Covenants at Sinai and Moab

Dr. Scott Hahn observes in Kingship by Covenant (KBC) that there is not one simple “Mosaic Covenant”. God made a covenant with Israel after He delivered them from Egypt when He presented the Ten Commandments at Sinai. However, the law of Deuteronomy delivered at Moab is not merely a second version of this law, it is actually another covenant – what Hahn calls Sinai “reconfigured” on account of the idolatry and apostasy of Israel in the wilderness (beginning with the golden calf incident and continuing to the Israelite marriages of foreign women at Baal-Peor).

Whereas the covenant at Sinai is one that establishes the nation of Israel as the firstborn “son” of God and a kingdom of priests, the covenant at Moab is imprecatory and “reconfigures that relationship in terms of suzerain-father and vassal-son.” (KBC, p.89)

That the covenant at Moab was different that the covenant at Sinai is made clear by Scripture:

“These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he made with them at Horeb.” (Deut 29:1)

The sin of apostasy that the Israelites committed when they worshiped the golden calf in the wilderness was a defining moment in the history of Israel. God seems to abandon them when He tells Moses that they are “your [i.e. Moses’] people” that “you [Moses] brought of Egypt.” The only thing tethering the Israelites to God is the Lord’s promises to the Patriarchs (of which Moses reminds God and God relents of his wrath).

Deuteronomy (which Hahn identifies with the St. Paul’s “law”) is the “reconfigured law” that seems to be something that Moses establishes with Israel. There is no divine sign or theophany as at Moab. Moses is following divine orders but God has withdrawn. Moreover, there are laws introduced in Deuteronomy that have not appeared previously. These later laws are concessions to Israel’s sinfulness. They are laws governing:

  • divorce
  • usury
  • kings (i.e. monarchs who are not the Lord Himself)
  • slaughtering of animals (to avoid idolatry)

Deuteronomy or the Law at Moab is also one of imprecatory curses that the Israelites take upon themselves if they should fail to keep the laws, which of course they do not. The wording of Deuteronomy presupposes that they will indeed fail and that God will have to intervene in a new way.

The interesting thing is how Abraham proves his character by offering his own first-born son Isaac to God in sacrifice (a sacrifice that was prevented). This theme of kinship is carried into the Exodus narrative but suddenly disappears when idolatry obscures God’s familial relationship with Israel. From that time forward, Israel appears to be God’s covenant people, but the filial relationship has been ruptured.

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