The Covenant: A Relationship with Consequences

At Sinai, the Israelites pledged their allegiance to God and accepted the punishments that would result if they betrayed God.

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“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse: Choose life if you and your offspring would live” (Deuteronomy 30:19; cf. Jeremiah 21:8).

Obedience to the terms of the covenant is the path of life; rejection of the covenant is ipso facto the individual’s election of misfortune, unhappiness, and death. The latter cannot be seen as evil insofar as they are the just response of the offended deity. Similarly, in the case of communal disasters, the community’s sufferings were understood to be misfortunes Israel called down upon itself when, at Sinai and Shechem, it bound itself by an oath to the covenant, calling upon God to punish it were it ever to prove unfaithful. As can be seen from the twenty‑eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, no matter how bitter are the misfortunes visited by God upon the offender, they are regarded as no more than the offender’s just deserts.

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Richard L. Rubenstein

Richard L. Rubenstein is President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Religion at the University of Bridgeport. He is the author of After Auschwitz.