Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Covenant Lawsuit.

Imagine you’re Robert Blake. You show up for your murder trial. You observe the prosecutor is also the judge. You might find this disconcerting. However, God acts as both the prosecutor and the judge in the “covenant lawsuit” motif that some theologians say exists in the Old Testament. (See, e.g., K. Nielsen, Yahweh as Prosecutor and Judge (Sheffield, 1978).) Under this setup, God would announce, through His prophets, His “lawsuit” or indictment against His people based on a breach of their covenant. The defendant would then have to defend. For example, “Arise, plead your case before the mountains. And let the hills hear your voice. Listen, you mountains to the indictment of the LORD, [a]nd you enduring foundations of the earth, because the LORD has a case against His people; even with Israel He will dispute.” (Micah 6:1-2; NASB; emphasis added.) Also, “[T]he LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land…” (Hosea 4:1a; NASB; emphasis added.) The scholarly literature actually is divided on whether the “covenant lawsuit” really exists, or whether it a modern construct read back (or shoehorned) into the text. There are compelling arguments on each side. Nevertheless, the concept is an intriguing one, especially for one who seeks intersections and integrations of law and theology.