Troublesome Topic: Signs of the Former Covenant

Lesson 6 of 8

There were several covenantal signs God required of His people.

1. Circumcision

In His relationship with Abraham, God established a sign which would be a physical and visible reminder to him that he was in a covenant relationship with God. The changed name was a type of sign, but God also established another one. In the Near Eastern cultures of that time, a physical sign of a covenant relationship was often marked permanently on the face, hand or arm, some place immediately visible by others. The sign God required of Abraham was circumcision. It was indeed something permanent, but visible only to him and his spouse, not to the whole world.

This sign that was given to Abraham also became the primary sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel established at Sinai. All Israelite males had to be circumcised. It was treated as a very important thing because it was the primary sign of obedience to God’s covenant. It was a demonstration on the part of the parents, that they intended to instruct their sons to obey the covenant.

Just like God’s choice of circumcision, the relationship that exists between God and us is first of all very personal and individual, although it must be lived out in community. God has always been concerned with issues of the heart, not external issues of appearance. So it was not out of character for God to choose a covenant sign which involved the most intimate and hidden aspects of a man’s life—the cutting away of a portion of a primary male sex organ. How then were people supposed to know that one was in a covenant relationship with the almighty God if they could not see the sign of it? They were to see it in the way someone lived. Circumcision was a reminder to the individual that every part of him had been consecrated to God, and now his living should be the sign to the world.

That has not changed; we are to show by our lives that we are followers of Christ. Today we have made things like church membership, or church attendance the measuring sticks by which we often evaluate someone. When we find out someone is a “Christian” the first question we ask is “what church do you go to?”  Do we really think that is the most important thing on God’s mind? I think not. We focus on one or two hours on a Sunday morning, what about the other 166 hours of the week? What God has done in our hearts cannot be seen by others, but they are watching our lives and that is where a covenant relationship with God should manifest itself.

2. Keeping the Sabbath day was a sign to others that they were in a covenant relationship with God (Ex. 31:13,

Go to footnote number

Ex 31:17,

Go to footnote number

Ez. 20:12,

Go to footnote number

Ez 20:20).

Go to footnote number

Of all the many things God required of His people as part of the conditions of the covenant, He chose the keeping of the Sabbath day as a visible sign of covenant faithfulness. Upon keeping it, other cultures would see that this group was different from the rest of the world where working seven days a week was the norm. The Israelites were envied by other nations because they had a system of law that granted them a day off (see Dt 4:6-8). Today we  have a great deal of learning and growing to do in the area of rest. God’s reason for emphasizing the Sabbath is very different than most people expect it to be. I highly encourage you to go through my study series Called You Need Rest; here is a link to the first lesson – How This Study on Rest Is Organized.

3. Other signs included some of the rituals and feasts they were instructed to practice. The most prominent of these feasts which were established as signs of the covenant was the Passover feast. It was a time to commemorate how God brought them out of Egypt and made them His people, in other words, how He established a covenant relationship with them.

The next lesson in all three versions of the study of Covenants is: Witnesses of the Former Covenant.


1: Ex 31:13

Speak to the sons of ISRAEL saying, “Without fail you shall keep my Sabbath for it is a sign between me and you from one generation to the next, [for you] to know that I am YHVH who sanctifies you.”

2: Ex 31:16-17

“Therefore, the sons of Israel shall guard the Sabbath in order to celebrate the Sabbath from one generation to the next as a perpetual covenant. And it is a sign forever between me and the sons of Israel, for in six days YHVH made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh He rested and felt refreshed as by a breath of fresh air.”

3: Ez 20:12

"Moreover, I gave my Sabbaths to them to be a sign between myself and them so they would know that I am YHVH who makes them holy.”

4: Ez 20:20

“My holy Sabbaths will be a sign between me and you so you will know that I am YHVH, your ELOHIM.”