Tag Archives: Suzerainty

Deuteronomy 1:

Overview of Deuteronomy as a “Vassal-Suzerainty Treaty”:
Deuteronomy means “second law,” or a copy of the law.  Deuteronomy recaps Genesis through Numbers and previews Joshua’s conquest through 2 Kings.  Deuteronomy is Moses’ parting speech, addressed to the second wilderness generation of the Israelites on the plains of Moab before his death.  It is of utmost importance.  It is the final and definitive form of God’s Covenant with Israel; Israel’s theological and political constitution.  After the Israelites’ successive rebellions and covenantal renewals, Deuteronomy gives, not the familial covenant of Mt. Sinai, but the basic contours of a second-millennium vassal, suzerainty treaty – that is, a king-servant binding covenant.  Whereas the original Covenant is given on the mountaintop, Mt. Sinai, this new covenant is on the “plains of Moab.” The Covenant with God is no longer at the holy mountaintop but down on the plains, indeed even the “valley opposite of Beth-peor.” Israel’s relationship with Yahweh has degenerated from a family relationship to a vassal covenant.  Its emphasis is on Israel’s obligation to obey God’s laws under the threat of mortal curses.  Israel is now treated more like a servant than a first-born son.

Moses’ Overview of the Exodus:
“The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain;  turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland, and in the Negeb, and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.’” (Deut. 1:6-8)  Moses reiterates God’s promise to them of the land.  Yet, Moses listened to the Israelites and sent spies into the land to get a glimpse of it.  Their report back brought fear into the Israelites.

Israel Refuses to Enter the Land:
They murmured and complained against God saying: “Because the Lord hated us he has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Whither are we going up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ (Deut. 1:26-28) So, Moses addressed their rebelliousness: “Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night, to show you by what way you should go, and in the cloud by day.” (Deut. 1:32-33)

God’s Anger at the Israelites’ Rebellion and Unbelief:
“And the Lord heard your words, and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land which I swore to give to your fathers..” (Deut. 1:34-35) None shall enter the Promised Land, except Caleb and Joshua.  The Israelites went up into the hill country to attack the Amorites, but Moses advised against that because the Lord “was not in the midst of you.”  Yet, the Israelites attacked anyway and we’re beaten back by the Amorites.  “And you returned and wept before the Lord.” (Deut. 1:45)

Leviticus 26-27:

The Abrahamic Covenant of the Land:
The Abrahamic Covenant is tied to the land.  The Israelites can choose a blessing or a curse dependent upon if they are obedient and loyal or disobedient and not loyal.  It is a conditional Covenant.  This is a traditional Near Eastern Suzerainty Lord-Vassal Covenant, full of blessings and curses.  If they remain loyal to Yahweh and reject other gods, then they will obey the rules of the Covenant.  It is their freewill choice to obey or not to obey.  Yet, even if they disobey, various “reset buttons” are built into the system, such as the various offerings, the Day of Atonement, the Sabbatical Year, the Year of Jubilee.  Disloyalty will (and did) result in exile from the land.  Humility, penance and confession of their iniquities could (and did) lead to Restoration.  Then, Yahweh “will remember the Covenant” and the land.

St. Paul and the Restoration:
St. Paul interprets the Restoration with the coming of the New Covenant and the embrace of the Gospel to Israel and all the nations.  Rom. 2:28 says a Jew is one inwardly by heart and spirit. Similarly, Gal. 3 speaks of the new Israel as the Church, “Abraham’s seed.”  The Church fulfills the promise to Israel.  St. Paul actually quotes Lev. 26:12 saying “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Cor. 6:16)  St. Paul says this is fulfilled in the fact that Christians are a “temple of the living God.”  The Gentile Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of them.  After the Exile, only two tribes of Israel returned. Not all 12 tribes returned to Israel. The Restoration is fulfilled in the coming of the Gospel to all Jews and Gentile nations.  The Exile ends with the Cross and Crucifixion.  The Church fulfills the Abrahamic Covenant of faith. Yet, there will be another fulfillment and Restoration too to Israel at the Second Coming.  Multifaceted levels of fulfillment are going on in prophecy and the Restoration.

Communion of the People with God:
Leviticus is all about the communion of God with His people through the lifestyle necessary to maintain that communion.  It was a type of liturgical worship.  In the living tradition of the Church, the liturgical holiness and cleanliness and worship of God developed in Leviticus was absorbed into the Church.  However, the great bulk of the law was added after the transgression of the Golden Calf Incident.  As St. Paul alludes, the law was added because of sin.  But, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught (ST, I-II, 98-105), there were delineations in various laws that the Israelites adopted: (1) Civil laws; (2) Ceremonial laws; and (3) Moral laws.  The civil law was applicable only to Israel’s culture and time; the ceremonial laws were foreshadows and types of Christ, and so, fulfilled in Christ. And, the moral laws alone were authoritative and so, continued into the New Testament and in perpetuity.  Morality does not change.

New Testament Dependence upon Leviticus:
Jesus quoted Leviticus and called one of its scriptures the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) The New Covenant is replete with Levitical quotes and is completely dependent upon the Old Testament and the inheritance of Leviticus.  Much of our vocabulary is directly from Leviticus.  For example: Jesus Christ is our “High Priest” who makes “atonement” for “sins” by the paschal “sacrifice” of Himself, by the result of the “blood of His sacrifice” we are “cleansed.”  Christ’s “blood” “consecrates” us, and the “priests” in His Church to convey His “holiness” onto us.  As the Book of Hebrews states as a matter of fact: “ He entered once for all into the Holy Place, takingnot the blood of goats and calves but His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Heb. 11:12)

The Baptism of the Gentiles:
As St. Peter in his vision in the Book of Acts realized that the Food Laws were no longer binding and that the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles too.  St. Peter’s vision is directed at the Food Laws of Leviticus:  “In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.” (Acts 10:12-16) St. Peter then realized that the Gentiles were not to be excluded from the Gospel.  Originally the Church was only preached and spread among the Jews, but after this vision it incorporated all of humanity.  St. Peter said: “In truth, I see that God show no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears Him and acts uprightly is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)  Then, later: “The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.  Then Peter responded, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?’  He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:45-48) The New Testament undoes the Levitical prohibitions against the Gentiles, and begins to draw back in the exiled nations of the Tower of Babel. God expands “His portion” from just Israel to the whole portion of the whole world. It will be a universal redemption.