The Bible in 90 Days
Day 17: Joshua 15:1-Judges 3:27 || Read the CEB online
One of the things that’s strange to our ears is the idea of covenant. Aside from the theological differences between a covenant and a contract, there was also a difference in purpose. In the Ancient Near East the Israelites inhabited, many covenants were in force. These were treaties between a high king or emperor (called the suzerain) and a lower king or noble (called a vassal). Such treaties consisted of about half a dozen specific pieces assembled in a specific way, like this:
Preamble: Identifies the parties involved in the treaty;
Prologue: Lists the deeds already performed by the Suzerain on behalf of the vassal;
Stipulations: Terms to be upheld by the vassal for the life of the treaty;
Provision for annual public reading: A copy of the treaty was to be read aloud annually in the vassal state for the purpose of renewal;
Divine witness to the treaty: These usually include the deities of both the Suzerain and the vassal;
Blessings if the stipulations of the treaty are upheld and curses if the stipulations are not upheld;
Sacrificial Meal: Both parties would share a meal to show their participation in the treaty.
Does this look like anything we’ve been reading? In fact, God used this form of a treaty, with which the Israelites would have been familiar, to help make their responsibilities & God’s promises recognizable. A brief example is found in the last chapter of Joshua, where people make an agreement (literally “cut a covenant”) with God … which Joshua is skeptical they can uphold … By pledging their loyalty (see Joshua’s famous statement in verse 15 about whom he will serve). It ends with some binding words & a strange action:
“The people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the LORD our God and will obey him.’ On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people and established just rule for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in God’s Instruction scroll. Then he took a large stone and put it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the LORD. Joshua said to all the people, ‘This stone will serve here as a witness against us, because it has heard all the LORD’s words that he spoke to us. It will serve as a witness against you in case you aren’t true to your God.'” (Joshua 24:24-27 CEB)
Even the creation–represented by a rock and a tree–is deputized as witness. This wasn’t a perfunctory handshake agreement; this was a watershed moment tying Israel to God in the bonds of hesed: often translated as “lovingkindness,” but better understood as faithfulness in relationship to God. A kind of “treaty loyalty” or “covenant love.”
We’ll be talking about the blessings (and curses!) of such a covenant this morning in worship as we read Deuteronomy 30:15-20, & the significance of the choice between the two–I look forward to seeing you there!
What kinds of things does God want from us?
What do we expect of God?
Share your thoughts in the comments below,
and don’t forget to pray for Doug, Jared, & Haley as the head to Haiti early tomorrow morning!