Q&A: Ancient Covenants and Treaties

Ancient Covenants and Treaties

How are divine covenants similar to ancient Near Eastern treaties?

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Thanks to archeological discoveries, we've found that the divine covenants appearing in Scripture have surprising similarities with the treaties made in the ancient Near East. For example, we've discovered various documents showing that ancient Near Eastern treaties followed a standard form. We find that the treaty included a preamble in which the sovereign was identified, and later a historical prologue in which the sovereign spoke of all the ways he'd been benevolent toward his vassal. Also included in the standard form were the stipulations that the treaty had for the vassal—all the ways that the vassal was to show his loyalty toward his sovereign. After this came the sanctions, that is, what the consequences of disobedience and the blessings of obedience to the covenant would be. If the subject was disloyal, curses would come over him. Maybe the sovereign would come and make war against him, destroying him for his disloyalty. Also, of course, it spoke of the rich blessings that the sovereign would bestow on him if he followed the terms of the treaty. And the standard form of the treaty also included how the treaty was to be perpetuated throughout the generations. It's very interesting that in the Scriptures we find that the Lord, in order to describe his relationship with his people, uses that culturally familiar form... In this way, we can see that the Lord chose this well-known form for the readers of that time to help them understand how he wanted to relate with them as their sovereign, their king, and they, of course, as his vassals.

Answer by Dr. David Correa