Covenant: The Blood is the Life

The Nature of Covenant

Blood-Covenant is not just an ancient middle-eastern phenomena, but spans the globe and is found in such traditions as the North American Blood-brother bond. Often it is thought to be simply a variation of a business deal, a contract, a treaty, yet these do Covenant a great disservice.
Instead, its beginning-point must be as the Bible itself defines it, for example, as it describes the basis for the Covenant between Jonathan and David: “Jonathan loved him as his own Soul/Life” [I,18:1,3; 20:17]. That is the basis for Covenant, or Blood-Brother, or any other name by which it goes. This is not a tit-for-tat contract, but something which has erupted out of one loving “as His own Soul/Life,” declaring a deep and unbreakable Love shared between Covenant-partners.
When God cuts Covenant then, it is something that erupts from His very heart, His desire to bring Himself close to humanity. It is the definite move of Jehovah to become one with His creature, as Jesus put in His High Priestly prayer: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” [John 17:23].

It is a Self-Commitment

Therefore in Genesis 15:12-21, when God cuts Covenant with Abram/Abraham, it is not so that He can arm-wrestle this man into obedience, but rather He is demonstrating His heart’s desire which will ultimately be fulfilled on the Last Day: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men” [Revelation 21:3; Ezekiel 37:27] – “they shall call His Name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us'” [Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14]. Normally we think of heaven as when we will be with God, but His description of heaven is when He gets to dwell with us.
What is unique in the Genesis 15 passage is that although Covenant is normally cut by two or more participants pledging themselves to each other(s), God cuts Covenant here by Himself alone. He descends to become a Blood-Brother to a man, to pledge His own Life, His own “Blood” (although He is Spirit) in union with Abram. He alone is bound to the penalty of death should He break Covenant. He has come to almost as close to human level as He can get without actually becoming a human – but He will indeed need to become human in time.
Meanwhile, Abram does nothing, pledges nothing, commits nothing – he is in a trance (“deep sleep”). It is not until chapter 17 when he then fulfills his participation by shedding his own Blood in Circumcision. Therefore for some twelve years Abram has lived under the Goodness, the Grace, the Mercy, the Steadfast Love, and the Covenant of Jehovah (God’s Glory – Exodus 33:18-19; 34:6-8) long before he reciprocates the commitment. Even after generation after generation of Israel’s abuse, sabotage, even apathy, despite having every most compelling reason to throw Covenant away, Jehovah’s Loving-Kindness – His Steadfast Love, His Glory, – persists throughout all generations. God disciplines, visits judgment, and even sends His People into exile, and never breaks Covenant, He never abandons His relationship to them.
He cannot! In the Genesis 15 passage, He has pledged that if He breaks Covenant, He will die. This is what is missed when Covenant is described as merely a contract. Once a contract is broken, then everyone is released – but not so with Covenant: God is still bound, even when everyone else proves faithless [Romans 3:3-4].

Jehovah’s Shock

Yet Zechariah 11:10-13 then delivers a profound shock as Jehovah Himself prophesizes that He will break Covenant! However, in the passage, when thirty pieces of silver are weighed out and “thrown into the house of the Lord for the potter,” we realize that when God finally breaks Covenant, He will indeed die – on the cross. But He breaks the Circumcision Covenant in order to simultaneously establish a new, better and very different, yet still very personal Covenant with His People throughout the world.

An Important “Throw-Away” Verse

Throughout the ‘Old’ Covenant, certain elements of Covenant are declared, yet cannot be ‘real’ because the described oneness really does not happen: even though the idea of joining the Bloods even on the human level should means that now one Blood, one Life, one Soul flows between the participants, it doesn’t actually happen. The Covenant between Jehovah and Abraham may allude to a more perfect union – one Blood –, yet in reality it cannot accomplish that fact, especially since God does not have Blood.
Therefore Luke 2:21, a little verse that appears to simply move the story along, has a shock of its own: for the first time in all the history of the Universe, God literally has His own Blood to shed in Circumcision! Consider what effect that has on the “Old” Covenant bonds, much less on the “New”!
On the cross, the “New” Covenant comes into being, and the reality of all which Covenant once could only describe in concept now takes a form which could never have been imagined: it is no longer a matter of “what” but rather of “Who” – Jesus is literally Covenant walking on two legs on this earth, literally God and Man sharing one Blood. It will be a Covenant which is eternal and never becomes obsolete, not even on the Last Day.

The Challenge of Covenant

Since Covenant is the pervading atmosphere in which the Bible is written, something “everybody” would have recognized as it is read, the challenge is to see what difference Covenant makes as one reads through the Scriptures. On what might the ancient reader – or hearer – pick up and recognize which has become lost to us? Living in a culture as we do which has mere vestiges of what Covenant is really about, we can only deduce a glimmer concerning that which they “obviously” would have recognized. But even what little of which we may discern can make the journey well worth it.