A VISUAL AID OF GRACE
GEOGRAPHY & CHRONOLOGY
Nothing must ever be allowed to upset this order. Notice, therefore, the past tenses of verse 4 and the contrasting future tenses of verses 5 and 6. The Lord’s great act of deliverance and salvation has already been done (4), and this is why verse 5 can speak of the Lord’s covenant3 as an existing reality and something to be ‘kept’, that is, preserved and guarded. It was in pursuance of his covenant promises that the Lord came to his distressed people in Egypt (2:24)—not to make them his ‘sons’ but because Israel was already his ‘firstborn’ (4:22). The redemption he achieved for them fulfilled the great covenant promise that ‘I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God’ (6:6–7). It was not, therefore, that they were ordered to obey in order that they might enter the covenant, but that, already being within the covenant, they were called to obey so that they might enjoy the benefits and privileges of God’s people. What was true of the ‘old’ covenant is true of the ‘new’, and we enter on exactly the same basis of grace and continue in exactly the same obedience of faith.
Realize that this statement was made to people who were already saved. The Israelites had been delivered from bondage and redeemed by the blood of the Passover lamb. This is crucial for understanding how God’s law works in the Christian life. The order of the exodus is important: First God delivered his people from bondage; then he gave them his law. Imagine what would have happened if it had been the other way around. Suppose God had said to Moses, “Tell my people: ‘If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, I will carry you away from Egypt on eagle’s wings.’ ” In that case, there never would have been an exodus at all. God’s people would still be in bondage due to their failure to keep covenant with God. But God is a God of grace. So he saved his people first; then he called them to obey his law. The history of the exodus thus helps us understand the function of the law in the Christian life. First God rescues us from our sin; then he teaches us how to live for his glory. If personal obedience had to come first, we would never be saved. But as it is, God saves us in Christ before he calls us to live for Christ.
At the same time, however, we need to recognize that God’s promise came with a condition. God said, “If you obey me fully … then … you will be my treasured possession” (v. 5). How are we to make sense of this? If Israel was saved by grace, then why did God make their destiny depend on their works? Could they lose their salvation?
One common way to answer this question is to say that although Israel’s ultimate salvation was secure, in order for them to enjoy the fullness of God’s blessing, they needed to keep the covenant. John Mackay writes: “The people have already been freed by divine grace and power. They are not given the law to save themselves, but so that they might continue to enjoy the salvation they have already been given.”6 There is some truth to this. The covenant is a love relationship, but how can anyone experience intimacy with God and at the same time break his law? Or to state the very nature of the case, we cannot enjoy fellowship with God while we are rebelling against him.