The Covenant Formula by Rolf Rendtorff (part 2)

The Covenant Formula by Rendtorff
As I stated in my previous post, the covenant formula occurs repeatedly in the Old Testament. It is part of the stock language of the Old Testament that is used to express God’s covenant relationship to his people. In The Covenant Formula, Rendtorff provides a helpful introduction to the covenant formula and its relationship to various elements of Old Testament theology. I will attempt to summarize a few more of his points in this second post.

The Covenant Formula and the Exodus Beginning with Exodus 6:6

The second appearance of the covenant formula is nearly as important to notice as its first occurrences in Genesis 17:7-8. Exodus 6:2-8 are important verses in Exodus. These verses begin with “I am the Lord” (6:2). Then, they recall God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:3-4). In 6:5, God says that he has heard the Israelites’ groaning due to their slavery in Egypt and he has remembered his covenant with the patriarchs. Therefore, he asserts three times, with slightly different words, that he will deliver Israel from slavery (6:6). Note the two occurrences of “covenant” (6:4, 5).
Then, we find the full covenant formula (version C) in Exodus 6:7. It says, “I will take you for my people and will be God for you and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (6:7). Rendtorff draws our attention to the addition her of the second version (B) of the covenant formula (“I will take you for my people”). It occurs first and adds to what God promised to Abraham in Genesis 17:7-8 (“to be God to you” and “I will be their God”).
What are we to make of the addition of “I will take you for my people” to “I will be God for you”? Rendtorff comments that the addition makes sense here, because through the Exodus events God “‘takes’ the ‘people’ of Israel to be his people” (Rendtorff 16). “I will take you for my people” comes first, because this is the “new thing that is now announced” (Rendtorff 16). Exodus 6:7 connects the covenant formula to the Exodus from Egypt. Through the Exodus, Israel becomes a special people, that is, the people of God.
After Exodus 6:7, the covenant formula will occur in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel 7:23, and Jeremiah in association with recalling the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus from Egypt was a defining moment. Through it, God took Israel for his people, his possession (Exod. 19:4-6, see Rendtorff 27-28, 45-46).

The Covenant Formula and the Tabernacle (Temple) Beginning with Exodus 29:45

Exodus 29:45 says, “I will dwell in the midst of the sons of Israel and I will be their God.”
Exodus 29:45 is an important verse for the Old Testament’s theology of the Tabernacle and the Temple. God tells his people that he will dwell in their midst in the Tabernacle and then adds the covenant formula (“I will be their God,” version A). Exodus 29:46 recalls the fact that God brought his people out of Egypt.
Rendtorff sees the promise of dwelling in their midst as the new element that God is adding to his covenant relationship with Israel. He says, “The newly added aspect is that one important reason for the deliverance [from Egypt] was that God now wishes to live in the midst of the Israelites” (Rendtorff 80, 90-91; see also Lev. 26:11-13). Dwelling in their midst is an enduring part of the covenant relationship between God and his people. Ezekiel 37:26-28 predicts that it will be significant for Israel’s covenant relationship with God in the future, even as it was in the past (Rendtorff 90).

Coming Up: The covenant formula in Jeremiah

The Covenant Formula by RendtorffThe Covenant Formula.

Tagged on: