If you have begun thinking of covenants as relationships (as you should be doing if you have read the previous article, Loving Equals Giving, in this section of the studies in the Bible Training Center) not only as legal contracts, you should have a new slant on the order of things in the world. Covenants are the way the universe is linked together, and giving is always involved. The earth gives up its nutrients so trees and plants of all kinds thrives. The air gives up its oxygen and everything that has breath maintains life. And when people give of themselves, whether a little or a lot, a vast network of relationships is formed and maintained. These covenant relationships are the very foundation of everything that comprises the human experience.
In the previous article, we looked at some examples of varying levels of covenant relationships ranging from acquaintances to families and marriages. The form of covenant that was said to be of the highest order was blood covenant. This is a covenant so totally conjoining that the parties become one person beyond life. Not even death can dissolve a blood covenant between two people. The conditions of this covenant even extend to the descendants of the covenanting parties. The rewards for keeping a blood covenant are especially wonderful, while the consequences for not keeping it are extremely severe.
The Greatest Sacrifice
As I pointed out in Loving Equals Giving, all covenant relationships require sacrificial giving to a lesser or greater degree. And remember that relationships are about giving not receiving. Of course, someone has to receive what someone else gives, but receiving plays no part in defining a relationship.
You cannot give something without experiencing the loss of it. Therefore, giving is sacrificial. If you care for the other person, however, just the knowledge that they will benefit from the object you’ve given is reason enough to give it. In a situation like this, giving becomes a joy rather than a burden.
The requirement for sacrificial giving increases as the level of covenant rises. Also, as the level of covenant relationships rise so does the caring or love each party will have for the other before entering the covenant. You have a degree of caring for a casual friend, but it is not nearly enough to consider marriage. Before a man and a woman marry, they usually declare a great love for each other.
The precondition for a blood covenant is a love that is greater than any other covenant relationship. Jesus described it as the greatest love of all.
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
This is a God kind of love, a covenant kind of love. It is identified as a love greater than self in the Old Testament.
Now it came about when he [David, after he had defeated Goliath] had finished speaking to Saul [king of Israel], that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:1)
This is a kind of love that gives freely and willingly. It has no limits, no boundaries and no ceiling on either the amount of giving or on what will be given. Everything is freely given, nothing is held back, and it is all given without a morsel of remorse, not at the time of the giving nor at any time in the future. It is just such an intense love that moves someone to desire a covenant relationship with the person who is the object of that love.
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:3)
Mixing Of Lives
A blood covenant consists of three components:
- The intermingling of blood.
- Giving or exchanging of possessions and self.
- The formation of a new life.
The first two elements, when acted out by the covenanting partners in a solemn covenant-making ceremony, result in a profound spiritual transformation. This covenant-making process results in the parties losing their individual lives and identities to become one new person that is a composite of the two.
One important element of the blood covenant making process is the inter-mingling of the partner’s blood. This practice is significant because life is in the blood. Therefore, the mixing of two people’s blood signifies the mingling of their lives. The practice of making covenant by inter-mingling blood and exchanging all other possessions was common in ancient cultures around the world. H. Clay Trumbull, in his book, The Blood Covenant, reported on his research findings that indicated that the practice of blood covenanting was evident from the earliest times in all parts of the globe. Trumbull revealed his findings in a series of lectures in 1885. Even though the practice of blood covenanting had been so wide-spread, it had all but ceased to exist, not only in practice, but also in awareness, by the time of Trumbull’s lectures.
Blood covenant was definitely a middle Eastern rite. Certainly this was true for the time the books of the Bible were written. Thus, it should not be surprising that blood covenant making is indicated in the Bible. What is surprising is that its practice and importance to Biblical interpretation is all but overlooked by Biblical scholars and commentators. This is especially odd since the Bible is all about covenant. The Christian Bible consists of two major sub-divisions, an Old Covenant and a New Covenant, commonly called the old and new testaments. The words covenant and testament can be used interchangeably, but covenant is the better choice for Biblical references, because it is the word used in both the old and the new texts.
Blood covenant is the highest level of covenant, and as such, it has the highest requirement of giving. Keep in mind that the amount of giving is always equal. In this case, equality is not determined by apportioning out each partner’s possessions … $1,000.00 from me, $1,000.00 from you … six pairs of shoes from me, and six from you … but wait, you only have five pair of shoes so I’ll keep one pair. It is not done that way in God’s economy. In making a blood covenant the giving is equal when each party gives ALL they have. All equals all.
1 And He [Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.
2 And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.
3 And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;
4 for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)
Note that giving all, at least in Jesus’ mind (and His view is the one that counts), is more valuable than the much larger gifts given by the rich. But giving all is not only for the poor.
18 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
20 “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”
21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”
22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
24 And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:18-24)
It is difficult for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God because one cannot enter if they consider their possessions their own. Only those who surrender all of their possessions to Jesus can enter the covenant and follow Him. Jesus is explaining the key principle of giving all in making a blood covenant in the above examples.
A covenant of blood so completely intermingles the lives of the covenanting parties that they are said to be one person. And remember that it is a combined life since their lives are inter-mingled. They had eaten the same bread (representing their bodies) and drunk the same wine (representing their blood) in the covenant-making ceremony. Therefore, after the covenant had been entered into, each could say to the other, “I am in you and you are in me.” In addition, since blood covenant partners have everything they own and all that they are in common, each can be said to be the image of the other. This was a physical reality in ancient days since the parties exchanged their robes and belts with each other. Thus each one actually took on the appearance the other. So conjoined are the parties of a blood covenant that they are totally and completely united … in all things and in every way. All of their possessions are held in common. The only desire of each is the safety, security and well-being of the other.
Not only do blood covenant partners give all of their stuff to each other, they also relinquish their dreams and aspirations, even their very nature, i.e., the part of them that makes them who they are. This portion of the giving exchange is even more significant than giving of possessions. It results in nothing less than an intermingling of lives.
Where a marriage joins two lives together for the life of the marital partners, a blood covenant joins the parties beyond death. It is in effect an eternal covenant. This aspect of blood covenant explains why all of the descendants of Abraham would be included in the blood covenant he made with God.
Blood covenant partners are called friends in the Bible. In Psalm 35, David describes the attitude he had toward his enemies. While they were deceitful toward him, he humbled himself and fasted and prayed for them. He writes in verse 14, “I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.” There was nothing casual about a friend. David ranks friends right along with a brother or mother. It might even be significant that he mentions a friend before a brother or even a mother. Proverbs 18:24 speaks to the greatness of blood covenant friendship. “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” No relationship is more highly prized than a blood covenant.
The Life Is In The Blood
Foundational to the significance of blood covenanting is an understanding that life is in the blood. Your heart beats around 100,000 times a day, and with each beat it pumps life-sustaining blood to approximately 2.5 trillion red blood cells in your body. It is easy to understand why the heart is used in the Bible as a metaphor for your very nature or inner being. Since your life is in the blood, an intermingling of blood between you and another person results in the co-mingling of your very lives and natures. Intermingling of blood is an important aspect of blood covenant making. A blood covenant requires each person to sacrifice their life for their covenant companion. This was done symbolically by the death of a sacrificial offering such as a lamb. Only when two lives are given in this way can two people become one in a blood covenant.
Please note that it was a sharing of lives, the body and blood of Jesus, when the disciples ate the same bread and drank the same wine, the body and blood of Jesus, at the last supper. Then Jesus completed His part in making a blood covenant when He gave His life, and all that He had and was on the cross where his blood was poured out. This act which was performed in the physical is a picture of what we are to do in the spiritual if we want to enter the blood covenant with Jesus.
Sacrificial giving is the second component of blood covenant making. The sacrifice required of the parties entering a blood covenant can be stated in one word: ALL. The requirement for giving is not limited to physical possessions. Everything each person has, including desires, hopes and dreams are freely given to each other. In short, nothing less than the very lives of the covenant makers must be given if a blood covenant is to be established. Make no mistake, entering into a blood covenant relationship will result in the death of self. Once the covenant is made, these blood brothers (friends) will no longer want or desire anything for themselves. The entire aspiration of each will be the well-being of their covenant companion. They will do and give anything for each other without doubt, hesitation or regret. They will freely lay down their life so their covenant friend can live. And when a covenant partner should die, they will extend the promises of the covenant to their partner’s children and grandchildren.
Death And New Life
The third component of a blood covenant is the creation of a new life out of death of the covenant-making partners. Not only is death involved in the giving of each person’s life, but out of death new life emerges. When each party gives their life to the other, they combine into one, and a new life is created, one that is common to both. Each partner’s individual life no longer exists, and a new life has appeared, a combined life, one where your covenant friend always takes first place in your thoughts and decisions. In a blood covenant you give up your right to place your desires ahead of those of your friend.
Blood covenant requires a sacrifice of one’s very life, but out of the death of two a new life emerges. Death resulting in life is a prime characteristic of blood covenant. In the Old Covenant, the death of the covenant makers was signified by the sacrificial death of an animal such as a lamb. The animal’s death acted as a substitution for the covenant maker’s death of self. Since the covenanting parties consider themselves to be dead to a life of living for themselves, they vow to live a new life, each for the other. This mutual agreement of trust, safety, protection and peace creates an eternal bond between them. They are said to be blood brothers. In the Bible, they are called friends.
The result of a blood covenant is the union of lives and natures. It is a total, complete uniting of two into one. Blood covenant partners are intertwined at the deepest parts of their beings. This bond is totally binding. It is a covenant of peace and mutual support between the parties. It is a covenant of uncommon love, and it is the most sacred and the most enduring of all pacts. Individuals joined in this way are said to be closer than brothers. This is a higher compact, a more solemn relationship than any in existence.