Vows and Marriage in the
God Sweeps Us Off Our Feet
Vows and Marriage in the Kingdom
Brief overview of this week’s story
God hears the cries of the Hebrew slaves in bondage, rescuing them by raising up Moses as their leader and by acts
of power. God delivers them from Egypt into a new community with a new way of relating to God, each other and
the world. The law given and covenant made on Mt. Sinai birthed the people of God.
‘Then God spoke these words:
I am the Lord your God
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery…
you shall have no other gods before me.’
Genesis got the biblical ball rolling with stories of origin: beginnings of life and paradise, of sin spreading
and death, of God’s plan of redeeming his lost world. While Israel shared a common lineage through the universal
story of the creation and the fall, it is the Patriarchal story (Gen. 12-50) that gives us the beginnings of their
particular heritage. God, the Great Initiator, approached Abraham and his descendants in our study passage last
week. I call this God getting ‘engaged’ to Israel. Hundreds of years later, we are more than ready for the
consummation of God and his bride, for the great love story to accelerate. This account of Israel’s journey from
bondage to plagues to Passover to Red Sea to manna to Mt. Sinai stands as the dominant salvation story of the
Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament. No wonder “weddings and marriages” are supposed to be important,
and unquestionably so when Yahweh presides as groom and officiator.
Mt. Sinai is the place where Israel’s identity was “formed and filled.” This “mountain top experience”
anchors the entire Old Testament and would eventually be fulfilled in Jesus and the New Covenant church. If you
could only know one Old Testament book of the Bible, this would be it! God’s covenant reveals his passionate
heart for Israel his bride…the gift of Sabbath and rest…and the nature of making promises.
The Exodus story is honest enough about our tendency to build calves and give in to idolatry; the addiction
of expecting good things to be god would drag Israel to the depths of despair in the centuries ahead. The bondage of
idolatry would be broken and the power to keep God in the center would be restored at the coming of the groom
himself, Jesus Christ. Here in Exodus, the good news begins and makes lighter her journey to walking with God.
My son, forsake everything and cling to me; be mine, and I thine. Let us shut ourselves up together here in this
shrine, and thou wilt feel truer joy than can be found in carnal wedlock. Strive, then, to love me alone; to have me
as thy one counsellor, leader, friend, companion, and comrade in all things And whatever thou speakest to me, say,
‘I only and thou, oh, my Lord! Thou needest not heed any third one. Cling but to me, gaze at me, converse sweetly
with me, embrace me, kiss me; expect also all things from me.
John Amos Komensky, mystic
SETTING UP THE STORY: An overview of Exodus.
Exodus (Latin for “exit”) is the story of God’s people (his bride) exiting Egypt by the miracles of God
(plagues/Red Sea) which triumph over Pharaoh. Having rescued his fiancé from slavery, God then takes her
through the trials and provision of the wilderness (manna) to Mt. Sinai. Here the people take vows and are bound in
covenant love to their God. Throughout this love story/marriage procession, God reveals the extent and abundance
of his love and faithfulness.
Exodus 1-4: A new king, Pharaoh, comes to power in Egypt and forces slavery upon all the Israelites. The
Israelites are oppressed and fear they will never be saved. The king enacts a new law that all Hebrew sons born in
Egypt must be killed. One mother has a son and sees he is a special child. She hides him for three months, then
sends him down the Nile in a basket because she could no longer hide him. The birth of Moses was an answer to
the Israelites’ cries for deliverance.
Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s court and family, yet somehow became aware of his own Hebrew heritage.
His heart for justice revealed itself in murdering an overseer for abusing a slave. Running from his pursuers, Moses
left Egypt as a young man not yet prepared for the task God had prepared for him.
After forty years, the Lord speaks to Moses through a burning bush. Yahweh tells Moses he is the man
chosen to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses doubts and argues, thinking he is surely not the one God wants to
choose. God becomes angry and exasperated when Moses continues to argue with him. God gives signs Moses can
show to the people to prove who has sent him. Moses still argues that he is not an eloquent speaker. The Lord
appoints Moses’ brother, Aaron, to speak for Moses. Aaron becomes the first priest of Israel.
Exodus 5-12: Moses and Aaron begin speaking with Pharaoh, asking him to let their people go. But upon
all their requests, Pharaoh’s heart hardens even more. Because of Pharaoh’s unyielding heart, God inflicts ten
plagues on Egypt. The final plague is to kill all of the firstborn sons in the nation. God instructs the Israelites to
sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorframes of their homes. For if God saw the blood on the doorframes, he
would not strike down that household’s firstborn son on the designated night. God calls the ritual Passover and it
will be celebrated as a festival each year in remembrance of how God rescues them.
At the first Passover, God strikes dead all the firstborns who had not followed his instructions, including
the firstborn son of Pharaoh. Pharaoh becomes so angry that he orders Moses and his people to leave Egypt because
they had caused so much harm to his nation.
Exodus 13-15: Moses and the Israelites leave Egypt (Exodus) for the Promised Land. They are chased by
Pharaoh and his soldiers as they come to the Red Sea. They think there is no way out of the disaster. Moses calls to
the Lord to save them and God parts the Red Sea for them to cross; God’s first miracle of redemption.
Exodus 16-18: Next, the Israelites go to the wilderness. They grumble that they have no food. God provides
manna and quail for them to eat. The people then grumble that they have no water to drink. God provides water
from a rock. In response to more of the people’s complaining, He provides a cloud to shade by day, fire to warm by
night, both to guide the people and to show His presence. Moses and the Israelites follow the cloud of the Lord to
Mt. Sinai. God tells Moses that if he keeps the covenant, the Israelites will be His “treasured possession.” and
“priests to the nations.”
Exodus 19-20: The Lord gives Moses the Ten Commandments on stone tablets confirming the covenant.
These were instructions from God on how to live closer to Him.
Exodus 21-24: The Lord gives more commands and there is a ceremony to ratify/finish the covenant
Exodus 25-40: Next, God gives detailed instructions on how to build the tabernacle and how to
preserve/protect the covenant with the Ark of the Covenant. The people would meet and worship God in the
As Moses is receiving the stone tablets from God, the people get restless, and with the help of Aaron, build
a golden calf to worship. At the sight of their immediate rebellion in idol worship, Moses breaks the tablets. Moses
begs for mercy for his people from God. God restores the covenant of the commandments with new stone tablets.
When Moses returns from Mt. Sinai with the new tablets, his face radiates with God’s glory and brilliance.
The people begin building the tabernacle. When they finish, the glory of the Lord covers the new
tabernacle in the form of a cloud.
1. GEOGRAPHY: Read Exodus 19:1-2. Use a map to find the travel route of the Israelites from the Red Sea to
Mt. Sinai where God and Moses led the people. At Mt. Sinai, how close were they to Egypt and the Promised
2. READ carefully Exodus 19:3-6: Here God is speaking to Moses about his vision for the Israelites, His purpose
for the covenant about to be made, and the purpose for which they would live.
How do these verses help us better understand our passage today, Exodus 20:1-17?
For example: What does it mean for Israel to be a “treasured nation?” To be “priest to the nations?”
(Remember what a priest was in this culture.)
Write your answers here.
3. READ Exodus 19:7-25, this comes before today’s study passage. Make a brief list below summarizing what
God, Moses and the people said or did as preparation for the law coming from God on Mt. Sinai:
4. SKIM quickly Exodus 20:18-23:31, which comes after today’s study passage.
List at least five topics the additional laws cover. The first one is done for you.
Law Topics: 1) idolatry
5. READ Exodus 24. List the actions that finalized the covenant between God and Israel.
6. READ Exodus 32 and the Golden Calf story. What does this immediate move toward idolatry make clearer?
What perspective does this offer?
(Optional) READ THE BIBLE IN A YEAR: Exodus 1-18, 21-40, Deuteronomy
LOOKING AT THE STORY
1. READ Exodus 20:1-17 out loud. Imagine yourself in the midst of the story as you read, engaging both your
mind and your feelings.
2. READ the story and passage again out loud, and if you can in a different translation. This time pay attention to a)
the flow and breaks of the story, and b) words and themes that are repeated, similar and contrasting.
Optional: using something to write with and the lesson’s printed bible passage, use your own system of
highlighting and marking key words in the story.
3. QUESTIONS: What are two or three initial questions that immediately surface for you? (E.g. are there words
you don’t understand, confusing actions or ideas, obvious cultural differences, etc?) How would you initially
answer these questions?
4. Length of commands: The importance of something can sometimes be revealed by how much attention
(i.e., the number of words) the Biblical author/God gives it. Under these guidelines then, which commands
are the longest in Exodus 20:1-17? Shortest? Which are in between/medium ?
Note what is added to make some of these commandments longer. What do they added or
“It was a wonderful and delightful life I had now begun to live. I had begun to know God, and I was finding
Him to be lovely and loveable beyond my fondest imaginings. The romance of my life had dawned. I cannot say
how religion may have affected other people, but to me my religion has been all through a fascinating and ever-
unfolding romance. To have got on the track of a real acquaintance with the ways and character of God, the Creator
of heaven and earth, and to be making continually fresh discoveries of new and delightful things about Him – what
scientific research could be as entrancing? All that I had longed for and agonized over in my first awakening, was
coming to me in clearest vision, day by day, and the ever-recurring delight of new revelations and new ideas was
more delicious than words could express. Then too the joy of telling it all to others, and the enormous satisfaction
of seeing their faces lighten, and their hearts expand, as their souls made the same discoveries as my own. Ah, no
one who has not experienced it can know the fascination of it all!
My soul had started on its voyage of discovery, and to become acquainted with God was its unalterable and
unceasing aim. I was yet only at the beginning, but what a magnificent beginning it was. God was a reality, and
He was my God. He had created me, and He loved me, and all was right between us. Instead of my old fruitless
searchings into my feelings and emotions for some tangible evidence of God’s favor, the glorious news, declared in
the Bible, that He so loved the world as to have sent His only begotten Son to save the world, absorbed every
Hannah Whitall Smith
Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the
house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the
form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You
shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for
the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to
the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of
the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the
Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a Sabbath to
the LORD your God; you shall do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your
livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all
that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving
you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false
witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s
wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
“If you govern by penal laws, the people will fear; being fearful, they will commit no villainies; there
being no villainies, they will find peace and happiness. If, on the other hand, you govern by mere
righteousness, they will be lax; and if they are lax, there will be disorder and the people will suffer great
Charles A. Moore, The Chinese Mind
LOOKING AT THE STORY (Cont.)
Choose one or more of the following three exercises to look more closely at the story and it’s historical/biblical
Be prepared to begin the sharing in class on your designated section.
A. Word study: “WORD”/Dabar:
The Hebrew word dabar is translated into a number of English words. Look up all the following references in
your Bible where dabar is used in the book of Exodus. Write in which Bible references use the Chinese word
for word(s) or command(ments) in the categories below.
Verses to look up: Exodus 4:15, 9:20-1, 8:10, 13, 19:6-9 (4X), 20:1, 24:4, 8; 34:1, 27, 28 (2X).
Exodus 34:28, Deut. 4:13, 10:4. These are the three places the English Bible uses the phrase “ten
commandments” to translate the Hebrew phrase, “ten dabar.” Why do you think the word “commandment”
(instead of “word”) was used here?
Why would the English bible translate dabar as “these words” in Ex. 20:1 and then translate it as “ten
commandments” in Exodus 34:28, Deut. 4:13, 10:4? Aren’t they referring to the same passage?
B. Verb Analysis:
Write down or mark all the imperative verbs in the passage, i.e. every time a verb is a command from God
(note: some verbs are descriptive, and some are imperative). How many did you find in total?
Clearly some of the “10 commandments” have more than one imperative verb, i.e., similar commands have
been grouped under just one command. How would you consolidate these many imperative verbs you found
into a list of commands into groups? Write out your list.
How many commands then did you end up with?
C. Cultural Background and Literary Genre
Read the background article, “Israel, their Covenant with Yahweh and the Suzerain-Vassal Treaty
of the Ancient Near East” (see Appendix). As your read the article, fill in column one below with the 6
different elements, including a short definition. Then fill out column two with an example from Exodus
20:1-17 or Ex. 24 to match each of the 6 elements. The first one is done for you.
6 Elements in Suzerain/Vassal Treaty Same 6 Elements in the Mt. Sinai Covenant
1. PREAMBLE: King introduces himself by title 1. PREAMBLE: 20:2 “I am the Lord your God…”
and /or by previous accomplishments
How does the content of their Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20) “treaty” follow and deviate from this Ancient Near East pattern of
surrendering to a powerful king? List at least one or two examples for each below.
Of mismatched newlyweds,
One of whom still feels very insecure,
I keep turning to God
WRAPPING UP THE STORY
1. Listening to the story as a whole: Read the passage as a whole story out loud.
2. What actions had he performed to show his benevolence and to earn the right to be their “conquering
3. Why else would it be natural for Yahweh to use the Suzerain Vassal treaty covenant form with Israel?
4. Using all we learned in “Looking at the Story,” let’s fill in the outline below with what we see as the “ten
commandments” or the “ten words”:
Do you see any patterns in the “flow” and relationship of these commands/words to each other?
LEARNING FROM THE STORY
For each question below, identify several important realities (“what is”) and truths (“what is meant to be”) for us as
agents of transformation in our postmodern, global, urban (PGU) world. (Keep the lesson’s themes in mind when
they are relevant.)
1. God Question: What familiar and especially surprising realities did we see today about God (past, present or
future) as God acted and spoke toward people, both in groups and as individuals, both to leaders and to those on the
2. Kingdom Question: How did we see people, both in groups and as individuals, both the powerful and powerless,
God: (e.g. promise making. Sabbath)
Other people: (e.g. promise making. Sabbath)
3. Priestly Question: How was good news offered to all people, and especially the lost, least and last?
4. Prophetic Question: Which realities and misperceptions of the common people, leaders, systems were
challenged today, and how?
5. Personal Question: What is the main lesson from our study this week that stands out as the most
relevant to YOUR context in today’s PGU world…and why?
LEANING INTO A KINGDOM THEME
Major Theme of the week: IDOLATRY
Cultural Symbol –Traditional elements of a Western/Christian Wedding
The theme in our lives, church and ministry today
1. LIFE STORY:
How does the theme of promise making connect with your life story (dad and mom and other heroes who
made and kept promises, highpoints and hard times, heritage)?
2. POSSIBLE SMALL GROUP QUESTIONS:
How much emphasis did/does your church put on making promises or “obeying God’s commands?”
How did they deal with the temptation to turn obedience and commitments with God into “religion,”
putting the emphasis on what we do more than what God does?
How do you deal with these issues personally?
Why don’t many people follow through on their commitments, and why do many others seem unwilling to
make a significant promise or commitment? What about you?
3. GROUP EXERCISES:
Make a list: How do you as individuals deal with these issues above in your ministry and life?
Other Possible Issues and themes: Promise Making and Sabbath
"There is a disease rampant - a chronic, low-grade depression that never knows how to smack its lips and say, 'It is
good to be alive!' It does not know the haven of a Sabbath in the bosom of an unhassling family .... All the nostalgia
we experience is a yearning for the Sabbath - to come home to the good Mother - one's being - a homecoming with
the body to the body: to eating, resting, singing, loving - resting in the bosom of Abraham...the Sabbath is long and
full when one knows how to be beyond doing."
Rabbi Zalman Schachter
“A human promise is an awesome reality. When a woman makes a promise, she thrusts her hand into the
unpredictable circumstances of her tomorrow and creates an enclave of predictable reality. When a man makes a
promise he creates an island of certainty in a heaving ocean of uncertainty. Can any human act, other than the act of
forgiving, be more divine?”
LIVING INTO THE STORY
#1: READ - considering what others say about our story and theme, read some or all
of the following:
Devotional: Exodus-God Sweeps Us off our Feet
Theme Reading: “One Town’s Covenant with God ”
Write below a sentence or two on what stood out to you in your reading:
For those interested, other quotes and articles on this week’s themes are also available on line or at your request.
#2: REFLECT - Listen and pray about what God is saying to me.
A. Meditation: Exodus 19:3-6 and/or Ex. 20:2-6 and meditate on the “heart” of the Ten words. You may want to
meditate on these verses in light of an article your read in #1 above. Consider again how these verses reveal to you
a fresh image of God’s law and promise-making (our response to God).
B. Consider what truth, strong feelings, questions, paradoxes, responses or invitations God may be speaking to
you concerning your Connection Point above.
Write below several sentences on what you sense God is saying to you:
#3 RESPOND in a personal way
A CONNECTION POINT: In light of today’s theme (promise-making), consider what implications there
are in this story to one of the following relationships: God, family members, friends, roommates, neighbors,
people in your church, ministry team members, people you are trying to reach, the persecuted Christians all
over the world, the poor, the suffering and needy.
Identify One Relationship: _______________________________________________
Write one connection of this relationship to today’s theme in one sentence:
Choose now from below an approach that will help you authentically respond to, integrate and pass on to others
what you have learned from this week’s lesson.
Required Response: Modeling somewhat the structure and main ideas of Ex. 19:3-6 and 20:1-17, write a short
letter of commitment to God about your purpose (big picture) and commitments (big and small) you wish to make in
taking the class.
Exodus-God Sweeps Us Off Our Feet
Ask me about my all time top 10 movie list, and I will include, with a twinkle in my eye, The Princess Bride.
It’s the story, as many of you remember, of “True Love.” Buttercup and Farm Boy, her hired hand, fall magically in
love, and then find themselves separated and hopelessly bereaved. But not for long. Out of nowhere Farm Boy
returns to pursue his newly crowned princess, to rescue her from the clumsy arms of a new version of “the Three
Stooges” and the evil King Humperdink. After the miraculous rescue they are, of course, married in true love and
ride off to live happily ever after.
One of my favorite characters in the movie is the sick little boy, the hearer of Grandpa’s tale. Remember
his first reaction after hearing the title of the book? “Yuk. Forget that kissy stuff.” Just a little later, however, he
bolts up, sits on the edge of his bed and forgets his fever. Reluctance has turned to yearning for what’s next in this
thrilling tale of love. His emotions change with his perceptions of the book and with his view of romance.
I can relate to the boy when I consider my journey with God and the storybook we call the Bible. It’s hard
not to share the boy’s initial disinterest (Yuk!) when I, too, heard the Bible read as a kid. Especially the Old
Testament. Most of us do not approach personal Bible study time with the passion of encountering Jesus with, as
they used to say in the south, “the power of a great affection.”
But what if the Bible was really a Divine Romance, the ultimate tale of Truest Love? How would that
change our motivations and emotions? Would our unworthy perceptions of God and ourselves find healing? Would
we sit up in our beds, be aroused in our love for God and thirst for more of the Tale to be read? I wonder.
Gene Edwards years ago in his book, The Divine Romance, opened my eyes to this way of seeing the Bible.
Ironically, this image of marriage is boiling over in one of the books we often find ho-hum and difficult to get
through on our own: Exodus.
Our love story actually begins, however, in Genesis. In the Garden of Eden, we find our two lovers in
uninterrupted fellowship and peace. Very soon, though, as with Buttercup and Farm Boy, Adam and Eve deal with
tragic separation, this time by their decision to disobey the Creator. The plot thickens as God’s “lover” is thrown
out of the Garden and into the chaos of sin’s consequences.
The relentless love of God doesn’t take this initial “no” for a final answer. He comes to Abraham with a
proposal and a promise: “I will bless you so that you and your family can be a blessing to the nation.” Thus
betrothed, God walks with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The period of engagement endures many
generations. This Bride needed more time than we do to get ready. The wedding day and marriage ahead would be
grander than in any fairy tale or royal court.
That takes us up to Exodus. When the Groom finally comes for his fiancé, he finds her kidnapped by the
clumsy and unromantic rule of Pharaoh. In the spirit of medieval chivalry, God fights for Israel, proving through
the plagues and the Red Sea His vast superiority. Thus swept off her feet, the betrothed looks back at the drowning
army of Pharaoh and sees the glory of her Yahweh groom. Turning now to face the wilderness, she takes the arm of
Father God to walk down the long aisle toward Mt. Sinai where she shall soon be married. As that desert journey
begins, the Waiting Groom sees that long line of approaching Hebrew slaves as the train of His bride’s dress.
When the bride has finally been brought forward to the altar of Mt. Sinai, Moses, the officiator of this
wedding, gives her a short homily: “Marriage! Marriage is why we are here today.” Well, not quite like the Bishop
of Princess Bride. Exodus 19:3-6, a cherished passage for Jews through the centuries, serves as the prenuptial
vows, the homily on what was about to take place. Why is God marrying this unlikely bride in the first place?
“You will be to me My treasured people, My special possession.” Thus married to Israel, Yahweh opens up this
True Love to every nation. His bride would invite the whole world to join this cherished covenant.
The people respond “yes;” their intent is to be wed. There is no special music at this point, but a little
earthquake, smoke and fire of the Mt. St. Helens type is a nice touch on the program. Yahweh makes available his
otherwise holy presence during this intimate time of the “two becoming one.” The ceremony continues with the
shared vows: “I will be your God and you will be my people. So keep my laws and commands which I write today
on these stones.” (How would you like those mounted on your wedding certificate?) The commands are not heavy
obligations but pledges which begin and end in lifetime loyalty of a love jealously cherished: “You shall have no
other gods…you shall not covet.” I offered the same type of vows when I married Carissa years ago.
The ceremony ends with an animal sacrifice instead of exchanged rings. The covenant is sealed. The
marriage between God and His people has dramatically begun.
Does the rest of the Bible continue this theme throughout? Some of you may already be ahead of me.
The prophets call sin “adultery” and idolatry is named as “whoring after other lovers.” The synagogue
leader reads the Song of Solomon (that sexual and sappy collection of love poems) every Passover to call people
back to their vows and to keep them from drifting from their first love: “I am my beloved’s and He is mine.” Jesus
says we should not fast when the bridegroom is with us. Paul calls the body of Christ the bridegroom. Revelation
tells us the final days will climax with the Garden of Eden coming to us in the New Jerusalem, coming to join us,
God’s prepared people, His now holy bride. The same invitation will be proclaimed that final wedding day as it was
once heard at Mt. Sinai: “the Spirit and the Bride say come.”
Yes, Lord! Consummate on that final day what you began so long ago. In the meantime, may our daily
tasks have the levity and joy of preparing for that final wedding day. Oh, may the church live in these unpredictable
times as if she were to be married soon: “there is just so much to do to prepare for that joyful day!” My marriage
with Carissa, even on its best day, is just the shadowlands of what is to come.
Friends, we are the betrothed. We are the Beloved. If God is our Groom and the Bible is a Divine
Romance, then the snapshots of our lives matter. They add to the scrapbook and story of True Love that has
continued long past the days of the early church.
In the spirit of the communion meal, I renew my vows today to remain faithful until the Beloved comes
again. Until that day we say, “Even so, come quickly, our Lover and our Lord.”
With Love’s chains thou hast bound me
In sweet captivity, a prisoner that despises
All thought of liberty-
Ah dear one, I’ve no craving
From thy bondage to be free;
No desire no aspiration
Save thy vassal true to be.
“Grow old along with me!
The Best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made.”
“My son, forsake everything and cling to me; be mine, and I thine. Let us shut ourselves up together here in this
shrine, and thou wilt feel truer joy than can be found in carnal wedlock. Strive, then, to love me alone; to have me
as thy one counsellor, leader, friend, companion, and comrade in all things And whatever thou speakest to me, say,
‘I only and thou, oh, my Lord! Thou needest not heed any third one. Cling but to me, gaze at me, converse sweetly
with me, embrace me, kiss me; expect also all things from me.”
Author Unknown (Early church writing)
COVENANT WITH GOD
While reading in the Dallas library recently we were amazed to more clearly discover the effects which true
revival can have. In 1742 Jonathan Edwards was used by God to preach boldly and dramatically in the town of
Northampton, Massachusetts. People became convicted of their sins and truly repented. But perhaps more
importantly, they determined, through the grace of God, to never allow that sin to come back into their livers.
To this end Jonathan Edwards and some of the principal members of various churches in Northampton proposed
the following covenant to all the town’s congregations. Certain deacons were assigned to talk to all who wanted an
opportunity to view and consider the document. Then the people throughout the town, who were over fourteen
years of age, signed the covenant. Shortly after, on a day of prayer and fasting, they all came together before the
Lord in His house, and stood up, and “solemnly manifested their consent to it, as their vow to God,” as Jonathan
Edwards himself has written.
Entered into and subscribed, by the people of God at Northampton, and owned before God in his house as their
vow to the Lord, and made a solemn act of public worship, by the congregation in general that were above fourteen
years of age, on a day of fasting and prayer for the continuance and increase of the gracious presence of God in that
March 16th, 1742. Acknowledging God’s great goodness to us, a sinful, unworthy people, in the blessed
manifestations and fruits of his gracious presence in this town, both formerly and lately, and particularly in the very
late spiritual revival; and adoring the glorious majesty, power, and grace of God, manifested in the present
wonderful outpouring of his Spirit, in many parts of this land; and lamenting our past backslidings and ungrateful
departings from God, and humbly begging of God that he would not mark our iniquities, but for Christ’s sake,
come over the mountains of our sins, and visit us with his salvation, and continue the tokens of his presence with
us, and yet more gloriously pour out his blessed Spirit upon us, and make us all partakers of the divine blessings he
is, at this day, bestowing here, and in many parts of this land; we do this day present ourselves before the Lord, to
renounce our evil ways, to put away our abominations from before God’s eyes, and with one accord to renew our
determination to seek and serve God: and particularly, we do now solemnly promise and vow to the Lord as
In all our conversation, concerns, and dealings with our neighbor, we will have a strict regard to rules of
honesty, justice, and uprightness, that we don’t overreach or defraud our neighbor in any matter; and in all our
communication we will have a tender respect, not only to our own interest, but also to the interest of our neighbor;
and we will carefully endeavor, in everything, to do to others as we should expect, or think reasonable, that they
should do to us.
And wherein any of us, upon strict examination of our past behavior, may be conscious to ourselves, that we
have by any means wronged any of our neighbors in their outward estate, we will not rest, till we have made that
restitution or given that satisfaction which the rules of God’s morality require.
And furthermore we promise, that we will not allow ourselves in backbiting; and that we will take great heed to
ourselves to avoid all violations of these Christian rules; Tit.3:2, “Speak evil of no man”; and that we will not only
slander our neighbor, but also will not feed a spirit of bitterness, ill will, or secret grudge against our neighbor,
focus on his real faults needlessly, and when not called to it, or from such a spirit, speak of his failings and
blemishes with ridicule or an air of contempt. We promise, that we will be very careful to avoid doing anything to
our neighbor from a spirit of revenge.
And if any of us find that we have an old secret grudge against any of our neighbors, we will not allow it to remain,
but will face it and endeavor to our utmost to root it out, crying to God for his help; and we will make it our true
and faithful endeavor, in our places, that a spirit of disunity may not be kept up amongst us, but that it may utterly
cease; so that for the future, we may all be one, united in undisturbed peace and unfeigned love.
And in the management of all public affairs, wherever there is a difference of opinions, concerning any outward
possessions, privileges, rights or properties, we will not willingly violate justice for private interest; and with the
greatest strictness and watchfulness, we will avoid all unchristian bitterness, vehemence, and heat of spirit; yes,
even though we should think ourselves injured by a contrary party; and in the time of the management of such
affairs, we will especially watch ourselves, our spirits, and our tongues, to avoid all unchristian bitter reflectings,
judging and ridiculing of others either in public meetings or in private conversation, either to men’s faces, or behind
their backs; but we will greatly endeavor, so far as we are concerned, that all should be managed with Christian
humility, gentleness, quietness, and love.
And those of us that are youth do promise never to allow ourselves in any diversions or pastimes, in meetings or
companies of young people, which we, in our consciences, upon sober consideration, judge incompatible with, or
which would sinfully tend to hinder the devoutest and closest spirit of religion, or which would indispose our minds
for that devout and profitable attendance to the duties of the closet, which is most agreeable to God’s will; or that
we, in our most impartial judgment can think would rob God of that honor which he expects, by our orderly serious
attendance to family worship.
We also promise, with great watchfulness, to perform all of our duties, required by Christian rules in the families
we belong to, towards parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, masters or mistresses, and
And we now appear before God, depending on Divine grace and assistance, solemnly to devote our whole lives,
to be labouriously spent in the business of religion; ever making it our greatest business, without backsliding from
such a way of living, not listening to the whisperings of our laziness or other corrupt inclinations, or the temptations
of the world, that tend to draw us off from it; and we will run with perseverance the race that is set before us, and
work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
And because we are sensible that the keeping of thee solemn vows may hereafter, in many cases, be very
contrary to our corrupt inclinations and carnal interests, we do now therefore appear before God to make a
surrender of all to him, and to make a sacrifice of every carnal inclination and interest, to the great business of
religion and the interest of our souls.
And being sensible of our weakness, and the deceitfulness of our own hearts, and our proneness to forget our
most solemn vows, and lose our resolutions, we promise to be often strictly examining ourselves by these promises,
especially before the sacrament of the Lord’s supper; and beg of God that he would, for Christ’s sake, keep us from
wickedly forgetting or ignoring these our solemn vows.
1. How does this passage remind you of Gen. 12:2-3, last week’s passage?
2. Skim through the Song of Solomon. This series of romantic love poems was read every year at the Passover
to remind them of the heart of God and why he rescued them. What light does the Song of Solomon shed
on the nature of God’s relationship with Israel and what Mt. Sinai was all about?
3. Jer. 31:31-34, Luke 22:14-22: The new covenant is prophesied here! How would it be different and similar
to this first covenant?
EXTRA BACKGROUND READING:
ISRAEL, THEIR COVENANT WITH YAHWEH AND
THE SUZERAIN-VASSAL TREATY OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST
INTRODUCTION: From the beginning of biblical history, God has been highly committed to His relationship
with the people He created. No Christian would dispute this. God spoke over and over to his people: “I will be your
God and you will be my people.” While there are many ways he has revealed this commitment, I would like to
present two important and recurring examples that lay the foundation for this paper.
Perhaps no one word sums up God's desire and plan for relationship with us better than covenant. There are
many kinds of covenants, secular and religious, described or alluded to in the Bible and documents of the Ancient
Near East (ANE). The Hebrew word for covenant is used 287 times, and the theme of God's covenant relationship
with Israel is paramount in the Old Testament. The covenant fundamentally shaped Israel's understanding of their
relationship to God and to one another.
The original patriarchs needed a strong promise but only an informal covenant with God, to hold their clan
together. The situation after the exodus was different, however. We know that the group that came out of Egypt was
much larger and much less homogeneous. They now needed something greater than blood ancestry to bind them
together. God still desired to create a people for himself, but there needed to be a more concrete and durable basis
for His relationship with Israel.
Though scholars may disagree about the exact meaning of covenant, all agree that it was at Mt. Sinai that Israel
not only first came together in unity as God's people, but they did so there by entering a covenant. This idea of
covenant, which is inseparable from the historical solidarity of the tribes, was an event which had a definite
beginning, a historical setting and consequences for Israel's history.
The testimony of Israel's history and of biblical historians agree: the events, text and form of the covenant made
at Mt. Sinai were critical in Israel's initial and ongoing understanding of God, of themselves and of their
relationship with him. In understanding the Mt. Sinai covenant better, one will not only better appreciate the rest of
the OT and its covenants, but also Christ and the New Testament (New Covenant) as well.
Therefore it is very important for us to understand just how Israel understood their "binding" to God that took
place on Mt. Sinai. We know that the Decalogue on the stone tablets in Exodus is the preserved document "in
miniature" of the first Sinai covenant. Deuteronomy is a renewal of the first Sinai covenant, and has a central place
in the Pentateuch and in Israel’s understanding of covenant. Still, knowing where the covenant passages are does
not necessarily help the average layperson understand their exact intent and meaning.
Thus, my second point now comes into view. The God who is forever committed to relationships has also been
very committed to communicating clearly with us. In doing so, He has nearly always used means from our world as
a starting place so that we can more simply and deeply understand. Idioms, word pictures, stories and structures are
all used by God and the writers of the Bible day so that the intended message would be clearly and deeply
impressed upon the people. For example, God is our Shepherd, our Rock and our Fortress.
In light of God's commitment to relationships and communication, and of the centrality of the covenant and Mt.
Sinai, we would certainly expect Him to have made great efforts to communicate clearly and dramatically to Israel
at this important event and beginning. More specifically, Mt Sinai would be an appropriate time to use an already
existing form of creating and recording these kind of covenant relationships…something "incarnational."
This is the already established thesis of this lesson and this paper: the form was used at Mt. Sinai, though it may
be foreign to us today, it was not foreign to the Israelites. I join other scholars in suggesting that the historical
situations and documents with Israel/Yahweh in Exodus (especially ch. 19-24) both fit well with the normal
situations and forms found in the Suzerain (international) treaties used by suzerain kings and vassal nations in the
ANE. In other words, this existing treaty form that was used often between warring nations was consciously used in
the Sinai covenants; therefore it is the starting place for us to better understand God’s intended relationship with
Following each of the characteristics, however, I did include here related passages from the Exodus/First Sinai
GENERAL BACKGROUND FOR LAW AND TREATY IN GENERAL IN THE ANE
Every society must demand that certain promises be followed through for the sake of society's benefit and
survival. It will perfect forms and procedures by which it can "guarantee" that certain promises of performance will
be fulfilled. This was true of the ANE, where standard contracts and treaty forms would have been easily
recognizable as binding by all.
The primary purpose of the suzerainty treaty was to establish a covenant relationship of mutual support between
the two parties. Because the context of the covenant is absolute surrender, it is no wonder that the treaty's form and
authorship were unilateral. It was the interests of the suzerain king (i.e., no more danger from that enemy) that were
of primary and ultimate concern.
There are six elements, then, that are nearly always found in Hittite treaty texts. In the following sections, each of
these elements will be briefly discussed.
ELEMENT #1: The Preamble
The preamble allowed the king to introduce himself, and usually included some combination of 1) the name and
title of the ruler issuing the document, 2) followed by the name and title of his father, 3) and the names and title of
more distant ancestors. The preamble consistently used a formula like: "thus (saith) NN, the great king, king of the
Hatti land, son of NN...the valiant."
Example of the Preamble from EXODUS 19-24/DECALOGUE:
Ex. 20:2a "I am the Lord." (See 19:24, too)
ELEMENT #2: The Historical Prologue:
This part of the treaty describes in detail the previous relations, whether positive or negative, between the
suzerain and the vassal (conquered or weaker) nation. Included here was the land that the vassal is being assigned
or entrusted. Here is an actual example: "Since your father had mentioned to me your name with great praise... I
sought after you. To be sure, you were sick and ailing, but although you were ailing, I, the Sun (god), put you in
the place of your father and took your brothers (and) sisters and the Amurru land in oath for you."
In light of all the favor and benefits he had received, the vassal's expected response was one of confidence and
gratitude toward the suzerain king. The prologue emphasizes, then, the reasons why it is natural and right that the
vassal obeys and be subordinate to the suzerain king.
Examples of the Historical Prologue From EXODUS 19-24/DECALOGUE:
Ex. 20:2b: "who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."
ELEMENT #3: The Statement of Substance and the Stipulations:
The Statement of Substance: Based on the antecedent history, the statement of substance summarizes the purpose of
the following stipulations that the vassals are to keep.
The Stipulations state in detail the obligations imposed upon and accepted by the vassal. Again, they are given on
the basis of who the suzerain is and what he has done (characteristics #1,2). There are a number of categories they
typically fall under:
a. Loyalty: the most prominent and fundamental demand was always for the vassal's absolute commitment to the
suzerain to the exclusion of all other alliances. For example, the Hittite king Mursilis insists, "But you, Duppi
Tessub, remain loyal toward the king of the Hatti land, my sons (and) my grandsons forever...Do not turn your eyes
to anyone else! Your fathers presented tribute to Egypt; you (shall not do that)!"
The vassal must hold fast to an unlimited trust in the King. Evil words, rumors and thoughts of rebellion or
treason against the king were not permitted to be spoken or entertained by the vassal.
b. Military stipulations: the vassal must, on threat of covenant breach, answer any call to arms sent him by the
c. The vassal must give asylum to refugees. The problem evidently was a very serious one.
d. The vassal had to appear before the Hittite king once a year on the occasion of offering an annual tribute.
e. Controversies between vassals were unconditionally to be submitted to the king for judgment.
It is these stipulations that are the covenant proper. In all the above, note that it is primarily the interests of the
king that the treaty protected. There is also no hint of the suzerain's interference in the internal affairs of the Vassal
State. The obligations imposed by the great king are called his "words," which automatically became commands in
Examples of the Statement of Substance and Stipulations From EXODUS 19-24/DECALOGUE:
Ex. 19:5-6a: is an example of a "statement of substance." (So is the elsewhere repeated phrase, “I shall be your
God and you shall be my people.”)
Ex. 20:3-17: The first commands are primarily concerned man's loyalty to God, and the last six with other
human/community relationships under God's sovereignty.
ELEMENT #4: The List of Gods as Witnesses
When an oath was taken, the gods were formally called upon to acts as witnesses to it and to the pronouncing of
the blessings and curses. Gods of the Hittite State and the pantheon gods of the vassal states were amongst those
listed. Even the mountains, rivers, springs, sea, heaven and earth, the winds and clouds are often deified and
Examples of the List of Gods as Witnesses From EXODUS 19-24/DECALOGUE:
No other gods are found in the Decalogue or in related passages. No third party would be expected however for
several reasons: 1) Yahweh is One; there is no other god and is not like the other kings. 2) Yahweh will always be
present with Israel so He does not need gods or witnesses to carry out the covenant’s curses & blessings.
ELEMENT #5: The Curses and Blessings Formula
The treaty is wholly in the realm of sacred law since the only sanctions in the ANE were religious ones. Again,
the gods were not merely witnesses who vouch for the correctness of an agreement. They are to 1) pursue
relentlessly all who break their oath and 2) reward those who keep the treaty's terms. Punishment could "indirectly"
come from nature or neighboring warring nations (especially the armies of the king in response to breach of
covenant!), but all blessings and curses were believed to be from a divine origin. The curses, often using symbolism
and strong language, threaten death and destruction in every possible form to any vassal who breaks the treaty. The
promised blessings include: "protection of the gods, prosperity of the land, eternal reign, abundant harvests, joy of
heart, and peace of mind forever." There were usually four to ten times as many curses as blessings.
Examples of the Curses/Blessings Formula from EXODUS 19-24/DECALOGUE:
This is not a separate section in Ex. 20 but blessings and curses are interspersed among the stipulations (See. esp. v.
7 for a curse and blessing, and v.12 for a blessing). (Note: the blessings and curses are more pronounced and
separate in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.)
ELEMENT #6: Final Ratification Procedures
There were a number of procedures that were not written down as part of the treaty document proper but
surrounded and completed the treaty process. The four most important and essential actions were: 1) the writing
down and 2) reading of the final treaty document, 3) the oath and 4) the final (solemn) ceremony (Baltzer, p.17).
According to the prevalent view everywhere in the ANE, execution in writing is essential to the conclusion of a
treaty. In fact, the treaty only comes in to being when the document is first written down, exhibited and sealed by
the king, and then given to the vassal.
1. Written part: The words of the Hittite and other ANE treaties were written down on clay tablets by the
suzerain. It was normal procedure to prepare duplicate (two) copies of the treaty text. The enshrinement of the
treaty before the gods of the vassal was expressive of their role as witnesses and avengers of the oath.
2. Oral part: After the treaty was written down, the treaty conditions were recited by the great king in the presence
of the vassals. The treaty document itself was the text of the covenant ceremony, sometimes including the response
of the vassal as well as the declarations of the suzerain.
3. The Oath: The vassal now gives his oath to confirm his willingness to obey and be subject to the curses and
blessings. While the king often promised to help, support and protect the vassal, the suzerain did not legally
obligate himself to specific stipulations toward the conquered nations.
4. Solemn ceremony: this always accompanied the oath. Nothing certain is known concerning the specific rituals
of this ceremony.
Examples of the Final Ratification Procedures From EXODUS 19-24/DECALOGUE:
1. Writing Down:
Ex. 24:12: 2 tablets were made. Each tablet had the entire Decalogue on it (not 4 on one, six on the other.)
2 and 3. Oral Reading and the Oath:
Ex. 24:3,7: Moses reads the Words to the people. People pledge their obedience.
4. Solemn Ceremony:
Ex. 24:4-6: Both parties (God and Israel) walked through the animal parts as a symbol of their willingness to obey
and keep their part of the covenant. See Gen. 15:10, 17ff for an example of this rite with Abraham. After the
animal was sacrificed there was a feast which produced a union between God and the people.