OUR COVENANT, Part 3
October 18, 2019
Two weeks ago, we were talking about the original Covenant that God made with Abraham. We got part way into that picture, but then I temporarily side-tracked that last week to talk about the Covenant of Marriage. Let’s pick up today with where we left off.
We started off this discussion talking about the fact that Adam and Eve -- and by virtue of descending from them, the whole human race -- were created in the image of God, imbued with his character and makeup, and given the same creative power of speech. This is absolutely critical to our understanding the makeup of covenant.
One of the most important aspects of true covenant is the promise made between the parties. The promise embodies both irrevocable commitment and creative power which implements the conditions of the covenant. The speaking forth of the promise creates and sets in motion the circumstances which empower the covenant.
But there's a whole lot more to this. Watch!
I noted two weeks ago that the Lord instructed Abraham to bring Him "an heifer of three years old, a she-goat of three years old, a ram of three years old, and a turtledove and a young pigeon."
The animals were slaughtered, their carcasses divided in two parts and laid out with each half facing the other. One bird was placed on one side, and the other bird the other side. The halved carcasses were placed far enough apart that Abraham could stand between them and the Lord could pass between them.
The significance of this IS relevant since the parties to this covenant would be standing and/or walking in blood as the covenant was struck. Why?
We'll get to this picture in due time, but let's finish our review of Abraham and the Lord and the covenant the Lord made with Abraham.
One of the common misconceptions about covenant is that it is an agreement between equals in which they combine their strengths. Wrong. It IS a commitment between equals, but covenant takes the weaknesses of both parties and places them under the protection of the combined strength of the parties to the covenant. The lives of the parties to the covenant are at stake. The bloodshed of the animals -- in Abraham's case -- was both prophetic of things to come and symbolic of the lives of the two parties to the covenant: in this case, the Lord God and Abraham.
Bear with me while I show you how this unfolds.
Abraham grew up in a world where an understanding of covenant -- real covenant -- was embodied in all of society. It had been embodied and incorporated into every man and woman since the Lord killed the animal(s) and made leather clothing for Adam and Eve.
History and archaeology show us the following.
Whenever a covenant was cut between two parties, the first thing to happen was that the initiating party took his cloak or outer garment off and gave it to the other party. The second party likewise removed his cloak and gave it to the first party.
The cloak represented covering. Each party was saying to the other by this act that all that they were, all that they had, all their abilities would cover each other. They would lack for nothing so far as it was in the power of each party to fulfill.
The second act of covenant was for the first party to remove his girdle and give it to the second party, who then reciprocated with his girdle. A girdle was not what we commonly think of in today's understanding, but rather a weapons belt. It was the mainstay of one's sword, and any other weapons they might choose to carry.
Along with the girdles, the parties gave each other their best sword, their best bow and arrow or their best spear -- whatever their primary weapons were. The transfer of weapons symbolized the fact that each party was saying to the other, I give you the best of my defenses, and I will defend you against all enemies to the death.
The third act of covenant was the shedding of blood. Prior to God's command to Abraham, and the enactment of what we have come to call the "Abrahamic Covenant," parties to a covenant would draw a knife across their hand to draw blood, then let that blood drip into a goblet or drinking vessel of some kind and mingle it with wine. Both parties would drink from the goblet until it was consumed.
In so doing, each party thereby had the blood of each other, thus making them "of one blood" in a somewhat literal and yet metaphorical sense now considering themselves and their descendants and kin from that day forward to all be of the same family.
The consequence of this final act meant that each party put their lives on the line to the agreement struck between each other. If either party to that covenant violated or breached the covenant, death was the consequence, and if the offending party avoided death at the hands of the aggrieved party, the descendants of the aggrieved party could hunt down and kill the descendants of the offending party to the fourth generation.
THAT's how strong the enforcement was of a covenant!
In Abraham's case (and for that matter in every case of covenant since where God is concerned) one did not drink blood. God's command to Moses (see Leviticus 3:17) was that, "It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings that ye eat neither fat nor blood."
God established His covenant with Abraham by substituting the blood of animals for human blood, and instead of drinking it, they walked or passed through it. Notice what happens when God fulfills His acts within His covenant with Abraham.
"And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
“And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
"And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."
I've underlined a significant phrase in these passages. We have two distinct illustrations of the presence of the Lord manifested in the smoking furnace and the burning lamp.
Proverbs 20:27 can be rendered from the Hebrew text, "The spirit of man is the torch of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the soul and body." (RAC Translation & Amplification)
The phrase, "smoking furnace," is a Hebrew metaphor for "burning love," great, intense feeling and emotion: that which burns within a person.
clarifies the picture of the spirit of the Lord passing between the halves of
the slain animals, standing in the midst of the blood, having intense love for
Abraham as He covenants with him to give him all of the land from the Nile to
The covenant that God made with Abraham is so profound, and so far-reaching as to boggle the imagination. What we see in this covenant was only the beginning of God's covenants with Abraham.
First let's review the binding nature as it has unfolded throughout the centuries, and just how much covenant has impacted our lives and many traditions we take for granted.
Whenever two people entered into covenant -- and by the way, covenants were struck between men: not women -- blood was drawn. We've already talked about the tradition that existed for centuries and millennia in which the blood was mingled with wine, and the parties to the covenant drank of it. What followed was the searing of a mark in the flesh signifying that covenant.
One of the common methods was to heat a knife or a sword in the fire, then take it an lay it across the flesh where a cut had been made to draw blood, searing the flesh and creating a burn that would leave a lifetime scar. Whenever anyone saw the scar, they knew it represented a "to the death" covenant that had been cut; and family members and relatives had enormous reverence and respect for the parties to that covenant.
Throughout the centuries, new methods developed to signify the covenant. When two men cut a covenant, they frequently took a sharp knife and cut around their thumbs in a circle. Instead of burning the flesh with a knife, they would rub dirt or powder (in more recent times, gunpowder) into the cut so that it would fester. This process continued until the cut eventually healed, leaving a ringed mark on the thumb (or forefinger) that could not be removed or eradicated in any way short of cutting off the finger or hand. Anyone seeing that ring knew that a covenant had been made.
Traditions in different cultures varied the practice, and sometimes it was a circular mark on one's arm creating the look of a band around the arm. Eventually, the practice evolved into the easier method of placing a gold ring on one's finger or a gold band around one's arm. The tradition of exchanging rings with wedding vows grew out of this practice between a husband and wife, eventually replacing the cutting of the flesh and creation of a permanent mark on the hands of the husband and wife.
Originally, there was no cut made on the hand of the woman taken in marriage. Rather the cuts were made in the hands of the bridegroom-to-be and the father of the bride, who gave his daughter in marriage as part of a larger covenant merging the two families. The young woman taken in marriage was given a gold ring which she wore as a symbol of the mark her father had in his hand.
Covenants joined families inseparably for at least four generations. As noted previously, if one of the parties to the covenant breached their pact in some way, death was the consequence. The phrase in our modern wedding ceremony, "'til death do us part", is a product of that understanding of covenant. If the covenant was breached, and the individual committing the breach escaped death at the hand of his covenant brother, the descendants could avenge that breach to the fourth generation.
As I noted last week, one of the most important aspects of true covenant is the promise made between the parties. The promise embodies both irrevocable commitment and creative power which implements the conditions of the covenant. The speaking forth of the promise creates and sets in motion the circumstances which empower the covenant.
Thus, God's promise to Abraham was irrevocable. The covenant made with Abraham applied to all the seed that would follow as a product of God's covenant.
Abraham, however, did not yet have the mark of that covenant in his body. After the Lord appeared to Abraham and the ceremony of the covenant took place with the slaughter of the animals, and the Lord passed through the blood between the halves in the cloud ( ashan -- cloud, vapor, smoke) and the burning torch, Abraham (still referred to as "Abram") obviously shared the experience with his household.
Sarah (still called Sarai at this moment in time) had not been a part of the experience and covenant, and she -- unfortunately -- thought to take things into her own hands to make the covenant come to pass. Believing herself to be beyond childbearing, she took her fairly young Egyptian handmaid, Hagar, and gave her to Abraham (that always baffled me, personally) in the expectation that Hagar could bear a child, and that child would become hers. What came out of that mistake was Ishmael: perhaps the costliest misstep to a people in all of history.
But God had covenanted with Abraham, and that covenant meant that God was about to do the creative in order to bring it to pass. A dozen years pass, and the Lord appears to Abraham again and establishes another covenant. This time, Abraham is going to undergo both a physical change in his body and a name (shem-onoma) change. So is Sarah. Abram (high father) now becomes Abraham (father of a multitude). Sarai (dominative) now becomes Sarah (noble woman - queen).
Physical change to Abraham is evidenced in the cutting of his flesh. Just as covenants were normally enacted with a visible sign in the flesh (the ring around the thumb, a scar on one's side, a mark on the right hand or forehead), Abraham was going to have a visible sign in his flesh. Never before had such a covenant been cut with such a sign. Abraham was going to shed his blood by having his foreskin circumcised.
Thought I was going to wrap up this beginning of Covenant with Abraham today, but there’s still more to cover. That’s where we will take it next week.
In case you are missing out on real fellowship in an environment of Ekklesia, our Sunday worship gatherings are available by conference call – usually at about 10:30AM Pacific. That conference number is (712) 770-4160, and the access code is 308640#. We are now making these gatherings available on video using ZOOM. If you wish to participate by video on ZOOM, our login ID is 835-926-513. If you miss the live voice-only call, you can dial (712) 770-4169, enter the same access code and listen in later. The video call, of course, is not recorded – not yet, anyway.
Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76504
Email Contact: CapenerMinistries@protonmail.com
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