The Broken Eternal Covenant in Isaiah 24:5

Isaiah 24:5 states וְהָאָרֶץ חָנְפָה תַּחת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ כִּי־עָבְרוּ תוֺרֹת חָלְפוּ חֹק הֵפֵרוּ בְרִית עוֺלָם. In this paper, I will seek to clarify the identity of the eternal covenant which has been broken by the inhabitants of the land. Scholars have identified several possibilities for the identity of the covenant in question. The predominant view is that the broken eternal covenant is the Noahic Covenant (Seitz, Childs, Kaiser, Blenkinsopp, Gentry, Mason, Watts, Sweeney), due to the language and scope of judgment of the surrounding passage. Other scholars believe multiple covenants are referenced: Noahic and Mosaic (Chisholm, Smith, Hayes), Noahic and Creation (Oswalt, Goldingay), and Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic (House, Motyer). A minority believe the reference is to the Mosaic Covenant (Johnson, Polaski), or to a Cosmic Covenant (Murray).

I argue that the broken eternal covenant is indeed the Mosaic Covenant and that the judgment described in Isaiah 24 happens primarily to Israel and Judah. To do this, I first interact with scholarship which holds the Noahic view (since it is the dominant position), and support my argument by explaining the different types of covenants in the Old Testament. Specifically, the Noahic Covenant is a unilateral covenant between God and Noah. God upholds this covenant and he will not break his promise. In contrast, the Mosaic Covenant is a bilateral covenant. If the Israelites abide by the covenant they will be blessed. Failure to keep the covenant will result in its nullification. Thus, a broken eternal covenant likely refers to the Mosaic Covenant. Second, I examine key words used in Isaiah 24:4–6 which supports the idea that Isaiah was referencing the Mosaic Covenant. This includes the reference to the חק and תורה. Third, I explore the use of the phrase “everlasting covenant” (ברית עולם) within the Hebrew Bible to establish a connection to the Mosaic Covenant. Finally, I examine a similar passage in Hosea 4:1–6 and compare it to Isaiah 24:4–6 to argue for a connection between the two passages which supports reference to the Mosaic Covenant.

This paper seeks to aid the interpretation of a difficult section of the book of Isaiah (Isa 24–27) by answering one of the key interpretive questions. This paper will be a springboard into further research opportunities into the Assyrian Crisis and its affect on Israel, Judah, and the nations as depicted in these chapters and in the rest of the book of Isaiah.

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