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Covenant, Law & Obedience

July 27, 2008

This article is linked to what I said in “Liturgical use of Psalms 81 & 95” and my view that the Sitz im Leben of the Decalogue is to be located in a “covenant renewal festival” at the feast of Booths.

I was reading Jeremiah 22 this morning and I read the following (vv. 6-9):

For thus says the LORD to the house of the king of Judah:
“ You are Gilead to Me,
The head of Lebanon;
Yet I surely will make you a wilderness,
Cities which are not inhabited.
I will prepare destroyers against you,
Everyone with his weapons;
They shall cut down your choice cedars
And cast them into the fire.
And many nations will pass by this city; and everyone will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the LORD done so to this great city?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshiped other gods and served them.’”

This form of speaking we find in verse 9 runs throughout the prophet Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 11:10 “They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, which refused to hear my words; and they went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.”

Jeremiah 13:10 “This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing.”

Jeremiah 16:11-13 “Then shall you say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, says the LORD, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law; and ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me: Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not show you favour.”

Jeremiah 44:2, 3 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and, behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwells therein, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me to anger, in that they went to burn incense, and to serve other gods, whom they knew not, neither they, ye, nor your fathers.”

What I find interesting is how in all of these addressed speaking of the Babylonian captivity the reason given for it is that Judah breaks the covenant of Yahweh and has gone off and worshiped other gods, serving them. This is interesting for when the Psalms speak explicitly of the law their focus is overwhelmingly upon the first and second commandments. I noted in “Liturgical use of Psalms 81 & 95” concerning Psalm 81

In verses 8-10 we find the Law alluded to, verse 10 is the prologue to the Decalogue “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” whilst verse 11 is the first commandment, “There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.” Then verses 11-16 exhort Israel to obedience reminding them of the blessings that flow from being faithful to the covenant Yahweh made with them, “Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes.”

The polemic against foreign gods can be found in the following Psalms:

Psalm 31:6

I have hated those who regard useless idols;
But I trust in the LORD.

Psalm 86:8

Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Your works.

Psalm 115:2-8

Why should the Gentiles say,
“So where is their God?”
But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.

The law in general is mentioned in the following Psalms:

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 19:7-11

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 78:5-8

For He established a testimony in Jacob,
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers,
That they should make them known to their children;
That the generation to come might know them,
The children who would be born,
That they may arise and declare them to their children,
That they may set their hope in God,
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments;
And may not be like their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not set its heart aright,
And whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Psalm 105:44, 45

He gave them the lands of the Gentiles,
And they inherited the labor of the nations,
That they might observe His statutes
And keep His laws.

Psalm 119

Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the LORD!
Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart!
They also do no iniquity;
They walk in His ways.
You have commanded us
To keep Your precepts diligently.

Psalm 147:19, 20

He declares His word to Jacob,
His statutes and His judgments to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any nation;
And as for His judgments, they have not known them.
Praise the LORD!

The law was given to Israel and this was the covenant that Yahweh established with them. Hence we read in Deuteronomy 7:7-11

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.

In “Liturgical use of Psalms 81 & 95” I demonstrated that Psalms 81 and 95 formed a central part of the liturgy for a covenant renewal ceremony that took place during the feast of Tabernacles whereby Israel was reminded of the covenant Yahweh established with them and exhorted to walk in faithfulness to it. At this “covenant renewal festival” the liturgy may, in addition to Pss. 81 & 95, have included Pss. 1, 19, 31, 78, 86, 105, 115, 119, 147.

What I hope this post has demonstrated is that many other Psalms could have been used at such a festival and that the covenant and law of Yahweh formed a major thread running through the life of Israel.

So what import does this have for us? Well each week we gather together before Almighty God to worship him and renew the covenant through the celebration of the Lord’s supper (try this). At this service we should be reminded of the covenant and law of God and be exhorted to faithful obedience (cf. 1 Corinthians 10; Hebrews 3-6).

Also try:
Mathewson, D. (1999) “Reading Heb 6:4-6 in Light of the Old Testament”, Westminster Theological Journal 61 pp. 209-25.
Enns, Peter E. (1993) “Creation and Re-Creation: Psalm 95 and its Interpretation in Hebrews 3:1-4:13,” Westminster Theological Journal 55 pp.255-80.
Weiser, A. (2000) Psalms: A Commentary (especially pp. 35 ff.)

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