By David C. Linton
The recent study of Ancient Near Eastern treaties has provided significant insight into the study of biblical covenants. More specifically, the study of the Suzerain-Vassal treaties has revealed a consistency between such treaties and certain early Scripture covenants, particularly the book of Deuteronomy and Joshua 24. The Suzerian-Vassal treaty forms, as presently described, may be presented in a five-fold structure, as follows:
- Historical Prologue,
- Blessings and Curses (Sanctions), and
If we focus on the relationship between sanctions and succession in biblical covenants, we find that relationship is typically bound up in a covenantal sign. The primary Old Testament signs are the rainbow, circumcision and the Sabbath. Each of these covenantal signs consists of at least five components:
- a physical element constituting the sign,
- a “remembrance,”
- an expression of blessings and curses, and
- an expression of succession.
With each successive sign of the covenant, the expression of the sanctions and succession become increasingly rich in its complexity.
The Book of Exodus especially highlights the institution and development of the Sabbath Day in the context of worship as a legal transaction constituting a new people for Yahweh. Exodus highlights the place of the Sabbath in the cycle of work and rest, the covenantal commitment to “remember,” as well as a legal testing within the covenantal relationship.
The apostle Paul brings all of these legal components of covenant relationship out in his writing of I Corinthians, particularly in chapters 10 and 11. A discourse analysis of I Corinthians reveals that, in his goal to bring unity to the Corinthians, Paul points the Corinthians to the unity found in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Paul utilizes Exodus 32 in chapter 10 as the paradigm rebellion of the people of Israel against Yahweh’s established covenantal signs of unity, baptism in the sea and in the cloud and the spiritual food of manna and the spiritual water from the rock. The rebellion against the covenantal signs carried on through the generations via the succession of the covenant. In I Corinthians 11, Paul describes the Lord’s Supper as the covenantal sign of “the new covenant in my blood,” including the requisite components of sanctions and succession.
Thought of in this way, the Supper becomes an expression of a relationship, a legal transaction, not cold and austere, but blessed. In approaching the Supper, the Church anticipates that, as it “remembers” Jesus in the Supper, He will remember His covenantal commitments and act to bring transformation to the world through His sanctions and a blessed succession of the covenant. Recognizing the expression of an intimate relationship between Jesus and His church, we shift our eyes from an introspection of what worthy participation means to a joyous anticipation of how Jesus will bless His church in the enjoyment of the Eucharist.