Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.
Exodus 19:5 (NRSVCE)
Our daughter, Madison, just closed on her first house this past week. We’re so excited for her and her husband, Garrett. What an exciting waypoint in their journey.
As we were discussing home ownership, the subject of paperwork and bureaucracy came up. I told Madison, “Just wait until you close!” There is nothing like sitting there with a stack of paper that requires your signature and initials everywhere for everything. Even if you’re trying to be careful and understand what you’re signing it all becomes a fog. By the end of it my brain was fogged over and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome had permanently settled in my left hand. The closing agent just kept thrusting papers in front of me and I kept signing.
All the paperwork, of course, is part of a complex contract between buyers, sellers, real estate agents, government, and financial agents. It is an agreement between parties.
In ancient times, this type of contract was known as a covenant. It was the ancient form of a binding contract between parties. It’s already come up in the Great Story. God made a covenant with Noah after the flood. God made covenants with Abraham. In today’s chapter, God makes a covenant with the Hebrew people. The concept of a “covenant” between God and people was unlike any other religion of that day. But the Hebrews would have understood the concept because covenants were common in personal, familial, business, and international relationships. Two parties agree to binding terms and obligations. While the “Sinai Covenant” in today’s chapter is like other ancient covenants, scholars point out that it is unique and has no direct parallel in antiquity.
The covenant in today’s chapter is quite simple. God agrees to make the Hebrew people His “treasured” people, a priestly kingdom, and a “holy” nation. In return, the Hebrew people agree to be obedient and keep their obligations as will be set out in the commandments and laws given through Moses.
In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over one of the commentaries I read about this text:
Typically, both parties to a contract, treaty or similar legal agreement could expect to benefit from their commitment. It is not at all clear that the Biblical text wants its readers to believe that Yahweh will receive some benefit from this relationship with the Israelites that he would not otherwise be able to obtain. The text speaks of great benefit awaiting the Israelites for their consistent obedience to their covenantal obligations. For Yahweh’s part, his actions do not appear to be based in self-interest but in a willingness to be gracious and to extend freely his blessing.
What is Yaweh getting out of the covenant? “His actions do not appear to be based in self-interest but in a willingness to be gracious and extend freely his blessing.”
I couldn’t help but think of these words from Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Philippians:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
God is establishing and foreshadowing the core theme of the Great Story. What was lost in Eden? Relationship. How does the prophesied story end at the end of the book of Revelation? Restoration and relationship. In my podcast Time (Part 1) I talked about the Great Story being like a human life-cycle from birth-to-death-to-rebirth.
What is a parent’s relationship like with a toddler? The parent dictates the rules and asks the child to obey. Rules and obligations. Parents graciously extend protection and provision. They expect obedience. While the child can’t cognitively understand just how graciously his or her parents are being, they simply understand that when they obey things are okay and when they disobey they get in trouble.
At Sinai, I believe that God and humanity are in the toddler stage of relationship.
I’m looking at it, of course, from 2000 years past Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’re much further in the life-cycle of the relationship between God and humanity. There are a couple of things I’ve learned in my parenting journey now that our daughters are grown and have established their own adult lives and families.
First, the desire and willingness to be gracious and extend blessing never ends no matter how old your children are. Second, the desire for relationship with them does not end, but only gets stronger. When they come home, reach out, call, or write it is the best blessing ever.
The bottom-line. God desires relationship with me. The Father graciously sent His Son to suffer on my behalf. The Son willingly did so. The Father and Son sent their Spirit to abide in me. Everything is about inviting me into this relationship, this circle of love, this divine dance.
I just have to choose in.