With Egypt and the Red Sea in the rear-view mirror, Israel made camp at the foot of Mount Sinai. It was here that God revealed Himself and instituted His covenant, the Mosaic Covenant.
“Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Moses went up the mountain to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain: ‘This is what you must say to the house of Jacob and explain to the Israelites: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.” These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites’ ” (Exodus 19:1–6, CSB).
God promised to make the Israelites His “own treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5, ESV). He would lavish special attention on them and make them “a kingdom of priests and my holy nation” (19:6). He promised to use the Israelite nation to draw all nations to Himself.
In the opening lines of Exodus twenty, God reminded the emancipated Hebrews that He was Jehovah, the God who single-handedly set them free. They, the Hebrews, were just slaves and servants, His servants. The Mosaic Covenant was not a treaty between equals. God, the greater, instituted the covenant with Israel, the lesser. The Mosaic Covenant is like a peace-treaty between a conquering nation and its vassal-state.
“Then God spoke all these words: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth’ ” (Exodus 20:1–4, CSB).
As part of this covenant or peace treaty, God graciously instructed the Israelites concerning how they should live. Because they were in a relationship with Almighty God, they had to act a certain way... God’s way. It was as if God was kindly giving them directions to a certain destination. God, with an outstretched hand, was pointing the way to peace and eternal prosperity.
God’s directions included the Ten Commandments, describing duties to God and to one’s neighbor (Ex. 20:1–26); numerous regulations concerning the social life of Israel (Ex. 21:1–24:11); and detailed ordinances dealing with religious life (Ex. 24:12–31:18).
Predictably, mankind failed to live up to God’s standards, but the Mosaic Covenant wasn’t a failure. Man sinned and fell short of the glory God (Romans 3:23) but the law was a “schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24, KJV) that clarified man’s need of a Savior. It taught us that God’s great grace is the only way that we can be saved. Salvation is God’s gift... we’ll never be good enough to earn His mercy.
By grace we become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, CSB).