The Basis of Blood Covenanting

The Hebrew word for “covenant” is berith, occurring over three hundred times in the Old Testament. It refers to an agreement, compact, or treaty. The New Testament word covenant means “to cut or divide,” alluding to the dissecting of animals associated with blood sacrifices. A covenant is a set of conditions agreed to by two parties, forming a pact to establish and maintain a permanent bond. Every relationship God has with a human being is based on a blood covenant. In fact, He covenants only by blood. Whereas a contract protects rights and limits responsibilities, a blood-covenant relationship involves surrendering rights and assuming responsibilities. Where selfishness exists, covenants cannot exist, for such pacts always involve selflessness. The Biblical concepts of sacrifice, blood, and covenant are absolutely inseparable.

A sacrifice is defined as “inflicting death on a living creature and presenting it as an act of worship to God.” This is performed as compensation for offenses made against God, resulting in the appropriation of His favor. Although Abel made the first sacrifice, there is no evidence God demanded he do so (Gen. 4:3-5). Noah also offered a voluntary sacrifice to God after emerging from the ark (Heb. 9:4). The desire to covenant with God is inherent in the hearts of human beings.

The Universality of Blood Covenanting

Every culture on earth has some form of blood covenanting. All cultures believe that covenanting means two lives are actually joined as one through the symbolic actions of the ceremony. In a blood covenant, individual identities are blended as the two parties reciprocally bind themselves together under the agreed-upon terms. Two persons thus enter into the most intimate, enduring, and sacred of pacts. Throughout the world, most blood covenants include these foundational concepts:

<>God is the author of all life.
<> Blood represents life.
<> Blood is the most valuable thing one can offer.
<> Sharing blood means sharing life. 
<> Mingling of blood represents the co-mingling of the lives of those who covenant.
<> Each is revitalized by the other’s blood.
<> Blood-covenanting means one soul now lives in two bodies.
<> Each now shares the other’s nature.
<> The individual lives of covenanting persons have ended.
<> One new life, now shared by two, has begun.
<> An oath must be taken to consummate the covenant.
<> Covenanting cannot be done by proxy. Both parties must be present.
<> God is called upon to witness to the covenant vows.
<> The two parties trust God to protect the covenant and make it effectual.
<> These two persons are now bonded with God in a greater measure.
<> The covenant must be made before human witnesses.
<> Self-renunciation is essential in a covenant relationship.
<> Each now assumes mutual and immutable obligations.
<> Each will avenge the other if wronged.
<> Each will renounce their own life for the sake of the other.
<> Either person who breaks the covenant will be dishonored.
<> Both parties are now made one forever.
<> The covenant is effectual until one of the covenanting persons dies.

All cultures fundamentally agree that life comes from God and therefore belongs to God. Because blood represents life given by God, blood is the means of union and communication with Him. Because God is the Author of life and blood represents life, blood is necessary to covenant with Him.

Covenanting ceremonies form a tie that cannot be annulled. Nothing is more binding, for it forms a tie closer than a biological sibling. When two persons enter into a blood covenant, they possess a double life. They enjoy an added sense of security, for neither one now faces life’s challenges alone. All covenants involve spoken words, but not always written words. To better comprehend blood-covenanting, a random sampling of covenanting ceremonies throughout the world will prove helpful:

<> In one culture, two covenanting persons lie beside each other in a shallow grave. Their hands are cut and intertwined as blood is symbolically transferred to one another. Emerging from their grave, they are now “dead” to their former lives.
<> In another culture, an animal is left to bleed while the covenant ceremony takes place.
<> In one African country, blood is poured on tobacco and put in a pipe, which each of the parties then smokes. Blood is thus symbolically transferred by inhalation.
<> One particular Canadian group covenants when sacrificial animal blood is mingled with wine in a cup. The covenanting parties each drink and the remaining blood is poured on a tree as a witness.
<> A certain European culture covenants another way. Specific vows are written on a paper. Each of the parties cuts their right hands, allowing their mingled blood to drip on this document. It is then burned, letting the smoke ascend upwards to God who witnesses their covenant.
<> Still another culture has covenanting parties pierce their right thumbs. Their thumbs are then tied together, allowing each others blood to mingle as oaths are taken.
<> One nation covenants when two parties exchange identical bracelets which are first dipped in the others blood. Each is then worn by the other as public testimony of their covenant.
<> In ancient Egyptian marital covenants, a lamb is slain at the doorway of the newlywed’s home. The bride and groom then step over the bleeding lamb and exchange rings as tokens of their covenant.
<> In accordance with one ceremony, blood from each of the covenanting parties is dripped on separate cloths. When the blood is dry, each forever carries a small piece of the cloth with the others blood in a locket.

Whatever the particular formalities, blood covenanting is universally practiced because the foundational concept is inbred into the entire human race.

The Biblical Background of Blood Covenanting

In polytheistic religious systems, blood-covenanting includes an appeal to a god. A deity is implored to witness the pact, thus ensuring he/she will be the guardian of the commitment. It is understood this god will punish those who break the covenant - and bless those who keep it.

But Jehovah is not a sadistic god that is only appeased by blood sacrifice. There is a dynamic and distinctive difference between Israel’s covenant and any other nation: theirs was personally instituted by God Himself. In contrast to heathen deities, His living presence makes the covenant eternally effectual. In the monotheistic system of Israel, the scene at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal serves as a classic example of Jehovah’s mandate for covenant faithfulness (Deut. 27-28). If His covenant is kept, blessings include happiness, obedient children, fidelity, longevity, and wealth. Myriads of curses, however, will come upon the covenant breaker.

The Hebrew term for blood is dam, occurring over three hundred times in the Old Testament. The concept of death is almost always associated with this word. Through the Levitical sacrifices, the Jews had learned to respect blood as the representation of life. It is so sacred, drinking blood is absolutely forbidden by God (Gen. 9:4). Without the shedding of sacrificial blood there can be no remission of sins (Lev. 17:11-14).

Israel’s training began when God commanded them to mark their homes with the blood of the lamb to protect their firstborn male children from death (Ex. 12:13). The blood was the evidence the animal had been sacrificed. Divine protection did not come through faith in animal blood, but by obedience to God’s command. Soon after their exodus from Egypt, God gave complete and specific instructions concerning blood sacrifices (Lev. 16-17). Only after the people promised to obey God’s law did Moses sprinkle them with blood (Heb. 9:19). God’s covenants are designed to function only in an atmosphere of commitment, trust, and sacrifice.

In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed as atonement for sin. God never allowed human sacrifice as payment for transgressions. Although Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, it was only a test of his obedience (Jas. 2:21). After he passed this trial, a ram was provided as a substitute sacrifice (Gen. 22:13).

God’s people can only covenant with Him through the sacrificial system He has established. In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the heart of sacrificial offerings is bloodshed. In every offering, a life is terminated. Because blood represents life, shed blood serves as proof a life has ended in obedience to the covenant. When Jesus laid His life down for us, He said, “It is finished.” His life ended in sacrificial obedience to His Father’s will. When one accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and repents, their old life has ended (Rom.5:9). As Believers obey His command to pick up their crosses daily, they affirm they have died to sin with Him (Rom. 6:10). Paul affirms that Christ, as our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7). We live His life by identifying with His death.

The Benefits of Jesus’ Blood Covenant

God only communicates with human beings who are in covenant relationship with Him. He who initiated the pact has the right to establish the rules which regulate it. When one covenants with God, he agrees to obey His commands. “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, but do not obey the things I say?” (Lk. 6:46). “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you” (Jn. 15:14). We should be intolerant of anything that interferes with our covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The day before Jesus died, He said, “This cup is the New Testament in My blood which is shed for you” (I Cor. 11:25). He promised those who “drink” His blood will have eternal life (Jn. 6:54). Believers are instructed to take communion in remembrance of His blood covenant (Lk. 22:20). Paul states we are justified by His blood and declares the cup of Lord’s Supper to be the communion of the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9 & I Cor. 10:16). Faith in His shed blood results in our propitiation (Rom. 3:25). We have been crucified with Christ, and He now lives within us (Gal. 2:20). Believers are purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Those who were far from God are brought near by the blood of His Son (Eph. 2:13). We enjoy redemption, forgiveness of sins and peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:14 & 20).

Each Levitical sacrifice was symbolic of the human desire to communicate with the One within the veil (Heb. 10:20). Hundreds of years of tabernacle ritualism graphically demonstrated that union with God is only possible through the blood of a substitute. Something very valuable has to be sacrificed in order to atone for offenses against Him. Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). In order to covenant with God today only the precious blood of Christ can suffice (I Pet. 1:19). The Son of God sacrificed Himself as the final atonement for all sin (II Cor. 5:21).


1. The Hebrew word for “covenant” refers to a treaty, compact or agreement. True or False?

2. Every covenant in the Bible involves substitution and sacrifice. True or False?   

3. Examples of men who made covenants with God include:
A. Noah
B. Melchizedek
C. Abel
D. both A & C
E. none of the above

4. All cultures fundamentally agree:
A. life comes from God
B. all life belongs to God
C. blood represents life given by God
D. blood is necessary in order to covenant with God
E. all of the above

5. Which of the following concepts is most likely to be connected with the Hebrew word for “blood”?
A. ceremonialism
B. fidelity
C. pageantry
D. death
E. Levites

6. According to Leviticus 17:12, what were the children of Israel forbidden to do?

7. Because of the sanctity of blood, what must be done when it is poured out on the ground?

8. According to Jeremiah 50:5, what will never be forgotten?

9. According to I John 1:7, what is seen as the cleansing agent for sin?



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