As with all human concepts of this kind, it is an imperfect expression of the relationship between the divine and the human
Just as the rainbow is the sign of the covenant with Noah, circumcision is the “sign” of the promise for Abraham, except that circumcision depends on a human decision. It is a mark that identifies those who will benefit from God’s promise. Those who do not bear that mark will be cut off from the people, because they have broken the bond (Gn ).
This relationship did not last
38. The Covenant at Sinai. The text of Ex 19:4-8 shows the fundamental importance of the covenant of God with Israel. The poetic symbolism used – “carry on eagles’ wings” – shows clearly how the covenant is intimately connected with the great liberation begun at the crossing of the Red Sea. The whole idea of covenant depends on this divine initiative. The redemption accomplished by the lordat the time of the Exodus from Egypt constitutes forever the foundation for fidelity and docility towards him.
The one acceptable response to this act of redemption is one of continual gratitude, which expresses itself in sincere submission. “Now, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant. ” (19:5a): these stipulations should not be regarded as a basis for the covenant, but rather as a condition to be fulfilled in order to continue to enjoy the blessings promised by the Lord to his people. The acceptance of the proffered covenant includes, on the one hand, obligations and guarantees, on the other, a special status: “You shall be my treasured possession (segullah)”. In other words: “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (19:5b, 6).
Ex 24:3-8 brings to fulfilment the establishment of the covenant announced in 19:3-8. The separation of the blood into two equal parts prepares for the celebration of the rite. Half of the blood is poured on the altar, consecrated to God, while the other half is sprinkled on the assembled Israelites who are now consecrated as a holy people of the lordand preordained to his service. The beginning (19:8) and the end (24:3,7) of this great event, the founding of the covenant, are e formula of response on the part of the people: “Everything that the lordhas spoken, we will do.”
Israel adored the golden calf (Ex 32:1-6). The narrative recounting this infidelity and its consequences constitutes a reflection on the breaking of the covenant and its re-establishment. The people have experienced the anger of God – he speaks of destroying them (). But the repeated intercession of Moses, 127 the intervention of the Levites against the idolators (-29), and the people’s repentance (33:4-6) secure a promise from God not to carry out his threats () and to agree instead to walk once more with his people (-17). God takes the initiative in re-establishing the covenant (34:1-10). These chapters reflect the conviction that, from the beginning, Israel tended to be unfaithful to the covenant, but that God, on his part, always restored relations.
The objective of the covenant is defined simply: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Lv ; cf. Ex 6:7). The covenant must not be understood simply as a bilateral contract, for God cannot be obligated in the same way as human beings. Nevertheless, the covenant allows the Israelites to appeal to God’s fidelity. Israel has not been the only one to make a commitment. The lordcommits himself to the gift of the land as well as his own beneficent presence in the midst of his people.