Covenant: Foundation for Relationship
GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE AND THEIR PURPOSE
GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE AND THEIR PURPOSE
"Remember you do not support the root but the root supports you."
“When Abraham was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abraham and said to him, I am God Almighty. Walk in My presence and be pure-hearted [Romans 7]. I will make a covenant between Me and you, and I will increase your numbers greatly. ‘Abraham fell on his face and God continued to speak with him: As for Me, this is My covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram (exalted father), but your name will be Abraham (father of many), because I have made you the father of many nations (goyee). I will cause you to be very fruitful. I will make nations of you, kings will descend from you. Gen. 17: 1-6
Covenant - such a sacred word in Hebraic biblical thinking, yet such a casual concept in western biblical thinking. In simple terms, a covenant is a binding, indissoluble agreement between two people or two groups that contains promises made on the part of each to the other. Biblically speaking, it absolutely cannot be broken. Speaking of His covenant with David, God says in Psalm 89: 30-36
“If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, If they violate My statutes, and do not keep My commandments, Then I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their inequity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness, I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me.”
God declared this during the reign of King David over all Israel, which began about 1055 BC. So the promise to David and his tribe, the tribe of Judah, has covered a period of about three thousand years.
The concept of covenant between God and His people is one of, if not the, most important, theological truths of the Scriptures. Biblically speaking, it implies much more than a contract or legal agreement. Contracts are limited by time while a covenant has an eternal quality. In biblical times, a covenant between two people lasted to the third and fourth generation of their descendants. Thus we see in II Samuel 9 that many years after the death of his covenant friend, Jonathan, King David inquires if there be anyone left of Jonathan’s lineage to whom he may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake. When informed that Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, is still alive, he sends for the young man, re-locates him to the royal palace and restores to him all the lands that belonged to his father and grandfather, not for Mephibosheth’s sake, but for Jonathan’s, his beloved covenant friend.
In ancient biblical times there were nine steps in the making of a covenant. When two people agreed to share covenant friendship, they would meet at an assigned place on an assigned day to put into law this pledge.
Step One: They Would Exchange Robes or Cloaks.
The outer garment in Jewish thought represented the person, his life and his being. And so we read in I Samuel 18: 3-4
“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David..."
In so doing he would say in effect to David,
“I’m giving you my life; all that I am and all that I have.”
Let us take note who it is that was saying these words. Jonathan was the crown prince, son of King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, destined for the throne of United Israel (All twelve tribes plus descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh). From birth he had been trained, schooled, groomed for kingship. He had everything to live for, possessions beyond our imagination, money, prestige and a future to be envied. But at the moment that God touched his heart with a agape love for David, the Anointed One, he was ready to give it all away. This was no small thing. Can you imagine a crown prince today making such an exchange with a simple commoner from his kingdom? David was a teenage sheepherder, one with no formal education?
This is precisely what the Crown Prince of Heaven did. The Son of God loved us with a love more powerful and redemptive than the love of Jonathan for David, as great as that was. He left or gave up the indescribable beauty and unspeakable glory of the eternal realm and walked among us to make covenant, to give us His robe, to clothe us with Himself. Isaiah prophesied this very thing when he wrote:
“For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10)
God commits His life to us through our personal relationship with His Son, the Lord Jesus/Yehshua Christ/Ha Mashiach. And so Paul exhorts us in his letter to the church (ekklesia, kahal) at Ephesus.
“... that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24,
What Paul is saying or writing is covenant language, which the people of that day understood far more deeply than we generally do today. Paul was emphasizing to them that there had been an exchange of life when they were born again and that being the case, they were to walk in another Man’s garment, taking on His (1.) identity, (2) reflecting His nature, and (3) manifesting His goodness.
Step Two: They Would Exchange Belts.
Look again at I Samuel 18:4
‘And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”
In those days, a man’s belt was the place where his personal weapons of defense and offense were fastened; his bow with its arrows, his knife, his sword and whatever else he may have earned for his fighting purposes were attached to his belt. When he surrendered his belt, he surrendered his ability to defend himself against attack. His entire defense was now in the hands of his covenant friend. In the giving of his weapons, he deliberately made himself vulnerable and he also rendered himself incapable of hurting his friend.
He said by this gesture, “I now give to you everything with which I could ever hurt you. And I place myself at your mercy. If I am attacked, unless you defend me, I am defenseless. And in receiving your belt with your weapons, I recognize that you have also surrendered to me everything with which you could ever hurt me. I’ll fight your battles for you, I’ll defeat your enemies for you and you will do the same for me.”
We read in Deut 20:4
“for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”
This is our covenant partner, the Lord Himself, who is committed to fight the battles, be the defense and preserve God’s people to everlasting life. How tragic that any born again child of God should be unacquainted with the provisions of the covenant and continue to live like one who must fight his own battles, not realizing that Jesus/Yehshua is committed to our defense. We can trust Him completely for He will never violate His covenant.
Step Three: They Would “Cut” The Covenant.
An animal was chosen, slaughtered by being cut in two down the middle. They would separate the two halves, laying them side by side with just enough room between the two sections for the two men to stand in the pool of blood that would quickly form in the middle. Clasping their hands together, they would commit to each other in words similar to these:
‘I choose this day to die to myself and live to bless you, my covenant partner. I will make my decisions and order my life with you in mind from this day forward; seeking always what is best for you ahead of myself”
His friend would repeat the same pledge back to him and then together they would look down at the blood in which they stood, ankle-deep in, and say
‘May God do this to me and more if aught but death part you and me.”
Step Four: A Cut Was Made On the Back Of Both People's Wrist
Still standing in the pool of blood, each of them would make a small cut on the back or underside of the wrist, then clasp their hands together in such a fashion that their blood would mingle. This practice is seen in the American Indians. What is said when they do this? They become blood brothers. We knowing that in the book of Leviticus, we are told, “The life is in the blood," this was a vitally important part of the covenant making process. It was in this act that they realized what every step along the way was pointing to: the exchange of their very life. As their blood mingled, they committed to the reality that their lives were now mingled and had become one, for who can separate the blood once it is mingled together? No longer was each a separate individual, but they were one life. (Salt Covenant)
Think about the marriage consummation on the wedding night. The vow before God is that He says the two shall become one. When does that happen? On the wedding night! That is when the marriage is consummated. If done properly, there will be the shedding and mixing of blood. The marriage ceremony is the closest thing to a covenant that there is. In fact that is what it is.
Significant numbers of people (besides Jehovah Witnesses) across the world refuse blood transfusions even when a medical need dictates it, for fear of what may be introduced into their bodies with such a procedure. Some have died because of receiving blood from a person infected with hepatitis, AIDS or some other disease.
Consider now the spiritual ramifications of being cleansed by the sacred Blood of the New Covenant, the Saving Blood of the perfect Lamb of God. The songwriter said it well, “The Blood will never lose its power.” This exchange of life is what Calvary is all about. His death is far more than a deliverance from the "fires of hell". Each time we partake of the Lord’s supper, which is a covenant meal, may we be impacted anew with the power of the exchange of life that is ours with Jesus/Yehshua Christ/Ha Mashiach.
(II Corinthians 5:21 KJV) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Comparable clue verses from creation story on create and made:
(Genesis 2:3 NASB) Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
(Genesis 2:4 NASB) This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.
(Genesis 6:7 NASB) The LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them."
Step Five: The Exchange of Names:
This is what we today would call power of attorney. Each gave to the other the right and authority to use his name as his very own with no restriction or limitation. To act in another’s name was to do what they would do, think like they would, and behave like them.
Names are very important because they carry meaning, association and identity. For instance, who of us would name our infant son, Judas? Who of us would name our infant daughter, Jezebel?
Years ago I heard the son of a prominent evangelist illustrate this principle in an unforgettable way. As a young man he went through a period in his life when he was yearning to “be himself’ and not “the son of....” Deciding in his early twenties that he wanted to purchase a new car, he set aside one weekend to accomplish this goal. Beginning early one morning, he visited one auto dealership after another with no success. It was not for lack of desirable automobiles. In fact, he chose one in the very first place he went. But he was turned down for the loan because of a lack of credit history. This scene repeated itself in 7 different dealerships until finally, weary and frustrated, he looked at the Credit Manager in the 8th dealership and said, “Would it help if I told you that my father is _______ ? In minutes he was driving away from the lot in his new car. The power of using a name!
Shortly before his death, Jesus/Yehshua said to His disciples and through them to future disciples,
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)
“You did not choose Me, but I have chosen you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you.” John 15:16
To truly understand the amazing privilege that Jesus/Yehshua has commanded us to pray “in My name” is to fill us with an awesome respect and godly fear of the Lord. This is a covenant privilege we must not take lightly. This Name must never be used flippantly as if it were just a formula or ritual. It is powerful, yes, even to the tearing down of strongholds, but it is also a sacred trust, which we must handle in holiness. It is also a twofold covenant privilege. This is deeper than just being a believer. [See Acts 19:11-20; John 15:1-27; I John 1:1-2:29]
Step Six: The Rubbing of Salt and Hyssop Into the Cut: Having exchanged the authority to use each other’s names, the two partners would then rub salt and hyssop into the cut that had just been made on their wrists. This had a two-fold purpose. It would serve to form a scar on the wrist that would never fade away. That scar was to serve as a lifelong reminder of the covenant rights and responsibilities to which they had committed themselves. The second purpose is, the scar took this covenant out of the realm of emotions, feelings and circumstances and into the realm of assurance of a covenant relationship.
The story is told of the great African missionary, Dr. Livingston, who in travelling throughout that great continent, going into areas not previously seen by another white man, cut covenant with more than 50 tribal leaders. Each time he encountered a new tribe, the row of scars on his arm instantly communicated to them that this was not simply one lone stranger standing in their presence, but one who was in covenant with hundreds of other tribesmen, no doubt many from rival tribes. They understood that each scar on his arm represented thousands of arrows flying directly at them if they mistreated him in any way. This highly motivated them to also enter into covenant with this white man, knowing that it would assure protection and freedom from attack from any of these other tribes. Marvelous way to put an end to tribal wars!
Step Seven: Read Aloud the Covenant Terms: [Ketubah]
Still standing in the pool of blood. They would pledge to each other full access to all their assets, property, money, etc. You receive all the other person’s assets, and also his liabilities. When Jesus/Yehshua cut covenant with us, we received all of His assets and He took all our liabilities. What a glorious exchange! Yet, never forget all that we have or acquire, are His to use or give away at His will.
Step Eight: The Sharing of a Memorial Meal:
Once the reading of the covenant terms was completed, they would walk away from the slaughtered animal, wash their feet and sit down to share a Memorial Meal. The sharing of food has carried spiritual significance from time immemorial. In every culture this principle is applied in one way or another.
Remember, Jesus/Yehshua washing the feet of the disciples at Passover.
Bread would be broken and shared between them, as well as a cup of wine from which both would partake, symbolizing and expressing that their lives were permanently entwined our united as one.
Step Nine: The Planting of A Tree:
Finally, after the meal, they would take a sapling, a very young tree, and plant it at the place where they had cut the covenant. It would be sprinkled with some of the blood of the covenant sacrifice and watered that it might grow. From that day forward, the tree, along with the scar on the wrist, was to serve as a permanent reminder of their covenant, two witnesses to this awesome relationship between individuals or groups. Very often they would choose an almond tree, as many believed that the tree of life in the Garden of Eden had been an almond tree.
As a tree grows and bears fruit, it was a fitting symbol that this relationship was also to grow and bear fruit, to withstand the storms of life and the winds of adversity, becoming even stronger because of them.
It was only after making such a covenant that you could rightly call someone your “friend.” Biblically speaking, this is a very serious and deeply meaningful word. It was not used in that day in the casual manner in which we employ it today. A “friend” as biblically understood, truly “loves at all times,” is utterly reliable and unquestionably loyal throughout life.
THIS IS COVENANT!
Why We Don’t See Great Miracles Occurring Today?
(May 23, 1997 – June 19, 2013)
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:12-17 NASB)
(James 1:1-4 NASB) James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord/Adonai Jesus/Yehshua Christ/Ha Mashiach, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 4:-17 NASB) You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
(James 4:13-17 NASB) Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
(Romans 12:1-2 NASB) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.