Last week, we were introduced to the concept of the covenant as the ordinary means that God uses to condescend to us and establish the terms of a relationship with us. And we looked at the particular covenants that God made in the lives of Adam, Noah, and Abraham. These covenants all shape our lives as we are caught up in them.
We also discussed how God used covenant forms that were common to the legal and political world of the ancient Near East. One such covenant format is what is known as the suzerain-vassal treaty. A suzerain was a great king or conquering emperor, and a vassal is the head of a household or a nation who is indebted to the great king. This treaty form leads us to look at our next biblical covenant.
“All that Yahweh has said we will do and be obedient.”
Passages: Exodus 20–24; Deuteronomy
The basic structure of a suzerain-vassal treaty looks like this:
The great king proclaims his name and his claim on the vassal.
The great king states the terms of obligation to be kept by the vassal.
The great king proclaims blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.
The great king calls witnesses to the treaty who will testify.
The vassal takes an oath to ratify the treaty with the great king.
The treaty is recorded as two duplicate copies on stone tablets.
Does this structure sound familiar? It should. Consider:
“I am Yahweh who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
“Thou shalt not … Thou shalt …”
“Blessed are you when … Cursed are you when …”
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day.”
“All the words which Yahweh has said we will do.”
“the tablets of stone … the tablets of the testimony …”
This covenant with the nation of Israel first appears in the wilderness at Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus and then is reiterated to the next generation about to enter the Promised Land in the Book of Deuteronomy. God is their Great King who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. He has freed the Israelites to serve him and be blessed.
“I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son.”
Passages: 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalm 89; Psalm 2: Psalm 110: Genesis 14:17-20
David is at last secure as king and has been given victory over many of his enemies. His deep desire is to build a “house” (temple) for God. Through the Prophet Nathan, God says that it will not be David who does this, but he will take the son of David and adopt him as the Son of God. And that Son will be given a great name by God just like God promised to Abraham. The Son will build a “house” (temple) for God, and God will build a “house” (dynasty) for David and his Son.
Under the covenant with David, the Davidic royal heir is the Son of God. This is what the title “Son of God” usually means. He is the royal heir to David and is the king who rules for God over the people of God. He is the Shepherd over all Israel. Son of God is synonymous with Messiah, the Anointed One. This kingly Son rules at the right hand of God, and the nations are his inheritance from his heavenly Father. So, is this King Solomon or King Jesus who is the Son of God? Yes and yes. King Solomon is the first and greatest foreshadowing, and Jesus is “the One who is greater than Solomon” who has come. Jesus is the ultimate reality, but all the Davidic kings pointed to him.
And intriguingly, the Davidic Son of God is also a priest in the order of Melchizedek, the enigmatic figure mentioned briefly in Genesis 14 and made much of in Hebrews. Melchizedek was the priest-king in the ancient city of Salem, i.e. Jerusalem. And his name means “king of righteousness”. He meets with Abraham the Friend of God and becomes his friend. The two commune together with bread and wine provided by this priest-king. Melchizedek blesses Abraham in the name of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth. And Abraham offers a tithe to Melchizedek. In all this, we see a foreshadow of Jesus as the Great High Priest of his people who gives bread and wine and receives our tithes and offerings.