Preface pages xl-lv
Quoting North at page xli, we get that
‘...the five points of the biblical covenant model are
which conveniently spell out ‘theos’ as an aide memoire. We need to pause here briefly to try and understand this fivefold covenant that North is trying to demonstrate as applying to each the Torah, the Book of Leviticus and the fivefold sacrifices.
The following lengthy quote is taken from pages 44-46 of ‘The Days of Vengeance - an exposition of the Book of Revelation’ by David Chilton, published by Dominion Press. I’ve removed the footnotes except where they are important to the text and, when doing so, have included them in the main body, noted as such. What the reader needs to be clear about in his own mind is not just the covenant structure that’s about to be introduced by North but whether the assertion is accurate that we should expect to see all five characteristics in each and every covenant that we see in the Bible.
God’s relationship with Israel was always defined in terms of the Covenant, the marriage bond by which He joined her to Himself as His special people. This Covenant was a legal arrangement, a binding “contract” imposed on Israel by her King, stipulating mutual obligations and promises. Meredith Kline has shown that the structure of the Biblical Covenant bears striking similarities to the established form for peace treaties in the ancient Near East.
This is how it worked: After a war, the victorious king would make a covenant with his defeated foe, making certain promises and guaranteeing protection on condition that the vassal-king and all under his authority would obey their new lord. Both lord and vassal would swear an oath, and they would thenceforth be united in covenant.
As Kline explains, the standard treaty-form in the ancient world was structured in five parts, all of which appear in the Biblical covenants
1. Preamble (identifying the lordship of the Great King, stressing both his transcendence [greatness and power] and his immanence [nearness and presence]);
2. Historical Prologue (surveying the lord’s previous relationship to the vassal, especially emphasizing the blessings bestowed);
3. Ethical Stipulations (expounding the vassal’s obligations, his “guide to citizenship” in the covenant);
4. Sanctions (outlining the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience);
5. Succession Arrangements (dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations).
One of the best examples of a document written in this treaty-form is the Book of Deuteronomy, which Kline examines in detail in his Treaty of the Great King. (Recently, Kline’s analysis has been considerably augmented in the more theologically oriented work of Ray R Sutton, That You May Prosper) Kline’s exposition shows how Deuteronomy naturally divides into the five covenantal sections:
1. Preamble (1:1-5)
2. Historical Prologue (1:6-4:49)
3. Ethical Stipulations (5:1-26:19)
4. Sanctions (27:1-30:20)
5. Succession Arrangements (31:1-34:12)
If a vassal kingdom violated the terms of the covenant, the lord would send messengers to the vassal, warning the offenders of coming judgment, in which the curse-sanctions of the covenant would be enforced. This turns out to be the function of the Biblical prophets, as I mentioned above.
They were prosecuting attorneys, bringing God’s message of Covenant Lawsuit to the offending nations of Israel and Judah. And the structure of the lawsuit was always patterned after the original structure of the covenant. In other words just as the Biblical covenants themselves follow the standard five-part treaty structure, the Biblical prophecies follow the treaty form as well (footnote - Incidentally, the point is not that Scripture is modeled after pagan treaties; rather, as Sutton argues, the pagan treaty-forms were ultimately derived from God’s covenant). For example, the prophecy of
Hosea is ordered according to the following outline:
1. Preamble (1)
2. Historical Prologue (2-3)
3. Ethical Stipulations (4-7)
4. Sanctions (8-9)
5. Succession Arrangements (10-14)
One final point before we go on to look at North’s commentary - however much the suzerainty covenant has overtones in the covenants that God made with both individuals (for example, Abraham, Noah and David) and nations (Israel), the underlying concept is that of a victorious and conquering kingdom enforcing a rule of Law upon a subjugated or submitting nation, whereas the covenants that God actually makes within Scripture are those that are made between ordinary men and women (that is, natural equals) such as Jacob and Laban, Abimelech and Abram.
Chilton envisages a covenant that implies dominance whereas the Scriptural covenant implies friendship. The fivefold covenant structure that Morris 1 cites (and which forms the basis of my teaching on ‘Covenant’ here) brings this out far more than a suzerainty covenant concept ever can. And, besides, the suzerainty covenant concept is extra-Biblical whereas we have a covenant structure waiting ready for us within the Bible’s pages.
North’s acceptance of the fivefold covenant structure (THEOS) is poorly thought through - by apportioning one characteristic chronologically to the first five books of the Bible it becomes constricting upon Scripture. Certainly, one can see Genesis as representing the ‘T’ part of the covenant, but there are also aspects of the other four characteristics equally present throughout the scroll.
And so, too, for the other remaining scrolls of the Torah. For example, his interpretation of Leviticus being the ‘E’ (representing ‘ethics/boundaries/dominion’ - page xli), may well hold for much of the book, but it is equally applicable to the legislation in Exodus (notably chapters 12-13 and 20-23) which, in his interpretation can only be seen to represent the ‘H’ (hierarchy/representation/authority).
This ‘bleed over’ destroys the relevancy of his thesis though it fortunately doesn’t appear that it detracts from the remainder of the book.
When he goes on to outline the fivefold levitical sacrifices and tag them with the same covenant breakdown of THEOS, he’s only seeing in them something which he is desperately trying to see. Instead of allowing the Scriptures to speak, it appears that, armed with his covenant breakdown, he’s imposing upon them what he wants to be said.
What a shame also that he’s omitted to adequately detail and describe each of his five points, relying, I presume, on the reader having to read the original work that he’s now seeking to apply.
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