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Obey My Voice

Obey my voice Hebrew Parallelism covenant Moses ten commandments words

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There are some who think that when God says "obey my voice" (Ex 19:5, Deu 30:10) He is building into the terms of the Sinai covenant an open-ended clause that includes in the covenant anything He ever asks of them. Therefore, although one cannot change a covenant, anything God says is included, even though the written terms of the covenant don’t change.


This makes a mockery of the solemn nature of a blood covenant and the book of the covenant that was written. There is no precedent for this in historical covenants. In the case of the Sinai covenant in particular, there is no indication that these words, "obey My voice" were even included in the document that was the legal terms of the covenant. It was not included in Exodus 20 or the judgments afterward. So, it is unlikely it was written in the book Moses wrote in Exodus 24:4.

Nevertheless, let’s examine this phrase in Exodus 19:5. "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine."

The first thing we should notice is that this phrase is involved in a Hebrew parallelism. "Obey my voice" is parallel to "keep My covenant".  The intention is the same. Obeying His voice is done by keeping His covenant. If one is keeping His covenant, one is obeying His voice. His covenant is the Ten Commandments (Deu 4:13). Those are the words He spoke in Exodus 20. We also have the witness in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 5:7-22. So, obeying "My covenant" is just as open-ended as obeying "My voice".

Indeed, from one perspective it is open-ended. The Sinai law in particular is spiritual. One cannot just zero in on what the commandments or judgments say, comply with them and think that one is keeping this law. Embedded in this law is the mindset of our creator. He gives examples of how to handle certain situations. He expects us to ponder those examples and apply the instruction appropriately in other situations.

For instance, Exodus 23:5 indicates one is to help the donkey of an enemy if it is having difficulty. If one is to help the lowly animal of an enemy, shouldn’t one help the enemy too? Who is of more worth, the donkey or the enemy? All jokes aside, our Creator is especially concerned with the human race, those made in His image. One will not completely understand this verse, if one is simply reading for the letter of the law. From that perspective the Sinai law is open-ended, in that the letter of the terms must be correctly applied in potentially an infinite number of situations.

Of course our Creator is practical too. If an enemy is looking for his gun to shoot you, you don’t help him find it. The law assumes a certain amount of common sense.

However, because God directed Israel to build a tabernacle for Him shortly after the Sinai covenant was confirmed, doesn’t mean that having a tabernacle was intrinsic to the Sinai covenant. It obviously was not, since Israel didn’t have one for over nine months after the covenant was confirmed. If they had unreasonably refused to build the tabernacle, they would have broken the covenant, but not because a tabernacle was required by the covenant. They would have broken it because they would have been putting something else before their God in refusing His request.

Jeremiah 7:22-23 records the use of the expression "obey my voice".  "For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.  23 But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’"

Here the Creator specifically says "obey my voice" did not include a requirement of sacrifices or offerings.  "Obey my voice" was intended to cover "all the ways that I have commanded you", not new requirements to come later.  The Creator wanted them to obey what He commanded.  He really didn't intend to add anything.

We also need to consider how other Hebrew speakers used "obey my voice". In fact this phrase is equivalent to a parent’s exhortation to their child to simply ‘do what I say’. This is apparent in Rebecca’s communication with Jacob in Genesis 27.

"Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to what I command you." (Gen 27:8)

"But his mother said to him, "Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me." (Gen 27:13)

"Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran." (Gen 27:43)

It is noteworthy that Rebecca uses the expression in parallel just like Exodus 19:5. It was used by the Hebrews to emphasize other context, not as a blanket statement demanding obedience to all future communication. Better flow in modern English of verse 43 would be ‘do what I tell you, get up and go to your uncle Laban in Haran’. There is no expectation that once said, everything else ever spoken is covered by the first mention of the phrase, otherwise she wouldn’t have repeated it.

In Exodus 19:5, God is emphasizing the importance of keeping His covenant. It is coming directly from Him. This is no open-ended clause in the Sinai covenant. The legal terms were limited to the Ten Commandments. Extra explanation included the detail of the statutes and judgments given at the time. They explain details about keeping the commandments that are not intuitively obvious by reading the commandments. All this was documented for Israel in a book, which was read directly to them and recorded for us in Exodus 20-23 (Ex 24:4, 7). It was written and read to them because those were the legally binding and complete terms.

And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words."’ (Ex 24:8)

‘The voice of the Lord’ in Deuteronomy 30:10 is used in a similar fashion. One obeys that by keeping His commandments and His statutes. Many of these are repeated or reinforced in the first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy. The phrase is used for emphasis, not to indicate an open-ended covenant.

There is no indication more was to be added. The covenant was made and confirmed based on the words recorded in the book. It was not in process. Indeed, Paul affirms that one simply does not amend a confirmed covenant (Gal 3:15, see also Ps 89:34).

We obviously do need to do what our Creator tells us to do.  However, we need to be sure He is talking to us.  We can discern this more clearly if we understand why He gives the instruction He gives.  This is a major function of CreatorsCovenant, clarifying why the covenants with Israel were made, so we can understand what the Creator expects of us.