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originally posted by: DISRAELI
We may learn from scattered details in the Old Testament how covenants were made in Israel.
When two parties make an agreement, the Hebrew phrase is that they “cut” a covenant.
The ritual seems to have been that a sacrificial animal was cut in half and laid upon the ground, in such a way that a gap was left between the two portions.
This was the procedure followed by Abraham in Genesis ch15.
The parties to the agreement wod then go between both halves of the animal, along this passage.
“And the men who transgressed the covenant…which they made before me, I will make like the calf which they cut in two and passed between its parts” –Jeremiah ch34 v18
So they would have passed through the animal in order to identify themselves with it, and they must have made an oath at the same time; “May God treat me in the same way as this (and more also) if I do not keep this agreement”.
The evidence for this oath is that even casual oaths could be expressed in the same words. As in Abner’s angry declaration in 2 Samuel ch3 v9;
“God do so to Abner and more also if I do not…”
When Moses led the people in making the covenant at Sinai (Exodus ch24), the rite had to be managed in a different way.
When one of the parties is a God, and the other party is an entire nation, then “passing between the parts” is no longer practical.
So instead of bringing the covenanting parties to the covenant animal, he took the covenant animal to the two covenanting parties.
He built an altar and offered sacrifice with a number of oxen (with the assistance of “young men of the people of Israel”).
The result was that he had a supply of blood, which would adequately represent the sacrificed animals.
One half of the blood was then thrown against the altar, representing Israel’s God.
So the symbolism was that God had made contact with the animal. God had “passed through”.
Now for the second party.
Gathering the people together, he read them the terms of the agreement, “the book of the covenant”. The writer of this account is probably thinking of one of the collections of law now incorporated into Exodus.
They agreed. “All that the Lord has spoken we will do”.
Moses then took the other half of the blood, collected in basins, and threw it over the people, saying “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you, in accordance with all these words”.
So the symbolism was that the people of Israel had also made contact with the sacrificed animal. The people had “passed through”.
Now that both parties had “signed the agreement”, in the manner customary at the time, there was a meal to celebrate the event.
Seventy “elders of Israel” had been selected to represent the people as a whole.
Seventy is a very symbolic number. It combines seven (the number which represents God) with ten (the number which represents completeness).
That’s why it keeps appearing in the Bible and Jewish tradition, especially when God is doing something for the world at large . We see the seventy disciples sent out in Luke, the legend of the seventy translators of the Septuagint.
So it’s very interesting that seventy should be the number chosen on this occasion, rather than twelve (the number which represents Israel).
Then this delegation “went up and saw the God of Israel”.
There was a kind of sapphire pavement under his feet, “like the very heaven for clearness”.
This is meant to represent the firmament, the supposed location of God’s throne.
Ezekiel saw the Lord on a detached and movable “likeness of a firmament” (Ezekiel ch1 v22).
In Revelation, John was taken up to God’s throne, surrounded by “a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation ch4 v6). This, too, is the firmament, the sky seen from above. Another version of the “elders of Israel” was there already.
Strictly speaking, of course, “no man has ever seen God” (1 John ch4 v12), and no man can see him.
At the very most they would have seen an image accommodating itself to their understanding.
Nevertheless, they were meant to understand themselves as “being in the presence of God”.
Safely standing (or possibly sitting) in the presence of God, they ate and drank.
The Last Supper is more commonly associated with the Passover Lamb.
But when Jesus offered round the cup and said “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark ch14 v24) or “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke ch22 v20), he was evidently referring back to the words of Moses at Sinai;
“Behold the blood of the covenant”.
Following through the analogy points us towards lessons which might be learned about the significance of the Supper.
Firstly, the death of Jesus is to be understood as marking the starting-point of a covenant, just as the sacrifice of the oxen marked the starting point of the original covenant.
It is a NEW covenant.
The reception of the blood is to be understood as uniting the believer with Christ, just as the parties in the old covenant ritual appear to have identified themselves with the covenant sacrifice.
As he says in John; “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him”
Finally the Supper may be understood as a celebration of the new covenant, like the meal of the elders at Sinai.
And the continuing celebration of the Supper should perhaps be understood in the same way.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes” (1 Corinthians ch11 v26).
It is a meal which takes place, like the meal of the elders, in the presence of God.