“Ceremonialism and carnal ordinances were imposed upon them until this entire system was reformed” 9:10 (paraphrased)
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. Whereas a contract protects rights and limits responsibilities, a blood covenant relationship involves surrendering rights and assuming responsibilities. Where selfishness exists, such pacts cannot exist. The Biblical concepts of selflessness and sacrifice 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, 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 the Lord 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 nation 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 such treaties, individual identities are blended as the two parties reciprocally bind themselves together under 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:
<> Creator created everything.
<> Blood represents life.
<> The most valuable thing one can offer is blood.
<> Sharing blood means sharing life.
<> Mingling of blood represents co-mingling of lives.
<> Both persons are revitalized by the other’s blood.
<> Covenanting means one soul 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.
<> A deity is called upon to witness the sacred vow.
<> This deity is trusted to protect the covenant and make it effectual.
<> These two people become bonded with God in a greater measure.
<> All such pacts are made before human witnesses.
<> Self-renunciation is essential in a covenant relationship.
<> Immutable mutual obligations are assumed by both.
<> If one is wronged, the other will avenge.
<> It is understood each would sacrifice their own life for the other.
<> Either person who breaks the covenant will be dishonored.
<> The two have now become one eternally.
<> Only the death of either one terminates the covenant.
All cultures fundamentally agree life comes from God and therefore belongs to Him. Because blood represents life, blood is the means of union and communication with God. Because He is the Author of life, blood is essential in order to connect with Him.
Treaties form ties that cannot be annulled. When two persons enter into a covenant, they possess a double life and often become closer than biological siblings. They now enjoy an added sense of security, for neither one faces life alone. All pacts involve spoken words, but not always written words. To better comprehend blood-covenanting, a random sampling of ceremonies throughout the world will prove helpful:
<> 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.
<> An animal is left to bleed while the covenant ceremony takes place.
<> Blood is poured on tobacco and put in a pipe, which each of the parties then smokes. Through inhalation, the blood is symbolically transferred.
<> Animal blood is mingled with wine in a cup. Those making the pledge each drink and the remaining blood is poured on a tree as a witness.
<> Specific vows are written on a paper. Each cuts their right hand, allowing their mingled blood to drip onto this document. It is then burned, letting the smoke ascend upwards to God who witnesses their agreement.
<> Covenanting persons pierce their right thumbs, which are briefly tied together. This allows blood to mingle as the oath is taken.
<> Two individuals exchange bracelets dipped in the others blood. One is then worn by the other as public testimony of their commitment.
<> Blood from those bonding with each another is dripped on a cloth. When it dries, each wears a locket with a small piece inside.
<> 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.
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 certain gods. A deity is implored to witness the pact, thus ensuring these deities will be the guardians of the commitment. It is understood they will bless those who keep it – and punish those who break it.
But Jehovah is not a sadistic god that is appeased by blood sacrifices. There is a dynamic and distinctive difference between Israel’s covenant and those of any other nation, for theirs was personally instituted by God. 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 faithfulness. If His covenant is kept, blessings include happiness, obedient children, fidelity, longevity, and wealth. Myriads of curses, however, will come upon the covenant breaker (Deut. 27 – 28).
The Hebrew term for blood is dam, occurring over three hundred times in the Old Testament. Almost always associated with this word is the concept of death. 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 through the death of an animal there was no remission of sins (Lev. 17:11-14).
Israel’s training began when God commanded them to mark their homes with the blood of a lamb to protect their firstborn male children from death (Ex. 12:13). This blood was the evidence an animal had been sacrificed. However, divine protection did not come through faith in the offering, 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 in an atmosphere of commitment and trust.
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 covenant with Him through the system He has established. In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the heart of sacrificial offerings is bloodshed. Because blood represents life, shed blood serves as proof a life has ended in compliance with the covenant. When Jesus laid His life down for us, He said, “It is finished.” He expired in sacrificial obedience to His Father’s will. When one accepts the atonement of Christ and repents, their old life is terminated (Rom.5:9). As Believers obey His command to pick up their crosses daily, they affirm they have died to sin (Rom. 6:10). Paul writes 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 communicates with human beings who are in faithful to their 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. Jesus asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord’, but do not obey My words?” (Lk. 6:46). On another occasion, He states, “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command” (Jn. 15:14). Believers should be intolerant of anything that interferes with complete submission to 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 His death on Calvary (Eph. 2:13). We enjoy reconciliation, forgiveness of sins, and peace through His redemption (Col. 1:14 & 20).
Every 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 possible through the blood of a substitute. Something very valuable had to be offered in order to atone for offenses against Him. Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). The Son of God sacrificed Himself as the final atonement for all sin (II Cor. 5:21). In order to covenant with God, only “the precious blood of Christ” will suffice (I Pet. 1:19).
QUESTIONS: THE BLOOD COVENANT
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:
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”?
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?