Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
So, just what is a covenant? We just read in our Old Testament verse, that God made a covenant with Abram.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a covenant as; “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement”.
So, a covenant, is just a contract, like the kind we have today right?
“The party of the first part is God, and the Party of the second part is Abram. God and Abram signed some papers, shook hands on it, and they have a deal. If things go well, they keep the agreement going, and if things don’t work out so well, Meh, they”ll just call it off, and go about their ways. Maybe they’ll sue and tie each other up in court for a while. No big deal. Happens all the time right?
No. a covenant is much more than that. There was much more to it than a handshake or written contract in the ceremony described in our reading today.
In the Bible, a covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. And it passes from Generation to Generation.
The full translation of the Hebrew word Berith, is to “cut covenant”.
Our reading today showed how the ceremony was once conducted. Abram took the animals requested by God, and cut them in two (I think I see where “cut covenant” comes from) and, a smoking firepot and blazing torch passed between the pieces.
Another term you may have heard used for covenant is “blood covenant”. A blod covenant requires that blood be exchanged in order for it to be a binding agreement. and in todays reading, the blood of animals was used. But there are other examples in the bible of using blood. In Exodus 24 verse 8 it says,
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
What did it mean to enter into a covenant with another?
A blood covenant between two people is the closest, the most enduring, the most solemn, and the most sacred of all agreements. When you enter into a blood covenant with someone, you promise to give them your life, your love, and your protection forever. You become as one with each other.
So, what would happen if you broke the covenant? Didn’t live up to your side of the agreement?
Jeremiah 34:8-22 tells the story of God (speaking through Jeremiah the prophet), explaining what he (God) intends to do to those who broke the covenant with Him;
“The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.”
So, the cutting of the pieces, is symbolic of, “It shall be unto you”, if you do not keep your part of the covenant.
Once you enter into a covenant, you shouldn’t break the covenant. Don’t enter if you can’t keep it.
Other Biblical Covenants
There are many other examples of covenants in the bible. Here are just a few;
- In Genesis 6 and 9, God establishes a covenant with Noah and his descendants.
- Genesis 17, God promises a covenant with Isaac.
- In Exodus 2:24, God “remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob”
Covenants in the Bible were not always between God and Man.
- Genesis 31, Laban and Jacob make a covenant
- First Samuel, 18, Jonathan and David enter a covenant, and in
- Second Samuel 9, David keeps his covenant through Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (Me-Fi-Bo-Sheth)
We even have artifacts of covenants, like,
- The Ark of The Covenant (Exodus 21, 25)
- the Tablets of the Covenant which are the two stone tablets upon which God wrote the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 9:9-11).
Jesus Executing a Covenant
When Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room for “the last supper”, he made a new covenant. When we take communion, we recite the words that Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 26 verses 27-28, “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Extra-cultural examples of covenants.
There are examples is other cultures as well. Sir Henry Stanley was a famous explorer in Africa, and probably best known for his search for Dr. Livingston. There are many stories of his travels. It is said that he had “cut covenant” with as many as 50 Tribal chiefs in Africa, and was able to use those covenants to move through dangerous territories of rival tribes by showing the scars of those covenants.
When I was a kid, we used to talk about becoming Blood Brothers. We always thought this was an old Native American tradition, where you and somebody else would cut your finger, and mix it with the other persons blood, and then you became life-long brothers. I think it was the “blood=pain” part of it that always scared us away from actually doing it.
Other signs of covenant
Sometimes, there are other signs of a covenant. In some covenant ceremonies, a specific scar is made where the blood is exchanged, as a sign.
The rite of circumcision was given by God to Abraham as “a token of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:11-13)
Many times, a covenant agreement involves the exchange of gifts. Some sources said that a a very personal item would be exchanged. A prized weapon, or a personalized coat or tunic.
Sometimes even names were exchanged or hyphenated together as an outward sign of the covenant agreement.
That way other people would know that you were one (in covenant) with someone else.
Marriage is modern-day covenant. Thankfully, we do not perform the all of same rituals during a wedding ceremony as they do when executing blood covenant. I don’t recall any half-animals in any marriage ceremony I have ever attended.
But, in every marriage ceremony I’ve seen, an exchange of gifts was part of the agreement. In modern times, this is the ring. It is an outward sign or symbol of the covenant. I can show my ring to anyone to prove that I am in a covenant relationship, and so can my wife.
Jesus and the Fox
In our New Testament reading, we have Jesus being warned by the Pharisees that Herod wants to kill him.
I don’t know about you, but I always have trouble remembering who’s-who between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
Both groups are like political parties within the Priestly ranks of the Jewish High Council, called the Sanhedrin. In Matthew 22:23 we learn that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees did not.
To keep that straight, I came up with;
Pharisees say, As Far-I See, there is resurrection.
The Sadducees are Sad-You-See, because to them, there is no resurrection
In any event, neither group liked Jesus very much, and many of the stories in the New Testament are about Jesus arguing with or correcting the “teachers of the law”.
Not all of them were his enemies, Nicodemus (P) and Joseph of Arimathea are men of the Sanhedrin (John 7:50, Mark 15:43) that were helpful to Jesus in as much as they both played a role in the burial of Jesus. And Paul, the writer of many of the letters in the new testament, said that he was a Pharisee. (Philippians 3:5)
It was members of the Pharisees that came to warn Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him.
Ok, back up a little more, Who was Herod? There is a Herod mentioned in chapter 2 of the book of Matthew, That Herod was King of Jerusalem when Jesus was born. He was the one who met the wise men, and then who ordered the killing of all the 2-year and younger males, in order to try to get Jesus. That was a guy called Herod the first, or Herod the Great. (Doesn’t sound like a very great guy to me), but, he was also the one who renovated the temple in Jerusalem around 20 BC. Which sometimes became known as “Herod’s Temple”.
He died in about 4 BC, basically while Joseph, Mary and Jesus had fled to Egypt.
This is not the Herod this story is referring to. (Obi Wan Kenobi would say, “This is not the Herod you are looking for)
This is a warning about Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the First.
Herod Antipas, was the ruler of Galilee who had John the Baptist put to death, because John had condemned his marriage to Herodias, (Mark 6, Luke 3, Matt 14). So, a threat from Herod Antipas to kill you meant something.
Jesus was not a wimp. He was not afraid of Herod. Jesus replied, “go tell that fox”… (apparently, Jesus did not think very highly of Herod)
Jesus continues, basically saying, I have work to do, today, tomorrow and the day after that I will be done. Jesus told Herod to bugger off, you can’t touch me”
Then Jesus laments that God’s covenant people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jewish Nation, has turned from God, Killing messengers from God (prophets), and that things are about to change.
God was trying to keep his part of the Covenant with Israel. God wanted to protect His covenant people. Too many times, they, and we, have failed to keep covenant with God.
How you have to live the Covenant
The Lord our God, made a covenant with Abram and others.
Jesus came to be the new covenant with us. He spilled his blood as part of the covenant. He has made a promise to be a part of us , to fight for us,, to love us, even to the end.
A covenant, is a life-long, deep promise. And, you must fulfil that promise as long as you are able. A covenant runs both ways. Both parties to the covenant promise to be true to each other within the terms of the covenant. You, me, all of family of believers are in covenant with the creator of the universe through the blood of Jesus. And there’s nobody I’d rather have on my side.
What is our part of the covenant agreement?
What is it that God wants from us?
It is very simply stated. The words are easy, the fulfilment is not. It is written on the Tablets of the Covenant, and taught by Jesus.
Love God, and be nice to people. (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27)