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Covenants of God – Lesson 6: The “First” Covenant of Israel

Memory Verse: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. …And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” —Exodus 34:27-28

Scripture Reading: Psalm 105:23-45


The name Israel was given to Jacob after he prevailed in conflict with the angel (Genesis 32:28). Literally the name means “a prince that prevails with God, triumphs with God, a prince of God.” Descendants of Jacob were called “children of Israel, Israelites, or the house of Jacob” (Exodus 2:23; Exodus 19:3). However, they were not always “princes of God” for they have not all prevailed to the extent of overcoming their greatest enemy—self.

At Sinai, God told Israel of plans for the future as based on terms of their obedience, and they promised to obey. But, they were to learn of God that He was a righteous Being, just, holy and not condoning sin. God was ready to proclaim to them His holy law in writing and they must be prepared for that event. God did declare unto them the Ten Commandments that He wrote on two tables of stone and the covenant made with Moses and Israel, “after the tenor”, that is “mouth or speech,” of the Mosaic instructions and the “ten commandments” (Exodus 34:27-28). Moses wanted to teach them that deliverance meant more than relief from physical bondage, for God wanted to deliver them from the bondage of sin and if they had the faith of Abraham, they could have both. There were judgments, statutes and ordinances covering various phases of civil duties which Moses related orally to them, which they promised to obey. All those things were written in a book and read to them and again they promised to obey and Moses sprinkled the people and the book with the blood of an animal (Exodus 21-24; Hebrews 9:19-20). In this promise they made was the covenant, based on God’s commands which they did not keep.

God loved Abraham and Israel and in keeping with His covenant He delivered Israel from Egypt and gave them inheritance in Canaan. But, retaining that inheritance depended upon their obedience and they did not obey. Many times during the times of the Judges and the Kings, they disobeyed instructions and warnings given by the prophets, finally, as they became worse than the heathen round about them, God let them go into captivity.

Though they were dispersed into every nation, God has not forgotten them. Being no better than the Gentiles to whom salvation was promised through the Gospel, God’s Spirit still pleads with a remnant of them as individuals, and everyone yielding to the Spirit becomes God’s child through faith. The promise to Abraham of inheritance and blessing through Christ included more than fleshly descent from Abraham. All families of earth were to be blessed through Christ and through the faith Abraham manifested; both Jews and Gentiles are brought into the spiritual family of Abraham by the effectiveness of the covenant, confirmed by the blood of Christ.

Study Questions:

  1. Why was Jacob’s name changed to Israel? Genesis 32:22-30.
  2. Why did God let Jacob and his sons go into Egypt, and why did Jacob and Joseph desire burial in Canaan? Genesis 49:28-33; Genesis 50:12-25. How were the Israelites benefitted by affliction in Egypt? Are we benefitted by afflictions?
  3. What did God desire that Israel become? Exodus 19:3-6. Why did God require strict compliance from Israel when assembled before Sinai? Exodus 19:10-13; Leviticus 11:44-45. Are we reverent in the presence and worship of God today?
  4. Were the Israelites sincere at Sinai in becoming a party to a covenant, by their promise to obey? Did they realize what was involved in that promise? Exodus 24:3, 7. What did they need before they could obey? Deuteronomy 5:28-29.
  5. Though the covenant made with Israel at Sinai was not the first covenant that God had made with men, it was referred to as the “first covenant” in Hebrews 8:7-9. Genesis 26:5; Exodus 19:5.
  6. So, when was the “first covenant” made, and with what was the “first covenant” confirmed? Hebrews 9:9, 18-21; Exodus 24:5-8.
  7. Why did God find fault with the “first covenant”? Was the fault in the covenant or with the people? Hebrews 8:6-9.
  8. What did Stephen say of Israel’s failure? Acts 7:51. What did Paul say? Romans 10:1-3.