COVENANT TREATY FORMAT OF ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN KINGDOMS
AND THE APPLICATION OF THAT FORMAT TO YAHWEH'S TREATY WITH ISRAEL

The Covenant-Treaty format familiar in the treaties between ancient Mesopotamian and Near Eastern city states and kingdoms are found in Old Testament texts. In Covenant swearing both the dominant King and his vassal swear an oath in Treaty form, thereby creating a covenant bonding the 2 parties. The standard Biblical covenant had 5 parts while secular covenants had six, including the witness of pagan gods, absent in Biblical covenant treaties (Kline)

  1. Preamble: identifying the Lordship of the Great King, stressing his greatness, dominance and eminence
  2. Historical Prologue: recounting the Great King's previous relationship to his vassal (with special emphasis on the benefits or blessing of that relationship).
  3. Ethical Stipulations: enumerating the vassal's obligations to the Great King (his guide to maintaining the relationship)
  4. Sanctions: a list of the blessings for obedience and the curses that will fall on the vassal if he breaks the covenant.
  5. Succession: arrangements and provisions for the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations.

Covenant Treaties of Old Testament:

One of the best examples of a Covenant Treaty in the OT is the Book of Deuteronomy written by Moses just before the new generation of the Sinai Covenant took possession of the Promised Land. It is a Covenant renewal treaty. The book naturally divides into 5 sections which correspond to the 5 parts of ancient covenant structure.

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

When a vassal kingdom violated the terms of the covenant agreement, the Great Lord would send emissaries to warn the offenders of the coming judgment and enforcement of the curse sanctions. In the Bible it was the mission of God's holy Prophets (who acted as God's prosecuting attorneys) to bring the message of the covenant Lawsuit to the offending nation = in Hebrew a 'rib' or riv. For example: Isaiah and Hosea brought a Covenant Lawsuit against Israel in the 8th century BC; Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel brought a Covenant Lawsuit against Judea in the 6th century BC. Each prophet addressed the generation on which the Covenant curses would fall. Some examples in Scripture:

  1. Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 32:1
  2. Psalm 50:4-7
  3. Isaiah 1:2 &21; 3:13
  4. Micah 6:1
  5. The Book of Hosea [see 2:4 (2)-15 (13); Hosea 4:1 "Israelites, hear what Yahweh says, for Yahweh indicts [literally brings a 'riv', covenant lawsuit to] the citizens of the country: there is no loyalty, no faithful love, no knowledge of God in the country..."

The book of Hosea is laid out in the classic Covenant Treaty format:

  1. Preamble: Hosea chapter 1
  2. Historical prologue: Hosea chapters 2-3
  3. Ethical Stipulations: Hosea chapters 2-7
  4. Sanctions: Hosea chapters 8-9
  5. Succession Arrangements: Hosea chapters 10-14

(see Kline: Treaty of the Great King; also Sutton That you may Prosper: Dominion by Covenant)

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2000 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.