On the one hand, the Lord called me to pickle myself in the intellectual background of the Ancient Near East (ANE) in order to understand His Word. On the other hand, I’m still supposed to share what I understand with Western folks in their terms. It means keeping a foot in both worlds.
One of the things I have learned from ANE studies is a certain attitude: Feel free to critique my scholarship, but nothing you could say would change my commitment to Christ and my sense of peace in carrying out the mission He gave me. I’m convinced that this is consistent with the ANE outlook on things, and certainly consistent with Scripture.
So applying the kind of scholarship I have learned so far from the ANE, I arrive at a different analysis of biblical covenants than is common in Western theology. There is no place in Western thinking for the ANE feudal covenant tribe, which is the unifying assumption behind all revelation regarding human life, particularly after the Fall. So the very fundamental element necessary to understand revelation is already discarded in favor the Western focus on the individual in all things. In Scripture, the individual is handled quite differently. The next level of Western consideration jumps past the smaller groups to the secular state, which Scripture condemns as the Beast. And because of how Westerners do church, all such churches are the Harlot which rides the Beast. I’m not too impressed with how Western church theologians view most things, though I have devoted a lot of time to studying their notions.
In Scripture, the covenant is the center of all God’s dealings with humanity. Some are clearly stated, some implied, some derived, but nothing God says to, or does with, people falls outside of covenant relations. The initial covenant was inherent in the act of Creation itself. Placing humanity in the Garden of Eden implied a covenant relationship, though it is not clearly stated. The whole point is that it rested on their direct relationship to the Creator. It was a different level of existence that can not be described to fallen minds, only indicated in parabolic terms, so we would hardly expect such a covenant to be described, only indicated.
This is a valid ANE scholarship method. They would never presume to describe things in the moral realm, which is above the factual realm. Moral truth must be perceived directly, and only the heart has the faculty for such perception. The intellect can only interpret what it receives from the heart; the brain is incompetent to handle moral truth directly. It’s good only for organizing and implementing moral obligations. The intellect is what gives us legalism when it rules; the heart prevents legalism when it rules over the brain.
The Fall disrupted that initial Covenant of Creation. The Curse of the Fall is itself a covenant, because it does hold the promise of redemption, setting the pattern for all subsequent covenants. It sets the stage for all God’s dealings with those He evicted from the Garden. There now stands an initial Covenant of the Fall which bound Cain before he murdered his brother, and which guided Seth as he began calling on the name of the Lord outside the Garden. Various provisions of this covenant are discernible in the narrative.
Scripture itself notes there is a trend here. Revelation always comes in the form of covenant. The whole point of revelation is to declare for us some inkling of the divine moral nature of God, so that we can be restored to what was lost in the Fall. We should seek to return to the Garden, to stop eating the Fruit of the Tree of Judging Good and Evil, and to pass through the Flaming Sword of Revelation to get back to the Tree of Life. That flaming sword is covenant relationship. It is not “law” as Western minds regard such things, but it is what God requires of those whom He adopts. After the Fall, all covenants are adoption covenants that bring us back into His family household. The specific terms vary with the context, but the underlying theme never changes because it rests on God’s personality. We are required to get to know Him, and His requirements are meant to provoke a higher, heart-led awareness of His character.
You knew that it would have to rest on that business of being heart-led, no? The heart-led consciousness is a fundamental obligation under all covenants in the Bible. Such a consciousness was presumed by the ANE cultural background from which the Bible comes to us. In Scripture, people who live in their heads are badly broken and incapable of understanding God. Law Covenants do them no real good, though adhering legalistically does make life slightly better for those in the covenant community who do operate from the heart. The entire range of ANE cultures and languages all presume you know that your conscious awareness should rest in your heart, that moral awareness is higher than factual knowledge. The Creator can change the facts at His whim, and Scripture presumes that “reality” is variable in that sense, but you cannot get to know Him from your mind. He speaks only at the heart level.
There’s more to come.