The Blood Covenant (Part 1)
(Genesis 15:1-8) “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the Word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “LORD God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
(Romans 4:16-22) “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Abraham had responded to the LORD and had come to believe in Him and the LORD had empowered him to prosper in every way. We read about this in Genesis Chapter twelve; “Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3) The LORD had promised him three things. Firstly, a son of his own flesh and blood despite the fact that he and Sarah his wife could not have children. Secondly, God promised to give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore and as the dust of the earth. Thirdly; God promised him the whole land of Canaan (Israel) to be for him and for his descendants “an everlasting possession.” (Genesis 13:14-17; 17:7-8)
Becoming fully persuaded
When we read the two accounts of Abraham in Genesis 15:1-8 and in Romans 4:16-22 they seem to be describing a different man? In Genesis he is described as a man who said to the LORD; “How shall I know that I will inherit it?” (The land) He was saying to the LORD; “How shall I know that what you have promised for me and for my descendants will come to pass?” However in Romans 4:16-22 he is described as a man who , “did not waver (stagger) at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced (persuaded) that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” In Genesis we read where he believed in the LORD but in Romans we read where “he believed the LORD.”
The faith of obedience
Many believers in the Lord Jesus believe in the LORD and in His Word the Bible and like Abram are looking to the LORD to guide them through this life. However even though they believe in Him they have trouble actually believing Him and in their deep mind are not fully convinced or persuaded that God really has the power to perform what He has promised to do in his Word the Bible. They think He does it for others but not for them. Abram was experiencing this same kind of problem even after he has started on his journey of faith. He believed in the LORD and through his faith God had declared him to be a righteous man in His sight, not on the basis of anything good in Abraham himself, but because of his faith in the LORD. He was justified before God by his faith, a faith that produced obedience in his life. (Romans 1:5; 16:26) What happened to this old man to make him “fully convinced or persuaded” that what God had promised He would bring it to pass?
1. The LORD deals with Abraham through a promise:
Abraham (Abram. Before God changed his name) was raised as a moon-worshipper in Ur of the Chaldeans, a prominent and prosperous city where they worshipped the moon as a god. Now the LORD needed to move him out of that atmosphere of religious tradition, religious superstition and idolatry. God was going to prepare a nation through Abraham that would be free from idolatry and worship only the One Triune and Living God. Religious traditions of any kind are a hindrance to faith. Abraham had begun to communicate with a God He had never seen. In faith he stepped out into the unknown. We are not told how the LORD had previously spoken to him but there was no doubt that God had revealed Himself as the God who created the moon and that He alone should be worshipped as the only One Triune God. When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran all he had was the promises of God’s Word to him. Even though he had settled in Haran until his father had died the Word of God was still strong and active in Abraham’s mind and heart. Once he left Haran at the age of seventy-five after a long journey he found himself on the border of a strange land.
Only what God had promised
Now we are told that Abraham’s body was “dead” in that he could not father children and that Sarah’s womb was barren and past the age for child bearing (Hebrews 11:11-12) However we are also told that God took him outside and showed him the stars in the sky and asked him to count them if he could and then said to him that he and Sarah would have a child of their own and that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Can you imagine what this did to that old man? Excitement gripped him, suddenly joy possessed his soul and captivated his mind and heart and he believed in the LORD and God credited his faith to him as righteousness. He was no longer considering his circumstances but only what God had promised and his faith had grown. Faith always comes through the inner revelation of God’s Word. (Romans 10:17)
Speaking and acting by faith
After this revelation of God’s Word when everyone around him was speaking and acting in unbelief he was speaking and acting by faith and most probably speaking to everyone he met about the supernatural revelation of God’s Word he had received and the son he would have. Of course the one who would have heard most about this was his wife Sarah who at the time did not have any revelation of what God had promised her husband. Sarah tried to help the LORD and as a result she was able to persuade Abraham to seek an heir through Hagar. Even though Abraham listened to his wife and brought about a situation that God never intended, he still continued to believe that God would give him an heir through Sarah.
It grieved Sarah and made her very angry to hear Abraham speaking excitedly about them both having a child even at their age and in light of the fact that neither of them in the natural had the capability to produce an heir of their own flesh and blood. Abraham needed to grow in the faith he had. He had to keep acting on his faith and because of his faith he was called God’s friend. James writes; “…You see that his faith was working with his actions, and his faith was perfected by what he did. And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God. As you can see, a man is justified by his deeds and not by faith alone.” (James 2:22-24)
A faith of obedience
In both the Old and the New Testament the word used for faith in the Hebrew and Greek languages is not faith or belief alone but has the idea of faithfulness. In His foreknowledge God called Abraham because He knew that this man would exercise a faith that produced obedience and that he would pass his faith and the Word of God onto his children. As God said of Abraham; “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Genesis 18:19) God chose Abraham on the basis of His foreknowledge because He knew how the man would respond.
The Word becomes flesh
In the Bible God’s Word is a person and through Him the promises of God are stamped on the heart by the blessed Holy Spirit. The Word of God that He would bring about salvation through a descendent of Abraham was passed on down from generation to generation. The Word was the Lord Jesus Himself. The seed of His Word was passed on down from generation to generation through the mouths of the Hebrew prophets until it found its way into Mary’s heart and womb. The Word within Mary’s heart was fused together with the Lord Jesus, who through the Holy Spirit came down to earth and became a flesh and blood human being in her womb. The Word Himself took upon a flesh and blood body and tabernacled among us. (John 1:14) Once God has released His Word into the earth nothing can stop it from coming to pass, not circumstances, not opposition, not adversity, not affliction, not persecution, not the power of man and especially not the power of Satan.
The surety of God’s Word
As we seek to live by the same kind of faith Abraham had, being “the father of faith and of all who believe”, we need to grab hold of this great truth that God has said through the prophet Isaiah; “For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it bud and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) Now Abraham believed in the LORD and had left everything to follow Him but was still having trouble believing it. When he reached the border of the land of Canaan he asked God how he would know that he would inherit the land as promised. The LORD had been dealing with Abraham through a promise but now He would show Abraham beyond a shadow of a doubt that He would perform for him what He had promised to do and that to the very letter with nothing omitted.
2. The LORD deals with Abraham through a Blood Covenant:
(Genesis 15:7-12, 17-18) “Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “LORD God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away… And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.”
No greater love
In the time of Abraham a blood covenant or agreement or contract represented an absolute and unbreakable guarantee of a man’s word. When these kinds of covenants were made no one dared to violate it. If they did they were killed. The LORD knew that only this kind of covenant would convince Abraham of the absolute integrity of the promises made to him and to his descendants. This kind of covenant was called “a covenant of strong friendship. This is why Abraham was called “the friend of God” and the one whom God personally called; “My friend Abraham.” (Isaiah 41:8) This covenant of strong friendship was spoken of by the Lord Jesus to His disciples and by extension to all who believe in Him with the same kind of obedient faith Abraham had. The Lord Jesus said; “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15) He was using the language associated with a covenant of blood. This covenant of strong friendship was more binding than allegiance to one’s own flesh and blood.
The perfect covenant
Now the Hebrew word for covenant is “to cut flesh” or “to make an incision where blood flows.” This kind of covenant was a partnership where each one cutting the covenant provided for what their covenant partner needed. In these covenants the partners swore an oath ratified by the shedding of an animal’s blood. There was always a blessing and a curse attached to these covenants. In Deuteronomy chapter 28 we see these blessings and curses listed there and it is part and parcel of the blood covenant God cut with Abraham and his descendants and past on down through Moses the lawgiver. It was a covenant renewed every year in Israel by the High Priest sprinkling the Lamb’s blood on the Mercy seat in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. The new and perfect covenant was cut and completely fulfilled in the shed blood of the Messiah our Lord Jesus, Abraham’s physical descendent.
In partnership with God
We need to keep in mind that Adam through his disobedience and as an act of his free will had given Satan a legal foothold in this world over the minds and hearts of man. God needed to find a man in the image of Adam through whom He could cut a covenant and He found that man in Abraham. God does not override the human will and He needed a man who would willingly enter into a covenant of strong friendship with Him. Years later God would ask His covenant partner Abraham to willingly offer up his son Isaac upon the altar of sacrifice so that when the time was right God was bound by a blood covenant to offer up His Son on the altar of the cross. God needed to find a way that He could take back Satan’s authority over man from him. The one to do this would be the Lord Jesus Abraham’s descendent.
The Blood Covenant
How did they make blood covenants in the time of Abraham? They were made in this way, they were based on weakness and strength…
1. Weakness and strength
The covenants were based on weakness and strength. For example you would have two families or clans. One would be good at warfare but weak in agriculture while the other family were good at agriculture but not so good at warfare. These two families knew that each had what the other needed so they decided to become one family in a covenant of strong friendship. The leaders of each family would get together and the terms of the contract would be agreed upon and written down.
2. Blessing and curses
In these agreements there were always blessings and curses attached blessings for obedience and loyalty but curses for disobedience and betrayal. Then they would choose a sight where the covenant between them would be cut. Then each family would choose a representative for their clan and they would each be given a coat and a weapon belt.
3. A binding agreement
Then three large animals would be sacrificed and the carcasses divided in two and laid opposite each other and between the divided halves there would be a trench of blood called “the walkway of blood.” The two representatives would both walk through the blood and meet in the middle and exchange their coats and weapon belts with each other. Standing together ankle deep in animal’s blood they would in turn read out aloud the terms including the blessings and the curses associated with the covenant promises. It was a binding agreement never to be broken. Sometime an incision would be made in their wrists and then bound together so that their blood mingled. (The Red Indians understood this as did many in tribal Africa when they were called “blood brothers”) They were now one family and pledged to provide whatever the other family needed according to the written agreement ratified in blood.
4. Exchanging names
Then they would exchange or join their names together. They were now one family and in sharing their names they also shared the authority and privilege that came with the name. In the blood covenant God would cut with Abraham He would change his name from Abram to Abraham, a name which had linked to it the name of God in the Hebrew language phonetically. God and Abraham became family!
5. Totally committed
Once these covenants were cut the families or individuals making it were totally committed to each other without reservation. They were bound to honour what they had promised to each other. When we see God cutting the blood covenant with Abraham it was only God who passed through the divided animals and through the blood. Abraham did not walk through it. How could a sinful fallen man enter into a covenant with a perfect and sinless God? Well he couldn’t and God knew this and so it was Abraham’s obedience of faith that gave God the capacity to accept His covenant friend Abraham. Seeing that no one was around who could swear an oath equal to God’s Word the LORD swore by Himself. (Hebrews 6:13) The reason the LORD could enter into this covenant of strong friendship with His friend Abraham was because hundreds of years later Abraham’s representative the Lord Jesus would walk the walkway of blood at the cross cementing forever God’s covenant relationship with His people. God swore an oath in blood that night to Abraham and from that moment on Abraham became fully persuaded and not only believed in the LORD but believed Him without reservation. When the time came to offer up Isaac Abraham reasoned on the fact that God would raise the boy to life again out of the ashes. (Hebrews 11:17-19) God could swear an oath in blood to Abraham because of what his seed the Son of God would do at the cross. As Paul writes; “Brothers, let me put this in human terms. Even a human covenant, once it is ratified, cannot be cancelled or amended. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many, but “and to your seed,” meaning One, who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:15-16) When God was making this covenant with Abraham on earth He was also making it with his Son in eternity.
In this covenant God made with Abraham He was exchanging His strength for Abraham’s weakness. He gave Abraham the spiritual weapons he needed to fight that good fight of faith. He made His health, His authority, His protection, His provision and Himself available to his covenant partner and friend Abraham. All that belonged to God now became Abraham’s and all that Abraham had now belonged to God. It was an equal partnership. This covenant covered Abraham’s spiritual, emotional, financial and physical needs and health and was guaranteed to his descendants, all who walk in the same kind of faith He had in God and believe in the Lord Jesus for salvation. (Romans 4:16-25) The only way to please God is to walk by faith and not by sight. (Hebrews 11:6) (2 Corinthians 5:7)
If Abraham obeyed God he would be blessed and if he didn’t he would be cursed. However, Abraham walked in the covenant by faith and in time God was able to bring about everything that He had promised His friend Abraham. If we as believers walk in the Word of God and obey the Commandments of God with the help of the Holy Spirit then we too will be God’s friends and more so because we also have the Lord Jesus as our great intercessor, advocate and high Priest working around the clock to show Himself strong on behalf of those who are living by faith in Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Added to this the Lord Jesus has furnished us with His righteousness, holiness, sanctification and redemption and given to us his spiritual armour and weapons with which to pull down Satan’s strongholds in our own lives and in the lives of others. (Philippians 3:7-11) (Ephesians 6:10-18) (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
“Yes” and “Amen” in the Messiah
If we have the same kind of faith that Abraham had then God will treat us in the same way He treated Abraham. All of the promises of God are yes and amen in the Messiah. (2 Corinthians 1:20) Often though there is a waiting time between the “yes” and the “amen” and in these times of waiting with perseverance we will develop our faith and capacity to trust the LORD when nothing looks like it has changed in the natural realm. Abraham had to wait by faith, but because God had cut the blood covenant with him he knew that God was bound by an oath sworn in covenant blood to perform what He had promised in due course. Abraham’s faith would draw out God’s word from Him so that He could perform it for His friend Abraham and indeed for us today who walk in the steps of our father Abraham. God always keeps His covenant promises because they have been sworn in blood. As the psalmist writes; “He remembers His covenant forever, The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac, And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel as an everlasting covenant.” (Psalm 105:8-10)