What Was the Old Covenant?
God called Moses up into the mountain before He gave the law and proposed a covenant between Him and His people (Exodus 19:3-6). Notice how God asked Moses to present His offer to the people. Here are all the elements of a true covenant. Conditions and promises are laid down for both sides. If the children of Israel accept God’s proposal, a covenant will be established (Exodus 19:7,8).
Just as soon as that answer went back to God, the basis for the Old Covenant was set up. But before it could go into formal operation there had to be a sealing or ratifying of the pact. This ritualistic service involved the sprinkling of the blood of an ox on the people and is described in Exodus 24:4-8:
We are reminded in this passage that this covenant was not the law itself, but was made “concerning all these words.” The Ten Commandments were the basis for the agreement. The people promised to keep that law, and God promised to bless them in return. The crucial weakness in the whole arrangement revolved around the way Israel promised. There was no suggestion that they could not fully conform to every requirement of God. Neither was there any application for divine assistance. “We can do it,” they insisted. Here is a perfect example of leaning on the flesh and trusting human strength. The words are filled with self-confidence. “…All that the LORD hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8)
Were they able to keep that promise? In spite of their repeated assurances, they miserably broke their word before Moses could even get off the mountain with the tables of stone. Do we begin to see where the poor promises lay in the Old Covenant?
God is reported as “finding fault with them.” (Hebrews 8:8). He said, “Because they continued not in my covenant … I regarded them not.” (Verse 9). The blame is placed squarely upon the human side of the mutual pact. Not God’s side, not God’s Law. Thus, we can see exactly why Paul wrote as he did about this Old Covenant in Hebrews 8. It did gender to bondage, it proved faulty, had poor promises, and vanished away – all because the people failed to obey their part of the agreement. Putting all these things together we can see why a new covenant was desperately needed, which would have better promises.
How were the New Covenant promises better? Because God made them, and they guaranteed successful obedience through His strength alone (Hebrews 8:10-12). How was the New Covenant ratified? In the same manner that the Old was confirmed – by the shedding of blood. But instead of an ox having to shed its blood, the sinless Son of God would provide the blood of sprinkling (Hebrews 13:20, 21).
Some Church goers claim that in the Old Covenant, the laws are external and written in the laws of Moses, while in the New Covenant, the laws are internalized, written on the heart. This is not completely true, because the Laws during the Mosaic Covenant were written on the heart as well:
Deuteronomy 30:14, “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”
Isaiah 51:7, “Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law”
Psalms 40:8, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”
Psalms 37:31, “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.”
Proverbs 3:1, “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:”
Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”
Job 22:22, “Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart.”
(See also Deuteronomy 30:10, Joshua 22:5, 2 Kings 10:31; 23:25, 2 Chron.31:21, Psalm 119:34).
What are the Old and New Covenants?
Many people believe that the Old Testament was abolished at the cross, when Christ was crucified. This writig will show, from the scriptures themselves, that the Old Covenant was not abolished at the cross, and that it was still being practiced many years after Christ died, not only by Jews but by all the apostles and Jewish converts to Christianity. But first, let us define exactly what a “covenant” or “testament” is. In simple terms, a covenant (or a testament) is an agreement between two parties, spelling out what kind of relationship they have.
A “covenant” and “law” are two completely different things. Many believe that by the “Old Covenant” being done away with, that automatically refers to “God’s Law” being done away with. This is not true. A “covenant” or “agreement” is not synonymous with “law.” To illustrate, here is a use of the word “covenant”, which cannot possibly refer to law:
Genesis 9:12-17, “And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you…a covenant between me and the earth…And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh…that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”
The above is a covenant, or an agreement, between God and every living thing on earth. The animals were not bound to obey any law on penalty of death, this was simply an agreement. Now, there may be agreements, or covenants, in which people agree to obey certain laws in exchange for blessings, which is what the Old Covenant did, but this does not mean that if the agreement to obey certain laws are done away with, that the laws themselves are done away with as well.
For example, from the beginning, it was a sin to steal, murder, and commit adultery. Now, if at a later time, there is a covenant, and this covenant includes the promise to obey those laws in exchange for something else, then when that covenant has been fulfilled, it does not mean those laws are done away with now. It does not mean we are free to murder, steal, and commit adultery, just because a covenant, which was based upon those laws, have been abrogated.