Genesis: The Book of God’s Kingdom – 05 (“A Bond in Blood”)
[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 19 November 2017)]
Since we’ve started with our series in Genesis, I’ve referred several times to covenants between God and man and before we commence with the rest of Genesis 3, I feel it is important that we should look at the word covenant and what a covenant is, etc.
We can indeed go into a lot of detail and have several messages just on this topic, but I would like us to look at this very briefly (hopefully in 2 sessions) in order to get an idea of what a covenant is and what it entails.
Our outline for this topic is as follow:
” Covenant – Definition;
” Covenant – Extent;
” Covenant – Unity;
” Covenant – Diversity.
Next Sunday (D.V.):
” Covenant – Creation;
” Covenant – Adam;
” Covenant – Noah;
” Covenant – Abraham;
” Covenant – Law;
” Covenant – David;
” Covenant – Christ.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Jer.31:31-40 (ESV) ~ “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the Lord, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the city shall be built for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever.”
3. COVENANT – NATURE:
When reading Scripture and especially the Old Testament, it is clear that God entered repeatedly into covenantal relationships with particular men. We see this for instance in the case with Noah ~ “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark-you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Gen.6:18), Abraham (Gen.15:18), Israel (Ex.24:8), and David ~ “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David” (Ps.89:3), whilst Israel’s prophets anticipated the coming of the days of the “new covenant” (Our Scripture reading for today Jer.31:31-40), and Christ Himself spoke of the last supper in covenantal language “Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).
So, we know that Scripture is full of references to covenants, but what exactly is a covenant? We can define a covenant as follows: “A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.” Whenever God enters into a divine covenantal relationship with man, He sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond. A divine covenant is therefore a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death, sovereignly administered. This is crucial to remember: It is a solemn agreement, of life and death and blood is always present as a sign of the covenant. A bond-in-blood, most importantly, cannot be initiated by man. It is always God that administers a covenant with man – a sovereign act from God (all of this include the new covenant – later more about this).
Let us analyse the definition:
- A covenant is a bond: The principles that are involved in a covenant between men, are most of the time, also applicable in a divine covenant. The most essential aspect of a covenant between humans, is that which binds people together. Scripture points rather consistently to the concept of a “bond” or “relationship.” It is always a person, either God or man, who makes a covenant. Further it is another person who stands as the other party of the covenant with few exceptions. (e.g. where God established a covenant with the beasts of the field – Gen.9:10, 12 and 17). Despite the role of impersonal parties to the covenant in these passages, it is still a “bond” that has been established with them.
Therefore, we see that the result of a covenant commitment is the establishment of relationship “in connection with people,” or “with people,” or “between people.”
When God enters into a divine covenantal relationship with man, He speaks to establish His covenant. He speaks graciously to commit Himself to creatures, and to declare the basis on which He shall relate to His creation. Because God is God, He can never go back on His word – a divine covenant is a binding oath. This binding oath might take on a variety of forms.
o At one point a verbal oath could be involved, e.g. Ex.6:8 ~ “And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.”
o At another point, some symbolic action could be attached to the verbal commitment, such as the granting of a gift – e.g. in the case of the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech in Gen.21:28-32 ~ “And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Then Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?” And he said, “You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.”
o Another action can be where a meal is eaten together (Gen.26:28-30 where Isaac and Abimelech ate together as a token of the covenant between them).
o The setting up of a memorial is another sign of a covenant (Jos.24:27 – between Joshua and the Tribes of Israel at Shechem) ~ “(Joshua) took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord” (Jos.24:26).
o The sprinkling of blood is yet another sign of a covenant ~ “And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words” (Ex.24:8).
o The offering of sacrifices (Ps.50:5).
o “The passing under the rod” ~ “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (being under God’s judgement and punishment – Ezek.20:37).
o The dividing of animals (Gen.15:10, 18).
By the covenant, persons become committed to one another.
The presence of signs in many of the Biblical covenants also emphasises that the divine covenants bind people together. The token of the rainbow, the seal of circumcision, the sign of the Sabbath – these covenantal signs enforce the binding character of the covenant.
- A covenant is a bond-in-blood: The phrase “bond-in-blood” or “bond of life and death,” expresses the ultimacy of the commitment between God and man in the covenantal context. By initiating covenants, God never enters into a casual or informal relationship with man. Instead, the implications of His bonds extend to the ultimate issues of life and death.
I’ve said that a covenant is a bond in blood. The phrase translated “to make a covenant” in the Old Testament literally reads, “to cut a covenant.” The rituals commonly associated with establishment of covenants reflect quite dramatically a “cutting process.” As the covenant is made, animals are “cut” in ritual ceremonies.
The most obvious example of this procedure in Scripture is found in Genesis 15, at the time of the making of the Abrahamic covenant. First Abraham divides a series of animals and lays the pieces over against one another. Then a symbolic representation of God passes between the divided pieces of animals. The result is the “making” or “cutting” of a covenant. The division of the animals symbolises a “pledge to the death.” The dismembered (Afrikaans = “uitmekaarskeur”) animals represent the curse that the covenant-maker calls down on himself if he should violate the commitment which he has made.
Jeremiah, for an example, recalled Israel’s disloyalty to their covenant commitments, when he reminded them of the ritual by which they “…passed between the parts of the calf” (Jer.34:18). By their transgression, they have called down on themselves the curses of the covenant. Therefore, they may expect dismemberment of their own bodies. Their carcasses… ~ “…shall be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the Earth” (Jer.34:20).
It is in this context of covenant inauguration that the Biblical phrase “to cut the covenant” is to be understood. A covenant is indeed a “bond-in-blood,” or a “bond of life and death.” This phrase is in accordance to what the author of Hebrews says in Hebr.9:22 ~ “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” Once the covenant relationship has been entered, nothing less than the shedding of blood may relieve the obligations incurred in the event of covenantal violation.
It is in the context of this covenantal death that the death of Jesus Christ is to be understood. Christ’s death was a substitutionary sacrifice. Christ died as a substitute for the covenant-breaker. Substitution is essential for the understanding of the death of Christ. In other words, Christ died in the place of the sinner – “the covenant-breaker.” Because of covenantal violations, men were condemned to die. Christ took on Himself the curses of the covenant and died in the place of the sinner. His death was covenantal.
- A covenant is a bond-in-blood sovereignly administered:
In divine covenants, the sovereign God of heaven and earth dictates the terms of His covenant – there are no possibilities of bargaining, or bartering (Afrikaans = “ruilooreenkoms”) or contracting. Whenever God enters into a divine covenantal relationship with man, He sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond.
4. COVENANT – EXTENT:
When reading through the Bible it is very clear that covenants played a vital role in God’s dealings with man from Noah to Jesus Christ, in fact, no period in the history of redemption from Noah to Christ stands outside the realm of God’s covenantal dealings with His people.
The only question that remains is whether God was involved in any covenants prior to Noah, because the word “covenant” does not appear in Scripture before Noah? In fact, even in God’s dealings with David as reflected in 2 Sam.7, the term “covenant” is not mentioned and yet, the relationship between God and David is covenantal in nature. The absence of the term “covenant” is not always proof of the absence of a covenant between God and the person. If we compare Scripture with Scripture it is evident that God’s dealings with David was covenantal – Samuel writes in 2 Sam.23:5 ~ “Although my house is not so with God, Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant…”
We must remember that if all ingredients essential to the making of a covenant were present prior to Noah, the relationship of God to man prior to Noah, may be designated as “covenantal.”
There are also two passages in Scripture that clearly show that God, creating the universe was covenantal in nature.
- Jer.33:20-21 & 25-26 ~ “Thus says the Lord: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers” and vss.25-26 ~ “Thus says the Lord: ‘If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.”
- Hos.6:7 ~ “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” Hosea begins to list a series of wrongdoings of the people, starting with the general sin of covenant breaking. The people were doing this knowingly and deliberately, just as Adam had in eating the forbidden fruit.
Clearly, there are evidence of divine covenantal dealings prior to Noah.
5. COVENANT – UNITY:
Scripture presents a series of covenantal relationships instituted by God. The primary covenants are those made with man (Adam) and creation prior to the fall, with man after the fall, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the new covenant.
We see a definite unified character in these different covenants. God’s multiple bonds with His people ultimately unite them into a single relationship. Although particular details of the various covenants may vary, there is still a definite line of progress between these covenants. We can therefore say without any doubt, that the covenants of God are one. A wonderful proof of this is to be found in Ezek.37:24-26 ~ “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd (an allusion to the Davidic covenant). They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes (an allusion to the Mosaic covenant). They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived (an allusion to the Abrahamic covenant). I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them (an allusion to the new covenant).” A beautiful character of unity with all the promises of these inter-linked covenants which find its consummation in the new covenant.
These unity of covenants, may be seen from two perspectives. First, God’s covenants manifest a…:
” Structural unity; and secondly, God’s covenants manifest a…
” Thematic unity.
” Structural unity: What God promised to Abraham (e.g. the Promised Land) impacted generation after generation – it had a deep impact on the life of Moses (in order for God to fulfil His promise to Abraham, He had to deliver Moses and the people of Israel out of Egypt and that led to the giving of the Ten Commandments according to which the people of Israel had to adhere to). God’s covenant with Moses again had an impact on David’s life – listen to what David, on his deathbed, told Solomon in 1 Kings 2:3 ~ “…and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” A clear reference to God’s covenant with Moses and originally with Abraham, etc.
We have clear indications here to both historical- and genealogical (Afrikaans = “genealogies/stamboom/geslagsregister”) experiences and administrations of God’s dealings with His people. When speaking of genealogical dimensions of God’s covenant promises, we must keep two very important aspects in mind:
o First of all, as we call it in theology, the “grafting” principle (Afrikaans = “inplant of inent”). From the most ancient history of the Abrahamic covenant, the “ingrafting” of those not of natural Israelite birth was made a possibility ~ “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant” (Gen.17:12-13 also see Rom.11:17, 19).
o Secondly, we have the “pruning” principle. Not only is it possible for a new branch to be grafted into genealogical relation to Abraham. It is also possible for natural seed of Abraham to be removed from its position of privilege. A good example is that of Jacob and Esau, when the Lord said in Mal.1:2-3 ~ “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”
Those who are grafted in as part of the true Israel of God, are those who are related by faith to God and those gentiles who are ingrafted by faith. All the others have been pruned and removed and are not part of God’s Kingdom.
It is also very important to remember that all the covenants gave a preservative character – it is permanent in other words. That is why Gen.8:22 says the following about the Noahic covenant ~ “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” – …so long as the earth remains! The same can e.g. said about the Adamic covenant ~ “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.2:17) – we know that Adam did eat of this tree and brought spiritual death to mankind. The curse for breaking the covenant, will remain with mankind – …so long as the earth remains!
” Thematic unity: The covenants of Scripture are bound together not only by a structural unity. They manifest also a thematic unity. This unity of theme is the heart of the covenant as it relates God to His people. The words of Ezek.36:28 can be seen as the theme of the covenantal relationship between God and His people and this theme runs through the Bible ~ “…and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
6. COVENANT – DIVERSITY:
In consummation – there is a diversity in the covenants between God and man. The bond of God with man before Christ may be called “old covenant” and the bond of God with man after Christ may be called “new covenant.” The “old covenant” may be characterised as “promise,” as “shadow,” as “prophecy”; the “new covenant” may be characterised as “fulfilment,” as “reality,” as “realisation.”
7. CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:
The essence of the covenantal relation found its initial fulfilment in the form of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was to be the place of God’s meeting with his people (Ex.29:42-44). The effect of the consecration of the tent of meeting was that God would dwell among the sons of Israel ~ “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Ex.29:45).
At the heart of the Old Testament’s covenants is the dwelling of God in the midst of His people. In terms of the consummate experience of the new covenant, the theme of Emanuel as the sum of the covenant also plays a central role. God “tabernacles” in human flesh by the presence of the incarnate Son (Joh.1:14). God’s people are the temple of the Lord, “…being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph.2:21). The great multitude of the redeemed which no one can number, serve the Lord day and night in His temple, having God’s tabernacle spread over them (Rev.7:15). What a wonderful reality!