2 Corinthians 3 And Kal Va-Homer

Last updated: 2020-12-28

All verses are in the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Familiarize yourself with kal va-homer here: http://www.yashanet.com/studies/revstudy/hillel.htm

Was Paul Disparaging the Old Covenant?

Let start with some context. When the elders said to Paul “Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law” (Acts 21:24) What this says (if you read the context) is the following:

1 Paul was not telling Jews to forsake the mosaic law

2 He was showing he was not doing this by his personal example of following the law

3 Paul himself observes and guards the law


It can be inferred from this that Paul thought the law was still valuable at least for Jews. What we have Paul say in 2 Corinthians 3 cannot contradict that. In addition Paul says that “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Romans 2:25)  “we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31)  “having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (Romans 2:20) “I delight in the law of God” (Rom 7:22) Paul connects sinning with being lawless and needing forgiveness: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7) To say the law is no longer relevant or truthful or defines what sin is at the time of Paul’s writing is to make Paul contradict himself.

Paul also says a covenant cannot be annulled and he often uses “law” as synonymous with “Sinai law” as he does in the following:

15 Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. 17 My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20 Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Gal 3:15-22)



However many people state that Paul declared an “end to the law.” This is a misconception that Jason Staples corrects in a comment on his blog referencing Romans 10:4. His response will give us context for interpreting 2 Corinthians 3:

Good question. This is a very difficult and controversial verse, as the word telos can mean a range of things, including “goal,” “end,” “culmination,” “climax,” etc.

I think the verse is best translated “For Christ is the culmination of the law for righteousness in everyone who trusts.”

What Paul’s referring to here is that Christ’s death and subsequent sending of the spirit has enabled righteousness in those who put their trust in Jesus, facilitating the righteousness the prophets had promised God would grant to Israel (e.g., Jeremiah 31:31–34, Ezek 36:24, Deut 30:1–10). That’s why he proceeds to explain that Jesus is the “one who does these things” and thereby lived by them—the resurrection is the proof that Jesus is the righteous one of the Torah, and it’s why he then quotes Deut 30 to explain that those who believed Israel needed to be sufficiently righteous to bring the messiah had things backwards—it’s not that Israel’s righteousness would bring the messiah, it’s that the messiah came to make Israel righteous.

https://www.jasonstaples.com/bible/paul-never-says-by-faith-alone/

Paul often uses the idea that the law brings death and knowledge of sin which allows Israel to accept grace and life under the new covenant. Paul seems to apply this idea to individuals in these passages using crucifixion as analogous with death and life in the new covenant as analogous with Israel’s and our righteousness/justification by faith. Essentially our failure to keep the law (similar to Israel) makes aware of our need for grace and allows us to be humble and accept it–we have faith in God and his grace and practice the law in thankfulness for being saved, rather than rely on the law itself:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; (Gal 2:19)

21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:21-26)

For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. (Romans 4:15)

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)

12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:12-23)

4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10 and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. (Romans 7:4-12)

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3


1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we?

I think David Guzik said it well on enduringword.com:

a. Epistles of commendation: Such letters were common and necessary in the early church. A false prophet or apostle could travel from city to city and easily say, “Paul sent me, so you should support me.” To help guard against problems like this, letters of recommendation were often sent with Christians as they traveled.

i. Paul himself sent letters of commendation on many occasions (Romans 16:1-21 Corinthians 16:316:10-112 Corinthians 8:16-24). Now Paul will describe his letter of recommendation.

https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/2-corinthians-3/

Moving on to the next verses:

2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; 3 and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

3 . . . you are a letter of Christ: Letters of commendation are good but we having living commendations: you! (kal-vahomer)

5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God: We do not rely on ourselves for commendation just as we do not rely on ourselves to keep the letter of law (Sinai) to save us. We rely on Christ for commendation just as we rely on Christ to make Israel able to keep the law. Paul is using this an analogy to “works of the law” (an Essene teaching of purity and that keeping certain works distinguishes and saves you) compared with a soteriology of grace: the law simply makes you aware that you need to be saved so that you do works out of thankfulness to God for his grace.

6 . . . To be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life: The ministration of the law would bring death on its own since Israel broke Sinai just like a works of the law soteriology. However, Christ enables us to achieve the blessings of Sinai–life–by enabling Israel to keep the law by writing it on our hearts through the holy spirit (a down-payment of the coming fullness of the promises of Abraham)–a soteriology of grace. In fact, in the dead sea scrolls the “new covenant” refers to “the exact interpretation of the law” of the law. ( see: https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592104.001.0001/acprof-9780199592104-chapter-4 )This makes sense since the new covenant will teach all men the law through Christ and write it on their heart so that they will not even need to teach each other. It has to be teaching more than just the words of the law if they are not teaching each other–since just knowing the words they would still need to interpret and teach the exact interpretation of those words.

Here we start seeing that it is talking about the “ministry” of the new and old covenants and not the covenants themselves:

7 Now if the ministry of death, [chiseled] (just means “impressed”) in letters on stone [tablets], came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory! (2 Cor 3 NRSV with my modifications)

7 . . . came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside: I thought for a while that “came in glory” (in verse 7) and “came through glory” (in verse 11) might be making a distinction. Maybe one is talking about the covenant and the other is talking about the ministry of the covenant. However, I think that would be too confusing even for Paul. I think the subject is the ministry of the covenants throughout 2 Corinthians 3:3-13.

The fact is that the “ministration” (διακονία) of the old covenant is the subject here, not the covenant itself and this is referring to the same thing that is spoken of in 2 Cor 3:7-10 since Paul does vary his prepositions to express the same relation and it would be at variance with the context. Even Christian commentators have agreed with this, such as Meyer’s N.T. Commentary which also says that this cannot refer to the “mosaic religion in general”

τὸ καταργούμενονthat which is in the act of passing away. This the reader was to apply to the διακονία of Moses[164] spoken of in 2 Corinthians 3:7-10, in so far, namely, as this ministry is in the course of its abolition through the preaching of the gospel by means of the διακονία τῆς δικαιοσύνης. . . .

διὰ δόξηςsc.ἐστιδιά expresses the situation, condition, and so is a circumlocution for the adjective. Stallbaum, ad Plat. Phileb. p. 192; Bernhardy, p. 235; Fritzsche, ad Rom. I. p. 138. ἐν δόξῃ (2 Corinthians 3:7) is not different in sense; but the supposition of Estius, Billroth, Olshausen, Osiander, Neander, Hofmann, that διά indicates only what is transient, and ἐν what is abiding, is mere fancy. Paul is fond of varying the prepositions in designating the same relation. Comp. Romans 3:30Romans 5:10Romans 15:2Galatians 2:16Philemon 1:5. Comp. also Kühner, II, p. 319.

[164] Not to the Mosaic religion in general, which ceases through Christ (Theodoret, Theophylact, and many others, including Emmerling and Flatt),—which is quite at variance with the context. See vv. 7–10.

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/meyer/2_corinthians/3.htm

Interestingly the form of the word indicates the glory of Moses face is in the process of being set aside which means it’s not literally talking about Moses’s face but rather the ministry of death. Once Sinai brings death and makes Israel aware of it’s sin, Israel can then accept grace and humbly repent allowing the law to be written their hearts.

8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory: If the ministry of death was awesome the ministry of the new covenant will be even better because it redeems from death. Kal va-homer!

Note that it contrasts the ministry of death with the ministry of the Spirit. Thayer’s in fact defines the word “ministry” as:

1) service, ministering, esp. of those who execute the commands of others
2) of those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men
2a) of the office of Moses
2b) of the office of the apostles and its administration
. . .

https://studybible.info/strongs/G1248

The Spirit writes the law on our hearts but it is not the law itself. The ministry of death is the ministry of Sinai but is not Sinai itself. Sinai brings death because of transgression, yet it is not death itself: so the separation between the covenant and the ministry spoken of here is of two degrees: death not being Sinai, and the ministry not being death itself. Later Paul in fact parallels himself with Moses a minister of a covenant:

12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. (2 Cor 3:13)

So why does it refer to the “the ministry of death, [impressed] in letters on stone?” It might be referring to the giving of the law by mediators at mount Sinai of which Moses was one:

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20 Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. (Galatians 3:19-20)

2 For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, (Hebrews 2:2-3)

You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” (Acts 7:53)

However, the word “chiseled” could be translated “impressed” (as the ABP) and the word “tablets” is supplied, so I think this language is not even referring to the giving of the law at Sinai but talking about the symbols used for the work of the ministry of Sinai as opposed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in other places. The word “letters” has already been used by Paul in 2 Cor 3 to speak of the ministry of Sinai https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G1121 and it uses the same language to contrast the “stone” with the “Spirit” in Ezekiel:

19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Even if it is really talking about the covenant and not the ministry we are left with the fact that Paul is using ministry of death as a symbol. If this is a symbol then Paul could be using the ministry of death as a symbol for the covenant’s effects or for works of law like he does in other places in Galatians and Romans. However, I have taken the ministry view since it is repeated consistently throughout 2 Corinthians 3:3,7,8,9a,9b, 2 Corinthians 4:1,2 and Corinthians 5:18 and Paul seems to be drawing attention to this qualifier to avoid talking about the covenants themselves.

9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!: The ministry of Sinai came in glory and it brought death, how much more glorious is the ministry of the new covenant that will bring life? Again this could be an analogy for comparing a soteriology of works of law to faith/grace which Paul does in his other writings. Notice, that the glory of that ministry is in the process of being “set aside” that is associated with the ministry of Sinai not the covenant of Sinai itself. It is set aside by the natural reason that Israel no longer needs to experience the curses of Sinai if they have been perfected under the new covenant and are following the law–instead they will achieve the blessings of Sinai–life–through the promises of Abraham and through the Moabite covenant. I talk about this in more detail here:

11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!: The glory of Moses’s face faded after he talked with God and his ministry (the ministry of the old covenant) will be set aside but in the new covenant everyone will have direct access to God through the holy spirit and the glory of the new covenant will never fade because that ministry is forever!

According to Galatians 3 and Romans 7 the old covenant curses must still apply–otherwise why do we need to be saved from it? In addition, we will see why the old covenant cannot be set aside because of Matthew’s statements and by what is implied by Paul in Ephesian 2 and Colossians 2. The fact is what is being “set aside” here is not the old covenant.

We will see the journey of Israel being used as an analogy for the journey individuals as we move on in 2 Cor 3. However, the analogies used here are more subtle than they are in Romans and Galatians:

12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.

We do not hide the glory of the ministry of the law like Moses did but preach the correct understanding of the law boldly! This is because the ministry of the new covenant brings us closer to God unlike the ministry of the old covenant which only had the letter and not the spirit. The ministry of the new covenant allows us to come more boldly to God and have confidence in our understanding of the law because of the holy spirit writing it on our hearts.

14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Only Christ through the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the new covenant allows you to break the barrier between the law and your heart (what the NRSV more accurately translates as “mind”) which is the hardness of our hearts so we can receive the law in our hearts.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:1-18)

Christ allows us to keep the law and have freedom from the Curses of Sinai. The new covenant through the holy spirit makes us more into an image of Christ who fulfilled the law.

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4

1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

We do not water down the gospel by saying (as some of Paul’s opponents have said) that works of the law are necessary along with Christ for salvation. To put your trust in keeping the law well enough or certain works of the law (like circumcision) well enough is to veil the gospel and make Christ useless.

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The gospel can also be misunderstood just like the law and this will cause people to perish.

5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This is a quote from Isaiah 9:2 in the context of the Millennial kingdom and the return of the lost tribes (both things that Christ started the process for with his sending of the holy spirit) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+9 the NKJV notes also include Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78 and 2 Peter 1:19 which I think have similar messianic themes. Meyer’s N.T. Commentary also includes Isaiah 60:1

[195] Ewald, following the reading λάμψει, supposes an allusion to Isaiah 60:1, Job 12:22, or to some lost passage.

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/meyer/2_corinthians/4.htm

There are some parallels to observe with Isaiah 60 and Paul’s mission to Israel and the lost tribes here:

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

This same word for “clay jars” is used in Jeremiah 19:1,19:11,19:14. This is right after chapter 18 which speaks of the Israel as clay being shaped by a potter and evil being intended for Israel in the form of exile from the land and loss of nationhood:

6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

(Jeremiah 18:6-11)

Jeremiah 19 speaks of the breaking of these vessels, hence the exile of Israel and hence the lost tribes:

10 Then you shall break the jug in the sight of those who go with you, 11 and shall say to them: Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. In Topheth they shall bury until there is no more room to bury. 12 Thus will I do to this place, says the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. 13 And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled like the place of Topheth—all the houses upon whose roofs offerings have been made to the whole host of heaven, and libations have been poured out to other gods. (Jeremiah 19:10-13)

Likewise the same word for clay jars in 2 Corinthians 4:6 is used in Isaiah 30:14 and in Isaiah chapter 29 it speaks also of Israel as clay vessels:

13 The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;
14 so I will again do
amazing things with this people,
shocking and amazing.
The wisdom of their wise shall perish,
and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.

15 Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?
Shall the thing made say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:13-16)

Likewise Isaiah 30 speaks of the breaking of these vessels:

12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel:
Because you reject this word,
and put your trust in oppression and deceit,
and rely on them;
13 therefore this iniquity shall become for you
like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,
whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a sherd is found
for taking fire from the hearth,
or dipping water out of the cistern.

(Isaiah 30:12-14)

Similar language is used to refer to Israel in Hosea as vessels of wrath (Israel who was exiled) and vessels of mercy (Judah who stayed in the land) Paul uses this language also in Romans 9 to refer to the same thing.

What I think Paul is doing in 2 Cor 4:6-7 is talking about the light of Christ in the new covenant that would have been hidden in Israel if the lost tribes had not been exiled and suffered. It is only by the suffering and exile of the lost tribes that the clay vessels are broken and the light of Christ is revealed to all the nations:

6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

(2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

For more information on these symbols see:

8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak,

It continues on talking about the suffering of Israel and the lost tribes. “I believe, and so I spoke” is a quote from Psalm 116:10 and Psalm 116 is about the millennial kingdom where all peoples will worship God:

It is a question of the praise of the Lord by all peoples. The second verse expresses the reason for the first verse: the goodness of the Lord has been experienced in the past, and his faithfulness will last forever. If we take into consideration the whole book of psalms, we see that this psalm comes to sum up and conclude all the psalms of the hallel, and even all the preceding psalms since Psalm 107, for they invite Israel and all nations to praise ‘Eternal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_116

Psalm 116:10 specifically refers to speaking of the deliverance from death that was received in verse 8-9:

8 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
9 I walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
10 I kept my faith, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”; (Psalm 116:8-10)

Moving on in 2 Corinthians 3:14-15:

14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

The Resurrection of Israel in the millennial kingdom will be extended to more and more people from other nations with the deliverance from the ministry of death.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:1-18)

This present life is temporary and is a forshadowing of life with God since we are saved through the new covenant enabling Israel to keep the law and by having the law written on our hearts.

Paul compares Moab to Sinai in Romans 10 and the Abrahamic Covenant to Sinai in Galatians 3–as an analogy for faith and works of law. In 2 Corinthians 3 I believe he is comparing Sinai (specifically its curses) to the new covenant an analogy of works of law verses faith .

What is Set Aside?

Ephesians 2:15 uses the same language for “set aside” as in 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:11, and 2 Corinthians 3:13. Ephesians cannot be referring to the law being “set aside” because it has a parallel in Colossians 2:14 which specifically talks about human philosophy and elemental spirits not law. Therefore the language of “set aside” must refer to something human there and I believe it does refer to that in 2 Cor 3 too: salvation by works of the law.

If the law is καταργήσας [in Eph 2:14] then it is no longer in effect at all–it is not just surpressed. This is because the “law of commands and ordinances” is referred to as the “hostility between us” and it says that he has “broken down” or “loosed” the hostility between us:

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:14-15)

This is the same word used in Matthew 5:19, 6:19

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (matthew 16:19)

It can’t use the same word to describe what has been done to the law that it uses to say in Matthew 5:19 will never be done to the law. Therefore, in Ephesians 2:14-15 it can’t be referring to the law and if you look at the parallel in Colossians 2 this is evident since it refers to proto-gnostic human teachings:

Paul described the heresy in Colossae as a “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world” (Col. 2:8 cf. Col. 2:4, 18). Gnostics believed that they alone had wisdom (sophia) and knowledge (gnōsis). Paul stated, however, that true wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3).  

A pre-gnostic or syncretistic heresy was also being taught in the church at Ephesus.[3] Paul addressed aspects of this heresy in his letters to Timothy. Timothy was caring for the church at Ephesus at that time.[4]

https://margmowczko.com/kephale-gnosticism-paul/ also see: https://gnosticteachings.org/glossary/e/2321-elementals.html

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 
(Colossians 2:8-22)

Conclusion

So to sum up 2 Corinthians 3 I believe it is talking about an understanding of the law. Just as a true understanding of the law can be veiled and misunderstood so can a true understanding of the gospel and hence salvation. Observe the following:

  1. 2 Cor 3 is referring to the ministry of the covenants and not the covenants themselves.
  2. . “NOT OF THE LETTER but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” The letter without the work of the spirit will bring death since we cannot keep the law without the holy spirit writing it on our hearts.
  3. “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone” refers to the curses of Sinai (Sinai had blessings too)
  4. 2 Cor 3 merely refers back to the new covenant which is simply the law being written on our hearts and in the Dead Sea Scrolls is used to refer to ‘the exact interpretation of the law’ (see: https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592104.001.0001/acprof-9780199592104-chapter-4 )–which the new covenant brings us through it being put on our hearts by the holy spirit. So even if the letters of the Sinai covenant pass away it has no semantic effect since the same law is written on our hearts anyway.
  5. Paul uses the Sinai covenant as an analogy to compare a soteriology based on works of law (since that understanding would lead to death since Israel broke the Sinai covenant and needed redemption from it’s curses) to a soteriology based on faith (since Christ would enable Israel to be righteous under the Sinai covenant through the holy spirit writing the law on our hearts) I talk about some of these ideas here: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/2018/11/04/the-two-covenants-of-galatians-4/
  6. “the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside” Notice it is the glory that is “set aside” not the old covenant itself since through the work of the holy spirit Israel will attain the blessings of the old covenant.
  7. As we have already discussed the language of “set aside” is used in Ephesians and Colossians to talk about human teachings being set aside.
  8. For a kal va-homer argument to work the thing you are comparing needs to be good already. I can’t say that my living room is well-lit because “my basement has no lights how much brighter is my living room?” The argument is meaningless. Maybe my living room is brighter than my basement but it doesn’t mean my living room well-lit because there is literally no light in my basement. For the new covenant to be great the old covenant has to be good at least and not something that is just set aside.

Paradoxes of Poverty and Salvation: What does “poor” mean? do Paul and the Gospels agree on salvation?

I talk in more detail about the law issue here:

I want to examine two paradoxes here. 1. The poor being rich. 2 The law not saving you and saving you.

In the story of the rich young ruler, the commandments are sufficient for attaining eternal life. However, notice that even though the rich young ruler says he keeps the commandments he still believes that he isn’t doing something right. Maybe it is his method of keeping them that may be at fault? Could it be that the commandments naturally lead to a communal life? (love your neighbor as yourself) This may especially be the case after the holy spirit came at the church in Acts. The holy spirit writes the laws on our hearts. The holy spirit dwells in the body of believers. To attain selflessness and have the law written on our hearts we may need to act as one part of a greater body. I argue in detail for similar things here: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Unless-He-Gives-up-All-His-Possessions.pdf There may have been a tendency to use “poor” to mean people who lived communally in the Greek scriptures (Christian writings)

The term “Ebionite” was widely used in proto-orthodox and orthodox sources to refer to “Jewish-Christian” groups, or at least one group (it is likely that there were lots of these groups, and it may be that the church fathers assumed they were all the same group when in fact they had different views, different theologies, different practices, and so on). Some of the church fathers indicate that the name came from the founder of the group Ebion. But that’s a legend. Almost certainly the term came from the Hebrew word “Ebyon” which means “poor.” The normal hypothesis is that these Jewish-Christians accepted the early Christian policy of giving away their possessions for others and so took on lives of voluntary poverty. The church fathers who know the linguistic meaning of their name claimed that they were called “the poor ones” because they were “poor in faith.” (!)

https://ehrmanblog.org/ebionites-gospel-members/ emphasis mine, accessed 2020-07-23

The Ebyonim were the original Christian movement. It was a community that was centered in Jerusalem, led by James the brother of Jesus and Peter, who looks to have been one of Jesus’s closest companions. Their name (ebyonim is Hebrew for “the Poor”) would seem to be reflective of their communal life (as reflected in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament). All who entered the community called the Ebyonim “sold everything they had and gave it to the Poor.” We can glean a sense of who they were, in part from the condemnations of Irenaeus and others in the Apostolic Christian movement, in part from their own writings, and in part by reading between the lines of the New Testament. Today, an increasing number of scholars are asking whether Ebionite tradition is the closest follow-up to the real Jesus.

https://www.mesacc.edu/~thoqh49081/summer2014/270/early.ebyonim.html (accessed 2020-10-28, emphasis mine)

44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:45 NRSV)

34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 NRSV)

29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:25-34 NRSV)

Notice the kingdom is associated with selling your possessions and living communally in Luke. It is interesting that the same terminology could have been used for the “poor” in the Greek Scriptures. Jesus actually says that those who leave everything will receive a hundredfold more in this life which matches the paradoxical language here:

As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, G4434 yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Corinthians 6:10)

The same word may be used in these verses to speak of the “poor” who live communally (although this is by no means certain and some may have double meanings)

For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor G4434 saints which are at Jerusalem. (Rom 15:26 KJV)

Only they would that we should remember the poor; G4434 the same which I also was forward to do. (Gal 2:10 KJV)

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: G4434 for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luk 6:20 KJV)

Blessed are the poor G4434 in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:3 KJV)

Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: (Act 11:29 KJV)

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor G4434 of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (James 2:5)

The same paradoxical language is used in a negative way in Revelation. Previously, poverty on paper through communal living is meant to convey greater real material riches and spiritual riches, while here the opposite is meant:

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, G4434 and blind, and naked: (Rev 3:17 KJV)

The following parallels include everyone who joins the kingdom of heaven movement being rewarded a hundredfold with houses and other material possessions. This means that they would have hundreds of people that would share their houses and possessions with them and ensure that the would never lack their basic needs including food or drink, see: Matthew 6:31-33 and Luke 18:29-34. Also pay attention to the what Yeshua says about keeping the commandments:

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

(Mark 10:17-31 NRSV)

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

(Mattthew 19:16-30 NRSV)

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

28 Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

(Luke 18:18-30 NRSV)

Compare this to the following:

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

(Galatians 2:15-21 NRSV)

I think we need to consider three things for this second paradox:

  1. The language is different “keep” as opposed to “work”
    In Luke 18:21 “keep” is G5442
    in Matthew 19:17 “keep” is G5083
    in Mark 10:20 “keep” is G5442

This is guarding and treasuring not just observance:
https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G5442
https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G5083

  1. The Essene context that “works of the law” has https://www.jstor.org/stable/4193122 suggest this was obtaining salvation through observances and purity rather than Mathew’s list of substantial matters and heart/attitude conditions Matt 19:18-19 (Jesus the new covenant mediator focuses on heart: Matthew 5:38~, Jer 31:33) This may also be why communal living is emphasized since living communally requires putting the community first rather than yourself.
  2. Galatians is using “law” for “Sinai law.” Paul’s not comparing the “old” and “new” covenants but the unconditional-blessings given to Abraham with conditional-blessings at Sinai (which Israel broke). He’s using the covenant of Abraham as an analogy for repenting and accepting mercy (Jeremiah 3:12-14) with the work of Christ and grace compared with justifying yourself through “works of law” and being susceptible to Sinai curses: Gal 3:16-18, Gal 3:10-12, Deuteronomy 27:26. Likewise in Romans 10:5-10 Paul compares the Moab covenant to Sinai with quotes from Lev 18:5 and Deut 30:11-14. Some Jewish tradition considers Sinai lacking and hence the need for Moab: https://www1.biu.ac.il/indexE.php?id=15430&pt=1&pid=14638&level=0&cPath=43,14206,14376,14638,15430 Paul uses a similar analogy in Galatians 4:21~ See the following article:

The Covenant on the Plains of Moab
By Haggai Ben-Arzi*

At the end of this week’s reading, the Torah summarizes Moses’ orations, emphasizing that another covenant was made between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the people of Israel: “These are the terms of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to conclude with the Israelites in the land of Moab, in addition to the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb” (Deut. 28:69).

This raises a fundamental question: why was there need for another covenant? After all, when the covenant was made at Mount Sinai the people of Israel undertook to obey the Torah and its commandments, as we read in Exodus:

“Then he [Moses] took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning all these commands’” (Ex. 24:7-8).

An answer to this question is given in Tractate Shabbat (88a). Regarding the verse, “and they took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Ex. 19:17), Rabbi Abdimi said, “This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, ‘tis well; if not, there shall be your burial.’” In other words, according to the gemara, the covenant at Mount Sinai was made under duress, and any agreement made under duress is not legally and morally binding.

Indeed, that is what the gemara concludes: “This furnishes a strong protest [modaa rabba] against the Torah.” Modaa rabba signifies legal grounds for cancelling a contractual agreement; “If the Holy One, blessed be He, were to take them to court on charges of not upholding their undertakings, they could answer: we agreed under duress” (Rashi, loc. cit., s.v., “moda`a rabbah”).

The coercive element in the covenant at Mount Sinai can be interpreted in various ways. Rabbenu Tam ascribes the coercion to Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai: “For it was by the Word [of G-d], lo, under duress” (loc. cit., Tosefot, s.v., “moda`a rabba le-oraita). In other words, direct Revelation of the Lord created a situation in which there was no free choice, for who can refuse the direct word of G-d?

The element of coercion can also be explained in terms of the emotional state of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They were still in a state of shock and utter confusion; having left Egypt only seven weeks earlier, they were still agitated by the dramatic events of fleeing the country, being chased by the Egyptians, the Red Sea being split, and encountering tremendous hardships in the wilderness. In such an emotional state any consent or undertaking could have no “resolve,” a necessary condition for making consent binding.[1] For this reason they accepted an undertaking whose terms and implications they barely knew.

If the covenant at Mount Sinai was faulty and lacking, then another covenant was needed that would not have the deficiencies of the previous covenant. Indeed, the covenant on the Plains of Moab was made at the end of the trek through the wilderness, forty years after the exodus from Egypt. During these forty years the people learned the entire Torah and knew exactly what obligations they were taking upon themselves. During these forty years they learned the significance of obeying the commandments, both as individuals and as a nation.

The covenant on the Plains of Moab was thus concluded with full awareness and clarity of mind. This covenant is the one that binds later generations, and not the covenant at Mount Sinai. Only here does Scripture say, “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our G-d and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deut. 29:13-14). The midrash (Tanhuma 3, and Rashi, loc. cit.) learns from this: “[The covenant was made] also with future generations.”

Regarding the covenant on the Plains of Moab one can ask where the people’s consent appears. At Sinai, the Israelites declared their consent three times: “All the people answered as one, saying, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do!’” (Ex. 19:8); “and all the people answered with one voice, saying, ‘All that things that the Lord has commanded we will do!’” (Ex. 24:3), and “Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’” (Ex. 24:7).

In the covenant on the Plains of Moab, which as we said was binding on the people for future generations as well, only Moses spoke and the people remained silent. What sort of covenant is this if the people do not express their explicit consent to be party to it?

The people’s response turns out to have been given in actions, not in words. Immediately after the covenant on the Plains of Moab they crossed the Jordan River to the Plains of Jericho, where a great circumcision ceremony took place for all the Israelites born in the wilderness. “This is the reason why Joshua had the circumcision performed…none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised…and it was these that Joshua circumcised, for they were uncircumcised” (Josh. 5:4-7). The people’s consent to the covenant found expression in their agreeing to observe the commandment of circumcision, just as Abraham entered a covenant with G-d by circumcising himself and his son:

God further said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and You…Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact.” (Gen. 17:9-13)

Indeed, immediately after the covenant of circumcision at Jericho, the Holy One, blessed be He, told Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt” (Josh. 5:9).[2] The process of the exodus from Egypt and forging the bond between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the people of Israel, did not reach its conclusion at Sinai, rather in the covenant on the Plains of Moab, which begins with Moses, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and concludes with Joshua son of Nun, on the western side of the Jordan River.

The covenant on the Plains of Moab is what created mutual accountability within the Jewish people. Regarding the verse, “Concealed acts concern the Lord our G-d; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching” (Deut. 29:28), Rashi says, based on the gemara (Sanhedrin 43b): “Even for overt acts [transgressions committed openly] He did not punish the people collectively until after they crossed the Jordan River…and became accountable one for another.”

This mutual accountability, which requires that we care and be responsible for every Jew, is what turns us from a collection of individuals into a well-formed national entity. The Israelites became a people in the full sense of the word only after the covenant on the Plains of Moab: “to enter into the covenant of the Lord your G-d, which the Lord your G-d is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your G-d, as He promised you” (Deut. 29:11-12). We became a people neither with the exodus from Egypt, nor at Mount Sinai, but only upon entering the land that we were to settle.

Actually, one could also argue “moda`a rabba le-oraita” regarding the covenant on the Plains of Moab. According to Rabbenu Tam, the covenant at Mount Sinai was lacking because there was no free choice in the face of Divine Revelation. But revelation did not come to an end at Mount Sinai. Throughout their wanderings in the wilderness the people witnessed overt miracles—the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud that went before the people and protected them; the manna, the quail, and Miriam’s well, which fed the people in an unnatural way. Although a distinction should be drawn between direct Revelation at Mount Sinai and the miracles in the wilderness, as Maimonides notes (Sefer ha-Mada, Hilkhot Yesodei Torah, ch. 8, halakhah 1 and 2), does not latter state of ongoing miracles in which the Israelites lived for decades essentially deprive a person of free choice?

This is apparently why Joshua did not make do with the covenants of Moses, and towards the end of his life arranged a ceremony renewing the covenant in Shechem: “Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned Israel’s elders and commanders, magistrates and officers; and they presented themselves before G-d” (Josh. 24:1).[3] On this occasion he gave them anew the choice whether to stand by the Lord and His Teaching or to abandon the Lord and go in the ways of other peoples: “Now, therefore, revere the Lord and serve Him with undivided loyalty…Or, if you are loath to serve the Lord, choose this day which ones you are going to serve” (Josh. 24:14-15). As in the covenant at Mount Sinai, here too the people rose to the challenge placed before them by their leader and undertook to worship the Lord:

But the people replied to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord.” Thereupon Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses…” And the people declared to Joshua, “We will serve none but the Lord our G-d and will obey none but Him.” (Josh. 24:21-25)

The advantages of the covenant at Shechem are clearly evident. By the end of Joshua’s life the people had experienced decades of fighting for conquest of the land, most of the battles being in difficult conditions and without supernatural intervention.[4] Here the people not only knew the Torah but also were familiar with the combination of the Promised Land and the Torah, not only with overt Divine Providence, but also and primarily with covert Providence, operating through nature and history. Here the people were no longer “a people that dwells apart,” rather a people that rubs up against the peoples of Canaan and is influenced by their culture.

This is where the true test came, and the Israelites stood it with flying colors, evincing the highest level of faithfulness to the Lord and adherence to the Torah: “We will serve none but the Lord our G-d, and we will obey none but Him” (Josh. 24:24). Henceforth the relationship between God and His people does not end with Revelation at Mount Sinai, rather it begins there, continues with the covenant on the Plains of Moab and the Plains of Jericho, concludes with the covenant of Joshua at Shechem. This city was rightfully dubbed “the city of the Covenant,” for there alone was the covenant between the people and their G-d concluded.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

Dr. Haggi Ben-Arzi teaches at the Center for Basic Jewish Studies, as well as Yellin College and Lifschitz College in Jerusalem. His book, Megillat Sheshet ha-Yamim was recently published.

[1] “Resolve” requires an emotional state of consciousness enabling a person to make a decision on the basis of responsible consideration. Therefore the Halakhah stipulates that any agreement made without absolute and complete resolve is not legally binding. For further reading, cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kinyan, Hilkhot Mekhirah, ch. 11, esp. hal. 2 and 6.

[2] The place where this covenant was made is called Gilgal, based on the Hebrew verb, galoti (= “I have rolled away”). Some people identify biblical Gilgal with the Deir Hajla (the monastery of St. Gerasimos), situated one kilometer west of the Jordan River, near Kibbutz Beit Ha-Arava and the outpost Beit Hogla. Near the monastery on the Jordan River is a prominent hill that some people identify as Gibeath-Ha’araloth (“Hill of Foreskins”).

[3] This invocation is reminiscent of the invocation introducing the covenant on the Plains of Moab: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel” (Deut. 29:9).

[4] Save for the miracles that accompanied the first stage of crossing the Jordan River and the people entering the land (at Jericho, Beth Horon, and the Valley of Ayalon).

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