How are divine covenants similar to ancient Near Eastern treaties?

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Answer

There's a question about the similarities between the divine treaties or covenants with the ancient people, and the treaties of the ancient Near East. Similarities are found when a master, like a suzerain or a strong country, makes a treaty with a smaller country, or a master makes a treaty with a vassal. So, the terms of this treaty, or covenant, are between a stronger party and a weaker party. In these treaties, there are similarities with the covenant — the Mosaic covenant — that God made with the ancient people, the people of Israel. The terms are similar. There are six sections, or six parts of this treaty; we can call it a treaty, covenant, contract, agreement, or convention. In the first part, there's a preamble to introduce the treaty or agreement. This comes first and is brief. In the second part, there's a historical account of the relationship between the two parties, a historical record of what has happened up until that day. The third part contains the conditions of the relationship. These are general conditions that are applied to the relationship between the two parties. The fourth part is the detailed conditions, details for every specific issue. The fifth part has a declaration of "the gods" as witnesses. We could say that, in the book of Deuteronomy, God is the witness, while in ancient Near Eastern treaties, whoever is the stronger party witnesses that this treaty occurred. And the last part in this treaty is the pronunciation of the blessings and curses. This means that, "If you obey and follow the conditions, you will be blessed. You will receive the following privileges…" While, if there is a lack of commitment to the treaty's conditions, there are warnings. According to the book of Deuteronomy, these are called blessings and curses. These are the similarities. God can use, historically, what was common in those days, but he gives it a deeper meaning and spiritual meaning in the relationship between God and his people, so the people might understand and realize how serious this treaty, how serious the relationship with God is.

Answer by Dr. Imad Shehadeh

Imad Shehadeh is the president and founder of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, Jordan where he also serves as a professor of Theology.