The Book of the Covenant (Introduction)

Chuck CainThe lesson on May 3, 2015, covered Exodus 20:18–21:11.

The first section, 20:18-21, describes the Israelites reaction to God speaking to them from Mt. Sinai. They expressed fear and asked Moses to be their mediator. They asked Moses to speak to them rather than God “lest we die.” In response, God speaks to Moses in Chapters 21-23. This three-chapter section is later identified as the Book of the Covenant (24:7) and provides examples of how the Law is to be applied. It was used by Israel’s judges in deciding civil law cases.

The second section, 20:22-26, elaborates on the First and Second Commandments. The hearing of the Law brought recognition of sin and the need for a sin offering on an altar. God expresses that a simple earthen altar or one of unhewn stone was to be used. The idea is expressed that their worship should be focussed on God alone without the distraction of an artistic, elaborate altar. This section therefore serves as a preamble to the remainder of the Book of Exodus which describes the design and construction of the Tabernacle.

The third section, 21:1-11, serves as the opening of the Book of the Covenant. One may wonder why the topic of slavery opens the book until it is recognized that the preamble of the Decalogue also referenced slavery: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The slavery described in this section would better be described as apprenticeship or indentured service. It would be similar to our modern military conscription. A poor person could voluntarily serve in this capacity. The arrangement was temporary lasting only six years, unless the servant wanted to serve his master permanently. Manstealing was strictly forbidden and was a capital crime (21:16). Thus this arrangement was mutually advantageous to both master and servant. The master gained cheap labor while the servant would be delivered from poverty while learning a trade. And a female servant could gain a husband in the master’s household and become a regular member of the family. See also Dt 15:12-18. The Lord is saying that Israel was not to treat their servants the way they had been treated in Egypt. They were to treat them with grace just as the Lord had treated them with grace. The idea of permanent service points to our submitting ourselves as bondslaves of Jesus Christ. – Chuck Cain


This lesson was not recorded, that’s why a little extra detail has been added. 

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