or
felt the need for further clarification I have added some
comments - Keith Hunt.
WHAT WERE THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THE OLD COVENANT?
WHAT WAS THE AGREEMENT between God and Israel? What did He want
them to do and what did He promise in return?
A covenant or a contract must have terms and conditions that both
parties must abide by in order to judge the performance of either
party. These terms and conditions of the covenant between God and
the nation of Israel were very specific and to the point.
The first condition is Found in Exodus 19:5-6: "Now therefore, if
you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you
shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all
the earth is mine: And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests,
and a holy nation ..."
Notice that God did not place any limitations on what He might
ask the Israelites to do later. He just said if they would obey
His voice, He would do thus and such. He is asking them to agree
to an open-ended contract - a contract which could be added to
The Israelites agreed to these first terms and conditions:
"And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid
before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him.
And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord
has spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people
unto the Lord" (Exodus 19:7-8).
In Exodus 20:1-17 we find that after hearing the people had
agreed to honor the basic contract, God then gave the Ten
Commandments directly to them.
In any agreement or contract there must be benefits for both
parties - i.e. both parties receive something in return for their
efforts or their part in the agreement.
THE PEOPLE'S BENEFITS
Exodus 19:5-6: "And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests,
and a holy nation." In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God promises wealth,
protection, health, happiness, and many other fantastic physical
blessings to the Israelites for their obedience.
It is important to point out at this time that eternal life was
also offered to those who lived under the Old Covenant. Jesus is
an example of one who earned eternal life under the Old Covenant.
How did He earn eternal life? There is a simple answer. He earned
eternal life because He lived a physically sinless life. He
deserved life, and not death. But He chose to die for us.
As we know, He was the only one who ever lived who was able to
accomplish this and claim the promise of eternal life. All others
failed in their attempts to obey all of God's laws.
Let's read the scripture from which Christ could have claimed the
promise of life: "You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my
judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in (by) them: I am
the Lord" (Leviticus 18:5). Now turn and read Galatians 3:10-12.
Notice verse 12: "And the law is not of faith but the man who
does them (meets all the conditions of the law) shall live in
(by) them." Christ did this and therefore deserved life, not
Romans 10:5: "For Moses describes the righteousness which is of
the law, that the man who does those things (the commandments,
statutes, and laws) shall live by them." That is, he will gain
eternal life as a result of doing them (if there is no sin, not
even one sin, then you could gain eternal life because you have
not sinned - Keith Hunt).
This, then, is one way a person could gain eternal life under the
Old Covenant - by meeting all the righteous demands of the law as
As we read in Hebrews 11 there will be many who lived under the
Old Covenant who will be resurrected to eternal life in the first
resurrection: "And these all, having obtained a good report
through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some
better thing for us, that they without us should not be made
perfect" (Hebrews 11:39-40).
Also, the New Testament says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in
the Kingdom as well as King David. How could they be there unless
eternal life was offered under the Old Covenant?
FROM CREATION, GOD HAD A PLAN
So one might ask, "How will all of the people mentioned in
Hebrews 11 qualify to enter into the Kingdom of God and have
eternal life?" We will cover this in detail in Part Two. But here
it is in condensed form:
Those people who lived under the Old Covenant and who followed
the instructions contained in the Law, offering the proper
sacrifice after repentance when they sinned, were forgiven by God
and put back in right standing with Him. They had faith in that
sacrifice which was a type of Christ. They knew that someday
Christ would come and offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice that
would give them eternal life. This, then, is why they will be in
the first resurrection (they looked ahead in faith to Christ's
sacrificing death and shed blood, we, after that event, look back
in faith to Jesus' sacrifice of death for our justification -
Thus the promise of eternal life was given under the Old
Covenant. But, it was very difficult to obtain. This is why a New
Covenant was necessary. Those who have been called and those who
will be called in these New Covenant times have an opportunity
toward a more easily obtainable goal (I do not believe this last
sentence is correct. It was just as easy to obtain eternal life
under the Old Covenant as it is under the New Covenant, and in
some respects it may have been easier, for certain things were
"allowed" under the OC (Old Covenant), such as polygamy, which
are not allowed under the NC (New Covenant) - Keith Hunt).
Once again we see that the laws of God were given as a whole, and
those who followed them (the commandments, the statutes, the
judgments, and the sacrificial system) will be in the Kingdom of
God (yes, if they were called by God, and if his spirit was with
them, but for most in Israel they were not called and did not
have God's Spirit - see Deut.5:29; 29:4; Num.11 - Keith Hunt).
Let's take a look at Romans 11:7 (Good News Bible): "What then?
The people of Israel did not find what they were looking for. It
was only the small group that God chose who found it: the rest
grew deaf to God's call."
Here we see that God was only calling a select group of people
under the Old Covenant to govern with Him in the Kingdom. Many of
these people are listed in Hebrews 11. We, who are being called
in this age, will reign along with them in God's Kingdom as kings
and priests governing over His Kingdom.
The difficulty in gaining eternal life under the Old Covenant may
be why many of those who did qualify then will hold key positions
in the Kingdom. For example, King David will reign as King over
Israel (I do not believe that is the reason at all. It is simply
God's choice, who does what in the Kingdom, for a number of
factors, not revealed in any depth to us in God's word. We shall
at that time KNOW as we are known, some things we now look
through a glass darkly - said Paul - Keith Hunt).
It is very easy for us to see the benefits that the Israelites
would gain from this agreement. But what possible benefit could
the Creator God gain from giving blessings? Herein lies a great
mystery from the foundation of the earth; and part of that
mystery is that God gains great pleasure from giving. Jesus
summed it up in Luke 12:32: "Fear not, little flock; for it is
the Father's good pleasure (delight) to give you the kingdom."
God is a loving, giving and sharing Being and He gains pleasure
from giving to others. This is by no means the only benefit God
would get from this agreement, but that is another subject.
In Exodus 20 we see God speaking the words of the covenant as He
said He would in Exodus 19:5: "... If you will obey my voice..."
He began to tell the Israelites what He wanted them to do. Notice
the first thing God gave them was the Ten Commandments. Upon
hearing the voice of God, the people were frightened and they
asked Moses to speak to God and then transmit what He said. From
that time on, God told Moses everything He wanted to be contained
in the covenant.
Now to Exodus 24. Note that Moses had gone up the mountain in
chapter 20, verse 21, and he did not come down until Exodus 24:3.
This is an important fact to note, because after that, Moses
related to the Israelites everything that God told him on Mount
Sinai (Exodus 20 through Exodus 24:3). Remember the only reason
God spoke through Moses instead of speaking Himself is because
the people were afraid to listen to Him directly (Exodus 20:19).
Also remember that God had already spoken the Ten Commandments
before He began to speak through Moses. So the commandments are
definitely a part of this covenant.
In Exodus 24:3 Moses told the people the words of the Lord: "And
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all
the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and
said, All the words which the Lord has said will we do."
Moses relayed to the people all the words of the Lord and all the
judgments. He told them, from Exodus 23 through 24, all the
things that he had received from God, including the building of
an altar and the giving of sacrifices. In chapters 21, 22 and 23,
God gave the civil laws (judgments) to Israel - which included
the laws for servants, manslaughter, murder, kidnapping, theft,
property damage, witchcraft, slander, and land rest. And in
chapter 25 God told them how they were to worship Him. Notice
chapter 23:14 where the Feast Days (which are statutes and an
extension of the Sabbath commandment) are mentioned. (See also
This relaying by Moses of God's commandments, statutes and
judgments (Exodus 20-24) is also brought out in Hebrews where the
apostle Paul says: "When Moses had spoken every precept to all
the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and
of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled
both the book, and all the people" (Hebrews 9:19).
THE FORMAL RATIFICATION
If a contract is important, it is normally written or recorded on
something permanent so that there will be no question as to what
was agreed, and so that the agreement can be referred to for
clarification of a point in question. Moses told the people
everything God had said and then he wrote these things in a book.
"And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord,
and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one
voice, and said, All the words which the Lord has said will we
do. And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early
in the morning, and built an altar under the hill, and twelve
pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel" (Exodus
After recording the terms and conditions in a book, Moses
prepared an altar as God had instructed (Exodus 20:24-26; 24:56).
Moses then read the covenant to the people: "And Moses took the
blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood
of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you concerning all
these words" (Exodus 24:8). The people agreed again to do
everything God asked of them.
The covenant was then formally ratified by blood (verse 8). And
all the people answered together and said: "All that the
Lord has spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the
people unto the Lord" (verse 7).
Here the people formally agreed to do anything God would ask them
to do. This also implies anything in the future that He wanted
them to do. It is interesting that when God added something to
the covenant, the people would always affirm that they agreed to
what was added and would obey (Exodus 19:8; 24:3 and 24:7).
After the formal ratification, Moses went back up the mountain to
receive the writings of God: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Come
up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give you tables
of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that
you may teach them" (Exodus 24:12).
In the next few chapters, we see what Moses received on his first
forty days on Mount Sinai. Exodus 25 through 27 gives the
instructions on how to build the tabernacle and how to pay for
it; Exodus 28 and 29 has the instructions on how to sanctify
Aaron and his sons. In Exodus 32:15, Moses came down from the
mountain carrying the tables of stone written on by the very hand
of God, and, to his utter dismay, found the people worshipping a
golden calf. Overcome with anger, Moses broke the tables
containing the Ten Commandments. Then after strongly admonishing
the people, Moses turned to the Lord to ask God to have mercy
upon the people and to make an atonement for their sins.
THE CREATOR KEEPS HIS WORD
God does not forget or break His word, and He reminded Moses of
His covenant with the patriarchs: "And the Lord said unto Moses,
Depart, and go up hence, you and the people which you have
brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I swore
unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto your seed will
I give it" (Exodus 33:1).
Moses went back up Mount Sinai in chapter 34, and God again wrote
the laws on tables of stone: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew
you two tables of stone like unto the first; and I will write
upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which
you broke" (Exodus 34:1). Verse 28 of this chapter proves that
the commandments were a part of the Old Covenant, and that they
were in fact the part of the covenant that defined sin.
In Exodus 35:1 Moses gathered Israel together and said to them:
"These are the words which the Lord has commanded that you shall
do them." Then he told them all he had received, including the
instructions on the tabernacle. Please notice that they stayed at
Mount Sinai, after he had given them all the instructions they
needed to have in order to operate as a nation, until Numbers
WAS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE OLD COVENANT
We have now established what constituted the first covenant and
that the terms and conditions included everything enumerated in
Exodus 20-24 and that it was ratified by blood. The fact that God
had not given the Israelites the two tables of stone with the Ten
Commandments written on them prior to the formal ratification
does not void the fact that He spoke them in Exodus 20, because
Israel agreed to obey all that God had spoken from Exodus 20-24
forward: "And all the people answered together, and said, All
that the Lord has spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words
of the people unto the Lord" (Exodus 19:8).
They had agreed to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), the
judgments (Exodus 21,22,23), and the statutes (Exodus 23). There
is no doubt what the Old Covenant was and what was expected from
both parties. The Israelites were to obey the commandments,
statutes and judgments (including the Holy Days) and God would
make them a kingdom of priests, bless them and be their
Many seem to think that there was something wrong with the
covenant God made with Israel. Was the Old Covenant a bad
contract? Was it poorly written and administered? Most of
Christianity has been taught that the terms and conditions of the
Old Covenant were impossible to fulfil; but was this the case?
A major error being taught by the churches of God and others is
that prior to Jesus Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit, man
could not obey the commands of God. This is a totally false
concept. Abraham, Lot, King David and many others spoken of in
the Old Testament were righteous individuals because they kept
the commandments, statutes, judgments, sacrificial laws and
obeyed God. They were righteous only because they obeyed the
sacrificial system (and more importantly because they like us,
were under "grace" - they were saved by grace as we today are -
the way of salvation has always been the SAME from the beginning.
see my studies called "Saved by Grace" - Keith Hunt), not because
of their ability to keep God's laws - all have sinned.
Even in the New Testament before the giving of the Holy Spirit in
Acts 2, we find those who were able to obey God. Notice what is
said about two of these individuals: "There was in the days of
Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of
the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before
God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord
blameless" (Luke 1:5-6) (Yes, and so they were under the grace of
God. They were not sinless, for it is written that ALL have
sinned and come short of the glory of God [except Jesus of
course, He was sinless] and so they were under God's grace
because they had the mindset of a willingness to obey all of
God's commandments. Again, please see my studies "Saved by Grace"
- Keith Hunt).
POINT OF LAW
An important point of law to understand is that all contracts are
void from inception if it is impossible for either party to
perform the things agreed to in the contract. Would God make a
contract that He could not fulfil? Would He have made a contract
with Israel knowing that they could not fulfil; their commitment?
The answer is absolutely NO to both questions. God made the
contract with Israel because He knew it was possible for them to
fulfil their part.
Once again we see that one cannot separate the laws of God; the
law was given as a whole. The law was given so that man could
become holy and remain holy before God. The law shows what
"holiness" is and the sacrifices keep man holy before God (not
really, they just reminded them about sin, and that it would cost
the blood of life to be saved - a picture of the blood of Jesus
the Messiah to be shed for the sins of the world - Keith Hunt).
This would be an impossibility without the sacrificial system,
because without the sacrifices there would be no way to put man
back in right standing with God. But, if one offered the proper
sacrifice prescribed under the law for the sin committed, one
could be put back in right standing with God (well as far as THAT
first Covenant went, but not as far as eternal life, for those
called to eternal life under the Old Covenant, were saved EXACTLY
as we under the New Covenant, are saved - by the grace of God,
through faith in the death of the Messiah. Physical sacrifices
play no real part in saving for Paul said in Hebrews that it was
impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins -
Heb.10:4. They were a reminder of sin - Heb.10:3. They looked
ahead to the Messiah's death and shed blood for sins, we look
back to it, hence all being justified and saved the same way -
This, then, is why Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and many others will be
in the Kingdom. As you can see, it was possible for mankind to
keep the laws of God (how I have just inserted it to you above -
THE BREAKING OF THE COVENANT
We know from history that Israel failed to keep their part of the
covenant, so God cancelled the agreement or covenant with them.
"Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in
the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land
of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I
regarded them not, saith the Lord" (Hebrews 8:9).
As a nation Israel went through periods of obedience and
disobedience. God was extremely merciful to the people of Israel,
blessing them for their obedience and forgiving them for their
disobedience. The problem was that Israel's periods of
disobedience far outweighed her obedience.
By the time the prophet Jeremiah came on the scene, Israel had
totally disregarded the intent of the covenant and failed to
fulfil her national commitment: "And I saw, when for all the
causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery, I had put
her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous
sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And
it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she
defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with
stocks" (Jeremiah 3:8-9).
Notice that God divorced the nation of Israel for spiritual
adultery. In chapter 5 of Jeremiah, the same accusation is
levelled at the nation of Judah as well. Because of their failure
to perform their part of the covenant or agreement, the covenant
was completely broken and made void.
WHY GOD DID NOT GIVE UP ON ISRAEL
However, God could not and would not give up on Israel. Keep in
mind that centuries before Israel became a nation, God had made a
contract with Abraham: "That in blessing I will bless you, and in
multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven,
and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and your seed shall
possess the gate of his enemies; And in your seed shall all the
nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my
voice" (Genesis 22:17-18).
Our Creator keeps His word: "O Lord God of Israel, there is no
God like you in the heaven, nor in the earth; which keeps
covenant, and shows mercy unto your servants, that walk before
you with all their hearts" (2 Chronicles 6:14); "... He will ever
be mindful of his covenant" (Psalm 11:5).
Because of His prior commitments to the patriarchs, God will
continue to work with the nation of Israel until His purpose for
mankind is completed.
"The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Hear you
the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah, and
to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; And say you unto them, THUS
SAITH THE LORD God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeys not
the words of this covenant, Which I commanded your fathers in the
day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the
iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to
all which I command you: so shall you be my people, and I will be
your God: That I may perform the oath which I have sworn unto
your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as
it is this day.
"Then answered I, and said, So be it, O Lord. Then the Lord said
unto me, Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in
the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear you the words of this
covenant, and do them. For I earnestly protested unto your
fathers in that day that I brought them up out of the land of
Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying,
Obey my voice.
"Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every
one in the imagination of their evil heart: therefore I will
bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded
them to do; but they did them not. And the Lord said unto me, A
conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the
inhabitants of Jerusalem. They are turned back to the iniquities
of their forefathers, which refused to hear my words; and they
went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the
house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their
fathers" (Jeremiah 11:1-10).
It is important to understand here that they not only broke the
commandments of God but also refused to obey the sacrificial
laws. So it is evident they disobeyed the whole law - the
commandments, statutes, judgments, and the sacrificial system.
TO BE CONTINUED