Matt Brundage

The dual covenants of Judaism

The notion of a Jewish covenant can be two-fold. First, a religious covenant was made to Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai shortly after they fled Egypt. (Fishbane in Earhart 382) This covenant established a law-based relationship between God and the Jewish people in the form of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were to be the building blocks of Jewish religious practice and law. The Ten Commandments stipulated in this covenant speak of both love for God (1-4) and love for fellow man. (5-10) All other laws thus branch out from these ten fundamental laws. The notion of the Torah to Judaism is that of keeping God's covenant. The teachings of the Torah are God's covenant — thus the study of the Torah is central to the Jews' keeping of the covenant.

Moses on Mount SinaiSecond, a previous covenant — an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7) — was made to Abraham. Abraham's covenant established the Israelites as God's chosen people, and ensured Abraham of descendants that numbered like the stars of the heavens. (Genesis 15:5) The covenant literally proclaims that Abraham was to be the "…father of many nations." (Genesis 17:3) The earthly sign of God's covenant with Abraham is the Jewish practice of male circumcision. Thus, an uncircumcised male has "broken [God's] covenant" and will be "cut off from his people." (v. 14) As a sign of the new covenant, Abram was renamed Abraham, and his wife Sarai was renamed Sarah. (v. 5, 15)

These two covenants proved that God had a special affinity with the Jewish people: "The people thus believed themselves doubly chosen: once in the time of Abraham and again in the time of Moses. And yet all persons could join this nation on the condition that they keep the covenant and fulfill its obligations." (Fishbane in Earhart 385) In Judaism God is seen as one who is not aloof, but is active in everyday life. The relationship between God and human is intimate; God is seen as the provider (Genesis 22:13-14) and the source of everlasting, faithful love. (Isaiah 55:3)

Doctrinal and ethical dimensions of religion are evident in our study of the Torah and God's covenants. The covenant in the form of the Ten Commandments provides the ethical guidelines for the nation of Israel, while the covenant to Abraham provides one of the first examples of Jewish religious obligation.

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Works Cited

Fishbane, Michael. "Judaism: Revelation and Traditions" Small ImageReligious Traditions of the World: A Journey Through Africa, Mesoamerica, North America, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, China, and Japan. Ed. H. Byron Earhart. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Jackson, Wayne. "Did Christ Abolish the Laws of Moses?" Christian Courier Publications, 2005. Accessed 31 July 2005