The Importance of Covenant Sanctions in Selected Sections of the Bible

In certain sections of the Bible, we find examples of the threat or promise of sanctions, and in some cases the fulfillment of these sanctions. These sanctions can be either positive or negative, bringing benefits or curses. They are incurred in a systematic manner by either the breaking or the keeping of the covenant with God. In Deuteronomy 28, Moses tells of the positive sanctions that will come from obeying this covenant. In the book of Ruth, positive sanctions are provided to a woman who enters into the covenant with God. In Lamentations, there is shown the outcome of negative sanctions incurred from breaking the covenant. These are all examples of the sanctions that can (and in some cases are) incurred by acts contrary to or in accordance with the covenant. Sanctions are very important in these selections form the Bible.

Deuteronomy 28 through 34 are referred to sometimes as the Farewell of Moses. The first chapter of the farewell deals with positive sanctions if the commandments of God are upheld: “Now if thou wilt hear the voice of the Lord thy God, to do and keep all his commandments, which I command thee this day, the Lord thy God will make thee higher than all the nations that are on the earth.” (Deut. 28:1). However, also in this chapter negative sanctions are promised to those who fail: “But if thou wilt not hear the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep and to do all his commandments and ceremonies, which I command thee this day, all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.” (Deut. 28:15), and then a bunch of curses were listed. This chapter is an example of covenant sanctions, both positive and negative, being proclaimed.

In the Book of Ruth we not only see the promise or threat of sanctions, but the fulfillment of these sanctions. Ruth was a woman from Moab who married a man from Juda who was escaping a famine. The man died eventually, along with his father and brother, leaving only Ruth’s mother-in-law. The mother-in-decided to travel back to Juda, but the widowed Ruth refused to stay behind in Moab and traveled back to Juda with her. She offered to join the covenant of the Israelites and accept their God as her God, saying to her mother-in-law: “For whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). According to Mosaic law, a widow shall marry her husband’s closest relative so as to carry on his name. Therefore, she sought out and decided to marry Boaz, a man she had also been gleaning (collecting the extra of a harvest) from. She was encouraged by her mother-in-law, who told her to go to his room and offer him marriage. He accepted, and she was married to him and received the positive sanctions associated with it. He was a wealthy man, and she was very happy, in addition to having her husband’s name carried on through his relative. In contrast to Deuteronomy 28, this section shows positive sanctions received from the entry into God’s covenant in action.

The Book of Lamentations is just the opposite of the Book of Ruth in that it shows the negative sanctions incurred from breaking the oath with God. It is told by Jeremias, who laments the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. This is precisely the warning that was given by Moses in his farewell, and is the fulfillment of the negative sanctions threatened if the covenant oath was broken.

These sections of the Bible are heavily reliant on the idea of covenant sanctions, positive and negative. The Farewell of Moses laid down the sanctions associated with either keeping or breaking the covenant. The Book of Ruth showed positive sanctions that came from joining the covenant, and the Book of Lamentations showed what would come of disobeying and breaking the covenant. These sections of the Bible all focused on the issue of sanctions, and gave accounts of why and how they were incurred, and what they entailed.

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