“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants: the one from the Mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Hagar” (Gal. 4:21-24).
The covenant from Mount Sinai is the covenant that God made with the children of Israel when he took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt.
That covenant was faulty. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second” (Heb. 8:7).
That covenant was faulty in the promises: for the second covenant is “a better covenant” than that, in that it “was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6).
The fault in that covenant was primarily, in the people. “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord when I will make a new covenant” (Heb. 8:8).
Therefore, since the fault of that covenant was in its promises, and the fault was primarily in the people themselves, it follows that the promises upon which that covenant was established were primarily the promises of the people.
What, then, were these promises? —They are in the covenant, which was made with them when they came forth out of Egypt, and here is that covenant: —
“Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:4-6, 8).
In this agreement, all the people promised to obey the voice of the Lord. They had not yet heard what that voice would speak. But in the twentieth chapter, they heard that voice speaking the words of the Ten Commandments, to which, when the Lord had spoken, “he added no more.” And when they had heard this, they solemnly renewed their promise: “All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient.”
That this is the covenant that the Lord made with them when he took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, is made certain by the following words: —
“For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices; but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, AND I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jer. 7:22, 23).
And this certainly is confirmed in the following words: “Thus saith 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 forth 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 ye be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer. 11:3, 4).
Note carefully each of these three statements of the covenant, and see how the promises are sequenced. The first one runs, on the part of the Lord: “IF ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, THEN . . . ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation,” etc. By this the Lord’s promises could not come in until they had fulfilled their promises; for the covenant begins with an “if.” “IF ye will” do so and so, “THEN” so and so.
This is the arrangement also in the second statement, “Obey my voice AND I will be your God, AND ye shall be my people.” According to this agreement, he was not to be their God, or they his people, until they had done what they promised; until they had obeyed his voice, as they had promised.
The third statement stands the same: “Obey my voice and do them, according to all which I command you: SO shall ye be my people, and I will be your God.” This makes it perfectly plain, not only that none of the Lord’s part could come in until they had done what they had promised; but that the Lord’s part was to come in BY THE DOING of what they had promised. “Obey my voice,” “and do;” “SO [in this way, by this means] shall ye be my people, and I will be your God.”
Since, then, in this covenant the Lord’s part, what the Lord could do, the Lord’s promises, could come in only in the secondary way as a consequence of the people’s doing what they had promised, it is perfectly plain that that covenant rested, was established, only upon the promises of the people.
What, then, were these promises of the people worth? What had they promised? They had promised to obey the voice of the Lord indeed. They had promised to obey his law, —to keep the Ten Commandments, indeed.
But what was their condition when they made these promises? —It corresponded to the condition of Ishmael in the family of Abraham. They corresponded to Ishmael: they had been born only of the flesh, and knew only the birth of the flesh, and so had only the mind of the flesh. But “the minding of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither in-deed can be.” “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
This being their condition, what could be the worth of any promises that they might make to keep the Ten Commandments indeed? —Any or all such promises could be worth simply nothing at all.
Accordingly, in that covenant, the people promised to do something that it was simply impossible for them to do. And since the Lord, with his promises, could not, in that covenant, come in until they had fulfilled their promises; until they had done what they agreed, it is certain that, for any practical purpose which the people discerned, or designed, that covenant was worth nothing at all, because the promises upon which it rested were worth nothing at all.
In the nature of things that covenant could only gender to bondage; because the people upon whose promises it rested were themselves already subject to the bondage of the flesh, the bondage of sin; and instead of keeping the commandments of God indeed, they would break them. And not only would they break the commandments, which they had promised not to break, but they would inevitably break the promises that they had made not to break the commandments. This simply because they were in a condition in which they were not subject to the law of God and could not be.
And this was demonstrated immediately. For, when Moses had gone up into the mount, to receive a copy of the law, which they had promised to “obey indeed,” he had been gone but forty days when they exclaimed: “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him” (Ex. 32:1). And they made themselves a golden calf—the god of Egypt—and worshiped it, after the manner of Egypt; which shows that, in heart, they were still in Egyptian bondage, and were indeed as Ishmael, the son of Hagar the Egyptian, “born after the flesh.”
And though all this is written for the understanding of all people who should come afterward, and for our admonition “upon whom the ends of the world are come,” it is a singular fact that even today there are persons who, knowing only the birth of the flesh, not having been born again, not knowing the birth of the Spirit, yet will enter into exactly such a covenant; and will sign to it, to keep all the commandments of God indeed. But the trouble with these is just the trouble that was with the people at Sinai, as it is always the trouble with people at Sinai: “They had no true conception of the holiness of God; of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts . . . Feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness, THEY DECLARED: ‘All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient.’”
Of course the questions arise here, “Why, then, were they allowed of the Lord to enter into such a covenant? Why did the Lord make such a covenant with them?” The answer to these questions will be given next week.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | July 10, 1900]