The Eternal Covenant

For my write-up today on Sara Japhet’s The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought, I want to look at pages 102-105.

I Kings 8:21 reads (in the translation Japhet uses): “And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

The parallel passage, II Chronicles 6:11, reads: “And there I have set the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which he made with the people of Israel.”

Japhet notices that the Chronicler has made two changes.  First, he changed “with our fathers” to “with the people of Israel.”  Second, he omitted the part about the Exodus from Egypt. 

Japhet believes this is significant.  For her, the Chronicler rejects that notion that “a historical event determined the relationship between God and the people of Israel.”  Not the Exodus.  Not Sinai.  Not something that happened to Israel’s fathers.  Rather, according to Japhet, the Chronicler saw God’s covenant as eternal and timeless.

Japhet still acknowledges passages in which the Chronicler alludes to the patriarchs, the Exodus, and Horeb (I Chronicles 16:15-17; II Chronicles 5:10).  But she states that, in these cases, “parallel texts are transmitted.” I take this to mean that such passages are merely the Chronicler dumping other sources into his text, without making an attempt to alter them according to his ideology.  In the case of II Chronicles 6:11, however, he alters I Kings 8:21, so we’d better take notice: the Chronicler is telling us what he really thinks about the covenant!  He’s altering the text according to his two cents! 

I wonder what Japhet has in mind when she refers to a timeless covenant.  Is it something like what we see in Jubilees, in which the patriarchs are observing the laws of the Torah?  Is it the concept that God foreordained at creation (maybe before) that he would make a covenant with Israel, so, while he may have officially done so when Israel’s ancestors came along or when Israel emerged as a nation, the covenant per se existed before then, and the Chronicler wants to make that clear by avoiding any implication that a historical event brought about the covenant?

One thing I see in Japhet’s book (though I’m not going to hunt it down right now) is that the Chronicler believes that God chose Israel, period.  That’s the basis of the covenant.  It’s not that God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and so they owe him.  Nor is it that they agreed at Sinai/Horeb to obey God’s laws.  Rather, the basis of the covenant is God’s free choice, which has existed for eternity.  Sounds rather Calvinist!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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