A Sign, A Sacrifice & A Solemn Oath


I’m back at home with renewed passion to finish the book God is revealing to me. Toward that end, I am the eternal student. If I am to write about the relationship between God and man, it’s imperative that I learn more about the nature of “covenant.” It’s a word we don’t use much in contemporary English (except in certain legal matters) but Christians walk in its shadow everyday.

Andrew Murray was known to say that when one understands the meaning of covenant it “opens up the gate of heaven.” Kay Arthur is quoted as saying in Our Covenant God, “everything God does is based upon covenant.” If that is true, no doubt He longs to teach us all about what a covenant relationship is.

Our word translated covenant is “beriyth” in Hebrew. When it is used between individuals it is a pledge or agreement that cannot be broken. This word is related to a root word which means “to cut.” When a covenant was cut between two people, bloodshed was required, symbolizing the life & death eternality of such an agreement. Once made, it could never be revoked or modified.

Part of the covenant ceremony required that a section of skin (usually the wrist) on each person be cut and their blood be allowed to mingle together. Often effort was made to deliberately create a lasting scar on each arm as a living reminder of the enduring relationship they had entered into. It always superseded every other human obligation, no matter how close the bond–no exceptions. An example of this meaningful covenant was that cut between Jonathan & David. A covenant was always a pledge to the death, but their obligation carried on for the generations that came after them, as was the case of David honoring his covenant with Jonathan through Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9+). Understanding the seriousness of covenant obligation also helps to explain why Prince Jonathan chose to honor his covenant connection with David more highly than the close familial connection with his father, King Saul.

A covenant made between God and man is accompanied by “signs, sacrifices and a solemn oath that sealed the relationship with promises of blessing for keeping the covenant and curses for breaking it.” (Elmer Smick, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, page 128) This kind of a covenant required the sacrifice of a life as the blood bond that sealed it. Initially an animal was offered and finally the covenant between God and man was fulfilled eternally in the once-for-all perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

It is significant that the original NT Greek language chose the word “diatheke” to convey the meaning of covenant. This word was most often used to refer to a disposition of one’s property, as in a will. The deliberate selection of this word (there were other possible choices) in the original text is important. It pointed to a bond or a gift, a disposition between two unequal partners. Thus, NT covenant is closely akin to the meaning of grace. Ah, now we’re getting to the heart of our covenant relationship through Jesus Christ.

In their covenant ceremony 3,000 years earlier, Jonathan exchanged clothing with David to suggest that each was symbolically “becoming the other,” in essence proclaiming “you see me, you also see him.” From Jonathan’s perspective, he was willingly taking on David’s life, his problems, his debts, his enemies & friends, his every burden, etc.,

In a much more impactful way, our Savior became Immanuel, one who took on the complete penalty for our sin, offering us the gift of His abundant life.

Jonathan gave his own armor to David, reminding everyone thereafter that David’s enemies were now his as well (& visa versa) and that any authority that came from his powerful position was now available to David. In giving David his sword, Jonathan signified that he was willing to die if necessary in defense of his covenant partner.

This reminds us that Jesus laid down his perfect life, sealing God’s covenant with us. Our enemies are His enemies and any who disparage His name are now ours as well.

Just as Jonathan and David wore the permanent scars on their wrists as a reminder of their promise, Jesus will be seen wearing His nail pierced scars in Heaven eternally ensuring that we never forget grace was offered and life is His presence was our richest gain.

To be sure our Savior allows us to choose each day whether to live in the full abundance He offers or to disobey and do our own thing, knowing that there are often life-altering penalties for our disobedience. Once salvation is ours, our eternal standing in Christ is never again in question but our access to His complete provision in this world may be.

Daily we are invited to “put on Christ” proudly proclaiming in view of all, “you see me, you also see Him.”

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 states this clearly:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

The answer to Paul’s rhetorical question is a resounding “no human being!” But do not doubt that God is the insurance behind His covenant! It never was 50/50. Once there has been a personal acceptance of Jesus’ blood sacrifice, a promise is given that is as sure as God, Himself. He is our unequaled partner, standing strong beside us in life and surely in death as well.

Sealed by a Sign, a Sacrifice and a Solemn Oath,
Golgatha–the place of the skull.