https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/nicolas-poussin-the-adoration-of-the-golden-calf

The Covenant, Part 3: One Holy Nation

Fr. Joel God & Faith

God’s covenants with Noah and Abraham cover a large portion of the book of Genesis. When Genesis ends, Joseph (with the coat of many colors) has just welcomed his family into Egypt. God used Joseph to save the people of Israel from death by famine. The next book, Exodus, begins by explaining that the Israelite people have become slaves to the Egyptians. They pray to God for deliverance and the persecution gets worse. It would seem that God has abandoned them.

Yet God is still faithful to his covenant promises. He raises up Moses from the tribe of Levi. With nothing other than a simple staff in hand, and the power of God behind him, Moses inflicts 10 plagues on the people of Egypt. The last plague is the worst: all the first-born sons in the land are killed by the angel of death. The Israelites are saved from death only because they sacrifice unblemished male lambs and put the blood on their doorposts. Every year the Jewish people commemorate this event with the feast of Passover. The Israelites walk through the Red Sea to freedom and the Egyptian army is drowned.

The people come to Mt. Sinai, God’s “holy mountain.” God speaks to Moses, and Moses delivers God’s words to the people. The people respond, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” (Exodus 24:3). The covenant has now been expanded to include the whole nation of Israel. Moses then returns to the mountain top for forty days to receive instructions from the Lord about the temple and the sacrifices. While he is away, the people make a golden calf and worship it as their new god (Exodus 32). God punishes them, but through Moses’ prayers, they are forgiven. This continues to be a theme through the rest of the Bible: God is faithful to His people even though time and time again they are unfaithful to God. God punishes his people but forgives them again and again. The covenant is a story of merciful love.