Q&A: Elements of a Covenant Lawsuit

Elements of a Covenant Lawsuit

What are the elements of a covenant lawsuit?

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A number of the prophetic judgment speeches could be said to take the form of a covenant lawsuit. The idea of a covenant lawsuit is based on international diplomacy, and our best exemplars of it are in Hittite diplomatic letters that we have, where a Hittite diplomat goes to the vassal nation and prosecutes the terms of the treaty that was signed unto by the vassal king, but is now being violated. The prophet assumes that sort of role. And there is a number of key passages that have a fuller exemplification of those elements. In its fullness those elements would include a summons to the defendants and witnesses. Those witnesses could be heaven and earth, hills and mountains, such as we have in Micah 6. Those very witnesses are listed at the end of lists of witnesses in Hittite treaties. So, they echo the Hittite treaties. Then there would be an element that follows that gives a history of the covenant relationship between the suzerain, the great king, and the vassal king, followed by an indictment of the vassal for violating the treaty, which in turn would be followed by either a threat or a sentence for that violation of the treaty… That only applies in its fullness to, let's say, a handful of prophetic passages, but at the heart of prophetic judgment speeches are the two central elements of a covenant lawsuit and the indictment of the Israelites and the threat of judgment or sentence on the Israelites for their violation of God's covenant. And we could argue whether those should be part of the covenant form or just a more general judgment speech.

Answer by Dr. Douglas Gropp