Lesson for Sept. 12, 2010: God Makes a Covenant with Israel (Exodus 20:1-11)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for September 12) is written by Jeremy Lawson who serves as minister with Mount Pleasant Church of Christ in Williamstown, Kentucky.

God Makes a Covenant with Israel (Exodus 20:1-11)

By Jeremy Lawson

What is the difference between a contract and a covenant? By definition, a contract is an agreement between two people that is based on ifs. For example, when building a house, the contractor agrees to pay the roofing company if it puts an acceptable and long-lasting roof on the house he is building. If the roofing company completes the task acceptably, then the contractor pays them. If it does not complete the task, then the contract is void and both parties are back to where they started.

covenant, on the other hand, is an agreement between two parties that is based on even ifs. During premarital counseling, many ministers will say that marriage should be a covenant; even if things change, even if mistakes are made, even if feelings get hurt, and even if times get difficult, a couple should still have the resolve and determination to stay together and work through the issues.

Faithful to Israel

In Exodus 20, God has successfully delivered the Israelites from Egypt and led them to Mount Sinai. There, Moses ascends the mountain and receives instruction from God himself. More than 500 years earlier, God made a covenant with Abraham promising that he would have as many descendants as stars in the sky and that he (God) would always be their God (Genesis 15). In Exodus 20, God sets the terms of the covenant and gives them to Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments.

The first four commandments address the people’s relationship to God—he was to be the one and only God. The Israelites did not need a pantheon full of gods like other nations. They did not need idols made of stone or wood to bow down to. The Israelites needed only the one true God—to worship, honor, and glorify—and they would be God’s treasured possession among all the nations (Exodus 19:5).

God would always take care of them, provide for them, and make sure they were a wealthy and prosperous nation. All they needed to do was to hold up their end of the covenant and worship God alone.

If you know the story of the Old Testament, however, the Israelites were unfaithful in keeping their portion of the covenant. In the book of Judges, the phrase “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” appears seven times. The Israelites were constantly turning to idols and turning away from the one true God.

If God had made a contract with the Israelites, then their actions would have voided the contract and God would have had every right to let them rot in slavery. However, God did not make a contract based on ifs, he made a covenant based on even ifs. Even if the Israelites were unfaithful (and obviously they were), God said he would still be their God and take care of them. God allowed them to be taken into slavery until they repented, but he never forgot about them and never abandoned the covenant he made.

Faithful to Us

Today, it is easy to look at the Israelites and think, How could they turn to idols so many times after everything God had done? It is easy to look down on the Israelites for their inability to abide by the covenant. However, we don’t have much room to be judgmental.

Through Jesus, God made a new covenant with us. The terms? When we accept Christ and are faithful to him we receive forgiveness, grace, and salvation. That doesn’t seem like a difficult thing to do—accept Christ and be faithful to him. Yet, how many times have we fallen away or failed to keep up our end of the covenant? On many occasions, God had the right to strip us of our salvation and leave us to perish.

But the lesson isn’t about us; it’s about God. The Israelites found God faithful, even when they weren’t. To this day, God is faithful even if we aren’t. That is why our God is the only God worthy of our praise and our worship.

The psalmist writes, “For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 117:2). The one true God is a faithful God and I am eternally grateful he is a God of covenants and not contracts.


*All Scripture references are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.

Sept. 6: Psalm 119:73-77
Sept. 7: Proverbs 7:1-5
Sept. 8: John 1:14-18
Sept. 9: Romans 10:5-13
Sept. 10: Galatians 2:15-21
Sept. 11: Exodus 20:12-21
Sept. 12: Exodus 20:1-11

ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Jeremy Lawson graduated from Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University in 2008 with a degree in biblical studies. He and his wife, Cara, serve with the Mount Pleasant Church of Christ in Williamstown, Kentucky.

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