THE COVENANT TREATY FORMAT OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS:  TREATIES WITH GOD AS SOVEREIGN LORD

 

"If, however, from there you start searching once more for Yahweh your God, and if you search for him honestly and sincerely, you will find him.  You will suffer; everything I have said will befall you, but in the Final Days you will return to Yahweh your God and listen to his voice.  For Yahweh your God is a merciful God and will not desert or destroy you or forget the covenant which he made on oath with your ancestors."  
Deuteronomy 4:29-31

 

Relationships between people and between nations have always been bound by covenants.  It is a human tradition that reaches back in ancient times to the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia. In a similar fashion, God's relationship with man has always been defined through the sacred bond of the Covenant, from the Covenant with Adam and Creation to the Covenant established with the blood Jesus Christ. In the Sinai Covenant and the creation of the nation of Israel, God joined Himself to Israel in a Covenant that is expressed as a marriage relationship bound in covenant between Yahweh and His bride, Israel.  But Yahweh is also bound in covenant with Israel as the Great King to His vassal state.  It is an amazing historical link to the Bible that the formal covenant arrangements in Scripture bears a striking resemblance to the structure of peace treaties of the city-states and Empires of the Ancient Near East (see Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1963); Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible, Harper and Row, 1987, pages 26-75; the treaty between Marsilis and Duppi-Tessub of Amurru, translated by A. Goetze in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd edition.

 

In the Bible two types of covenants are established between Yahweh as the great King and His vassals, whether individuals or nations: The Royal Grant Covenant in which the King, Yahweh, grants His favor without stipulation or obligation in a perpetual covenant and the Covenant Treaty in which Yahweh promises covenant blessings for faithful obedience but covenant curses/judgment for disobedience to the covenant obligations.  In the formation of a covenant both the dominant King and his vassal swear an oath in treaty form, thereby creating a covenant binding the 2 parties.  Each party receives a copy of the covenant treaty.  You will recall that in the Sinai Covenant the binding words of the covenant are written on the front and on the back of two stone tablets.  In the ancient Near East each party kept their copy of the treaty in their most sacred shrine.  In the case of the 10 Commandments both Yahweh's copy and Israel's copy were kept in the Ark of the Covenant.  The standard Biblical covenant had 5 parts while secular covenants had six, including the witness of pagan gods, absent in Biblical covenant treaties (Kline)

COVENANT TREATY FORMAT

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:

Arrangements and provisions for the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations.

 

A marriage Covenant followed a similar format with covenant duties and obligations.   In the Bible covenants form family bonds. A covenant with an equal creates "brothers", while covenants with non-equals like Yahweh the Great King and Israel his vassal, creates a father / son relationship. The vassal owes the king the loyalty and obedience a son owes a father. Yahweh expresses his covenant with Israel as both a great king to a vassal but more meaningfully as a husband to his wife, another aspect of human relationship bound in covenant. When Israel strays from Yahweh to embrace other gods she is an unfaithful wife, a harlot breaking the marriage covenant and when she makes treaties with other nations she commits treason against her Suzerain/ Great Lord.

 

COVENANT TREATIES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

 

One of the best examples of a Covenant Treaty in the Old Testament is the covenant renewal treaty found in the Book of Deuteronomy written by Moses just before the new generation of the Sinai Covenant took possession of the Promised Land (the original Exodus generation had died during the 40 years between the giving of the Law at Sinai and arriving at the plains of Moab and the entrance into the Promised Land). This renewal treaty marks a subtle shift in Israel's relationship with Yahweh.  From the time of the first formation of the covenant at Sinai, Yahweh was Israel's Bridegroom/King.  But now that Israel is about to embark on nationhood by taking possession of the Promised Land, the people will be looking to establish a monarchy like other nations.  With foreknowledge of this change, Yahweh adjusts His relationship with the Chosen People from national king to Suzerain of a Kingdom of nations through the formation of a Covenant Treaty.  Great Kings do not require written Covenant Treaties with their own states but they do require these agreements with vassal states.  The written document of the 10 Commandments was more a marriage covenant bound by the Law of Moses rather than a covenant treaty between a king and a nation.  As Israel positions herself to begin the Conquest of Canaan, the relationship between Israel and Yahweh shifts.  Yahweh is not just a local king, He is King of Kings of all the nations of the earth and the Covenant Treaty of Deuteronomy reflects His authority as the King of all nations with Israel as His firstborn son / principal vassal state among many such vassal states.  It will be Israel's duty to be Yahweh's holy people and a witness to the other nations that Yahweh is the One True God.  Once Jerusalem is established as the capital city of the nation of Israel the desert Tabernacle becomes obsolete, having room to serve only the Chosen People.  Solomon's Temple built in Jerusalem will have a "court of the Gentiles' where the Gentile nations can come to be instructed and invited into covenant with the One True God.  The book of Deuteronomy naturally divides into 5 sections that correspond to the 5 parts of ancient covenant treaty structure. (Kline: Treaty of the Great King; also Sutton That you may Prosper: Dominion by Covenant: Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).

 

Covenant Treaty Format of the Book of Deuteronomy

1. Preamble: Deuteronomy 1:1-5
2. Historical Prologue: Deuteronomy 1:6-4:43
3. Ethical Stipulations: Deuteronomy 4:44-26:19
4. Sanctions: Deuteronomy 27:1-28:68
5. Succession Arrangements Deuteronomy 29:1-34:12

 

COVENANT TREATY LAWSUITS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

In the ancient Near East 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. If the covenant relationship could not be reestablished and the violations continued the great king's emissaries would call a "covenant lawsuit" against the offending vassal. In the Bible it was the mission of God's holy Prophets (who acted as God's emissaries) to bring a restoration of covenant obligations or, when failing in restoration, to act as Yahweh's prosecuting attorneys to bring the message of the covenant Lawsuit against the offending nation. In Hebrew a covenant lawsuit is called a 'rib' or riv. For example: Isaiah and Hosea brought a Covenant Lawsuit against the Northern Kingdom Israel in the 8th century BC.  The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel brought a Covenant Lawsuit against the Southern Kingdom of Judea in the 6th century BC.  In every case the holy prophet acting as Yahweh's emissary addressed the generation on which the Covenant curses would fall. Some examples of covenant lawsuits in Scripture are found in:

  1. Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 32:1
  2. Psalms 50:4-7
  3. the Book of Isaiah 1:2 & 21
  4. the Book of 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 covenant lawsuit in 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

 

The book of the prophet Ezekiel is especially noteworthy as a Covenant Lawsuit.  It contains the judgment pronounced against Southern Kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BC.  Ezekiel is given a series of vision which foretell the Babylonian conquest, the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple, and the 70 year exile of the people.  But what is remarkable about these 6th century visions is that they are repeated in the visions of God's prophet John in the 1st century AD in the last book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation:

Parallels between the visions of the Book of Revelation and the visions of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel

THE VISION

EZEKIEL

REVELATION

1.  The throne vision

Chapter 1

Chapter 4

2.  The book being opened

Chapters 2-3

Chapter 5

3.  The four plagues

Chapter 5

Chapter 6:1-8

4.  Those slain under the altar

Chapter.6

Chapter 6:9-11

5.  The wrath of God

Chapter 7

Chapter 6:12-17

6.  The seal on the Saint's foreheads

Chapter 9

Chapter 7

7.  The coals from the altar

Chapter.10

Chapter 8

8.  The 1/3 destruction

Chapter 5:1-4 &12

Chapter 8:6-12

9.  No more delay

Chapter 12

Chapter 10:1-7

10. The eating of the book

Chapter 2

Chapter 10:8-11

11.  Prophecy against the Nations

Chapters 25-32

Chapter 10:11

12.  The measuring of the Temple

Chapters 40-43

Chapter 11:1-2

13.  Comparing Jerusalem to Sodom

Chapter 16

Chapter 11:8

14.  The cup of wrath

Chapter 23

Chapter 14

15.  The vine of the land

Chapter 15

Chapter 14:18-20

16.  The great harlot

Chapters 16, 23

Chapters 17-18

17.  The lament sung over the city

Chapter 27

Chapter 18

18.  The scavenger's feast

Chapter 39

Chapter 19

19.  The first resurrection

Chapter 37

Chapter 20:4-6

20.  The Battle of Gog and Magog

Chapter 38-39

Chapter 20:7-9

21.  The New Jerusalem

Chapters 40-48

Chapter 21

22.  The River of Life

Chapter 47

Chapter 22

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

 

It is very important to note that each of the Old Testament Covenant Lawsuits is addressed to the current generation upon which the covenant curses will be unleashed.  When the covenantal context of prophecy is ignored, the message the prophet was told to communicate is either lost or distorted.  The point is, if John's prophetic vision is the calling down of a Covenant Lawsuit (it follows the classic format) then John is addressing the current generation who rejected the Messiah. But he is also addressing the New Covenant Church symbolized in the letters to the seven Churches.  Each of those letters is also formatted as a Covenant Treaty.  In other words, the Old Covenant Church faces judgment for rejecting the Messiah while the New Covenant Church becomes the successor, the New Israel.  I think this is a key to unraveling the interpretation of the book of Revelation.  John's revelation is a prophecy with a specific covenantal orientation and reference.  A covenant lawsuit is not a divorce in the "marriage covenant" between God and Israel as some Protestant scholars have suggested; it is a covenant judgment.  Yahweh's covenantal promised are irrevocable even when those with whom He is in covenant abandon their covenant obligations.  Judgment is meant to bring the covenant partner to repentance and restoration.

COVENANT TREATY FORMAT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Compare of the Judgments of St. John's Apocalypse and The Gospel of Matthew's prophecies of Judgment.  Each of the Synoptic Gospels gives a mini apocalypse of future judgment.  Only John's Gospel is lacking the passages on the judgment of Jerusalem, a prophecy fulfilled in 70AD when the Roman Army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple after a 3 year rebellion against the Roman Empire.  Why doesn't John give a mini apocalypse like the Synoptic Gospels?  Could it be because he gives a maxi apocalypse in the Book of Revelation?

COVENANT TREATY FORMAT

REVELATION'S DIVISIONS
(In the Covenant Lawsuit)

MATTHEW'S MINI APOCALYPSE

PREAMBLE:

Identifies the lordship of the Great King stressing his greatness, power & his nearness and presence

VISION OF THE SON OF MAN

Chapter 1: history of the Covenant

 

 

Four sets of 7 judgments

Matthew Chapter 24

HISTORICAL PROLOGUE:

Surveying the king's previous relationship of the vassal, especially emphasizing the blessings bestowed

THE SEVEN LETTERS

Chapter 1: Jesus instructs His prophet John

Chapters 2-3: Specific stipulations dealing with false prophets, persecution, lawlessness, love grown cold, duty of perseverance

24:3-5, 9-13 : "'Tell us when is this going to happen and what sign will be of your coming and of the end of the world? ...Take care that no one deceives you because many will come using my name...Then you will be handed over to be tortured and put to death...and many will fall away...love in most people will grow cold but anyone who stands firm will be saved!"

ETHICAL STIPULATIONS:

Expounding the vassal's obligations, his "guide to citizenship" in the covenant

THE SEVEN SEALS

Chapters 4-7: Concerned with wars, famine and earthquakes

24:6-8  "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for this is something that must happen, but the end will not be yet for nation will fight against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places."

SANCTIONS:

Outlining the blessings for obedience & Curses for disobedience

THE SEVEN TRUMPETS

Chapters 8-14: tells of the Church's witness to the world, her flight into the wilderness, the great Tribulation & The False Prophet

24:11-27 "Many false prophets will arise....The good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed to the whole world...so those in Judea must escape to the mountains...Alas for those with child, or babies at the breast when those days come!...For then there will be great distress, unparalleled since the world began....for false Christs and false prophets will arise..."

SUCCESSION ARRANGEMENTS:

Dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations

THE SEVEN CHALICES

Chapters 15-18: describes the darkening of the Beast's kingdom, the destruction of the Harlot, gathering of eagles over Jerusalem's corpse. 

Chapters 19-21: The gathering of the Church into the kingdom:  the wedding Feast of the Lamb and the Bride. The creation of the  new Jerusalem

24:28-31: "Wherever the corpse is, that is where the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened...and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

 

In fact, the Book of Revelation [Apocalypse] is full of Covenant Treaty format outlines.  Each of the letters to the 7 churches falls neatly into the same format.  These, however are not covenant lawsuits but the covenant treaty of the New Covenant with the universal Church represented by the 7 Churches of Revelation.

 

The Covenant Treaty format in the letter to the Ephesians:

 

The Covenant Treaty Format in the Letter to Smyrna:

 

The Covenant Treaty Format of the Letter to Pergamum:

 

The Covenant Treaty Format of the Letter to Thyatira:

 

The Covenant Treaty Format of the Letter to Sardis:

 

The Covenant Treaty Format of the Letter to Philadelphia

The Covenant Treaty Format of the Letter to Laodicea

 

Jesus the Messiah came fulfilling the prophecies of the Prophets of Yahweh.  He came as prophet, priest, and king to form the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34, but He also came as Yahweh's prosecuting attorney against an apostate Old Covenant people.  In the Gospel of Matthew 21:43-46 Jesus, Yahweh's divine Prophet, the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:18, pronounces a  covenant lawsuit against the Old Covenant people who have rejected the Gospel of salvation: Jesus speaking to the Priests, scribes, and Jews at the Temple: "I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.... the chief priests and the scribes realized he was speaking about them..."  St. John the Apostles brought the last prophetic warning against the Old Covenant people in the covenant lawsuit delivered in the visions of the Book of Revelation.  However, just as the judgment which fell upon Judea and Jerusalem in 70AD were a replay of the covenant judgments which fell upon Judah and Jerusalem in 587/6BC, we should heed the warning that the same covenant judgments will be replayed for us at the end of the Age of man when Jesus the King comes with His host of angels to bring mankind's Final Judgment and the end of time as we know it.  St. Peter warned the faithful to prepare for that great event in 2 Peter 3:8-10: But there is one thing, my dear friends, that you must never forget: that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance.  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and melt away, the earth and all that it contains will be burned up.  Lord Jesus, give us the vigilance to be ready and the faith to embrace Your coming!  Hallelujah, amen!

 

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.