Better than the Blood of Bulls and Goats

How Covenants Are Established
Lesson 2

Hebrews 8:6 "But now Jesus has obtained a more excellent ministry, by which he is the mediator of a BETTER COVENANT, which was established upon better promises."  

In order to understand this scripture, we must have knowledge of what a covenant is. We must also understand what the previous covenant was, before we can know we have a better one.

The Hebrew word translated in the Old Testament as covenant is Berith, it means to cut until blood flows. The Greek word translated in the New Testament as covenant, is Diatheke. Diatheke means the disposition of property, as in last will and testament. It is an arrangement made by one person with power, which the other person may accept or reject, but cannot alter or change. The English word covenant, means contract or agreement. A legal document which can be upheld, in a court of law, in case of failure on the part of one or both parties. For us to have full understanding of what the Bible teaches concerning blood covenant, we need to combine Berith, Diatheke, and Covenant.

In ancient times, two or more nations could covenant together. Leaders and people could covenant together. Two people could enter into covenant that would also involve their families. These same things apply to our time. However, today, contracts are generally entered into for a limited time period, and are sometimes taken very lightly. This was not true in ancient times. A covenant in the ancient world was considered sacred, involved blood and was enduring, many times even unto the seventh generation. To break a covenant was to invite death and destruction into your life. The Mafia has a covenant based on the same principle. The participants become blood brothers by means of shedding blood and allowing it to mingle.

Because the Bible is a book that was written in the east and deals with eastern customs, it is sometimes difficult for the western mind to comprehend. When the word covenant is mentioned in the west, we think of a contract, a legally binding agreement. But the eastern people of ancient days thought of blood. A blood covenant was a serious thing. The participants sealed the agreement with a pledge to honor it, even if it required their lives to do so.

Our western minds don't want to see blood, especially our own. If you want that contract signed in blood, you can forget's our signatures or nothing. In our day, the blood has become ink and we look for the loop holes. But in Bible times a blood covenant was called a covenant of strong (Ahab) friendship. Berith, (to cut until blood flows) was the most sacred thing a person could enter into.

Many books on anthropology and archeology mention forms of blood covenants that were practiced in ancient civilizations. Some of the remnants of those covenants are still hanging around. Rings in ears were marks of covenants. By Bible times a ring in the ear became the sign of a servant who choose to stay in the masters house after he or she had been offered freedom.

The remark "stands out like a sore thumb" came from the days when two covenant partners cut their thumbs in order to mingle their blood; and then rubbed ashes in the wounds in order to make a permanent mark of the covenant.

Rolling out the red carpet for VIP's (very important people) is reminiscent of walking in a field of blood.

A wedding ring symbolizes a covenant. The entwined arms of the Bridal couple, drinking wine, are symbols of making blood covenant, recalling a time when arms were cut and placed together for the mingling of life, while drinking wine.

There were three basic reasons for entering into a blood covenant.

Reason number one for entering into a blood covenant is:
The weak made alliance with the strong, so the strong would protect them. These agreements were entered for mutual benefit. A farming tribe might enter blood covenant with a warrior tribe. The farmers would provide food in exchange for protection from robbers, thieves and enemy tribes.

In the ninth chapter of Joshua, the story of the men of Gibeon is related. The men of Gibeon had heard the Israelites would take the land and destroy all of the inhabitants. So, they devised a plan for survival. Dressed in old, worn garments, with moldy bread and aged wine skins in hand, the Gibeonites went to the Israelites. They said, "We are from a far country, our clothing was new, our bread was hot and fresh when we left home. We come to make a covenant with you. Let us live among you and we shall be your servants." Even after their deception was uncovered, Joshua honored the covenant, let them live and protected them. In return they served Israel as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Joshua 9.

Reason number two for entering into a blood covenant is:
To establish a position of trust. A business arrangement became stable under a blood covenant, for what belonged to one, belonged to the other. This eliminated cheating.

This position of trust could be established even when people did not like each other. If a blood covenant was entered into, each partner agreed to protect the other's interest with their own life.

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. Esau was entitled by birth order to receive the inheritance of the first born but was tricked out of his inheritance by Jacob. As a result Jacob had to flee from his homeland. He went to his Uncle Laban's home in Padan-aram. There he met Rachel, Laban's younger daughter, and fell in love. He agreed to work for Laban seven years in exchange for Rachel. At the end of seven years, Laban tricked Jacob, who had tricked Esau. (Bread cast on the water, does return to you.) Instead of receiving Rachel for his bride, Jacob was given Leah her older sister. Then Laban told him that he must work seven more years for Rachel.

Jacob spent nearly twenty years working for Laban and during that time Laban deceived Jacob concerning his wages ten times. This is not a fellow you could trust. Finally, Jacob has had enough. While Laban attends a feast, he takes his two wives, children, livestock and heads for home. Three days later Laban hears of the matter, gathers his men and rides after them. It is possible he intended to do Jacob harm, but God spoke to him in a dream and said be careful how you deal with Jacob.

As a result, two non-trust worthy fellows entered into a covenant, (Genesis 31:34-35) which established a position of trust. As father in-law and son-in-law they were able to deceive one another. As blood brothers they could no longer harm each other. Even though there was no friendship and no natural trust the covenant was powerful enough to bind them together. Genesis chapters 27-31

Reason number three for entering into a blood covenant is love.
We need to define love. We are not talking, I love apple pie, as in our current usage of the word love. We are talking Hased (Hebrew) and agape (Greek) love. These words mean a love that sacrifices itself for the benefit of the object loved. This is the kind of love that is found in John 3:16.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

This agape love is also the one mentioned in Ephesians chapter five where husbands are told to love their wives. It is an abounding love that will lay down it's life for the benefit of the one who is loved.

David and Jonathan were friends who entered into a covenant, each agreed to defend the other even at the cost of their own lives. It was just after David killed the giant that he and Jonathan met. Jonathan was the son of King Saul and was present when Saul commended David on a job well done. The Bible tells us there was an instant bonding of the two young men. So much so they made a covenant with each other. They became blood brothers. Jonathan gave David his robe, his weapons, and his belt. 1 Samuel 18:4.

Though it doesn't say so, it is assumed David reciprocates with his cloak, his weapons, and his belt. At the time of the covenant, David was a welcome guest in Saul's household. Later, David became very popular with the people and jealousy entered the picture. After the people sang the praises of David during a parade, Saul had a jealous fit and tried to kill David with a javelin. When that failed, he sent David to command troops in a war against the Philistines. He thought perhaps the Philistines would kill David for him. No matter how Saul schemed, David not only survived, he was victorious and became more popular. After several plots had failed, Saul told all his servants and Jonathan that David must be killed. Jonathan at great peril to his own life, told David and then argued with his father. Because of his covenant he risked his own life in order to save the life of his covenant partner.

There were four methods of cutting covenant.

  1. Cut palms of hands and mingle blood. A hand shake, once meant your bond, then it became a check for weapons, and now in our time it is a greeting.

  2. Wrists were cut and rubbed together so the blood would mingle and the life of each would be combined.

  3. Cuts were made and blood placed in wine then the wine was to be drunk. For God's people, this was expressly forbidden. It was a perversion of the blood covenant established by God.

  4. Animals were slain as a substitute for the lives of the ones involved in cutting the covenant. This method of substitution was the one established by God.

Leviticus 17:11 "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you on the altar to make an atonement for you: for it is the blood that makes atonement for you."

The Bible says "the life is in the blood." To the eastern mind that means, when I give you my blood I give you all my life represents. Lives become mingled. What is your life? It consists of time, money, family, job, possessions, heirs (those who have not yet been born, your seed), your name (which gives the right to assets and debts) and your protection. If you enter into a blood covenant then your covenant partner's credit and debts belong to you and yours belong to the covenant partner. It is a mingling of lives. Life drastically changes from the moment you enter into a blood covenant. In the ancient world, when two parties wanted to enter into a blood covenant it was never entered into lightly. The first step was to carefully discuss the terms, the animals, the representatives and the site and come to an agreement on them. What each party was to be responsible for was very carefully decided on. The representative had to be someone who was able to represent well. The animals were to be of the best, no rejects. The site must be neutral. This is where the statement about meeting on common ground came from. It became common because of the agreement.

With terms, site, representatives and animals in hand, the families or tribes came together. The representatives met in clear view of everyone and exchanged garments. This garment was usually a cloak, we would call it a coat. Often a person's coat will tell something about him (police, fireman, chef, doctor, etc.). This meant I give you my authority. All that I am now belongs to you. David gave Jonathan his sheepherder's coat, Jonathan gave David his princely one.

The next item exchanged was the weapon belt. Meaning my strength is now your strength, your enemies are now my enemies. David had a shepherds crook and a sling shot. Jonathan had armor, shield, sword and a bow. The farmer might give his hoe and rake, the warrior, his spear and sword.

In some lands, gifts were exchanged. When Stanley (of the famous, Dr. Livingston, I presume) went to Africa he frequently became involved in blood covenants. On one occasion, Stanley was asked by the Chieftain, of a tribe, to give him his goat. Since Stanley had a delicate stomach and relied heavily on goats milk for his diet, he was loathe to part with the goat. He suggested other exchange items, but was refused. Finally he agreed to give his goat and the Chieftain in return, gave Stanley his very large, finely crafted, distinctive spear. Stanley was disappointed at the exchange but later found this chief was well known and feared, through out the land. Where ever Stanley went, even the most war like tribes gave him safe passage, when they saw the spear.

Now the animals are slain and cut down the back bone, divided in half. They are placed with the backbones facing each other leaving a walk way between. It is literally a walk way of blood. The two representatives begin to walk a figure eight around the animal halves, not just once, but twice. The second time around, they meet in the middle. Standing there in the midst of the blood, they speak the terms of the covenant out loud and swear that just as this animal had given it's life, they also would be willing to die to protect each other. The figure eight being the symbol for infinity, this was a never ending covenant.

Next, the cursings are spoken. Great evil would be visited upon any who broke the blood covenant. In the case of a farmer and a warrior covenant, they might say, I promise to defend you with my life, you must keep those baskets of fruit and vegetables coming. If you do not, ring worm of the nose will overtake you, your cattle will die, your children will be stillborn, etc. Wrists were cut. Still standing in the blood, their own blood dripping down their arms, they press them together, so their lives are mingled. Ashes are rubbed into the cuts, to make permanent scars as reminders of the covenant. Names are exchanged, each person adding the name of the other person, to his own. They now had the power to use each other's names. Names unlocked credit and loosed purse strings. Each one was now able to say, put it on my blood brothers account.

They had a covenant meal. Universally a covenant meal has been bread and wine. This meant, my blood and my flesh back this covenant. A pile of stones was placed for a memorial. In places where trees were available, a tree was planted, a tree stood for continuing life and served for a reminder to future generations.

What does all this have to do with us? Insert your name in the following blanks.

The book of Hebrews says the we have a covenant with God, one that has been ratified by the blood of Jesus. One day God offered that covenant to___________, and we walked (God and I) between and around the slain lamb. In the old covenant the mark of the covenant was circumcision. In the new covenant it is circumcision of the heart. The sword of the spirit cut my heart and while standing in the blood of the lamb, God and I became one. His life flowed into mine. I don't know what He rubbed into the cut to make a permanent scar, but I know it is there. Like Saint Paul, I know that I carry the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body, for His praise is in my mouth

We exchanged names, God now says, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and ____________."  He gave me the name of Jesus and all it stands for. He wants me to use it. God gained all my assets and my debts. How many assets did I have? ...Zero. How many debts did I have? So many, they would never have been paid. How many debts does God have? How many assets does God have? All the glories of heaven. The earth and the fullness thereof, the cattle on a thousand hills. His assets are love, joy, peace, health, life and blessing with all good things. Glory, Glory, Glory, they are mine.

We exchanged garments. He got my self righteous rags, I got His robe of righteousness. He got my garment of heaviness, I got His garment of Praise. We exchanged weapon belts, He got my sling shot, I got His whole armor. I have to protect God, don't need to. God has to protect me, now that's a project.

There was a tree planted at Calvary. A memorial for all generations of the blood covenant between God and man. A covenant which "Whosoever will" may become a part of. God and I, we have shared in the covenant meal. When I eat the bread and drink the wine with other believers, I express my loyalty to Him and to them. When I partake of the flesh and the blood, I recall that if I am strong, then I must bear the burdens of the weak. I must not criticize, I must assume responsibilities toward the weak.

I was without assets and loaded with debts and God invited me, (your name)____________ to cut covenant with Him. I did, and I gained the life of God, all His debts, His assets, and His protection. I've got a right to His name and His time. Our lives have become mingled. What a deal. To the natural mind, it makes no sense. It's an unequal deal. Why would God do that for me? He did it because of love.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

John 15:13 "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend."