Week 6: Covenant at Mt. Sinai

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Israel travels to the wilderness of Sinai and camps at the base of Mount Sinai, where they stay for approximately 11 months while Moses meets with God and receives the law. God’s laws serve as the terms for his covenant with Israel, marking them as a nation.

Reading & Summaries

READ: EXODUS 19:1-20:21

Ch. 19 — Israel, God’s Chosen People: Israel journeys to the wilderness of Sinai where God assures Israel that they will be his “treasured possession among all peoples…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:5-6). The people consecrate themselves in preparation for the Lord to descend on Mt. Sinai; he descends in fire and calls Moses to come up and speak with him.

Ch. 20:1-21 — The Ten Commandments: God gives the ten commandments to teach his people how to love him and their neighbor. The fear of God falls over the people.

DAY 2: EXODUS 23:20-24:18

Filling in the Gaps (Ex. 20:22-23:19): God gives various laws about altars, slaves, restitutions, social justice, the Sabbath, and feast days. While some laws were to help govern Israel as a nation (e.g. protect private property and regulate personal injury claims), the underlying principles are still applicable to Christians today.

Ch. 23:20-24:18: God promises to help Israel to conquer Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, but warns Israel not to be entangled with the false gods of the peoples living in the land. Israel agrees to God’s covenant, committing to keep his laws; the covenant is sealed with a blood sacrifice. Moses returns to the mountain, covered by the cloud of God’s glory.

Key Principle — Restitutions: God still expects his people to make restitutions (Ex. 21:33-22:15). One sign of a genuine Christian is his willingness to go back and right his wrongs. If money has been stolen, it should be repaid. If unkind words have been spoken, apologies should be made. Christians cannot be a witness in their communities with unmade restitutions; the reputation of Jesus is on the line.

READ: LEVITICUS 16

Overview of Leviticus: Leviticus gives instructions for how Israel is to be a holy people. The priests (Levites) are instructed to carefully carry out sacrifices, offerings, ceremonies, and festivals as part of Israel’s religious worship. Leviticus teaches that man’s sinfulness must be dealt with before he can live in God’s presence, pointing to Jesus who atoned for sin and made it possible for us to approach God’s throne with confidence.

Filling in the Gaps (Lev. 1-15): In chapters 1-7, individuals and priests are instructed how to make various kinds of offerings. For example, the peace offering symbolizes peace and fellowship between the worshiper and God, while the grain offering expresses thankfulness to God. In chapters 8-10, Aaron and his sons are consecrated as priests, and the first sacrifices are made. Note: Moses’ brother Aaron was the grandson of Levi, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Aaron and his sons were of the tribe of Levi, so the priesthood is referred to as the Levitical Priesthood. In chapters 11-15, procedures are given for dealing with things that were to be considered “unclean”; for example, certain foods, diseases, animals, insects, and bodily fluids. Some of these instructions protect God’s people from illness, while others teach important lessons.

Ch. 16 — Day of Atonement: One day each year, the High Priest was to cleanse himself and enter into the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) to offer a sacrifice to God for the sins of the entire nation of Israel. Two goats were used: one was slain, representing the need for Jesus to die in our place; the other was sent into the wilderness, representing the removal of sin.

DAY 4: LEVITICUS 19, 26

Filling in the Gaps (Lev. 17-27): The book concludes with more laws instructing Israel how to live a holy life; for example, God’s people are taught about sexual propriety, idolatry, and being a good neighbor. More instruction is given about priests and holy days (festivals).

Ch. 19 — Because God is holy, we are to be holy, love our neighbor, and keep God’s laws. Sexual immorality and occult practices are forbidden. God’s people should be marked by honesty and love, even towards strangers.

Ch. 26 — God promises to bless Israel if they obey; best of all, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (26:12). But if they disobey, God promises to punish them. Israel’s later exile in a foreign land is foreshadowed.

Key Concept — Be Holy, for God is Holy: God is holy. He is without sin and perfect in every way. Leviticus 19:2 says that because God is holy, we too must be separate from all sin: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” In the New Testament, Peter writes, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:14-16). Holiness of life affects everything in our lives, including our words, attitudes, relationships, clothing, music, and behavior. Christians should be characterized by the countercultural principles in the Bible and clearly stand out from the world.

FAQ — Why does God forbid amoral practices? Some practices that God forbid, such as interbreeding cattle or wearing polyester (Lev. 19:19), have no obvious moral implications and seem ridiculous to modern people. But in each case, God had a good reason for forbidding these practices. Some practices were associated with the idol worship of ungodly nations, and God wanted his people to be unmistakably separate from the world. In other cases, such as when God says, “You shall not…tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28), the practices are rooted in timeless principles repeated in the New Testament (1 Cor. 6:20) and still directly applicable to Christians. Recommended article: A Biblical View of Tattoos by Philip Brown.

Recommended video: “Read Scripture – Leviticus” by The Bible Project.

READ: EXODUS 32-34, 40

Filling in the Gaps (Ex. 25-31): God gives detailed instructions for the construction of a central place of worship: a beautiful tabernacle where sacrifices could be made and God’s presence could dwell with his people. The tabernacle complex was to include a walled courtyard where priests would sacrifice on the altar of burnt offering and wash their hands in the bronze basin before entering the tent (tabernacle) which was divided into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (also called the Holy of Holies). God’s glory was to be in the Most Holy Place, above the ark of the covenant, which contained the stone tablets (Ten Commandments).

Ch. 32-34: The Israelites, afraid that Moses has died on Mt. Sinai, ask Aaron to make them idols to worship. They make a golden calf and say that it is the god who delivered them from Egypt. Moses returns and is furious, and breaks the stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments. Moses asks God to spare the people.

Filling in the Gaps (Ex. 35-39): God tells the people to leave Sinai and go towards the promised land. Moses intercedes for the people so that God’s personal presence will continue to go with them, despite their sin with the golden calf. Moses asks God to show him His glory. Moses makes new stone tablets and the covenant is renewed.

Ch. 40: The tabernacle is constructed and erected. God’s glory fills the tabernacle.

Type of Christ — The Tabernacle: The tabernacle shows us that God desires to live among us and points to Jesus. John 1:14 could be translated, “the Word [Jesus] became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Jesus is the glory of God in the midst of his people. At the tabernacle, atonement was made for the sins of the people; likewise, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10).

Study Exercises

When exercises require a written response, record your answers in a journal or email them to a pastor or class leader who will provide you with feedback.

  1. What questions do you have about this week’s reading?
  2. The Israelites saw God’s miracles and still sinned with the golden calf. Why do you think this is?
  3. What does God reveal about His character in Exodus 34:6-7?
  4. According to 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, where does God now dwell (instead of the tabernacle) and what  implications does it have for the way we should live?