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Question

What is the Covenant Code or the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22—23:33)?

Covenant Code
Answer


The phrase Covenant Code is not found in the Bible, but the term is sometimes used to refer to the set of rules in the Books of Moses that would be perpetually observed. For example, Numbers 15:15 speaks of “a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” The word translated “lasting” is the Hebrew olam, meaning “forever” or “for a long time.” Other translations have “a statute forever” (ESV), “an ordinance forever” (NKJV), or “a permanent law” (NLT). In other words, a Covenant Code was an ongoing command of the Mosaic Law for Israel.

The first mention of a law in the “Covenant Code” is in Exodus 12:14: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.” This command is in reference to the first Passover. That feast would become a yearly tradition practiced from that time forward. Instead of a one-time event, the Passover was to be part of the Covenant Code.

In addition to the Passover, the ongoing burning of lamps in the tabernacle was to be a Covenant Code, according to Exodus 27:21. The lamps in the tabernacle did not last forever, as the tabernacle would later be replaced by Solomon’s temple, and that was later destroyed. So the idea behind a “Covenant Code” was that the law would be ongoing rather than just for one occasion.

The Levitical priesthood of Aaron and his sons is also listed as a Covenant Code (Exodus 29:9), as was the command for them to wash before entering the tent of meeting (Exodus 30:20–22). In Leviticus, Covenant Codes include not eating the fat or blood (Leviticus 3:17), priests abstaining from alcohol (Leviticus 10:9), the yearly Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), sacrifices only brought to the priests at the tabernacle (Leviticus 17:1–7), the yearly Jewish festivals (Leviticus 23), and lamps, olive oil, and bread before the Lord in the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:1–9).

In Numbers, more Covenant Codes are mentioned: the blowing of trumpets when the community was to move (Numbers 10:1–10), offerings (Numbers 15:15), the call for Levites to oversee the work of the tabernacle (Numbers 18), and rules related to ritual cleansing (Numbers 19).

Outside of these books, only two passages mention a “Covenant Code.” In 2 Chronicles 2:4 a Covenant Code is made concerning moving the tabernacle worship to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Then, in Ezekiel 46:14 a Covenant Code is given related to a future temple prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel (usually called the millennial temple).

As these passages note, the idea of a Covenant Code indicated an ongoing law, but it was not always intended to be eternal. In addition, the Covenant Codes of the Bible are related to the tabernacle, temple, and worship practices of the Jewish people. The first and perhaps most well-known of these practices was the Passover, the Covenant Code that marked the new beginning for the Jewish people. All of these Covenant Codes were commanded by God to the people of God as ways to obey and honor Him.

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Questions about Exodus

What is the Covenant Code or the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22—23:33)?
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This page last updated: April 26, 2021