When covenants were made in ancient cultures certain common practices were followed, and we can draw a lot from these practices with respect to the Covenant that was cut on our behalf by Jesus.
One point to remember is that Covenant was entered into on the basis of difference not similarity. Covenant relationships were entered into to bind two tribes or individuals together as one. Within the covenant relationship it was often the differences that brought the tribes together not their similarities.
A tribe strong in battle may covenant with an agricultural tribe for example. The agricultural tribe would then share their produce with the warrior tribe whilst the warrior tribe protected and fought the agricultural tribe’s battles for them. In this way both became strong in their area of weakness through their covenant partner.
Too often we want to work only with those whom we completely agree with and relate to, but God’s Kingdom is broader and more diverse than our denominations or preferences.
Instead of being intimidated by someone else’s skill, or another church’s ability in a particular arena, we should see it as an opportunity for covenant. God has designed that His Body operate together as one, not as individual congregations trying to compete with each other. That is the opposite of true covenant. True covenant recognises a brother’s weaknesses and then offers one’s own strengths to aid and champion the cause of your covenant partner.
As we seek to build others, we ourselves will be built.
The prototype for all blood covenants in the Bible is found in Genesis 15. Here God appears to Abram in a vision, promises a covenant with him and then instructs him how to go about performing the covenant-cutting ceremony.
Almighty God humbled Himself to enter Covenant with a man, in order to bring all of mankind back to Himself. The weakness and helplessness of mankind was called to covenant with the strength and victory of God.
God later said to Abraham:
“As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:4 KJV)
God was committed to His side of the covenant.
“And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.” (Genesis 17:9 KJV)
Abraham’s part was to believe the Covenant promise and bring up his children in the same. Those of the same covenant faith are called Abraham’s children:
“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7 KJV)
Because of our Covenant we are able to say we are strong even where we are weak because we are strong in Him, our Covenant partner:
“… let the weak say, I am strong.” (Joel 3:10 KJV)
In respect to covenant practices, the following outline broadly describes what would take place when a Covenant was cut.
Terms, blessings and curses would be agreed upon
Lengthy discussions would take place. Responsibilities of all parties to the covenant would be agreed upon (the terms), and blessings and curses pronounced over the agreement.
The curses were invoked over any who broke the covenant, the blessings promised to those who kept it. Desire for these blessings, and fear of the consequences of covenant breaking kept all parties true to the covenant.
These discussions, sometimes written and recorded, constituted the major portion of the Words of the Covenant. The New Testament is a detailed record of the words of the Covenant we now enjoy and are obligated to as Christians.
God ‘blessed’ Abraham. He committed to empower Abraham to prosper and succeed. The only curse connected to the covenant was that He would also curse those who cursed Abraham.
God was committed to bless Abraham and through Him to bless the world. In Adam all was lost, but immediately God put into motion the redemptive plan of covenants to restore all. This Covenant provided the basis for the New Covenant through which every family on earth is potentially blessed.
Representatives would be chosen
A representative was then chosen from each family or tribe. This person would embody all that the tribe were. If they were warriors he would be the greatest warrior among them, if they were an agricultural tribe he would be the most skilled grower and most fruitful planter of the tribe.
The whole family identified with their representative. In essence, the entire family or tribe were ‘in him’. When he stood and made covenant, the whole tribe made covenant in and through him.
Abraham stood for all mankind when he covenanted with God. Covenant promises were made that Abraham’s seed would be as numerous as the dust on the earth (natural seed), and as many as the stars in heaven (spiritual seed). In Abraham all of mankind entered a covenant with God, and God committed Himself to all of mankind to redeem and bless them.
The actual fulfilment of this promise of course came in the person of Christ, who was THE Promised Seed.
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”(Galatians 3:16 KJV)
Paul’s statements throughout his letters about believers being ‘in Christ’ are statements of such identification – covenant language.
Christ Jesus was our representative in the Covenant made with God through the cross. This is why we can say in Him we died and in Him we were raised.
A site and sacrifice was chosen to make the covenant
he site would often be somewhere where both family tribes could stand and watch, possibly between two hills with the covenant ceremony taking place in the valley between them. One tribe would stand on one side, one on the other, and the covenant representatives would meet in between to cut the covenant.
Animals would be slaughtered at the covenant site. These were often large animals, and they were cut from the back of the neck, down the backbone, so the two halves fell to the ground laying opposite each other, thus making a pathway of blood between the two halves. This alleyway was often called the ‘walk of blood’.
God described to Abraham how to perform the covenant ceremony, and amazingly God Himself then passed between the pieces of the covenant, His fiery shekinah presence traversed the walk of blood. Because God was binding Himself unconditionally to Abraham, Abraham did not himself pass between the pieces (Gen 15). God unequivocally bound Himself in covenant with a human being.
The walk of blood and the covenant declarations
The representatives would then step into the walk of blood.
Here, in the midst of the blood, the blessings and curses of the covenant were proclaimed. Each party knew that to break the covenant was a matter of life and death, and the bloody scene of these exchanges impressed this reality upon their minds.
The representatives would then cut themselves in the wrist or hand and mingle their blood. This represented that they were now ‘one blood’.
They would then lift their arms so all could see the cuts, and the blood flowing from their veins.
As Abraham said to the king of Sodom:
“… I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,” (Gen 14:22)
Similarly, the Lord asks:
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1 KJV)
And concerning the enemies of God’s people He declares the covenant:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I have lifted up mine hand, Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame.” (Ezekiel 36:7)
Oaths were made and a substance such as grit or gunpowder would be rubbed into the wound. This would leave a lasting and prominent scar, a constant reminder of the covenant that has been made.
Incidentally, this is where the idea of rings, necklaces, and bracelets find their origin. When someone married in ancient cultures a cut was made around the thumb and grit and dirt rubbed into the wound, forever marking the person as covenanted to a woman. It was not a ring that could be easily removed!
Exchange of clothing
As part of the Covenant ceremony the two representatives would then exchange clothing and weapons. The coat represented the authority of each family, and handing that authority into the hand of their covenant partner. Their weapons symbolised their commitment to fight for one another.
God himself has clothed us with His armour (Eph 6), and exchanged our weakness for His strength. He too is committed to fight our battles. At the cross, we exchanged the filthy rags of self-righteousness and sin (Isa 64:6) for His perfect robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10). He took upon Himself our sin, whilst we took on His perfection!
The two families would then exchange names, or joined their names together. The Smiths and the Williams families would become the Smith-Williams. In the same way God has given us His name, representing His authority. He commanded the disciples to go in His name, and in His Name cast out demons, raise the dead and heal the sick.
YHWH breathed part of His name into Abram’s name. Essentially Abram, ‘exalted father’ became Abe-YH-ham, ‘father of a multitude’.
Even more amazing is that God was now connected through covenant forever with the name of a man. He became the ‘God of Abraham’ (Gen 26:24), and later with his son and grandson. He unashamedly attached Himself to frail humanity, even taking the name of a man to Himself. He will forever be “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, His covenant partners.
We similarly are called to unashamedly take the name of Jesus to ourselves:
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26 NKJV)
In fact, to suffer for one’s covenant partner is a privilege indeed:
“So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:41 NKJV)
A Covenant meal of remembrance
Finally, the families would share a covenant meal of remembrance. Bread and wine would be eaten to represent the body and the blood, symbolising each family or tribe giving them selves to the other family, even to the point of death. They ate “in remembrance” of what they did that day cutting covenant.
Many times, the Covenant sacrifice itself would also be eaten as part of this meal.
“This is my flesh and blood”, they would say, “I would sooner give them to death than break this covenant. All I am is yours.”
The result of such a Covenant is righteousness (right standing with one another). This is Covenant Friendship.
Abraham became the friend of God (Gen 18:16).
This is the purpose of true covenant – Friendship or relationship; a powerful equal relationship of total commitment.
Similarly, Jesus Himself broke bread and shared wine with His disciples, and told them, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” We are to remember when we partake of the communion meal that we are in covenant partnership. When we take the bread and wine we are effectively bringing to remembrance the commitment we have made to love and serve our covenant partners, and to receive all that they offer in the covenant; in the case of the New Covenant, healing, prosperity, joy, peace, full salvation.
This meal would represent the Friendship the covenant partners now share. The covenant meal with Abraham is described in Gen 18. In the same chapter God refuses to do something without first including his Covenant partner (Gen 18:17).
Proverbs 18:24 says. “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” This is a Covenant friend.
We too, through the New Covenant enjoy a similar relationship with our partner, Jesus:
“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15 NKJV)
The old saying that blood is thicker than water in its original meaning refers not to familial ties being strongest, but blood covenant bonds being more binding than even the water shared in a mother’s womb. A similar Arab saying states, “Blood is thicker than milk”, meaning that blood brotherhood is greater than even the brotherhood that shared the same mother’s breast.