The Two Covenants

After the incident with the golden calf, after Yahweh relented over the evil that he had said he would do to his people[1] honoring the covenant they violated, after He spoke his long name to Moses, He revealed a revised covenant.  It was similar to the original covenant that ended with the worship of the golden calf, when the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.[2]  But it was different, too, in some remarkable ways.  What I have called the preamble to the two covenants is contrasted below.

The Two Covenants

Preamble

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

Exodus 19:3, 4 (NET)

Moses quickly bowed to the ground and worshiped and said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, let my Lord go among us, for we are a stiff-necked people; pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Exodus 34:8, 9 (NET)

‘And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”

Exodus 19:5, 6 (NET)

[The Lord] said, “See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people.  I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation.  All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you.

Exodus 34:10 (NET)

Before the golden calf Moses went up to God like a victor receiving a crown.  You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, the Lord instructed him to say to the Israelites, and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  After the golden calf Moses quickly bowed to the ground and worshiped and said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, let my Lord go among us, for we are a stiff-necked people; pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”  How reminiscent this is of the righteous prayer: God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am![3]

Before the golden calf the covenant was expressed conditionally, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  But afterward it is simply a unilateral declaration: I am going to make a covenant before all your people.  I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation.  All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful (yârêʼ) thing that I am doing with you.

The Ten Commandments were part of both covenants.  It was part of the first covenant because Exodus 20 is after the preamble in Exodus 19 and before the inauguration of the covenant in Exodus 24.  Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions.  All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words (dabar, הדברים) that the Lord has said,” and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.[4]  So Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words (dabar, as above).”[5]  They were part of the next covenant because, The Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words (dabar, הדברים), for in accordance with these words (dabar, הדברים) I have made a covenant with you and with Israel….”  He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments (dabar, as above).[6]

I borrowed the subject headings from the NET to list the sections of law that were removed from the revised covenant.

The Two Covenants

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

Hebrew Servants: Exodus 21:2-11
Personal Injuries: Exodus 21:12-27
Laws About Animals: Exodus 21:28-36
Laws About Property: Exodus 22:1-15
Justice: Exodus 23:1-9

They were still law.  They still offer knowledge of sin.  That sin however did not jeopardize the covenant.  Perhaps the most significant omission for the purposes of this essay was in the section labeled “Moral and Ceremonial Laws,” Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord alone must be utterly destroyed.[7]  I think all of this will become clearer with its revision at the end of the section labeled “The Angel of the Presence.”

The Two Covenants

The Angel of the Presence

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

“I am going to send an angel before you to protect you as you journey and to bring you into the place that I have prepared.  Take heed because of him, and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.

Exodus 23:20, 21 (NET)

There is no mention in the revised covenant of an angel who will not pardon [their] transgressions.

The Two Covenants

The Angel of the Presence

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

“But if you diligently obey [the angel] and do all that I command, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be an adversary to your adversaries.

Exodus 23:22 (NET)

“Obey what I am commanding you this day.

Exodus 34:11a (NET)

“For my angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I will destroy them completely.

Exodus 23:23 (NET)

“I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

Exodus 34:11b (NET)

The contingent statement—if you diligently obey the angel [who will not pardon your transgressions] and do all that I command, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be an adversary to your adversaries—was replaced by a simple imperative—Obey what I am commanding you this day.  The sense of this becomes clearer in the next statement where the typical covenant language, “if you do this I will do that,” was replaced by a unilateral declarative, I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

The Two Covenants

The Angel of the Presence

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

“You must not bow down to their gods; you must not serve them or do according to their practices.  Instead you must completely overthrow them and smash their standing stones to pieces.

Exodus 23:24 (NET)

“Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it become a snare among you.  Rather you must destroy their altars, smash their images, and cut down their Asherah poles.

Exodus 34:12, 13 (NET)

Knowing what they would do beforehand, the Lord amended—You must not bow down to their gods; you must not serve them or do according to their practices—to read—Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it become a snare among you.  The provision to destroy their altars, smash their images, and cut down their Asherah poles, though more explicit, was left essentially intact.

The Two Covenants

The Angel of the Presence

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

You must serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove sickness from your midst.  No woman will miscarry her young or be barren in your land.  I will fulfill the number of your days.I will send my terror before you, and I will destroy all the people whom you encounter; I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.  I will send hornets before you that will drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you.  I will not drive them out before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals multiply against you.  Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you become fruitful and inherit the land.  I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea   to the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River, for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you.

Exodus 23:25-31 (NET)

For you must not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Exodus 34:14 (NET)

Here, You must serve the Lord your God and the list of contingent blessings was revised to read, For you must not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

The Two Covenants

The Angel of the Presence

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

“You must make no covenant with them or with their gods.  They must not live in your land, lest they make you sin against me, for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

Exodus 23:32, 33 (NET)

“Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice; and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well.  You must not make yourselves molten gods.

Exodus 34:15-17 (NET)

The revised language of this new covenant is startlingly similar to the Lord’s words to PeterI tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know me.[8]  [W]hen they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice; and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well.  And once you see all of this, it is as if He had said, when you see that it happens as I have said, When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers,[9] or, You must not make yourselves molten gods.

And while I think it is perfectly clear that this language is a revision of Exodus 23:32 and 33, it also seems clear that it is the only language that comes close to replacing the covenant-endingWhoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord alone must be utterly destroyed—which, as I said previously, was left out of the revised covenant.

The Two Covenants

Moral and Ceremonial Laws

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged and has sexual relations with her, he must surely endow her to be his wife.  If her father refuses to give her to him, he must pay money for the bride price of virgins.“You must not allow a sorceress to live.

“Whoever has sexual relations with a beast must surely be put to death.

“Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord alone must be utterly destroyed.

“You must not wrong a foreigner nor oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

“You must not afflict any widow or orphan.  If you afflict them in any way and they cry to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my anger will burn and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children will be fatherless.

“If you lend money to any of my people who are needy among you, do not be like a moneylender to him; do not charge him interest.  If you do take the garment of your neighbor in pledge, you must return it to him by the time the sun goes down, for it is his only covering – it is his garment for his body. What else can he sleep in?  And when he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am gracious.

“You must not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.

“Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.

Exodus 22:16-29a (NET)

It is perhaps worth noting that in the revised covenant (below) it is made explicit that firstborn sons are to be redeemed and not sacrificed to the Lord.

The Two Covenants

Moral and Ceremonial Laws

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

“You must give me the firstborn of your sons.  You must also do this for your oxen and for your sheep; seven days they may remain with their mothers, but give them to me on the eighth day.

Exodus 22:29b, 30 (NET)

“Every firstborn of the womb belongs to me, even every firstborn of your cattle that is a male, whether ox or sheep.  Now the firstling of a donkey you may redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then break its neck.  You must redeem all the firstborn of your sons.

Exodus 34:19, 20a (NET)

“You will be holy people to me; you must not eat any meat torn by animals in the field. You must throw it to the dogs.

Exodus 22:31 (NET)

I’ll let the rest of these contrasts stand without comment.

The Two Covenants

Sabbaths and Feasts

Before the Golden Calf

After the Golden Calf

“For six years you are to sow your land and gather in its produce.  But in the seventh year you must let it lie fallow and leave it alone so that the poor of your people may eat, and what they leave any animal in the field may eat; you must do likewise with your vineyard and your olive grove.

Exodus 23:10, 11 (NET)

“For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest and that your female servant’s son and any hired help may refresh themselves.

Exodus 23:12 (NET)

“On six days you may labor, but on the seventh day you must rest; even at the time of plowing and of harvest you are to rest.

Exodus 34:21 (NET)

“Pay attention to do everything I have told you, and do not even mention the names of other gods – do not let them be heard on your lips.

Exodus 23:13 (NET)

“Three times in the year you must make a pilgrim feast to me.  You are to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; seven days you must eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you, at the appointed time of the month of Abib, for at that time you came out of Egypt.  No one may appear before me empty-handed.

“You are also to observe the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors that you have sown in the field, and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you have gathered in your harvest out of the field.  At three times in the year all your males will appear before the Lord God.

Exodus 23:14-17 (NET)

“You must keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  For seven days you must eat bread made without yeast, as   I commanded you; do this at the appointed time of the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out of Egypt.

Exodus 34:18 (NET)

“No one will appear before me empty-handed.

Exodus 34”20b (NET)

“You must observe the Feast of Weeks – the firstfruits of the harvest of wheat – and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year.  At three times in the year all your men must appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.  For I will drive out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.

Exodus 34:22-24 (NET)

“You must not offer the blood of my sacrifice with bread containing yeast; the fat of my festal sacrifice must not remain until morning.  The first of the firstfruits of your soil you must bring to the house of the Lord your God.

“You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.

Exodus 23:18, 19 (NET)

“You must not offer the blood of my sacrifice with yeast; the sacrifice from the feast of Passover must not remain until the following morning.

“The first of the firstfruits of your soil you must bring to the house of the Lord your God.  You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Exodus 34:25, 26 (NET)


[1] Exodus 32:14 (NET)

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:7 (NET)

[3] Luke 18:13 (NET)

[4] Exodus 24:3, 4a (NET)

[5] Exodus 24:8 (NET)

[6] Exodus 34:27, 28 (NET)

[7] Exodus 22:20 (NET)

[8] Luke 22:34 (NET)

[9] Luke 22:32 (NET)