I have found that many people do not have a clear understanding of what it really means to be in a covenantal relationship with the God of the Bible. So let’s look at the word “covenant” from the language and culture in which the Bible was written.
“Covenant” is the word “B’rit” (pronounced B’reet in Hebrew); in ancient times — during and prior to 3,500 B.C. — “b’rit” meant an agreement by two or more parties that clearly defined a committed relationship that included terms of behavior from each of the parties, rules about what would happen if anyone in the agreement breaks the covenant (war, death, slavery, etc.) and the benefits of keeping the covenantal agreement such as peace between people groups, provision, protection, etc.
Once all the rules, boundaries, relational behaviors were clearly stated, and sometimes etched in stone, then a ceremony took place called the “cutting of the covenant” in which animals were sacrificed and the blood of the animal was shed in order to seal the seriousness of the agreement and provide food for a celebration of peace and joy between the parties. This was called a “blood Covenant” and it had life and death consequences for anyone who might be tempted to break it.
Covenants were/are exclusive to the parties involved, they cannot be transferred to others, and they are usually reciprocal — meaning all parties had obligations to fulfill within the agreement. Often, a ‘covenant was cut’ between two warring nations when they wanted to make peace, or when a powerful king wanted to make loyal subjects out of neighboring people groups, so he approaches them with an offer of peace if they submit instead of war.
In ancient times marriage was considered a covenantal relationship, complete with written terms of expected behavior from each party followed by a great feast. New covenants with the same terms as previous covenants can be made with others, but the exclusivity of each covenant is important; the only way to become a part of an ancient covenant — meaning one that was put into place before our time — is to somehow be joined with one of the original parties that made the original covenant (such as marrying into a family that was “keeping a covenant” with another family).
Covenants are always a matter of choice in relationships. There is generally one party that initiates covenant with another party and when the initiator is God Almighty, then great care should be taken before accepting or rejecting His terms and offer of peace. In the Bible there is a covenant indicated whenever there are clear relational boundaries laid out; the actual word “covenant” does not have to be in a particular story or text of the Bible in order for there to be one eluded to.
Blood covenants are the historical reality of the Bible and for those of us who are followers of the God of the Book and His Son Jesus (Yeshua), we need to recognize that when God enters into a covenantal relationship with any person or groups of people, He was/is “deadly” serious about it, meaning there are severe consequences to breaking the covenant. God is always faithful to the covenantal obligations that He makes with man or even the Earth/Universe itself. Regrettably, mankind is not always faithful to his part of the agreement. God is forever faithful, mankind is fickle.
There are many covenants between God and mankind in the Bible: Genesis 1-4, Adam and Eve; Genesis 6-9, Noah and the Earth; Genesis 12-15, Abraham; Exodus 12 and 20, Israel; Jeremiah 31, Israel; and many more covenantal references in which Jesus (Yeshua) is the main character. This is why we call the New Testament the B’rit Chadasha in Hebrew – meaning literally “Covenant New.” The word Testament in English is another word for Covenant.
My next article will continue on this theme. Any questions or comments can be sent to [email protected]