posted on Jun, 12 2020 @ 05:01 PM
How was a covenant made in ancient Israel?
The form was probably standard over a wider cultural region, since the Israelites also made covenants with outsiders. For example Abraham with
Abimelech at Beersheba (Genesis ch21 v27). There had to be an “international currency” on these things.
A few passages give clues about the ceremonial.
Jeremiah says about one covenant, committing the people of Jerusalem to free their slaves; “The princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the
priests and all the people of the land passed between the parts of the calf” (Jeremiah ch34 v19).
“Passing between the parts” is explained in more detail in the account of Abram’s covenant, Genesis ch15. Abram was told to collect a heifer, a
she-goat, a ram, and two birds. He then cut the animals in two “and laid each half over against the other”- in such a way, apparently, that a path
could be followed between the two sets. When the night fell, “ a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch”, representing the Lord, passed between the
pieces. This was the Lord making the covenant.
When Moses made the covenant between the Lord and Israel, in Exodus ch24, he was obliged to adapt the ceremonial of “passing between the parts”,
to make it more manageable for a very large assembly. A number of oxen were sacrificed.;
“And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar.
Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people, and they said; All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be
And Moses took the [other half of] the blood and threw it on the people, and said; Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you
in accordance with these words.”
The significance of the ritual is that both sides of the covenant-partnership had touched the blood of the animals, and this was the equivalent of
“passing between the parts”.
The common factor in these versions appears to be that the covenant-makers symbolically get “inside” the sacrificed animal, in order to identify
themselves with it. THAT is why a sacrificial death is necessary to make a covenant valid (Hebrews ch9 v16).
(The Greek word for “covenant” also means “last will and testament”, so some modern translators and commentators blether about a testator
needing to die before his will comes into effect. That concept has nothing to do with the matter. They are barking up the wrong tree.)
These reports don’t tell us anything about a standard wording for the covenant oath. The covenant of Moses was a special case, so his wording would
not have been standard.
So let us consider a form of oath which seems to have been common at one period in Israelite history;
Ruth; “May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you” (Ruth ch1 v17)
Eli; “May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you” (1 Samuel ch3 v17)
Saul; “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die” (1 Samuel ch14 v44)
Jonathan; “The Lord do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you” (1 Samuel ch20 v13)
David; “God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much of one male of all who belong to him” (1 Samuel ch25 v22)
Abner; “God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the Lord has sworn to him” (2 Samuel ch3 v9)
David; “God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else until the sun goes down” (2 Samuel ch3 v35)
David; “God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army henceforth in place of Joab” (2 Samuel ch19 v13)
Solomon; “God do so to me and more also, if this word does not cost Adonijah his life” (1 Kings ch2 v23)
Jehoram; “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today” (2 Kings ch6 v31)
(Jezebel and Ben-hadad the king of Syria make similar oaths, referring to “the gods”)
Some of these are solemn promises, and some of them are angry threats. In neither case is it clear from the context what “do so” means. Do
The clue to both sets of puzzles may be found in the Lord’s warning about the broken covenant of Jeremiah ch34. He says to those who have not kept
their oath; “I will make them like the calf which they cut in two and passed between the parts” (v18). They are going to be made like the
calf because that was one of the conditions of the oath, and he is going to take them at their word.
In other words, that oath in common conversational usage in the days of Saul and David must have been a profane version of the familiar wording of the
standard covenant oath. That is, the participants passing through the parts of the sacrificial animal must have been swearing in something like this
“May the Lord do the same thing to me, and more also, if I do not keep the words of this covenant.”