Day 4: Learning to Walk in Covenant with God! (Understanding Blood Covenant and what it means to us today! )

In our last chapter on the story of Genesis, we were introduced to the covenant that God made with Abraham. In this section, I want to explore with you the far-reaching implications that Abraham’s covenant still has on us today! But first, let me give you:


Background to Understanding Covenant

  • .Just for a few moments, let me give you a quick overview of biblical covenants. Throughout scripture, God will make with us seven covenants
  • When it comes to Abraham’s covenant, the one we are going to delve into today, we need to understand that there were two important types of covenants/treaties in the Ancient Near East relevant to our story.
  • Royal Grant (unconditional): this was a king’s grant (free gift of land or some other benefit) to a loyal servant for faithful or exceptional service. The grant was normally perpetual and unconditional, but the servant’s heirs benefited from it only as they continued their father’s loyalty and service 1 Sa 8:14; 22:7; 27:6; Est 8:1.)
  • Suzerain-vassal (conditional): this was a covenant regulating the relationship between a great Suzerain (king) and one of his subject kings. The Suzerain claimed the right of absolute sovereignty and demanded total loyalty and service. In exchange for this loyalty and service the Suzerain pledged protection of the subject’s realm and dynasty.
  • This protection was, of course, conditional on the vassal’s faithfulness and loyalty. If there was a breach of loyalty, especially in going to another nation for protection, the Suzerain would rain down curses on his disloyal subjects in an attempt to get them to turn from their rebellion. Participants in this type of covenant called each other “lord” and “servant” or “father” and “son’Job 9:6,8; Eze 17:13-18; Hos 12:2.)
  • These are the two most common definitions of covenants used back in that day that help us understand some of what is going on here with God’s relationship with Abraham, but only in part. To fully understand what God was trying to communicate to Abraham, we need to understand a third type covenant, found here called “Blood Covenant.” 
  • It’s only by understanding this kind of covenant, that enables us to understand many of lessons that God was trying to teach Israel throughout the entire Old Testament! It also lays the foundation for us to understand many things in the New Testament!

Covenant of Abraham

  • Like so many, covenant was one of those words I was familiar with but did not understand the full impact of what this word meant or the implications of its meaning!
  • You see, to understand Covenant, is to understand grace, for covenant is the expression of his grace! The entire Bible is based on this one-word covenant!
  • Unfortunately, confusion has come in because some people translated this word as testament, which is not nearly strong enough, nor does it say meant to say. The correct translation is covenant. Meaning, we should not describe our bible as being two testaments, but rather, our Bible is made of two covenants. We have the Old Testament covenant and the New Testament covenant.
  • And the implications of this are staggering! Consider these observations of how important covenant is in our New Testament thinking. Firstly, all our salvation, the very fact that we are saved is based on the covenant that has been made.
  • Secondly, our relationship with God here and now is a result of covenant. The fact that we are one and united with him is based on covenant that has been made.
  • Thirdly, the only reason to why we can come to Scripture and lay hold of God's promises and say so shall it be, is because a covenant has been made.
  • Fourthly, the nature of our fellowship together is a covenant Fellowship. Meaning, we are not just a bunch of randomly gathered Christians, instead we are in covenant together because we are in covenant with God.
  • You see, no matter where you turn, whether in Scripture or all that comes out of Scripture, you are faced with this word covenant and therefore I think it is important to find out what it means.

I want to look at this word in three ways: 1) Culturally 2) Biblically 3) Application

  1. Culturally
  • First, let me say from the get-go, that we are going to have a hard time understanding this word because it is an “Eastern” word, written from the perception of those living in Eastern culture. And we who live in a “Western” culture, do not have an equivalent word.
  • The closes thing we have understanding what it means to be in a covenant relationship with someone, is the marriage relationship! Unfortunately, this does not capture it fully either. Why? Because the word covenant can apply to two families or the two nations or can even apply to two people in a business partnership.
  • But marriage has the right idea that two people are so closely joined that they become one. That is the heart of the meaning of the word covenant. To come into a covenant; is to come into a union with another person that is total.
  • That means all I possess is no longer my possession independently. I possess it along with that other person. And o all that they own, they no longer possess it independently, but they possessed it in company along with me. We have become one.
  • Furthermore, my future ambitions can no longer be worked out independently. To be in covenant means I must die to the luxury of independent living because I have now come into covenant, a partnership, a Fellowship, a unity with someone else.
  • In fact, my future is so bound up with their future, that we can never think separately again. Now this is at the heart of the idea of covenant; A total and absolute commitment one to another!
  • Interestingly, almost every ancient culture works this out in their own way. In fact, it is still happening today. Whether we are talking about American Indians or Africans or Eskimos or Indians from South America, this is one of the most ancient ways of two people or two families coming together!
  • We have all seen this on TV over the years, when two people come together, make some kind of cut on their arms so that they are bleeding, and then grasp each other in such a way that their blood mingles!
  • It is their way of saying; I'm not only going to say I am in partnership with you, but I am going to seal it with my own blood!
  • Now while every culture has some form of this, we are most interested in the Hebrew form of blood covenant. Which is to say, in order to understand what the Bible means when it says covenant, we must get our head into the head of the Hebrew who live three or 4000 years ago.
  • -       From their perspective, they understood that to enter into a covenant with somebody, they we would have to go through different three stages: A) Preparation B) The Actual Making of It C.) Walking it out

A. Preparation:

  • If you wanted to enter into a covenant with someone, you wouldn't make this decision lightly. You would think a lot about it. You would weigh every cost and you would consider every benefit that would come to you.
  • You would do this because you understand, that to enter into a covenant with someone, you would be saying goodbye to life as we know it. You would be giving up the luxury of independent living. Because everything from here on, will now have to be done in accord with this person you are making covenant with.
  • And not just for your own life, but also your children’s lives and children's children. In other words, this decision is going to affect all your unborn children and grandchildren!
  • So of course, you are going to give this a great deal of solemn thought and use every bit of discernment you have, because you certainly don’t want to link yourself up with someone who's going to drag you down for the rest of your life.
  • But once you have finally decided that you are going to enter into a covenant relationship with another person or group of people. You have decided to enter into an agreement in a way that the Hebrew people would describe as "ber-ret", which means to cut with blood, or what we would call a blood covenant!
  • To make this covenant Hebrew fashion, you would go through a nine-step process!

B. Make covenant:

  1. First thing you would do is present yourself to the person who in turn has been thinking it over on whether they want to enter into this covenant. The first symbolic act you would do is take off your coat and give it to this person. In doing this, you would be symbolically saying; all that I have, all that represents me, I now give to you. And he in turn would take off his coat and give it to you. For in this kind of covenant, there is a mutual exchange of persons.
  2. And then you would take off your belt on which you hung your great sword and all your weapons and then give it to them. By doing that you would be saying that anyone who touches you, touches me! In other words, if anyone wants to kill you, they have to reckon with first me. My weapons, my strengths are yours. They in turn would do likewise to you. Once you have done this, you are now ready to cut covenant because you understand what each other means.
  3. Next, the ancient Hebrews would take an animal and they would split the animal right now the backbone making two bloody halves. Then they would walk in a figure 8 in opposite directions. They would walk in such a fashion that they would be seen as walking in and through and around death. And it would work out where you would meet in the middle of the two halves. This is incredibly significant! Symbolically speaking, they met standing in the middle of death. At which point they would solemnly swear to each other... "God so due to me and more, God slice me down the backbone and more if I break this covenant." In other words, they understood that this covenant was unto death! That this was a everlasting, eternal agreement.
  4. And then you would cut your wrists in such a way that your blood runs down your arm. And you would hold up your right hand, just like we do in court today, and swear to tell the truth! (Many believe this swearing in act originated from the blood covenant days. The only difference now, is there is no blood involved.) Back then there was blood because there was no stronger symbol than of blood. Once you have raised your right hand, you would commit yourself totally to this other person in very specific ways! You would take out your bank statement and say, here, it's yours. Here are all my assets, here is what I plan to do with my life, here are my talents, my abilities, my strengths, all that I am is yours! And then the other person would turn and raise their right hand and swear themselves over to you.
  5. It is at this point; they would bring their two arms together and link them in such a way that their blood would mingle with each other. And then swear to each other that they will be a blessing to one another! (Do you know why you shake hands and say God bless you today? Many believes it goes back to this ritual of making a blood covenant!) But the in the original blood covenant, the blessing was far more involved than just saying God bless you! After they grasp hands and arms, one would swear that even unto death, they would be a channel of blessing to their partner, as their partner would be to them! At this point these two individuals, or families or nations would be considered one!
  6. Next, the marks on their wrists would become sealed in such a way that it would never looked healed. The scar would always be there! But this did not bother them. In fact, they would wear that scar with pride. Because that was the mark that told others that they were in covenant with such and such a person. Now they belong to each other. Furthermore, they would also wear their scar with a deep sense of responsibility. They knew that whatever their blood brother needed, they were bound to supply. So, that every time they looked at their scar, they were reminded of the awesome responsibility that was theirs on behalf of their brother. Isn't it interesting that after Jesus rose from the dead and he was healed of all his wounds except for the ones he showed Thomas after his resurrection! Jesus said to Thomas in John 20:27 "Put your finger here and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!" Of course the question then becomes; Why weren’t these wounds healed? Answer: these were the scars of his covenant with us. They remind him of his great responsibility for both you and me, and all those who have put their faith in him and his sacrifice at the cross! This scar was also seen as the great protector! You see, back in that day, if someone was about to beat you up, you would simply stretch out your arm to show them your scar. And when your adversary saw the scare on your arm, they would immediately know that there was more to you than meets the eye. And now the possibility existed that their blood brother was bigger than them. And to touch or harm you, meant they must now also deal with your blood brother. And so, in this way, the scar of their wound would offer them protection.
  7. To acknowledge the formation of this new covenant, they would then go as far as changing their name. For example, back in those days, if I would enter into a covenant relationship with Shelley Zack (My wife), my name would become Gerry Zack Cheney. And her name would become Shelley Cheney Zack. And we would wear that name with pride because now we were in covenant and have become one.
  8. Then at the end of it all, they would sit down and share a covenant meal. They would take a great big cup of wine, recognizing that this wine represented the blood that was shed, and then they would drink it and pass it to the other. They would have understood that their lives have become one and their blood has sealed the agreement. Then they would take a piece of bread and rip it apart and feed it to their covenant brother and say; “Eat me”. And he would eat it and would do the same back to his partner. They would understand this was a symbolic way to show that they were now one. And that this meal was now the memorial that established that they were now one.
  9. Lastly, they would assume a title. Now that they were in covenant with one another they were now allowed to call each other “friend.” Unfortunately, in our culture we have taken the word friend and made it meaningless, because we use it in regard to everyone. But originally the word friend meant, my blood covenant at partner. It was the highest honor you could bestow on another human being. Meaning, there was no greater honor than someone saying that they wanted them to be your friend!

C.    Walking it out
  • We will cover this under the application section.

2) Biblically:

  • Turn to Genesis 15 and let me anticipate the chapter by telling you that God was calling Abraham into a blood covenant, as God deliberately used the same language and imagery of that time, to ensure people would understand what he was doing!
  • And to guarantee that there was no doubt in people as to his intent, he duplicated each of the nine earmarks of a blood covenant that we just covered in his covenant with Abraham!
  • Gen 15:1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
  1. Symbolically, God took off his coat and said here it is Abraham. Your reward will be very great. King James says that a little better; I am your exceeding great reward. We must remember at this point that God is not a possessor of things, he himself is his only possession. God does not own blessings; he is a blessing. God does not have riches, he is our concept of riches. Therefore, when he said I am, he means I can't just give you a coat, I give you myself, for I am your great reward.
  2. Then he says I am your shield to you. In other words, here are my weapons. God is saying; I want to enter into a covenant relationship with you. I want to give you all that I am. I want you to have all that I am. And if anyone touches you, they are touching me. I am your weapons and I am your possession. And Abraham responded... Gen 15:6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. So they went to cut a covenant! 
  3. Gen 15:9-11 So the LORD said to him, "Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon."  10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.  Do you see what is happening here? This is exactly what you do to make a blood covenant. That said here is my coat, here's my shield, now let's cut the animals in two and enter into a blood covenant. This is unbelievable after what we have just seen and understood a blood covenant to be. That God, the Creator of the universe, would come down to man's level so that man could not misunderstand what God was intending and that we would know exactly what God is saying. That we are going to enter an unbreakable union together with God. But if that’s, true, that God is inviting Abraham into covenant, we have a problem. How can you enter into a covenant relationship with Abraham when Abraham is a sinner and you are holy. How can a sinful Abraham enter a covenant relationship with a holy God? And secondly, how can an eternal God enter covenant with a mortal man. What can a created creature offer to the Creator? Answer: absolutely Nothing! Making this a ridiculous idea. Because up to this point what we have been examining is a covenant between two equal partners. In this scenario, when someone enters a covenant with someone else, each party has something to give to the other. But for this covenant between God and Abraham to occur, something new must happen! Something has to change obviously, for when the Creator comes to what he created, what can the created give except that which he has already been given by the Creator. Meaning we have to stop here. That kind covenant cannot occur here. At this point a new covenant is being introduced to us. A one-sided covenant, where one person has everything, and the other person has nothing! And because one side has nothing to offer, the motivation to do this lies solely on the one who has everything. The person with everything must desire to be in covenant with person who has nothing. Now I understand how hard this must be to fathom, so let me try to make it clear for you. It would be like billionaire, now president Donald Trump, going to the ghetto in New York and sees a homeless man in the gutter. This guy has nothing. This guy has no hope for its future. He has absolutely nothing that he can contribute to Donald Trump. Nevertheless, something rises up inside of Donald Trump that says I want to enter into a blood covenant with you. But clearly this would be a non-equal covenant. Because the recipient of this covenant is going to get everything! And all Donald is going to get is his huge bills. If this ever happened, it would be amazing! The bum has no claim on the billionaire. The bum could not say he has something to offer the billionaire. The fact is the very idea of covenant would not even occur to him! Yet, this is exactly what we see going on between Abraham and God. The idea of covenant started with God and everything that is to be offered originates from God. The Greeks have a word for this because there is no English equivalent. The word means a covenant that is unequal. The covenant where one person does the giving of everything while the other person only takes and receives. To bring this kind of covenant into existence, the one who has everything must enter into a covenant with himself. Essentially, he is saying; I promised me that I will be a blessing to you. You have nothing to offer, I have everything. So, I will not even consult you because you don't have anything to consult about. All you can do is take and receive what I am offering to you. My giving to you has nothing to do with you or what you can give back to me. Therefore, I promised me. I swear by my own faithfulness that I promise I'm going to bless you. Now back to Abraham, what we are witnessing is that God is going to cut a covenant with man. For this to happen, God comes to man, even though man has absolutely nothing to offer back! In fact, this man has a minus account! Nevertheless, God is going to swear by himself and enter into a covenant with himself, because of who he is, not because of who we are. He says, I am who I am, so I will bless you. In other words, a covenant is cut, but man has nothing to do with it except to receive it. And this is what we see happening to Abraham. He gets the animal, cuts it in half, and prepares himself for what he supposed to do which is walk through the pieces and contribute to God all that he has to offer. But instead, something very different happens! Gen 15:12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep… This of course is incredibly significant! It was if God was saying, I don't need you from here on. So, Abraham just falls into a deep sleep. So that the only contribution that Abraham ever made to the covenant, was his snoring! As he laid in the corner snoring, he watched God make this covenant with in him in a vision. Gen 15:17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram…What we are seeing here is a picture of God's presence! This blazing torch of fire reminds us of the symbolism found in Exodus where the children of Israel followed a pillar of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night. In other words, what we have here is the manifest presence of God, the glory of God passing through the pieces. This is significant because this reveals to us that Abraham had no part to play in it, it was all God. It is as if God was saying, I am going to enter into a covenant with you Abraham, but you have nothing to offer, so I will be your substitute, and l pass through the pieces on your behalf! Meaning, God passes through the pieces and makes a covenant with himself. This is incredibly significant! Do you remember when Jesus said... John 8:56-59 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." "You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"  You see, Jesus was the torch that Abraham watched pass through the pieces. In other words, Abraham saw Jesus before the incarnation! He saw how Jesus would take his place while he slept and just rested, pointing to the time when Christ would become our substitution for our sins when he died for us on the cross. Why did God do this? Because he was trying to communicate in a way that we could understand something of the width and breath and length of his love and mercy he has for us. Furthermore, he wanted to show us how dependable his love is. He did this by taking the most enduring, dependable eternal thing that he knew, himself, and made that the basis on which he expressed his love to us
  4. We know that in every covenant there must be a seal! In this case the seal would be circumcision. Meaning, that Abraham and all who would enter into this covenant with God, needed to be sealed with circumcision.  Gen 17:10-12 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. Gen 17:13-14 My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.
  5. After covenant was made, then they say they would be a blessing to each other. Here’s how God blessed Abraham after they had made covenant. Gen 17:3-8 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." Now that’s what I call a blessing! I will give you everything you need to fill this world with your children, who be blessed as well. Whole nations and kings will come out of you. Furthermore, I will give you a land that you can call home forever!
  6. In step six we are remind how the scar of their covenant was a constant reminder and a sign of God’s protection! And as they were going to see, this was no empty promise. Again and again God would lead them into situations where they had no way out but to trust and depend on God to fight their battles for them. Ex 14:13-14 Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." Deut 1:29-30 "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, It was this promise that would allow them walk into one new circumstance after another without fear!
  7. Then to absolutely solidify in Abraham’s mind that the God of all creation was making a blood covenant with him, God initiated the expected name change! As we already read in Gen 17:4 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations  You remember the story, whenever you entered a blood covenant, there had to be a name change, where you would each take part of the other person's name in making your own. So, Abram became Abraham and Sari became Sarah. And from that point on, God became known as the God of Abraham! And later, as the God of Abraham and Isaac, and later on as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In other words, God took the name of man and made it part of his own name. 
  8. Then many years later, right before God would deliver his people from slavery in Egypt, God inaugurated the Passover the meal that was meant to celebrate and commiserate the covenant between Abraham(and now his Children) and God. We will cover this in our next chapter and as we are going to see, the Passover meal became the celebration that God was in covenant with his people.
  9. The last earmark of a blood covenant was to bestow the title of “friend” upon each other. And significantly, from this point on and all through Scripture, Abraham is referred to as the friend of God. Why was he called that? Because he was in covenant with God! Now comes the fun part...

3) Application:

  • Gal 3:6-9 Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
  • Gal 3:14 He (Christ) redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
  • In other words, through faith in Christ, who is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, in that Jesus became the seed through whom God would bless all nations! Meaning, we now have access to all the blessings given to Abraham!
  • The application of this is mind blowing. Because essentially what God set into place or open the door for us to understand, is that now through Christ all our needs will be met.
  •  Phil 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
  • In other words, all God is and all that he can provide is now available to us through the Christ.
  • This means that regardless of what we are going through, regardless of our failures or our setbacks or mistakes or our sins, we can still come to God boldly based on covenant! Not because of our own righteousness, but because of his love and mercy!
  • Heb 4:16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.
  • I love how the Message puts it so succinctly, Heb 4:16 So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
  • Going back to our example of the beggar and Mr. Trump; if the beggar needed some money, and if he wasn't in covenant with Mr. Trump, he might have gone and asked if Mr. Trump if he would loan him $100! But because the beggar was now in covenant with Mr. Trump, he could go to him and ask Mr. Trump for the checkbook, reminding him what is owned by Mr. Trump is now his as well!
  • But this is just the beginning! Leaning to walk in covenant with someone else goes so much deeper. From now on, we must remind ourselves that as covenant children of God, our problems have become God’s problems, our enemies have become his enemies, and his resources are now our resources.
  • And that this is not a burden on God, but a delight! He enjoys our dependency on him much like we enjoy being there for our own children.
  • Therefore, walking in covenant with God means that we understand that when we come to him, we start out with zero and he started out with everything. Meaning, while we can only offer our zeros, we still get to receive His fullness. And this pleases God! This is what it means to walk in covenant.
  • And this truth now becomes the primary lesson that God is totally devoted to teaching Israel! Unfortunately, Israel, as it is with all of us, are not always good students!
  • This is why we find God driving Israel again and again into problems. He did this in order that they would grasp the fact that all they ever had was zero and not to be upset by that. That God wanted them to learn what it meant to be totally dependent on his limitless resources.  
  • But to do that, they would have to learn to trust and have faith in God! Not an easy lesson to learn, nevertheless, God wanted to teach his people how to do that without whining or complaining!
  • You see, God wants an intimate relationship his people, to the extent that his people know him and his love for them in such a way that they could now rest in his love and be free from all fear and anxiety!
  • And that his love and care and provision was not something they could earn, but a sheer gift of his love!
  • It’s with this in mind that we are able to understand how God is relating to his people. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, we are going to see God again and again trying to teach Israel what it means to walk in covenant with him.
  • Jumping ahead to the New Testament, we find Jesus also trying to teach his disciples this same lesson both through example and by saying over and over again; John 5:19-20 "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
  • Walking in covenant means learning to walk completely dependent on God! Unfortunately, we like Israel, think we are meant to deal with our problems through own strengths and resources and cleverness and ingenuity! We aspire to be self-sufficient, not realizing God expects the exact opposite of this.
  • But God understands this and is determined to go through great lengths to teach us how to walk in covenant with him, by trusting him every step of the way!
  • And this is exactly what we are going to see God doing throughout the rest of the Old Testament, but especially in the God’s next book, Exodus!