THE FIRST AGREEMENT WITH NATIONAL ISRAEL
After God delivered the Israelites from the slavery and bondage of Egypt, he offered them an agreement. Although this agreement superseded prior agreements made with the Patriarchs, it contained many of the terms, conditions, and promises from these agreements.
Terms and Conditions of the First Agreement
Any agreement or contract between two or more parties has terms and conditions for the performance of the agreement. The terms and conditions of the agreement between God and the nation of Israel were very specific:
The First Condition
"Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation . . ." (Ex.19:5-6 KJV).
Notice that God did not place any limitations on what he might ask the Israelites to do in the future. He asked them to agree to an open-ended contract that could be amended in the future. Moreover, God says that if they would obey him, he would do certain things for their benefit.
"And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people to the Lord" (Ex.19:7-8 KJV).
After hearing that the people had agreed to honor the basic terms and conditions of this proposed agreement (Ex.19:4-8), God gave the Ten Commandments and other laws to the Israelites. See Ex.20:1-17; 24:1-15.
In any agreement or contract there must be benefits for each party of the agreement or contract (i.e., each party must receive something in return for their effort to fulfill their part of the agreement).
Under this agreement the Israelites would receive tremendous physical and spiritual blessings. God promised health, happiness, wealth, physical protection, and many other fantastic physical benefits to the Israelites for their obedience.
Deuteronomy 28:1-13 Paraphrased
"And it shall come to pass, if you shall adhere diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe and do all of my commandments which I command you this day, that the Lord your God will set you on high above all the nations of the earth" (v1).
"And you shall be blessed in the city and in the field. And you shall be blessed with children, with produce from the earth, with offspring of cattle, with increase of cattle and flocks of sheep. And blessed with your basket and store. And blessed when you come in and go out" (vs.2-6).
"The Lord will cause you to conquer your enemies in battle. You will be blessed in storehouses and in all that you do in the land the Lord gives you. You will be holy to the Lord and the people of earth shall fear you because you are called the people of God. The Lord will give you rain in season, you shall lend to other nations and not have to borrow. You shall be the head and not the tail, you shall be above all others, if you adhere to my commandments" (vs.7-13).
"You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Ex.19:6 Para.).
Eternal and Immortal Life
Eternal and immortal life was also offered to those who lived under the first agreement with national Israel. Jesus is an example of one who secured eternal and immortal life under this agreement. How did he secure salvation? There is a simple answer. He deserved eternal life because he had faith that, if he fulfilled his part of the agreement, the Father would fulfill his part. Jesus fulfilled his part by not violating any of the physical or spiritual laws of the agreement between God and national Israel:
"You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in [by] them: I am the Lord" (Lev.18:5 KJV).
"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them" (Gal.3:10-12 NIV).
Under this agreement, if a person kept every point of the law, he could secure eternal and immortal life. To practice the law perfectly was extremely difficult, but it was possible because Jesus Christ lived a perfect and sinless life by faith. By meeting all the righteous demands of the law, Christ secured eternal and immortal life.
"Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things [the commandments, statutes, and laws] will live by them" (Rom.10:5 NIV).
SALVATION THROUGH THE LAW AND SACRIFICE
As with the agreement that God made with the Patriarchs, the first agreement with national Israel also included animal sacrifice as the method by which God's people could maintain a harmonious relationship with him. Furthermore, some of these sacrifices also pictured the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah, as did the agreement with the Patriarchs. Additionally, as in the agreement with the Patriarchs, none of these animal sacrifices could totally remove or forgive sin. For those who lived before the advent of the Messiah, there was no total removal or forgiveness of sins; such forgiveness could only be given after the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah. See our study papers about the Day of Atonement.
Hebrews 11:1-40 shows us that many who lived before and many who lived during the first agreement with national Israel will participate in the first resurrection and be granted eternal and immortal life. Hebrews 11 says that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, King David and others will be in the Kingdom. But, how did all of these people who lived under these two different agreements with God qualify to enter the Kingdom of God and have eternal and immortal life? The answer is that all of these people kept the laws of God and they practiced the sacrificial system, and for this reason, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is retroactively applied to them:
"These people were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised: God had provided something better for us so that with us they should also be made perfect" (Heb.11:39-40 Para.).
The people mentioned in Hebrews 11 who lived before the first agreement with national Israel and those who lived under the first agreement all followed the instructions of the specific agreement that God had made with them. Therefore, they were able to maintain a good relationship with him. These individuals had faith in what God had revealed to them about his plan for their salvation; they knew that someday the Messiah would come and offer himself as a perfect sacrifice to remove and forgive their sins and give them eternal life. This is the reason that these individuals will be in the first resurrection.
"What then? The people of Israel did not find what they were looking for. It was only the small group that God chose who found it: the rest grew deaf to God's call" (Rom.11:7 GNB).
God offered salvation to the people of ancient Israel; however, few responded to this call, and very few seized the awesome opportunity to gain eternal and immortal life in the Family and Kingdom of God. Those who are called to salvation during the gospel age also have the opportunity to reign in the Kingdom of God as kings and priests along with those who answered God's call under previous agreements. See Rev.5:9-10; 20:4-6.
Although the promises of eternal life and immortality were given before and during the first agreement with Israel, it was very difficult to obtain under the terms and conditions of those agreements. This is why a second agreement with Israel was necessary and why those called to salvation after the advent of Christ and before his second coming have a different agreement. Those called to salvation under the terms and conditions of these new agreements can more easily obtain the goal of salvation.
The difficulty of gaining eternal life before and during the first agreement with national Israel may also be the reason that many of those who did qualify will hold very high positions of authority in the Kingdom of God. For example, King David will reign as king over all of Israel after the return of Christ.
It is very easy for us to see the benefits that the Israelites would gain from the first agreement. But, what possible benefit could the Creator God and his Father gain from giving these blessings? One of the benefits that they receive is the great pleasure from giving:
"Jesus said, Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure [delight] to give you the kingdom" (Lk.12:32 KJV).
God the Father and Jesus Christ are loving and giving beings who gain pleasure from sharing what they have with others. This is by no means the only benefit they will get from this agreement. The Father's primary reason for having humanity created was to increase his spiritual family. He is doing this through the process of converting the hearts and minds of physical people so that they will want to live according to his laws and way of life. And eventually, he will transform them into his eternal spirit sons.
The first condition that God insisted on before revealing anything further about the agreement that he would make with Israel was an unconditional surrender to his will by the Israelites. "If you will obey my voice and keep my agreement, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people" (Ex.19:5). This is also the first condition of any agreement that God has made with any people, in any age, concerning the granting of salvation.
Moses Speaks For God
Upon hearing the voice of God from Mount Sinai, the people became so frightened that they asked Moses to speak to God and tell them what he said. From that time on, God revealed to Moses everything that would be in the agreement with Israel.
Remember the only reason God spoke through Moses was that the people were afraid to listen to him directly (Ex.20:19). Also remember that God had already given the people the Ten Commandments before he began to speak through Moses. Therefore, the Ten Commandments are definitely a part of the agreement.
In Exodus chapters 20 and 21, Moses was on Mount Sinai with God; then, in chapter 24 verse 3, Moses came down from the mountain. This is important to note, because after Moses came down, he told the Israelites everything that God had told him (See Ex.chp.20-24:3); this included instructions to build an altar and to offer sacrifices. In chapters 21, 22, and 23, God gave the civil laws (judgments) to Israel, which included the laws pertaining to servants, manslaughter, murder, kidnapping, theft, property damage, witchcraft, slander, and land rest. In chapter 25, God told Israel how they were to worship him.
"And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord has said will we do" (Ex.24:3 Para.).
The fact that Moses relayed God's commandments, statutes, and judgments to the Israelites (Ex.chps.20-24) is also shown in the Book of Hebrews:
"For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people" (Heb.9:19 KJV).
FORMAL RATIFICATION OF THE AGREEMENT
If a contract is important, it is normally written or recorded on something permanent so that there will be no question as to what was agreed upon. Moses told the people everything that God had said to him; then, he wrote these things in a book:
"And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord has said will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel" (Ex.24:3-4 KJV).
After recording the terms and conditions in a book, Moses prepared an altar as God had instructed (Ex.20:24-26; 24:4); then, he read the agreement to the people and the nation of Israel formally agreed to do every thing that God asked of them:
"All that the Lord has spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people to the Lord" (Ex.19:8 KJV).
"And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you concerning all these words" (Ex.24:8 Para.).
"When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, 'This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.' In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb.9:19-22 NIV).
The formal ratification of the first agreement between God and the nation of Israel was sealed with the blood of an animal. This ratification and sealing of the agreement with blood is important to note because the second agreement was also ratified and sealed with bloodthe blood of the Creator God in human form. See Matt.26:26-28; 1.Cor.11:25; Heb.13:20.
It is important to remember that the benefits of the agreements and promises between God and the Patriarchs are still in force. Even though a new agreement was made with national Israel concerning their relationship and responsibilities to God, the unconditional agreements and promises that God made to the Patriarchs will still be honored by him.
Back Up The Mountain
"And the Lord said to Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give you tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that you may teach them" (Ex.24:12 Para.).
The next few chapters of Exodus contain the instructions that Moses received in his first forty days on Mount Sinai. Exodus chapters 25 through 27 give the instructions on how to build the tabernacle and how to pay for it. Exodus chapters 28 and 29 have the instructions on how to sanctify Aaron and his sons for the priesthood.
In Exodus 32:15-30, Moses came down from the mountain carrying the tables of stone that were written on by the very hand of God, and to his utter dismay, he found the people worshiping a golden calf. Overcome with anger, Moses broke the tables containing the Ten Commandments, and after strongly reprimanding the people, Moses went to God to make an atonement for the people and to ask him to have mercy upon them.
THE CREATOR KEEPS HIS WORD
God does not forget or break his word. While instructing Moses in the law, God reminded Moses of the promises that he had made to the Patriarchs:
"And the Lord said to Moses, Depart, and go up hence, you and the people which you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, To your seed will I give it" (Ex.33:1 KJV).
Exodus chapter 34 shows that Moses went back up to Mount Sinai, and God wrote the laws on tables of stone again:
"And the Lord said to Moses, Cut you two tables of stone like to the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which you broke" (Ex.34:1 KJV).
After coming down from the mountain, Moses gathered Israel together and said, "These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them" (Ex.35:1 KJV).
WAS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE FIRST AGREEMENT WITH ISRAEL?
Israel had agreed to the Ten Commandments (Ex.chp.20), the judgments (Ex.chps.21-23), and the statutes (Ex.chp.23). Moreover, there is no doubt what the agreement was and what was expected of both parties. The Israelites were to obey the commandments, statutes, and judgments, and God would make them a kingdom of priests and be their benefactor and protector.
Many believe or have been taught that there was something wrong with the first agreement that God made with national Israel. But was it a bad agreement? Was it poorly written and administered? Were the terms and conditions of the agreement impossible to fulfill?
A major error being taught today is that before Jesus Christ and the giving of the holy spirit, man could not obey the laws of God; however, this is not true.
Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, King David, and many others spoken of in the scriptures were considered righteous individuals, because they obeyed God and kept his commandments, statutes, judgments, and sacrificial laws. The scriptures clearly show that, before the giving of the holy spirit on the Feast of Pentecost, many were able to obey God. Notice what is said about two of these individuals:
"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Lk.1:5-6 KJV).
POINT OF LAW
An important point of law to understand is that an agreement is invalid if it is impossible for either party to perform the things agreed to. Would God make a contract that he could not fulfill? Would he have made a contract with Israel knowing that they could not fulfill their commitment? The answer to these questions is no. God made the contract with Israel because he knew it was possible for them to fulfill their part.
The agreements with both the Patriarchs and national Israel were written so that both could become and remain righteous before God and maintain a harmonious relationship with him.
Maintaining a condition of righteousness before God would be an impossibility without the sacrificial system, because without the sacrifices there would be no way to put human beings back in right-standing with God. However, if a person repented of sin and offered the proper sacrifice prescribed under the law, a person would be put back in right-standing with God. This is another reason that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and many others will participate in the first resurrection.
BREAKING THE AGREEMENT
We know from history that the nation of Israel as a whole failed to keep their part of the agreement, so God canceled it:
"For if that first agreement had been faultless, then there would have been no need to make a second one. For finding fault with them [i.e., the people], he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new agreement with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the first agreement that I made with their ancestors in the day when I led them by the hand out of Egypt; because they did not continue in my agreement, and I did not regard them, said the Lord" (Heb.8:7-9).
As a nation, Israel went through periods of obedience and disobedience. God was extremely merciful to his chosen people; he blessed them for their obedience and forgave them for their disobedience. The problem was that Israel's periods of disobedience far outweighed their periods of obedience. By the time the prophet Jeremiah came to warn them, the Israelites had totally disregarded the intent of the agreement they had with God and they had failed to fulfill their national commitment:
"And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks" (Jer.3:8-9 KJV).
Notice that God divorced the nation of Israel for committing spiritual adultery. In Jeremiah chapter 5, the same accusation is leveled at the nation of Judah because of their failure to perform their part of the agreement; therefore, the first agreement with national Israel was no longer workable.
Jeremiah 11:1-10 KJV
"The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Hear you the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; And say to them, This says the Lord God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeys not the words of this covenant, Which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them from out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall you be my people, and I will be your God:
"That I may perform the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey . . .. Hear you the words of this covenant, and do them. . ..Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart: therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do; but they did them not.
"And the Lord said to me, A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, which refused to hear my words; and they went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers."
It is important to understand here that Israel not only broke the commandments of God but also they refused to obey the sacrificial laws. Therefore, it is evident they disobeyed the whole lawthe commandments, statutes, judgments, and the sacrificial system.
"But it shall come to pass, if you will not pay attention to the voice of the Lord your God, to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you this day; that all these curses shall come upon you, and overtake you" (Deut.28:15 Para.).
If national Israel refused to keep their agreement with God, they would not only miss out on these wonderful blessings but also receive terrible curses instead. In Deuteronomy 30:15-19, the Creator sums up the choices he had given them:
"See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command you this day to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that you may live and multiply: and the Lord your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it.
"But if your heart turn away, so that you will not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce to you this day, that you shall surely perish, and that you shall not prolong your days upon the land, where you pass over Jordan to go to possess it.
"I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live" (KJV).
It was God's earnest desire that his chosen people would choose life over death. But, history shows that this did not happen; therefore, a unified nation of Israel under the care and protection of God no longer exists.
By V. O. Jones and B.L. Cocherell, file b4w14