Ray Sutton

Narrated By: Devan Lindsey
Book: That You May Prosper


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Chapter Text

by Milton C. Fisher[1]

Pick up your Bible and ask, “How do I get hold of the message of this Book? How do I apply it to life – not just my life, but to all life in this complex world in which we live?” Many approaches to “dividing the word of truth” have been proposed. Both complex and simple systems have been developed, propagated, and tried out. Tried, but found wanting. That You May Prosper is not just one more experimental system for organizing Bible content. It clearly expounds and applies the Bible’s own structure in a way that demonstrates its intent.

Cleverly concocted analyses of the Bible, though often containing scattered elements of truth (out of focus and disproportionate in emphasis), fall short and distort for one reason. They fail to take into account the essential nature of the written Word of God. They miss the should-be-obvious fact that the Bible is by design and intent a covenant document.

Jehovah God called His servant, Moses the Lawgiver, at the bush in the desert. Moses was the prepared agent, learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, whom God used to deliver His people from bondage and also to encode the revealed constitution for a new nation, His people Israel. Hence it is most likely that the very words written as Bible were those inscribed by God’s own hand: “I am Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,…  you shall have no other gods before Me.” The heart of the Covenant Law is the Decalogue, which these words preface and introduce.

Sutton’s Book

The book you now hold in your hand is doubtless the clearest exposition of Bible-as-covenant (that is, Bible as meant to be understood) that you’ve ever read. That’s because the author has spelled out in no uncertain terms the implications of historic reformational covenant theology in the light of current scholarship. The discovery and application to biblical studies of the suzerain treaty parallels to Sacred Scripture, contemporary to and confirmatory of the Pentateuch, has been extremely enlightening and valuable for appreciation of the orientation of the Word of God in its entirety.

Others, such as Meredith G. Kline, have published helpful suggestions concerning archaeological and philological discoveries in this area. But Ray Sutton has now both simplified and expanded upon the rich lode made available through modern research. This he does by citing the biblical reasons for historic successes and failures in human history. In the realms of family, church, and state – covenant institutions by divine design – only when there is conformity to the biblical pattern and requirements of covenantal relationships is divine blessing to be expected and experienced.

Whether you agree with every idea propounded in this volume by its author, experienced pastor and enthusiastic Christian educator that he is, it will surely make you think. Its commanding logic demands your interaction with the flow of reasoning and its often surprisingly fresh suggestions will prove a stimulus and assistance to your formation of judgments of your own. For example, not everyone will readily accept the seemingly facile manner in which several Books of the Bible are outlined on the same covenantal pattern readily found in Pentateuchal Books like Exodus and Deuteronomy. At least not the first time around. But when one becomes convinced of the centrality and importance of the covenantal form and content (structure and specifications) so vital to Holy Scripture as a whole and in its parts, some such analysis of portions of the Bible makes real sense.

Fresh insights into God’s Word are sure to be gained, to say the least, through Sutton’s work. I found it to be so, after nearly half a century of serious study and teaching of the Bible. Thinking through this book will enable you to focus upon and relate by covenantal principles certain details of Scripture which you have either overlooked or found puzzling. For example, I recall the shock of reading Mark 10:30 for the first time, in Greek, searching out words in the Greek lexicon. Here Jesus promises to those who leave all and follow Him”… a hundredfold now in this time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, WITH PERSECUTIONS….” What’s that!? “Persecutions”? How did that get in there? Sutton’s treatment of the “sanctions” aspect of covenant, and how it explains not only the supreme sufferings of our Savior but those of His covenant children as well clears up such questions.

Similarly, as I read for about the thirtieth time in my life the eighteenth chapter of II Kings, about the life of King Hezekiah, I was struck by how it (along with many other passages) bears out the title, from Deuteronomy 29:9, of Sutton’s book. We are told that since this Davidic heir “did what was right in the sight of the L O R D ” (vs. 3), “removed the high places….” (vs. 4), “trusted in the LORD God of Israel” (vs. 5), and “held fast to the LORD” (vs. 6), “The LORD was with him; he PROSPERED wherever he went” (vs. 7).

So, a revived interest and excitement in Bible study is an assured byproduct of reading this book. But equally helpful is its application to all areas of private and corporate life, in family, church, and state – home, religion, and politics. I leave it to the author himself to explain to you why this is so.

In particular, the five aspects and parts of covenant, so thoroughly discussed and widely applied throughout That You May Prosper, are easy to latch onto – to understand and to remember. But the way in which these were compared to issues in modern management theory by Gary North in the Publisher’s Preface to the original edition of the book bears repeating. North speaks of how the endless arguments over details of political theory, as well, boil down to disagreements over the answers to five questions:

  1. Who’s in charge here?
    2. To whom do I report?
    3. What are the rules?
    4. What do I get for obeying or disobeying?
    5. Does this outfit have a future?

Memorize these five simple and logically sequential questions, and you’ll have no trouble remembering the five point outline in Sutton’s treatment of covenant. You may even start to see it every where, as it were, as does the author. I’ll confess, after I wrote the paragraph about Hezekiah, I discovered to my own amazement that I could see the five points. You just have to switch the last two statements (or verses). I challenge you to return to that paragraph, after you’ve read the book, and see if you don’t think the same thing.

Fully one-third of the text of this volume is comprised of a series of short appendixes. Disconcerting at first, perhaps, but you will come to appreciate how the author keeps you on the track and properly paced for learning as you go through the body of the study. By consigning peripheral issues and demonstrations relating to the covenant outline to the appendix, he moves you at a steady pace through the basic argument of his thesis. I believe you will enjoy running the course, as did I, and you should cross the finish line the stronger for it.

[1] Professor of Old Testament (retired) at Philadelphia Theological Seminary. Education: B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa) and M.A. from the Oriental Seminary department of Johns Hopkins University (under William F. Albright). M.Div., the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (now “Philadelphia Theological Seminary”). B.D. and Th.M. from Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary (under

James L. Kelso). Ph.D. in Mediterranean Studies from Brandeis University (under Cyrus H. Gordon). Specialties: missionary linguistics and comparative Semitic philology applied to biblical exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures, plus Bible history and archaeology.