A covenant is a sacred, unalterable agreement sworn in blood.
An understanding of covenant is essential for understanding both the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant” of the Bible.
The blood covenant in one form or another was the fundamental organizing factor in all of early man’s societies, but covenant as the ancients understood is not in modern man’s frame of reference: The Webster, MacMillan and Oxford dictionaries all define it, with slight variations, as “a solemn agreement between two parties.”
Superficially, the Bible is an anthology assembled from the four millennia during which a tribal confederation called Israel made the transition from a covenant-based society to a law-based society. Without understanding the vast difference between the two kinds of societies there is no way to keep up with the vast shift of perspective along the Bible timeline. (Also no way to grasp the symbols used by the Bible writers to express truths that are too deep for words.)
Understanding Blood Covenant
To understand covenant, hop into your time machine. Set the dial to “reverse.” Leave our modern world; travel back in time. Stop the machine when you reach a time before there was any writing. A time when there was not one written law, not one deed to a piece of land, not one policeman, judge, court or jail anywhere on earth.
Now step out into another world — a world in which your personal safety and quality of life are determined by relationships. Relationships and nothing else.
You are a complete stranger to this place and time. Your impressive arrival in a time machine may be helpful as an introduction but will be useless in the long term — and if your time machine breaks down your only chance of survival will be with your clan. (If you have a problem, you won’t be able to call the cops.)
The quality of your relationships within your clan depends on how well you keep your word (just as it does today). It also depends on how well you know and keep your place in the clan, how well do your job. After all, if everyone doesn’t work together — in obedience to clan leader — the clan will not survive.
This whole ancient world of human relationships that you have landed in is governed by blood covenant relationships between leaders.
What is Covenant?
A blood covenant can never be annulled; the penalty for breaking it is death. (A covenant breaker might very well be put to death by his own relatives.)
Leaders of clans enter into covenant (blood-brotherhood) to confirm their determination to be true to each other.
With witnesses present (remember, there is no writing), first the blood-brothers-to-be agree upon terms, then ratify the covenant with a ceremony.
In one type of ceremony, animals were sacrificed and their bodies split in half lengthwise, then separated to make a blood-soaked path. The two parties to the covenant stood on either end of the path and made oaths, then walked through the blood and exchanged places and made their vows again from the other ends, saying, “If I ever break this covenant, may it be to me as to these animals.” They exchange clothing and prized possessions. They mingle their blood, perhaps by making incisions on the ring fingers or some other part and binding them together or by dripping their blood into a cup of wine and drinking it.
Again, all this was done before witnesses. These witnesses were committing themselves to be referees for life, in effect entering into the covenant themselves. (Consider how important a person’s word was in the day before writing, how important the word of a witness was, and how serious a matter is was to be a witness.)
The two parties were now joined as one. All their other blood brothers and their “houses” — their families, servants and possessions were automatically joined. (Man’s huge brain is necessary for keeping the incredible multi-level complexity and nuance of covenant relations sorted out.)
Your trip far back in time has suddenly made the idea of “I am an individual” an idle fantasy belonging to the far distant future. “The individual” was as useless and meaningless a concept in ancient times as “blood covenant” is to modern man.
In early Bible times, the modern ideas of individual rights and of individual choice were not anywhere in the picture. It was self-evident to everyone that each person’s survival depended on the clan following the clan leader the way the body follows the head. So, to understand the covenant mindset and the foundation of the Bible point of view you have to set aside your modern idea of individuality. (You can take it up again later.)
A Massive Change That Almost No One Remembers
The shift to law (and with the shift to law, the shift to individual awareness) happened very gradually over millennia.
Today, the day of the covenant is almost completely forgotten in modern societies. The shift to law is complete. Modern man has shifted his allegiance so completely from the tribe to the state and its laws that he has to struggle to imagine life without them. He has lost nearly all connection with his behavioral roots.
Globally, there is no way to overemphasize the importance of this shift; it has resulted in a level of prosperity and an increase in population that was impossible under the covenant system. It has also resulted in mass famines and world wars that were formerly also impossible.
In the days before written laws and hired police, if covenants were broken, the resulting feuds could go on indefinitely — tribes would continue as sworn enemies even when the original offense was long forgotten.
This is why many of the first peoples in America hated each other more than the white man: They had no covenant relationship with the white man. With the white man it was like being attacked by wild animals, a simple case of kill or be killed. But with the other tribes and nations they were obligated by blood covenant to pursue vendettas that might go back generations. Since man is far, far more dangerous than any animal, among the first peoples the ancient blood enemies were perceived as more of a threat than the white man. (It should be obvious that to this day among human beings, ideas and prejudices usually trump direct perception.) The result of the covenant mindset was that each nation of the first peoples faced the white man individually. This destroyed whatever chances they might have had to work together to beat the white man back. By the time they realized that the white man was the greater threat it was much, much too late. The first peoples were doomed not so much by the military might of the white man as by their covenant mindset.
By contrast, being under law, the white leaders felt free to to make and break all kinds of alliances and treaties. They operated according to law — laws that they could easily change to justify any kind of treachery that seemed convenient. (There can be a vast gulf of difference between what is legal and what is right.)
To the first peoples in America, whose relationships were based on covenant and honor, the white man was a snake, not even a human being. The lowest of animals. “White man speak with forked tongue.” So if you want to enter into either the Old or the New Covenant mindset, your first priority has to be to quit being a snake. Simply let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”
In ancient times covenant was universal, the only organizing factor of society everywhere. Today it is limited to small geographic areas.
In ancient times only the most honorable, selfless and respected members of society as a whole entered into covenant and set the standard for covenant relationships. Some of these names are still universally remembered and honored to this day: Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Seattle.
Covenant may be almost totally forgotten in modern society, but the words and symbols are all around us, including: handshakes, signatures, toasts on solemn occasions, witnesses on contracts, giving gifts, having meals together, rings “cutting a deal,” being ostracized, and many, many other customs and symbols.
The primitive covenant man is also very much alive in each and every one of us, just beneath the surface, ready to reappear the instant the law breaks down.
Abraham’s Covenant With God
Genesis 15 is arguably the most important passage in the whole Bible. It describes the time when God entered into covenant with Abraham:
Abram said, “Sovereign Yahwe, how can I know I will gain possession of [the land you promised]?” Yahwe said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon. ”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 … When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day Yahwe made a covenant with Abram … (Gen. 15:8-21)
To primitive man Genesis 15 says:
“There is not the remotest possibility that God will not do what he said for Abraham. They are in covenant.”
Primitive man sees this event as ultimately awesome and sacred: The Supreme God of Heaven and earth has entered into covenant with a man and confirmed his word, his oath, by a vision.
It’s easy for primitive man to see that being a descendant of Abraham means enjoying all the rights and privileges that go with being a blood-brother of the Most High God. (This is why it is so much easier to convert the savages than the city dwellers. As soon the Bible is read to them the savages understand it much better than the missionaries.)
Terms of the Covenant of Abraham
God’s part of the covenant is to bless Abraham and his descendants (cause them to prosper) and to give them all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Gen. 17:3-8).
God defined Abraham’s part: “Walk before me and be perfect.” (Gen. 17:1).
Abraham was a herdsman; these are shepherding terms.
The chief shepherd follows the flock. “Walk before me” means “Be aware of my presence as the sheep is aware of the chief shepherd.”
“Be perfect” means “Don’t wander off. Look to me to take care of everything.”
(“Be perfect” cannot mean “do everything exactly right.” Trying do everything exactly right would require Abraham to keep his eyes on his conduct instead of on God’s presence.
True righteousness flows out of knowing and honoring the One whose presence you are living in.
Nevertheless, if you have any thought that you might be able to please God by reforming yourself, go for it; there’s no better way to come face to face with your utter inability to generate righteousness.)
The Law of Moses (Old Covenant)
Four hundred years after Abraham (1500 BC) his descendants had become slaves in Egypt — a part of the land they were supposed be inheriting. Moses led Israel out of Egypt and added a long list of written rules (the Law of Moses) as a way of clarifying what is meant by “walk before me and be perfect” so that they wouldn’t become enslaved again.
With the Law, Moses either
a. initiated Israel’s transition from covenant to law by divine fiat, or
b. gave a transition to law that was already underway the stamp of divine authority.
It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of this change.
The covenant of Abraham, the heart relationship that God and Abraham had, was now codified and ritualized.
The New Covenant Foretold
From a worldly point of view, the Law was a smashing success — it has international influence to this very day.
From God’s point of view it was a total failure. As Jeremiah (600 BC) prophesied:
The time is coming, says Yahwe (I AM), when I will make a New Covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, says Yahwe.
This is the Covenant I will make with them after that time, says Yahwe: I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God; they will be my people. No man will teach his neighbor or his brother saying, “Know Yahwe.” They will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness; I will remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31:31-34)
In spite of Jeremiah’s prophecy, Israel continued to make the transition to a law-based society.
Jesus’ New Covenant
When the transition was almost complete (some 1,400 years after Moses), Jesus appeared.
Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Covenant of Abraham: He “walked before God” in humility (which often meant stomping on the traditions of men, which did not go over well with the legalists) and “was perfect” in looking to God for his supply.
- In keeping the Covenant of Abraham, Jesus automatically satisfied the requirements of the Law of Moses. He kept the law only because he obeyed to the voice of the Lord his God, the voice that the entire Law of Moses is derived from. (If you can play piano like Beethoven you don’t need music theory.)
- Jesus was anointed to proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and to demonstrate the power of the coming age (the age we are just now entering) with astonishing miracles (Isaiah 61).
- Perhaps most importantly, Jesus offered his life up as the final sacrifice for breaking the Covenant of Abraham and the law of Moses, making them obsolete. (A covenant can never be annulled, but it can become obsolete. Your Commodore 64 computer that may still work fine but ii is obsolete.)
- At the same time, Jesus made the only sacrifice for breaking the New Covenant. His death is the legal punishment for breaking the law written on our hearts and minds.
- After dying, Jesus rose from the dead.
- All created things are subject to death. Death is subject to Jesus. Jesus is Lord.
- Jesus is a new creation.
First, Jesus is a new creation because God became his Father through his human mother Mary while she was yet a virgin. (The fact that this claim has been made about others does not automatically negate the claim made about Jesus.)
Second, Jesus became a new creation when he rose from death to life.
It’s easy to see why the standard calendar of the world is dated from Jesus’ birth. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
What is the New Covenant?
The New Covenant is an eternal covenant between eternal God and immortal Jesus.
We participate in Jesus’ name. I repeat: We participate in Jesus’ name.
This requires acting in his name, as his representative. Put this into practice starting now, as you are — not after you are done fixing yourself. No one is worthy to act as his representative, as one who has power of attorney to enter into transactions on his behalf. As though he were personally present, embodied as you.
Acting in his name in turn requires thinking as Jesus thinks, speaking as Jesus speaks and acting as Jesus acts:
- Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Love one another.
Spirit of Fire draws you into the presence of God, where you hear his voice, speak his word, and live in his name — above the world. It is designed to be heard, read, recited, studied and meditated on until the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus becomes the practical working basis of your life. Until the New Covenant replaces your human relationships and your human performance as the reference point for every thought, word and action.
It might not be a bad idea to get a copy of Spirit of Fire here — the ebook is free — and to support the work of distributing this revolutionary book.