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Wednesday, October 19, 2005 

Covenantal Dialogue

This is the subtitle of a section in Michael Horton's Covenant & Eschatology.

Horton argues that divine speech is limited to the context of the covenant, in which the superior party (superior in strength, worth, might, or wealth) - the suzerain - determines the terms and conditions for the inferior party, the vassal. Such agreements can never be emended, and secretaries or other parties may not renege for their representative. New covenants may be attached, but never at the expense or absolution of the original. From a treaty at the time of the Near East Ancient Semitic: "Whoever... changes but one word of this tablet... may the thousand gods of this tablet root that man's descendants out of the land of Hatti." This is incredibly similar to the similar threat issued by God in Deuteronomy 4:2 to the covenant-forming Israelites. Also congruent is the covenantal judgment found in Revelation 22:18 - 19.

We may ask, however, if these verses constitute covenant language in both the Old and New Testaments, where is the response of the Israelite and Christian Church? What is the response of the vassal? G. Von Rad is helpful here:

Complete freedom of action, and therefore the freedomto decide, that is, to take the oath or not, is in this case possessed only by the superior - the lesser is simply a recipient. This arrangement is to be understood on the assumption that the recipient will certainly notact against his own interest, for by rejecting the covenant he would only exchange a protection which was to his advantage for an extremely hazardous legal insecurity.

So the suzerain alone acts, not (only) because He has the freedom to do so, but because it is an enthymematic given that dwelling outside of the covenant is suicidal.

Horton notes, "Thus even from the beginning, while 'the nations' gathered around their deities who *manifested* themselves in creaturlely forms, Israel gathered around Yahweh whenever and wherever Yahweh *addressed* theassembly in judgment and mercy. In other words, Israel's covenant theology is is intrinsically discourse-oriented as a mediated encounted between the covenant lord and the servant people."

Horton gives an initial summary of all of this by juxtaposing ideas that we often hold in opposite ends to each other. He concludes, "This meant, among other things, that this union [the covenant between YHWH and Israel] that this uion was legal *and* relational (contrary to modern tendencies to see these in antithesis), not ontological and natural; historical and mediated, rather than ecstatic and direct."

Covenant theology, just like Reformed theology, helps to lay the foundations necessary for Christians to understand the radical graciousness of grace. Every step issued in the logical dance of covenant theology undergirds texts like Ephesians 2:8. Unlike the marriage covenant, where each partner must agree to and pledge themselves, we resonate with the criminal who is read his rights: no response is awaited by the coersive officers, as to reject the rights would be foolhardy at best.

Similarly, the absolute freedom of God, the "I will be gracious to whom *I* choose!" emphasis, is protected in the covenantal structure.

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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