May 28, 2010

Examining The Scripture XVI: The Sinai Covenant

The Suzerian-Vassal Covenant at Sinai. A King (God) with sovereign power granting certain rights and special treatment for the Hebrews (the Vassal or subordinate) only if the Hebrews/vassal submit their allegiance/support/service to the King who is God Almighty. The conditions and details of the covenant are dictated by the King also.

Covenants are contracts between individuals that are given in order to define a relationship. The covenants of the Bible between man and God are completely unique to Christianity. Nowhere in the religions of the world does one find the gods relating to man covenantally. In Scripture, the personal relationship between God and man is based upon and mediated through means of covenants. The purpose of the covenants is to reveal God’s earthly agreements, spiritual promises, earthly redemption, and only hope for mankind. God wants to bind Himself to His people to keep His promises so that He can demonstrate in history His character (1).

Suzerain-vassal treaties were made between superior powers, called suzerains, and inferior peoples, called vassals. The treaties are well-attested in Hittite documents from the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C., but existed in Aramaean and Neo-Assyrian texts until the seventh century B.C. A suzerain-vassal treaty typically consists of six sections. Section one is a preamble, which names the suzerain who is formulating the treaty. Section two includes a historical prologue which lists the benevolent acts of the suzerain on behalf of the vassal. A set of stipulations, the obligations to which the vassals bind themselves, makes up section three. Section four details instructions for depositing the treaty in a safe place and for reading the treaty at designated intervals. In section five, witnesses are called to confirm the treaty. And section six outlines curses and blessings upon the vassals for obedience or disobedience to the treaty.

Exodus 20:1-2: "Yahweh" is the Suzerain delivers Preamble to Moses
Vassal-Lord: Moses who represents the people under Suzerain.
Names & Titles: "I am the Lord, your God."
Historical Prologue: "Who brought you out of Egypt..."
Exodus 20:3-17: Stipulations, blessings and curses.
Stipulations: The 10 Commandments;
Blessings and Curses: Exodus 20:5-6,20:7,20:12
Moses also makes provisions for depositing the treaty in the Ark of the Covenant and reading it at stipulated intervals in Deuteronomy 31:9-13.

**Also repeated to some extent in Deuteronomy**

The Suzerain-Vassal Covenant/Treaty is a conditional covenant. This type of covenant bound a subordinate vassal to a superior vassal. The nature of a biblical covenant is of two types: conditional and unconditional. A conditional covenant is of the nature that God makes a promise to man conditioned by “if you will” whereby He then promises to bring about the covenantal promises. It was binding only upon the one who swore it. The purpose of the covenant was to emphasize the goodness and kindness of the lord to his vassal with a view to cause the vassal to gladly accept his responsibilities and obligations. The covenants with Israel are disannulled because of her disobedience.

God agrees to to make Israel His treasured possession among all people. They shall be to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (just like today; 1 Peter 2:5,9). They needed only to obey God’s voice and keep His covenant which at the point of Moses was the dispensation of the Law and this extended to the cross where Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law (McGee 263). Little did they know that agreeing to the Law was much easier than keeping it. As a matter of fact only One ever did and His name was Jesus.

Once they agreed to the covenant conditions and stipulations God informed them that He would come in a thick cloud that the people might hear when God spoke to Moses so that they would believe him forever. The people were to be consecrated for two days (today and tomorrow) including cleaning their garments and be ready by the third day for God’s arrival off of Mt Sinai in the “sight of all the people”. God is requiring that they sanctify themselves here. Just as we do today in our path to glorification in Christ. The idea of coming down of of Sinai after consecration indicated a physical and spiritual separation and distance from Him. God is not to be trifled with. He is a Holy God and we cannot just accidently stumble into his presence nor should we. They are warned if they touch the edge of the mountain, they die (a la Nadab & Abihu).

When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain. The Lord then descended in smoke and fire. With this, God fulfills his side of the covenant as outlined in subsequent verses of Exodus. I can't imagine the power these people faced when the Lord descended off the mountain. Awesome!

(1) "The Implications of the Biblical Covenants-Eternal Ministries, Inc.." Google. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2010.


grasshopper said...

Thank you Andy for educating and helping me understand more on covenants. I felt like I was reading John MaCarthur. Your blogging is my Old Testament study. Keep up the awesome work!

Andy Pierson said...

Thanks brother...I am flattered. Not use to compliments. Insults, yes. Compliments, no. A:P

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