Evidence #54 | September 19, 2020

Covenant Renewal Formula

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Scripture Central

Abstract

King Benjamin’s speech follows the essential pattern of the covenant renewal formula found in ancient Israelite and Hittite texts.

Stephen D. Ricks has observed that King Benjamin’s speech contains six elements of a covenant renewal formula that are found in various texts from the Old Testament, as well as in ancient Hittite treaties.1 According to Ricks, “the ideal was that the new king take office before the death of the old one, and this transfer of power was connected with the ceremony in which the people make or renew their covenant with God.” This ancient practice fits the coronation context of Mosiah 1–6, where Mosiah was publicly chosen by his father as the new king and the people entered into a sacred covenant before the Lord. The six shared elements of covenant renewal identified by Ricks are outlined below:

1. Preamble

King Benjamin’s speech is introduced as follows: “And these are the words which he spake and caused to be written, saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together …” (Mosiah 2:9). This opening statement is similar to preambles found in Old Testament and Hittite texts. For example, Ricks drew attention to a Hittite treaty that begins as follows: “These are the words of the Sun, Muwatallis, the Great King, King of the land of Hatti, Beloved of the Weather-God.”2 Similar introductions scan be found in Exodus 20:1 and Joshua 24:2.

2. Review of God’s Relations with Israel

Soon after his introduction, King Benjamin listed the ways that he had righteously served his people (see Mosiah 2:12–15). He also explained that his people needed to give “thanks” and “praise” unto “that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another” (v. 20). According to Ricks, the analogous section “of the typical Hittite treaty acknowledges the past kindnesses that had been shown by the suzerain [lord] toward his vassal, providing the rationale for the great king’s appeal (in the following section, which contained specific stipulations) to his vassal to render future obedience in return for past benefits.”3

King Benjamin's People Pray unto God. Image via ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

3. Terms of the Covenant

Following the pattern of typical Near Easter covenants/treaties,4 Benjamin’s speech is full of specific injunctions and exhortations to his people, as demonstrated in Mosiah 4:9–12:

  • “Believe in God” (Mosiah 4:9)
  • “believe that [God] is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth” (v. 9)
  • “believe that [God] has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth” (v. 9)
  • “believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (v. 9)
  • “believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God” (v. 10)
  • “ask in sincerity of heart that [God] would forgive you” (v. 10)
  • “remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness” (v. 11)
  • “always retain a remission of your sins” (v. 12)

4. Formal Witness

In an ancient Near Eastern context, various entities—such as gods, men, and sometimes even inanimate objects—were invoked to witness the covenant being made by the people.5 In Mosiah 3:24, King Benjamin declared, “And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me. And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people” (Mosiah 3:23; emphasis added). The covenant in King Benjamin’s speech also follows the Israelite pattern of requiring the people themselves to act as witnesses to their covenant (see Mosiah 5:1–5).6 

5. Blessings and Curses

Ricks noted that the “end of a biblical covenant ceremony often contains a list of curses and blessings for those who enter into the covenant” (see Deuteronomy 27:15–16; 28:3–4; Joshua 24:19–20).7 Fairly concentrated lists of blessings and curses can also be found in King Benjamin’s speech, most of them occurring toward the end:

Blessings

  • “I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation” (Mosiah 4:7)
  • “if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls” (v. 11)
  • “I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice and be filled with the love of God (v. 12)
  • “and [ye shall] always retain a remission of your sins” (v. 12)
  • “and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you” (v. 12)
  • “And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due” (v. 13)
  • “he has poured out his Spirit upon you” (v. 20)
  •  “and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy” (v. 20)
  • “God … doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith” (v. 21)
  • “And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God” (Mosiah 5:9)

Curses

  • “But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God!” (Mosiah 3:12)
  • “O man, whosoever [neglect’s the poor] the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever” (Mosiah 4:18)
  • “And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation” (v. 22)
  • “And now, if ye say this [‘I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give’] in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned” (v. 24)
  • “if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish” (v. 30)
  • “whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God” (Mosiah 5:10)

6. Reciting and Depositing the Covenant

Just as covenants in the Bible were recited aloud and recorded (see Exodus 24:7; Joshua 24:26), King Benjamin’s words were written and sent out among the people (Mosiah 2:8–9), and the names of those who entered into the covenant were recorded (Mosiah 6:1–2).8 

Scribes sit, taking notes on parchment of what King Benjamin is teaching in the Land of Zarahemla. Behind them, runners stand ready to take the teachings to the Nephite people. Image via ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

Conclusion

As demonstrated in the above points, King Benjamin’s speech follows the essential pattern of the covenant renewal formula found in ancient Israelite and Hittite texts. Ricks felt that this correlation of data “may provide another control for establishing the genuineness of the Book of Mormon.”9

Stephen D. Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom”, ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 233–276.

John S. Thompson, “Isaiah 50–51, the Israelite Autumn Festivals, and the Covenant Speech of Jacob in 2 Nephi 6–10,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 124–127. 

Stephen D. Ricks, “King, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1991), 209–219.

Stephen D. Ricks, “The Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin’s Address (Mosiah 1–6),” BYU Studies Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1984): 151–162.

Mosiah 2–6

Mosiah 2–6

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Festivals and Holidays
Covenant Renewal Formula
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