When I was in seminary the rage was to talk about all the critical methods of biblical interpretation that had sprung up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And one of the clarion calls of such scholarship was the parallel that exists between the ancient Hittite Treaties of the 14th century B.C. and the structure of the covenants God establishes with His people in the Book of Deuteronomy.
Here’s a quick summary: (Note: A suzerain was a ruler of a vassal state, i.e. the Lord of a nation.)
Structure of Hittite Suzerainty Treaties (14th Century BC)
- Preamble. “These are the words of the Great King…”
- Historical Prologue. The events leading up to the treaty.
- General Stipulations. The loyalty due to the suzerain.
- Specific Stipulations. Detailed law relating to the vassal’s obedience to the suzerain.
- Divine Witnesses. Called to witness the making of the treaty (“heaven and earth”).
- Curses and Blessings. Contingent upon disobedience or obedience.
Structure of Deuteronomy, a Hebrew
- Preamble (1:1-6). “These are the words which Moses spoke…”
- Historical Prologue (1:7-4:49). Events leading up to the making and renewing of the covenant.
- General Stipulations (5-11). The loyalty due to God.
- Specific Stipulations (12-26). The detailed Hebrew casuistic law.
- Divine Witnesses (32). The witness of “heaven and earth” (30:19; 32:1).
- Curses and Blessings (27, 28). Contingent upon disobedience or obedience.
Whenever you look in Scripture and find a covenant that is “cut” between a greater party and a lesser one this is the form you will find. What marks an unconditional covenant from a conditional one is the party on whom all the specific stipulations and the curses/blessings fall. In the case of Genesis 15, for instance, the One who initiates the covenant is the One who takes everything upon Himself.
This week, in Nehemiah 10, we find the people of Jerusalem voluntarily making a covenant with God as a result of His Word and its power. As we saw last week in chapter 9 the people of Jerusalem spend half the day hearing the Law read and making a confession of their sin and God’s majesty.
But here in Chapter 10 they move from confession to covenant-making. They, of their own accord, determine to set forth several stipulations of obedience to which they will voluntarily adhere. What’s most fascinating about this covenant is that they isolate three key areas of their lives in which they have strayed from God’s law and suffered. They are the same three areas every child of God is likely to stray, and thereby, miss the blessing of God.
We will be digging into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “Saying No to Neglect,” from Nehemiah 10:28-39. You may wish to consider the following in preparation for Sunday:
1. How would you respond to the charge that your faith in Christ is simply an emotional response to fear of potential judgment?
2. What does Spurgeon mean when he refers to the Bible as “a lion”?
3. What does the writer of Hebrews mean in Hebrews 4:12?
4. What is meant by the phrase, “The Bible is propositional truth”?
5. What can we conclude from Nehemiah’s description of the people in verses 28 and 29?
6. What’s it mean to “enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law? (verse 29)
7. How is the Christian life more a matter of taking responsibility than standing up for your rights?
8. Why would they make a pledge in verse 30? What’s the problem they are seeking to redress?
9. What is the nature of their declaration in verse 31?
10. Why do they spend the most time (9 verses) detailing their commitment to changing their financial ways?
See you Sunday!