Story of the Old Testament - Lesson 5

By Glen Pemberton

Title: Sinai & Covenant

Text: Exodus 19-Numbers 10

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. To help the student grasp the basic story line of the Old Testament as it develops in Exodus 19 - Numbers 11.
  2. To help the student appreciate the grace of God expressed in the sacrificial system. Salvation is and always has been by grace.
  3. To help the student understand that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to respond to God’s grace.


  1. A Bible for each student.
  2. A chalkboard or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #5 (“Sinai & Covenant”)


The Exodus was an act of God’s grace that called the people into a relationship with God. The challenge for people who have been saved by grace is how to respond appropriately, i.e., “how then shall we live?” At Sinai, the Lord spells out for Israel the basic parameters of an appropriate faith response (the 10 commandments). The Lord also provides a means of grace by which the Israelites can continue to live in the presence of the Lord (sacrifice). Special Note to the Teacher: If any lesson in this curriculum may be presented in two weeks rather than one, I recommend splitting this lesson into two lessons. Spend one week on issue #1 (Will Israel honor and obey God?) and one week on issue #2 (How can these people maintain a relationship with God?).

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class:

Introduction: (about 5 minutes)

  1. Welcome visitors, make any necessary announcements.
  2. Spend time taking prayer requests & leading the class in prayer.

Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)

  1. Review and set the stage for today’s study.
    1. The Israelites have been rescued from Egyptian slavery! This tremendous (and famous) event was a key moment in the development of God’s plan to fix the crisis of human sin.
      1. In Gen 12:1-3, God initiated a plan to fix (“redeem”) the problems created by sin. Q. What were the three promises God made to Abram?
        1. Make you into a great nation (many descendants)
        2. Give the “promised” land
        3. Bless the world through you
      2. The exodus from Egypt fulfills a part of all three promises:
        1. They are leaving Egypt as a numerous people
        2. They are leaving Egypt for the promised land
        3. The exodus is an object lesson to the whole world that the Lord of Israel is the only true God.
    2. Turn to Exodus 19:1-2 (read).
      1. The Israelites arrive at Sinai approximately 3 months after leaving Egypt.
      2. Hold one finger in this text and turn to Numbers 10:11-12 (read).
        1. Q How long will the Israelites be at Mt. Sinai? A. Nearly one full year.
        2. Everything between the two texts you are holding takes place at Sinai!
          1. The remainder of the book of Exodus, all of Leviticus and the first ten chapters of Numbers - are set at Sinai.
          2. 60-100 pages of the Bible, longer than any of the Gospels - retell events at Sinai.
          3. I think this means that what happens at Sinai is important! What happens?
    3. Here, during this period of time, the people face two very important issues:
      1. They must decide if they will honor the God who has delivered them. In other words, will they enter a relationship with God?
      2. They must learn how to maintain this relationship with this God.
  2. Body of the Lesson:
    1. Issue #1: Will Israel honor and obey the God who has delivered them? Will they enter a relationship with God?
      1. The means by which this relationship is established is a “covenant” or “treaty” that God offers to the people.
      2. The establishment of this treaty takes place in several stages.
        1. God gives an initial summons to enter into a covenant relationship. (Read Exod 19:3-6)
          1. Q. What is the purpose of the covenant? A. The purpose of the covenant is for Israel to become a “priestly nation”!
          2. Q. What does it mean for Israel to become a “priestly nation.” A. They are to become a nation that reaches out to the world with God’s grace (recall Gen 12:3!).
          3. Israel agrees to enter the covenant (19:8).
        2. The Lords spells out the basic principles of the covenant. These principles are known as the Ten Commandments. Although famous, the nature of these commandments is frequently misunderstood - even though the text itself is very clear. (Read the prologue to the commandments in Exod 20:2)
          1. Q. What is the basis of the covenant? A. The covenant is based on what God has already done for the people! This is a covenant of grace, not works!
          2. The following commandments stipulate the appropriate response to the God who has already saved them! Do this because I have saved you - not so that you will be saved!
          3. Special Note to the Teacher: This point cannot be overemphasized. Too often, people think that the Ten Commandments and Old Testament were a matter of salvation by works, not God’s grace. Both Jesus and Paul (Rom 8:32) fought against this misconception. Salvation has always been by grace for the purpose of an appropriate faith response (Ephesians 2:8-10).
        3. Once God’s grace is reaffirmed, God reveals the basic guidelines of the proper response to his grace. These commandments may be divided into two groups:
          1. (Read Exod 20:3-11) Commandments 1-4 focus on a person’s direct relationship to the Lord (summarize, discuss & clarify each command as deemed necessary)
            1. No other gods before me; basic idea - worship and serve only the Lord.
            2. No idols (images); basic idea - trust only the Lord.
            3. No wrongful use of the name of God; basic idea - no lying under oath or other misuse of God’s name.
            4. Keep the Sabbath Holy; basic idea - rest & trust God.
          2. (Read Exod 20:12-17) Commandments 5-10 focus on a person’s relationship to other people. These relationships and actions are to be lived out in view of God’s grace and our relationship to God. We cannot “Love God and hate our neighbor” (I John 4:20)
            1. Honor your father & mother; basic idea - respect & care for them when they are old (the ten commandments are spoken to adults, not children)
            2. No killing; basic idea - no murder. Capital punishment (Exod 21:12-14) and war are not the focus of this command.
            3. No adultery; basic idea - no sex outside of marriage
            4. No theft; basic idea - no stealing of any type (The recent controversy regarding Napster comes to mind.)
            5. No false testimony; basic idea - do not hurt people with your speech (lying, gossip, etc.)
            6. No coveting
              1. Q. How does this command differ from all the others? A. This command explicitly focuses on an attitude of the heart.
              2. Q. What does “covet” mean? A. Covet means to desire something that does not belong to oneself. Coveting does not include such things as setting goals, or working for a desired object. Rather, coveting is an illicit desire to obtain something through deceitful or hurtful means.
      3. Summary: The Ten Commandments sketch out the appropriate response of the Israelites to God’s salvation.
    2. Issue #2: God’s invitation to enter a lasting relationship with him and his guidelines for that relationship raise a second issue that must be resolved at Mt. Sinai.
      1. God plans to live with these people! After the Ten Commandments, much of Exod 19-Num 10 regards the building of a tabernacle - a tent house for God to symbolically live in among the people. This raises a serious problem!
        1. God cannot tolerate sin or live with it (Lev 11:44- 45)
        2. But these people (like all people) are sinful - and yet God is going to pitch his tent among them (Exod 25:8)!
        3. How can this ever work?
      2. The answer to this dilemma is provided by God: Atonement Sacrifice (simply stated - Sacrifice that keeps God and the people At-One-Ment; sacrifice that deals with sin)
        1. How did it work?
          1. There were several prerequisites for effective sacrificial atonement. In other words, the sinner could not just throw a sacrifice on the altar and assume that everything was okay.
            1. The sinner must realize what he/she has done wrong (realization of the offense; Lev 4:13-14a, 5:3,4)
            2. The sinner must recognize and accept his/her guilt (Lev 5:5, 6:4-5).
            3. The sinner must confess his/her sin (5:4- 6)
            4. When appropriate, the sinner must make restitution (5:15-16, 6:5-6): Repentance!
          2. When this is done, God assures the people that they will be forgiven (Lev 4:26,31,35; 5:10,16,18, etc.)
        2. From these instructions we see two principles at work:
          1. First, God’s primary concern is for the heart or attitude of the person, not the mere external ritual of sacrifice!
          2. Second, a person could offer a thousand sacrifices and even have a right heart - but it would accomplish nothing. Forgiveness (atonement) was by Grace!
            1. Read Lev 17:11 carefully. Notice that
              1. The initiative & idea for sacrificial atonement was God’s, not Israel’s!
              2. The power of the blood to atone was due to God’s decision & declaration that blood would be powerful.
              3. And most important, God (who owns the life-blood of the animal; Gen 9:4- 6) provides the blood for sacrifice.
            2. Sacrifice is not salvation by works! Sacrifice is a matter of accepting God’s provision for forgiveness with the proper heart and response of faith.
            3. Eph 2:8-9 (read) is not a new idea in the New Testament. Salvation by grace, through faith has always been God’s way of dealing with sin.
            4. Yet, while it is salvation by grace, the sinner still must respond appropriately to receive God’s gift of forgiveness.
      3. Summary: God provides a means by which the people who accept his covenant may live in his presence.


(about 5 minutes; select one of the following topics for discussion)

  1. How should a person respond to the grace of God today? What do you think is the most appropriate response of faith to the grace of God in your own life?
  2. How does this study of sacrifice in the Old Testament help you understand the sacrifice of Jesus? Does this change your understanding or appreciation for this ultimate sacrifice?
  3. Like Israel, the church is called to be a holy priesthood (I Pet 2:4-5). What does this mean for the church? What does this mean for your own life?


Read Numbers 13-14; Josh 2 & 6

Wrap-up: Prayer that

  1. Thanks God for his grace - in the past and in the present.
  2. Acknowledges our struggle to live holy lives.
  3. Asks God to help us respond appropriately to his grace and live lives of faithful obedience.

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