Sunday 22 March 2009

Meredith G. Kline on Deuteronomy

Covenant treaties of different kinds between a suzerain and a vassal were well known throughout a significant period of the ancient Near East. The suzerain gave certain stipulations which the vassal was required to keep in order to uphold their side of the covenant. The vassal committed to being loyal to the suzerain, and the suzerain promised to defend the vassal.

These treaties regularly contained several elements:

• The preamble – which identified the parties in the covenant
• The historical prologue – which provided a brief account of the history of how the parties had come together
• The stipulations – the laws the vassal was to obey
• The witnesses – to the covenant, which are sometimes mentioned
• The sanctions – blessings and curses connected to the keeping of the covenant
• The document clause – which provided for a regular reading of the covenant

The late Meredith G. Kline argued that God, in his wisdom and providence, adopted this well-known treaty format to describe the relationship between himself and his people. He, the Lord, was their suzerain; and they, the people, were his vassal.

In his introduction to a commentary on Deuteronomy, Kline wrote:

‘Part of the standard procedure followed in the ancient Near East when great kings thus gave covenants to vassal peoples was the preparation of a text of the ceremony as the treaty document and witness. The book of Deuteronomy is the document prepared by Moses as a witness to the dynastic covenant which the Lord gave to Israel in the plains of Moab.’

Thus it has often been suggested (by others, including Kline) that the entire book of Deuteronomy can be seen as resembling the structure of a covenant treaty. It has a preamble (1:1-5), a historical prologue (1:6-4:49), a long list of stipulations (5:1-26:19), mentions witnesses to the covenant (4:26; 30:19; 31:28), lists sanctions, including blessings and curses (27:1-30:20), and provides instructions regarding the continuity of the covenant (31:1-34:12), including the storage and public reading of the document (31:9-13, 24-26).

Kline laid this perspective out in a number of places, notably in The Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy, Studies and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963).

This was largely made up of the following items, available online:

Meredith G. Kline, ‘The Two Tables of the Covenant’, Westminster Theological Journal 22 (1960) 133-46.

Meredith G. Kline, ‘Dynastic Covenant’, Westminster Theological Journal 23 (1960), 1-15.

Meredith G. Kline, Commentary on Deuteronomy in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.

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