CHV - V. The People of the Covenant Fundamental to Israel's...

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V. The People of the Covenant Fundamental to Israel's thinking about God was the conviction that the nation's relationship with YHWH was one of a covenantal nature; that is to say, it was a formal agreement, set in a rather standard form, which was binding upon both parties in the relationship. Today, we might use the word "contract" to describe this sort of relationship, and we meet in that term some of the sense of specified ties between two parties; yet "contract" sets the binding obligation in the sphere of law, in a "covenant," the obligatory sphere is liturgy, religion, and personal devotion. As we shall see below, this Israelite covenant followed fairly standard second millennium (BCE) form. Notice how concretely the covenantal relationship is grounded in the exodus event: the preamble to Israel's covenantal requirements (The Ten Commandments) set her relationship against the backdrop of the mighty acts of YHWH: "I am YHWH, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex. 20:2). The self- commitment of YHWH to the nation and his call for response is grounded in their observation of who YHWH is and what he can do.
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This is quite typical of the OT faith, there is no mere meditation on the idea of covenant or God here; the covenant with YHWH is grounded in the Sinai experience and the life of the nation. Although there is some debate as to the type of covenantal form applied in Ex. 20, e.g. is it Hittite or Assyrian? -- and that seemingly ethereal question has serious bearing on assigning a date to the traditions reporting the Sinai Theophany -- most scholars now agree that a standard ANE genre was applied. 1. Covenantal Terminology in OT: The most frequent word for "covenant" in the OT (286 occurrences) is berit , which most scholars connect with the Akkadian word birtu -- "to fetter," or "tie together." 1 In the OT, usage turns to the phrase "to cut a covenant with/for" as its most frequent way of describing the ceremony of institution. This ancient ritual involving sacrifice and a ceremonial passing between the severed halves of the animal seems to have been preserved as a recollection in the OT (Gen. 15:7-17). But it seems certain that the immediate context of the liturgy 1 J. O. Cobham, Covenant, in TWBB , 54-56. See also Eichrodt, Theology OT , I, 98, 243; George E. Mendenhall, Covenant, IDB , I, 714-723; and N.H. Snaith, Distinctive Ideas of the OT, 94-130.
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was lost before the time of Moses and that the Hebrew application uses "to cut a covenant" as a technical synonym for "making a covenantal agreement." The binding force of the Sinitic covenant, for example, is not found in the liturgical rites of dismemberment, but rather the word of YHWH's pronouncement. Thus Israel's covenant is also said to be "established," "entered into," and "issued." This analysis is a matter of ongoing scholarly debate, but it points to other important covenantal phrases which emerged in the OT. In view of the fact that the word
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CHV - V. The People of the Covenant Fundamental to Israel's...

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