Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ancient Near Eastern Treaties and Covenant Structure

In our Wednesday evening Bible study group we are currently in chapter three of the Book of Ruth, after having studied our way through Deuteronomy 27-34, Joshua, and Judges over the past year and a half. Once we've finished Ruth in a couple of weeks, we will then move on bravely to the Book of the Revelation. A broader connection exists between all of these books than the fact that they are all in the Bible, though this connection is rarely recognized or discussed. With this in mind, I thought I would post the following piece which I put together for our group when we first jumped into Deuteronomy.


Ancient Near Eastern Treaties

In recent years, scholars have learned of a general pattern found in treaties in the Ancient Near East. Called Suzerainty Treaties, they involve the covenanting of a suzerain lord (the conquering king) and a vassal (the conquered king).

“After a war, the victorious king would make a covenant with his defeated foe, making certain promises and guaranteeing protection on condition that the vassal-king and all under his authority would obey their new lord. Both lord and vassal would swear an oath, and they would thenceforth be united in covenant” - David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, pg. 14

It has been noted that the same basic structure is utilized in the Biblical covenants.

Five-point Covenantal Structure

1. Preamble (identifying the lordship of the Great King, stressing both his transcendence [greatness and power] and his immanence [nearness and presence]

2. Historical Prologue (surveying the lord’s previous relationship to the vassal, especially emphasizing the blessings bestowed)

3. Ethical Stipulations (expounding the vassal’s obligations, his “guide to citizenship” in the covenant)

4. Sanctions (outlining the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience)

5. Succession Arrangements (dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations)

Covenantal Structure of Deuteronomy

1. Preamble (1:1-5)
2. Historical Prologue (1:6-4:49)
3. Ethical Stipulations (5:1-26:19)
4. Sanctions (27:1-30:20)
5. Succession Arrangements (31:1-34:12)

Other elements of Near Eastern treaties are often included in the structure, such as The Invocation of Witnesses (cf. Deut. 30:19) and Directions for the Deposition and Regular Public Reading of the Covenant Documents (cf. Deut. 31:9-13). Adding these would, of course, make this a seven-point model. But there is much disagreement on this, as scholars suggest various ways of outlining the covenant documents found in Scripture and the various Near Eastern vassal states. Also, the five-point model is the one most commonly held by scholars.

“If a vassal kingdom violated the terms of the covenant, the lord would send messengers to the vassal, warning the offenders of coming judgment, in which the curse-sanctions of the covenant would be enforced. This turns out to be the function of the Biblical prophets…They were prosecuting attorneys, bringing God’s message of Covenant Lawsuit to the offending nations of Israel and Judah. And the structure of the lawsuit was always patterned after the original structure of the covenant. In other words, just as the Biblical covenants themselves follow the standard five-part treaty structure, the Biblical prophecies follow the treaty form as well.” - David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, pg. 15

Four Biblical Covenantal Models

1. Pre-Creation and Post-Creation Covenants

A. Pre-Creation Covenants - Covenants made between the Persons of the Trinity
B. Post-Creation Covenants - All covenants made after God created the world

This is a common Reformed teaching, though it is hard to substantiate from Scripture.

2. Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace

A. Covenant of Works - This is the covenant God established with Adam in the Garden. It is also called the Covenant of Life or the Creation Covenant.

B. Covenant of Grace - Established in Gen. 3, all subsequent covenants between God and man fall under this categorization.

3. Old Covenant and New Covenant

A. Old Covenant - The term is used to refer to the entire covenant administration prior to the coming of Christ, though the New Testament at times seems to use the term strictly to refer to the Mosaic Covenant.

B. New Covenant - The covenant instituted with the coming, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

4. The Six Historical Covenants

A. Creation Covenant (Gen. 1-2)
B. Adamic Covenant (Gen. 3)
C. Noahic Covenant (Gen. 6-9
D. Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12, 15, 17)
E. Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19-24, Deut.)
F. Davidic Covenant (II Sam. 7)
G. New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:19 PM  

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