1. SLAVERY CONFUSES MINDS
a. What was the condition of Israel for a number of years—and how did that situation affect their knowledge of God and His laws? Exodus 20:1, 2; Deuteronomy 5:15.
“In their bondage the people had to a great extent lost the knowledge of God and of the principles of the Abrahamic covenant. In delivering them from Egypt, God sought to reveal to them His power and His mercy, that they might be led to love and trust Him. He brought them down to the Red Sea—where, pursued by the Egyptians, escape seemed impossible—that they might realize their utter helplessness, their need of divine aid; and then He wrought deliverance for them. Thus they were filled with love and gratitude to God and with confidence in His power to help them. He had bound them to Himself as their deliverer from temporal bondage.
“But there was a still greater truth to be impressed upon their minds. Living in the midst of idolatry and corruption, they had no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God’s law, and their need of a Saviour. All this they must be taught.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 371.
b. Where did God bring them in order that they might understand the holiness and sacredness of His law? Exodus 19:1, 5, 6.
2. THE SINFULNESS OF SIN
a. How did the Israelites react to promises of blessings even after they understood the law when spoken by God? Exodus 19:8; 24:3.
“The people did not realize the sinfulness of their own hearts, and that without Christ it was impossible for them to keep God’s law; and they readily entered into covenant with God. Feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness, they declared, ‘All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.’ Exodus 24:7. They had witnessed the proclamation of the law in awful majesty, and had trembled with terror before the mount; and yet only a few weeks passed before they broke their covenant with God, and bowed down to worship a graven image. They could not hope for the favor of God through a covenant which they had broken; and now, seeing their sinfulness and their need of pardon, they were brought to feel their need of the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic covenant and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings. Now by faith and love they were bound to God as their deliverer from the bondage of sin. Now they were prepared to appreciate the blessings of the new covenant.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 371, 372.
b. What were the terms of this covenant? Deuteronomy 27:26; Ezekiel 20:11; Leviticus 18:5.
c. Similar to our natural condition, what were they unable to comprehend? Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 1:5, 6; 64:6.
“ ‘Ye cannot serve the Lord,’ said Joshua: ‘for He is a holy God. . . . He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.’ Before there could be any permanent reformation the people must be led to feel their utter inability in themselves to render obedience to God. They had broken His law, it condemned them as transgressors, and it provided no way of escape. While they trusted in their own strength and righteousness, it was impossible for them to secure the pardon of their sins; they could not meet the claims of God’s perfect law, and it was in vain that they pledged themselves to serve God. It was only by faith in Christ that they could secure pardon of sin and receive strength to obey God’s law. They must cease to rely upon their own efforts for salvation, they must trust wholly in the merits of the promised Saviour, if they would be accepted of God.”—Ibid., p. 524.
3. RATIFYING THE COVENANT
a. After Moses read the law with all its conditions of curses and blessings, how did Israel persistently react? Exodus 24:7.
“The minds of the people, blinded and debased by slavery, were not prepared to appreciate fully the far-reaching principles of God’s ten precepts. That the obligations of the decalogue might be more fully understood and enforced, additional precepts were given, illustrating and applying the precepts of the ten commandments. Unlike the decalogue, these were delivered privately to Moses, who was to communicate them to the people.”—Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 506.
“Moses had written, not the ten commandments, but the judgments which God would have them observe, and the promises on condition that they would obey Him. He read this to the people, and they pledged themselves to obey all the words which the Lord had said. Moses then wrote their solemn pledge in a book, and offered sacrifice unto God for the people. ‘And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people; and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.’ The people repeated their solemn pledge to the Lord to do all that He had said, and to be obedient.”—The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 240.
b. What was immediately done to show the seriousness of such an agreement? Exodus 24:6, 8.
“Thus the people ratified their solemn pledge to the Lord to do all that He had said, and to be obedient.”—The Signs of the Times, May 6, 1880.
“Here the people received the conditions of the covenant. They made a solemn covenant with God, typifying the covenant made between God and every believer in Jesus Christ. The conditions were plainly laid before the people. They were not left to misunderstand them. When they were requested to decide whether they would agree to all the conditions given, they unanimously consented to obey every obligation. They had already consented to obey God’s commandments. The principles of the law were now particularized, that they might know how much was involved in covenanting to obey the law; and they accepted the specifically defined particulars of the law.”—Manuscript Releases, vol. 1, p. 114.
4. A LOST GENERATION
a. What happened to the vast majority of the nation of Israel because they failed to understand their inability to save themselves and keep the law perfectly without divine aid? Numbers 26:63–65.
“Everything that we of ourselves can do is defiled by sin.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 311.
“Nicodemus had heard the preaching of John the Baptist concerning repentance and baptism, and pointing the people to One who should baptize with the Holy Spirit. He himself had felt that there was a lack of spirituality among the Jews, that, to a great degree, they were controlled by bigotry and worldly ambition. He had hoped for a better state of things at the Messiah’s coming. Yet the heart-searching message of the Baptist had failed to work in him conviction of sin. He was a strict Pharisee, and prided himself on his good works. He was widely esteemed for his benevolence and his liberality in sustaining the temple service, and he felt secure of the favor of God. He was startled at the thought of a kingdom too pure for him to see in his present state.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 171.
b. Was the problem with God or with the people in this “old” covenant? Hebrews 8:8.
“ ‘A natural Christian!’ This deceptive idea has served many as a garment of self-righteousness, and has led many to a supposed hope in Christ, who had no experimental knowledge of Him, of His experience, His trials, His life of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Their righteousness which they count upon so much is only as filthy rags. Says Christ, the beloved Teacher: ‘Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’ Yes, follow Him through evil as well as through good report. Follow Him in befriending the most needy and friendless.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, pp. 177, 178.
“What is it that constitutes the wretchedness, the nakedness of those who feel rich and increased with goods?—It is the want of the righteousness of Christ. In their own righteousness they are represented as clothed with filthy rags, and yet in this condition they flatter themselves that they are clothed upon with Christ’s righteousness. Could deception be greater? As is represented by the prophet, they may be crying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we’ (see Jeremiah 7:4), while their hearts are filled with unholy traffic and unrighteous barter.”—This Day With God, p. 228.
5. ANOTHER COVENANT NEEDED
a. Since the old covenant is so hopeless, what was the only promise that could give hope to those living in the Old Testament period? Jeremiah 31:31–33.
“Through faith in Christ obedience to every principle of the law is made possible.
“The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength. There is hope for us only as we come under the Abrahamic covenant, which is the covenant of grace by faith in Christ Jesus. The gospel preached to Abraham, through which he had hope, was the same gospel that is preached to us today, through which we have hope. Abraham looked unto Jesus, who is also the Author and the Finisher of our faith.”—The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 6, p. 1077.
b. Name some heroes in Scripture who accepted these promises of divine aid. Hebrews 11:4–32.
“From age to age the heroes of faith have been marked by their fidelity to God, and they have been brought conspicuously before the world that their light might shine to those in darkness. Daniel and his three companions are illustrious examples of Christian heroism. . . . From their experience in the court of Babylon we may learn what God will do for those who serve Him with full purpose of heart.”—My Life Today, p. 68.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. How do we follow the same experience of the Hebrews as being unable to comprehend the true significance of the divine moral law?
2. Why did they readily enter into promises that they could not keep?
3. How are we easily led into making similar promises to God today?
4. What kept reoccurring during the remainder of Israel’s history?
5. What examples do we have, revealing that national apostasy is no excuse for our wavering faith?