The Covenant with Moses and the people of Israel at Mount Horeb

Introduction

The next two covenants, the ones made between God and Israel at Horeb and Moab, are the most important ones for Israel. They precisely define what God will do specifically for Israel, and for their part, what Israel and those who choose YHWH as their God must do in return.

The text of the Covenant

“You shall be my treasured possession among all the nations”

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and declare to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, How I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to me. Now, if you will obey me faithfully and keep my covenant, You shall be my treasured possession among all the nations. Indeed, all the earth is mine, but you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Ex 19:3b – 6)

Keeping the Sabbath

“The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the generations as a covenant for all time. It shall be a sign for all time between me and the people of Israel.” (Ex 31:16-17a)

Do not make treaties with the Canaanites; the firstborn belongs to God; observe the three pilgrim festivals

“God said, ‘Behold, I am cutting a covenant: Before all your people I will work wonders such as have not been wrought on all the earth or in any of the nations; and all the people who are with you shall see how awesome are YHWH’s deeds which I will perform for you. Mark well what I command you today.

I will drive out from before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Prizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Beware of making any treaty with the inhabitants of the land you are coming up to, for fear that it might end up being a snare to you in the future. So you must shatter their altars, smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not bow down to worship any other god, for I YHWH, known for my possessiveness, am indeed a possessive God. Be careful not to make any treaty with the people who live in Canaan; for they will prostitute themselves to their gods, and sacrifice to them, and then they will invite you to eat of their sacrifice. Then you will take their daughters to marry your sons, and their daughters will prostitute themselves to their gods, and then they will lead your sons to do the same.

Do not make any cast metal idols for yourselves.

Every first offspring, which opens the womb, belongs to me; you shall offer as a memorial sacrifice the first offspring of all your livestock, be it of an ox or a sheep. However, the first offspring of a donkey must be bought back with the sacrifice of a lamb, but if it is not bought back, you must break it’s neck. You must also buy back the first-born of all your children. Do not appear before Me empty-handed.

[Numbers 18:15-17 “Every first offspring which opens the womb of all flesh that they bring to offer to YHWH – both human and animal – it shall be for you. However, you absolutely must buy back the first-born of human beings; and the first-born of animals not suitable for sacrifice you must buy back. And the redemption price at which you must buy a child back when they are a month old, the price is five sheqals of silver according to the sanctuary weight, which is 20 gerahs. But you must not buy back the first-born of an ox, or the first-born of a sheep, or the first-born of a goat. You must not redeem them, for they are holy. You must sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and you must burn their fat as an aroma-offering, an offering made by fire as a pleasing aroma to YHWH.”]

You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you must rest, even during the ploughing season and at harvest time you must rest.

Keep the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you are to eat unleavened bread – as I commanded you – at the designated time in the month of Ripe Barley, for it was in the month of Ripe Barley that you left Egypt. Keep the Festival of Weeks with the first-fruits of your wheat harvest. Also celebrate the Festival of In-gathering when the year turns. Three times in the year, all your men shall appear before your Sovereign, YHWH, the God of Israel.

Now, I will drive out nations from before you and extend your boundaries, so no one will be envious of your land when you go up three times in the year to appear before YHWH your God .

Do not offer the blood of the Passover sacrifice with anything containing yeast, and do not leave any of the sacrifice of the Passover Festival ‘til morning. Bring the best portion of the first fruits of your soil to the House of YHWH your God, but do not offer a kid-goat boiled in its mother’s milk.’

Then YHWH said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a treaty with you and with Israel.’ ” (Ex 34:10-27; verse 18 placed before verse 22 for clarity)

Blessings for keeping the Covenant, and Curses for breaking it:

“Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am YHWH your God.

Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am YHWH.

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commandments, I will send you rain in due season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. Your threshing will continue until the grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until the season for planting; you will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. You will eat all the food you want.

You will live in safety and security in your land. I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove savage beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

I will look on you with favour and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.

I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.

But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you. If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit. If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted. If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. And I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in one oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight. You will eat, but you will not be satisfied. If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it. As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no one is pursuing them. They will stumble over one another as though fleeing from the sword, even though no one is pursuing them. So you will not be able to stand before your enemies. You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers’ sins they will waste away.

But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors – their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies – then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am YHWH their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am YHWH.” (Lev 26:1-45)

The Ten Edicts of YHWH:

“YHWH our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that YHWH made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. YHWH spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. At that time I stood between YHWH and you to declare to you the word of YHWH, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain. And God said:

‘I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land Egypt, from a state of slavery.

You shall have no other gods besides me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in the skies above, or on the earth below, or in the waters beneath the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, YHWH your God, am a possessive God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not use the name of YHWH your God to swear false oaths, for YHWH will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses God’s name.

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as YHWH your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your God. On it you shall not do any work – neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the foreigner resident within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that YHWH your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore YHWH your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Honour your father and your mother, as YHWH your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land YHWH your God is giving you.

You shall not commit murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbour’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ ” (Ex 20:1-17, Deut 2-21)

The terms of the Covenant

What God will do:

  1. Work wonders such as have never been seen before
  2. Treasure Israel among all peoples
  3. Drive out the Canaanite peoples
  4. Put God’s dwelling place among them
  5. God will not spurn Israel, and will always be with us

What Israel must do:

  1. Be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation
  2. Keep the Sabbath forever
  3. Not make any treaties or pacts with the peoples of Canaan
  4. Destroy all the pagan centres and idols in Canaan
  5. Not worship any other god but YHWH
  6. Not make any cast metal idols, nor set up sacred stones nor worship them
  7. Redeem (buy back) the first offspring of all domestic animals that are non-kosher, whether male or female
  8. Redeem the first-born child with five sheqals of silver (additionally the first-born son, if the first child is a girl)
  9. Keep all three pilgrim festivals
  10. Eat unleavened bread at Passover
  11. Bring the best portion of one’s first fruits at the Festival of Weeks
  12. Have reverence for God’s sanctuary
  13. Not use the name of God to swear false oaths
  14. Respect one’s parents
  15. Not commit murder
  16. Not to steal
  17. Not to give false testimony
  18. Not to seek to have what belongs to someone else

Blessings:

  1. Send rain in due season
  2. Cause the land to give plentiful crops
  3. Cause Israel to live in peace and security
  4. Cause the few to be able to chase off the many
  5. Cause Israel to increase and be fruitful

Curses:

  1. The land will not yield its crops
  2. Livestock will be eaten by wild animals
  3. The holy places will be torn down
  4. God will scatter Israel among the nations
  5. The land will be laid waste, and the cities will lie in ruins
  6. The people will live in fear

Interpretation

There are several things that we think are worth pointing out in this covenant.

  1. The observance of the Sabbath is a part of the covenant. Remember that when you manage to keep Shabbat, you are keeping your side of the agreement, and continuing a very beautiful and profound part of our culture.
  2. When a Jew worships another god, they are breaking the covenant. Worshipping ‘Jesus’ as a god breaks the sacred covenant between YHWH and Israel. Messianics and Nazarenes should be constantly reminded of this.
  3. The first offspring of any animal you own belongs to God – not just the male. The Hebrew word for ‘first offspring’ is péter. This specifically means ‘the offspring that opens the womb’, and this, logically, can be male or female. Another point to mention is that both kosher and non-kosher animals belong to God (the text mentions a donkey, which is non-kosher). Even though we no longer offer sacrifice, I think it is important that we remember our animals – farm animals and pets – and call them to mind before God.
  4. If our first child is a daughter, then she belongs to God, just as much as the first son, when he is born.
  5. We should try to keep all three pilgrim festivals in some way, not just Passover and Sukkot. The Festival of Weeks (or First Fruits) often gets forgotten.

Implications

One thing that stands out for us in this study is the traditional misreading of Exodus 34:19. Traditionally this has been translated as:

The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock

However, the Hebrew does not mention males. The end of the sentence reads, “vekhol miqn’kha t-z-k-r, peter shor va-seh”. In the Masoretic text, the emboldened word is pointed (that is, given vowels) as ta-za-ka-r, which has been translated as “male”. However, given these vowels, there is no such word – male is zakar, not tazakar. The sentence was given to several native Hebrew speakers to read. None of the individuals were familiar with the text so were not biased in their reading, and the text was presented without vowels. They ALL, without exception, read the word as tizkor – “you shall remember” or “you shall call to mind”. This makes much better sense. The meaning of z-k-r here is “to offer as a memorial sacrifice”, so the sentence should read:

Every first offspring, which opens the womb, belongs to me; you shall offer as a memorial sacrifice the first offspring of all your livestock, be it of an ox or a sheep.

So when a child is born, whether it be a daughter or a son, he/she belongs to God, and is redeemed (bought back from God) with five sheqals of silver.

How can we, as religious moderates, keep the covenant between YHWH and Israel?

There are things in this covenant that most religious moderates find difficult - animal sacrifice for one. However, this covenant is really important for us as Jews. If our movement is going to lay any genuine claim to be one that is trying to return to the heart of Yahwism, then we should study this, and ask ourselves, "How far am I willing to go to honour this agreement between YHWH and my forebears?"

We should all, as Jews, do our best to strive to keep to the terms of this covenant, as far as our consciences and resources will permit. Not because we are under threat of punishment, or quivering for fear of the curses, but because we love YHWH, who is our Eternal Friend, and we should always try to keep promises to our friends. Sometimes this is not always possible, and we believe God understands this. However, we would encourage all Followers of the Way – especially Talmidi Jews – to read this covenant regularly, to see how we can keep up our end of the bargain. So often in modern Judaism, Jews just do not understand why they are doing things, who they really are, or what it means to be a Jew. This covenant is an integral part of our Jewishness, and we should treasure it.

 

   
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