Troublesome Topic: The Conditions of God’s Covenant with Israel

Lesson 6 of 12

When we read what we call “the Law of Moses” we need to keep in mind that it was the relationship that was key, not the laws themselves. What have been called laws are actually the conditions of the covenant relationship that God established with the people He had chosen to be His representatives on earth. These conditions were never intended to stand alone; they are part of a covenant relationship.

Many people today have somewhat arbitrarily chosen the “Ten Commandments” as things we need to follow, while disregarding the rest of the covenant conditions set forth in the writings of Moses. These seem so important that we think we need to give them a special place, but by doing so we divorce them from their originally intended use—as a summary of the entire covenant. The truth is that we do need to follow these instructions, but the rest of the Law is beneficial to us because it teaches us the importance of certain spiritual principles.

It is worth noting the wording of Ex. 20:5-6.

Exodus 20:5


You shall not bow down to them nor serve

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for I, YHVH


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(read Adonai your Elohim) am

a jealous God,

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visiting the punishment for the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth [generation]

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of those who hate me.

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You must not do things that demonstrate submission and loyalty to them, nor live out that loyalty to them with your actions and efforts, for I, THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD, who is also your OWNER AND RULER am protective of what is mine and will not relinquish it easily; I protect by using punishment in order to teach fathers and sons and grandsons down as far as I need to go in cases where people demonstrate disregard for what I have required of them.

Exodus 20:6


but showing mercy

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to the thousandth [generation]

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of those who love

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me and keep my commands.


but showing compassionate mercy always and forever

to those who

love me and demonstrate it by obeying what I have charged them to do.

Here God says there will be negative consequences for those who “hate me” and as well as for some of their descendants (vs 5), but those who “love me and keep my commandments will receive His special love along with a great many of their descendants(vs 6). The terms “love” and “hate,” when expressed in the context of a covenant relationship, were used to indicate loyalty to, or rejection of, the covenant Lord. It is as if God was saying, “You are now in a covenant relationship; your actions have consequences.”

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



“serve” is closely tied to the idea of labor, i.e. serving through one’s efforts or exertion. Serving a deity was by no means a passive thing.


This name of God comes from Elohim but is spelled differently because it means “your God,” not just God. It is serving a different grammatical function so it takes a different form. However, I have expressed it as “your Elohim” to avoid confusion.


This was the simplest form of the word “God,” and for the Hebrews it had the meaning of “God” in a general sense. It was not a proper name, but was the foundation for the name Elohim, and was also the root of the Arabic word Allah. There was a Canaanite deity named El.


The word “generation” is not in the Hebrew but is the assumed from context.


“hate” does mean “to hate.” By implication it refers to someone who has disregard for God’s covenant, expressed through failure to follow the covenant conditions. It is contrasted with “love” in the next verse.


“mercy” is a great Hebrew word that is extremely important for our understanding of who God is and what He is like. The word means “compassion, kindness, mercy, love, piety, and goodness.” Of these possibilities the word “kindness is the one that seems to be repeated most. It is difficult to use one English word to capture the richness of this Hebrew word, so Bible translators often render this word with a descriptive phrase such as “loving kindness,” or “unfailing love.”

In this context I believe “mercy” needs to be included in the rendering because it is used in contrast to the punishment in the previous verse. However, our word “mercy” standing alone is not adequate to express the richness of this Hebrew word, therefore, I have chosen the phrase “compassionate mercy.”


The word “generations” is not found in the Hebrew text but is supplied by the context. It can properly be assumed that this is talking about the thousandth generation, not just thousands of people, because it stands as the completion of the phrase in the previous verse, the construction of which is most logically fulfilled by adding “generation.” This is the nature of Hebrew, where many things are left unwritten and thus must be assumed; sometimes the things left unwritten are quite important, but such was their reliance on context to fill in the blanks.

The “thousandth generation” is used here as a way to indicate an extremely long time, basically forever. The point being made is that, while God does punish sin fully because He is a holy God, He is always compassionate and merciful; He only punishes when punishment is absolutely warranted. His patience with the children of Israel is amazing to observe in Scripture. His patience with us is amazing to see as well.


In the context of a covenant relationship, “hate” means to disobey, and “love” means to follow and obey.