Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Covenant and History

God’s commitment to Abraham, as vivified in the ceremony of covenant inauguration (Gen. 15), continues to swell with significance throughout redemptive history. The Lord’s pledge-to-death made to Abraham casts its distinctive mold on the whole of subsequent Israelite history. A reference to this same ceremony of covenantal inauguration just before the kingdom of Judah was carried into captivity indicates that the significance of this covenant-making ceremony continued throughout history without being diminished. Fourteen hundred years had transpired. Yet the covenant inaugural ceremony witnessed by Abraham had lost none of its cultural relevance.

According to the context of Jeremiah 34, Jerusalem was under siege by Babylon (vv. 1, 6–7). In an apparent effort to recover the lost favor of Israel’s God, King Zedekiah assembled all the people for a ceremony of covenant renewal (vv. 8–9).

The language of Jeremiah 34 echoes quite distinctly that of Genesis 15. The double reference to the “walking between the pieces of the calf” (Jer. 34:18–19) and the detailed description of the devouring of the covenantally-cursed bodies by birds of prey (v. 20) reflect unmistakably the language describing the inauguration of God’s covenant with Abraham.

Jeremiah’s appeal to a covenantal pledge-to-death cannot involve only a literary allusion to Abraham’s experience. Instead, it is a very real description of an actual covenant-renewal ceremony just enacted by Zedekiah and his people. Notice again the language of vv. 18–19.

The subsequent history of Israel displays most vividly the consequences of covenant violation. Israel had pledged itself to death if it should break the covenant. Consequently, the prophet Ahijah declared the covenant curse on the house of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:11).

The same curse rests on the house of Baasha (1 Kings 16:4). Nor does the house of Ahab escape the ultimate curse of covenantal judgment (1 Kings 21:24), applied in particular to Jezebel, Ahab’s queen (2 Kings 9:10). This same specific curse permeates the prophecy of Jeremiah himself (Jer. 7:33; 16:4; 19:7).

The continuing prophetic application of these curses demonstrates the vitality of covenantal self-consciousness throughout Israel. The ultimate judgment of devastation can be understood only in terms of the original pledge to life and death at Sinai, which in turn reflected the covenantal form employed by God in binding himself to Abraham.