Paul R. Williamson on the Mosaic Covenant

Paul R. Williamson writes about the Mosaic covenant in Sealed with an Oath. The prominence of the Mosaic covenant in the story of Israel has led one scholar to label it “the Old Testament covenant” (94). Because of its importance, Williamson devotes significant time to explaining the meaning and functioning of the covenant.

Yet, while the Mosaic covenant plays an important role in the storyline of Scripture, it does not “supersede” the Abrahamic covenant (94). The cutting of the Mosaic covenant does not result in a “temporary suspension, still less an annulment, of the programmatic agenda announced to Abraham” (94). Instead of being a way to earn salvation before God, the Mosaic covenant is instead “the means by which the promise would be advanced in and through Abraham’s national descendants” (94). Therefore, the “Law” is not set in opposition to the promise. Instead, the Mosaic covenant provides a “fulfillment” of the Abrahamic covenant and the vehicle by which the international promises of the Abrahamic covenant comes to pass. The “national” serves the international.

There is continuity between the previous covenants and the Mosaic covenant. It is based in the patriarchal promises (95). Exodus demonstrates the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant through a multitude of descendants (Exod 1:6-10). There is also a connection to the previous Scriptures for in Exodus, the people of God are enslaved fulfilling Gen 15:3a (95).

Williamson goes on to argue that the Mosaic covenant serves a revelatory function. In other words, it is reveal what God is like to both Israel and, through Israel, to the world. He writes, “The Sinaitic covenant spells out the type of nation that Yahweh intended Israel to be” (96). Israel’s esteemed position was not merely given to her for her own benefit. She had a responsibility to carry out God’s mission to the world (96). Such commission to bring God’s character, name, and glory to the nation because they are a “kingdom of priests” (96). As a holy nation, Israel was to be a light to the nations. Israel was to be the means to bless the nations as Williamson comments, “The whole nation has thus inherited the responsibility formerly conferred on Abraham – that of mediating God’s blessing to the nations of the earth” (97).

To be this “holy nation,” Israel must keep the covenant. They must seek God’s holiness and seek to stay in the land by upholding their responsibilities (99). Williamson notes that the ratification of the covenant “underlines the bilateral nature of the covenant” (100). In other words, the blood splattered on Yahweh and on Israel indicates that both have responsibilities to uphold (100).

Two things held special place in the covenant: the sabbath and the tabernacle. The sabbath was the “sign” for Israel that they were in special relationship with God. They carved out time to “meet” with God which interfaced with the tabernacle as well, which was supposed to be the visible sign of God’s dwelling in the midst of the Israelites (102-3).

Despite God coming to Israel in grace, they break the covenant. Israel’s sin with the Golden calf is particularly serious and endangers their status as God’s people in the covenant (106-07). God decides to spare the people and continue the covenant relationship “due solely to Yahweh’s own gracious character…and it is on this basis that the covenant is ‘re-established'” (107). His grace still demands obedience in the covenant (108).

The relationship the Mosaic covenant has with other covenants is tough to figure out sometimes. But it even is hard to figure out its relationship with itself! God renews the covenant with Israel in Deuteronomy (111). The Deuteronomic covenant is a renewal of the Sinai covenant. It is to help Israel with a new generation and a new situation (entering the land) (111).

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