Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Hebrew Covenant

The Biblical meaning of the word “covenant” appears to indicate “a special bond”, which emphasizes the relationship of faith and trust that is the basic of all covenants. A divine covenant is not like a contract, which involves a person or person’s special skills or talents and has a time limit. A divine covenant involves the whole being of the parties involved and is eternal, ---everlasting. A covenant is oneness; meaning in harmony, in full and complete agreement; the two parties are one. It is a covenant of promise; and of faith, hope and love.

To understand a divine covenant it is helpful to have at least some knowledge of the Hebrew laws and customs given to them by God. The believer’s relationship with our heavenly Father is based upon a divine covenant between God and His Son and a covenant between God’s Son and the believer. When the believer has knowledge of a divine covenant it gives understanding of many of the doctrines of God’s Holy Scriptures.

A covenant is always made between a greater and a lesser person. The one is greater in love, faith, knowledge, wisdom, authority, and etc. To study the covenant ceremony we will break it into eight parts. The ceremony is full of meaning both to those making the covenant and to the witnesses of the covenant. We chose to study the covenant in eight parts because the number eight (8) is a symbol of infinity or everlasting and eternal. As we study we will carefully examine each part of the covenant to broaden our understanding of our own covenant relationship with God through Jesus, His Son.

Part one in making covenant was the exchanging of robes. Once the decision was made to make a covenant the two parties met, usually in an open field, in the presence of witnesses. Mount Calvary would be an example of such a place. The first step was the exchange of robes. A likeness is seen in the covenant made between Jonathan and David that is recorded in 1st Samuel beginning in chapter 18.

In verse 1 we read that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.” Jonathan’s soul had become one with the soul of David and he loved him. Jonathan recognized David’s love and faith toward God and saw that through his acts of faith he had become the savior of Israel. (read 1st Samuel chapter 17). Even though Jonathan was the king’s son he saw David as being the greater person and desired to become one with him. He wanted to have the same love and faith toward God that he saw in David.

“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Then Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David,----. (1st Samuel 18:3-4f)”

The exchanging of the robes symbolized the putting on of one another. It meant that one person took on the identity of the other and vice versa.

When, by revelation we receive the gift of faith (see Romans 10:17), we recognize Jesus as the Son of Man and the great love He has for His heavenly Father and for man, we see and understand the great faith He exercised in the defeating of the enemy and becoming the Savior of the world. Our souls become knit with the soul of Jesus and we love Him as we love ourselves. When this happens we desire to become like Him and enter into covenant with Him. To make covenant with Him we must, by faith working through love (see Galatians 5:6), meet Him in the open place of Mount Calvary outside the camp where the sacrifice has been made. By faith working through love, on the cross with Christ we give Him our cloak of flesh, which is a cloak of sin. By faith working through love, we become one with His death and we die to sin. In exchange for our cloak of sinful flesh He gives us His cloak of righteousness, His heavenly nature, His divine image; He gives us a cloak of eternal life and fellowship with the Father.

The Apostle Paul writes,

”I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The second part is the exchanging of the belts or girdles. The belt is a symbol of strength. After giving David his robe Jonathan gave David his belt. The exchanging of the belts is symbolic of the strength of the lesser being exchanged for the strength of the greater.

In our covenant with Christ by faith we exchange the sickness and disease of the flesh, our weaknesses, faults and failures for His strength. Where our love for the Father is weak, His is strong. Where our love for one another is weak, His is strong. Where our faith in the Father is weak, His is strong. When we give Him our weaknesses, in exchange He gives us His faith, hope and love; the same faith, hope and love that gave Him strength to overcome sickness, disease, death, hell and the grave. Jesus takes our sin, our failure, and our total inability to please the Father and in exchange gives us His total right standing before God. He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness. He takes our dead spirit and gives us the Spirit of life. He takes our defeat and gives us His victory. He takes our slavery and gives us His throne (see Col. 1:13-14, Ephesians 2:6).

Part three is the exchanging of armor and weapons. Jonathan also gave David his armor and weapons. Again, the lesser recognizes the greater superior armor and weapons. The exchange also symbolizes the fact that they have a common enemy. The enemies of one are the enemies of the other. If one of the covenant members is attacked the other is obligated to come to his aide.

“--- Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Since our struggle is not against flesh and blood, by the power of the Holy Spirit we must exchange the weakness of the flesh for the armor of Christ; having our loins girded with the belt of His strength which is His truth and putting on the breastplate of His righteousness, we shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace and take His shield of faith with which we will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. Also we put on the helmet of His salvation and arm ourselves with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. We pray and petition at all times in the Spirit, that is the prayer of faith. These are the weapons and the full armor of God. For all who have been baptized in Christ have been clothed with Christ (see Galatians 3:27).

Part four is the killing of the sacrificial animal, usually a lamb, goat or a calf. The animal was killed and cut into two parts and laid aside; one half to the left and the other to the right. The purpose of the animal sacrifice was symbolic of dying to ones self and living for the other. The animal was the substitute for the actual death of the covenant partner. Apart from dying to ones self there was no covenant. The animal’s blood was the witness of the death and the sign of the covenant. As long as the covenant was not broken the death of the animal was sufficient as a substitute. If the covenant was broken there remained no longer a substitute sacrifice for death.

Christ Jesus is the believers covenant sacrifice. When we make covenant with Him and by faith die unto our self, Jesus is our substitute death. His blood is the testimony or witness of His death that He died for us and is the sign of the covenant. The Holy Spirit and the word of God agree and bear witness of His death.

“For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water (the word of God) and the blood (the testimony of His death), and the three are in agreement (1st John 5:8). ”

Part five was called walking into death or the path of blood. Actually it was the oath part of the covenant. The individuals making covenant would call upon God to witness the covenant as they walked around and through the two halves of the sacrifice making the figure 8 as they recited the agreement of the covenant. An oath was taken that went something like this---“May it be done to me as unto this animal if I break this covenant.” Or they might have said, “Lord, I swear to keep this covenant with my friend, and if I fail to do so, may the judgment that fell upon this animal fall upon me.” Or, again, it may have been a marriage vow---“I promise to love and be faithful unto death.” The covenant was so binding that to break it would warrant the transgressor’s death.

Adam broke faith with God and through his sin came death to all mankind. Because Adam allowed lust to enter His flesh the flesh became an enemy to God, therefore, it was a veil between God and man. Jesus is the sacrificial offering for man’s sins and in Him the veil is removed. He died in our stead and through the shedding of His blood we have forgiveness of sin.

At the cross where Jesus died we make our profession of faith,

“-------‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,’--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved, for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed’ (Romans 10:8-11). ”
“-----and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit.” (1st Corinthians 12:3ff)

The Spirit of God knows the heart of man and bears witness of the proclamation.

Jesus makes the death walk with us through the sacrifice, which is His body, as we proclaim our oath of faith. The death walk is symbolic of our crucifixion with Him. Jesus gave His life for us, and according to the covenant, we must give our life for Him. Jesus was raised up for us and we are raised up with Him if indeed we die with Him.

Jesus was the veil of flesh that was torn that through Him we have entrance into the Holy of Hollies.

“Therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)

The animal sacrifice being cut in halves is in likeness of the torn veil of flesh. The temple veil being torn when Christ was crucified was a sign of the veil being removed in Christ.

The sixth part of making a covenant was the cutting of the wrist, known as “the striking of the hands.” The individuals would cut their wrists just short of the palms of the hand, and each would allow the blood to flow. Then they would grasp each the others hand allowing the wounds to be bound one to the other. The mingling of the blood from the wounds was symbolic of each one’s life flowing into the other. Both bore the scars of the covenant. As they greeted others they would wave with an open hand. The person being greeted would see the scar and know that he was in covenant and the works he did was for the best interest of his covenant partner. The custom of waving or shaking hands in greetings, making peace agreements or even contracts is derived from “the striking of hands.”

By faith we believe we ”strike hands” with Jesus on the cross. By faith we believe when one comes to Christ he, by the Spirit, is crucified with Him. Not beside Him, above Him or even below Him, but with Him. By faith we believe that by the Spirit we hang on the cross with Him. By faith we believe that the nails driven into His hands are driven into our hands also; our hands touching His, wound to wound. This is the “striking of the hands.” By faith we believe His blood mingles with our blood. Our life flows into Him and His life flows into us. Also, by faith we believe that by the power of the Spirit we die with Him, are buried with Him, and the same Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead raised us up with Him. The life we now live in the Spirit we live for Christ and it is by the same Spirit that His life is manifested in us.

Man’s hands are often symbols of his works. The Holy Scripture teaches us to lift holy hands unto God. If by faith we believe we have been crucified with Christ our hands are indeed holy. They no longer do the works of Satan but now work for God. When holy hands are lifted toward God, by faith we believe that God sees nail scared hands that identify the worshiper as one whose sin nature has been crucified with His Son. The worshipers are identified with Christ and their works and praise are accepted as being a holy sacrifice unto Him.

Part seven is the blessings and cursing. Every covenant ceremony contains an oath of blessings and cursing. The people who are making the covenant stand before witnesses and read out a list of possessions. The purpose of this was to say, “All that is mine is now yours.” The second part of the oath was made up of blessings and curses.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 28, we find a good example of the blessings and cursing. These are a part of the “old covenant” God had with His people. The blessings are contained in verses 1-14 and the curses are found in verses 15-68. There are blessings for total commitment by faith to the covenant and penalties for breaking the covenant. This is even true of any agreement between men. If we keep our agreement it has its reward. If we break our agreement we not only lose our reward but we are faced with penalties.

Consider the blessings of the “new covenant,”

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

And also consider Phil. 4:19,

“And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Then there is Galatians 3:26-29, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all who are baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

And how much severer are the penalties!!!When we commit sin against the new covenant in Christ Jesus it also has its penalties. Jesus is our High Priest and is seated at the right hand of the Father continually making intersession for our failures and shortcomings, our sins. When we sin the Holy Spirit convicts us and then we are judged. If we judge ourselves and sorrowfully repent provision for our forgiveness has been prepared for us through Christ Jesus. If we do not judge ourselves and repent then this is willfully sinning and we place ourselves in jeopardy of “certain terrifying expectation of judgment” by God Himself.

It is written,

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. But a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace. For we know Him who has said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay. ' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people'. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God ” (Hebrews 10:26-31).

And the Apostle Peter writes,

“For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb,‘ A dog returns to its own vomit.’ and, ‘A sow. after washing, returns to the mire’ (2nd Peter 20-22). ”
“Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that WHEN YOU HAVE DONE THE WILL OF GOD, you may receive what was promised. ‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. ’But, My righteous one shall live by faith, and IF HE SHRINKS BACK MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.’ But we are not of those who shrink back to DESTRUCTION, but of those who have FAITH TO THE PRESERVING of the SOUL.” (Hebrews 10:35-39)

It is a sad mistake for anyone to depend upon a false doctrine for salvation while continuing to willfully sin. Salvation comes only by grace through a PRESERVING FAITH in the LORD JESUS CHRIST. Jesus is our intercessor and the Holy Spirit is given as our helper, there is no excuse for failing!!God is on our side. (For an example of persevering faith study the life of Jesus and read Hebrews, chapter 11).

The eighth and final part of the covenant was the meal. Bread and wine was part of the meal. One would break a piece of bread and dip it into the wine and place it in the others mouth. Then the other person would do the same. The bread represents the body and the wine represents the blood, the soul or life of a person. The dipping of the bread into the wine was symbolic of the giving of both body and soul to the other. Each one feeding the other was symbolic of becoming one through the giving of each one’s total life to the other.

Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is the believers covenant meal. It is a time when we meditate upon the covenant and the meaning of our Lord’s death. Of how His body was bruised and His blood was poured out for us. It is a time for reflecting on how He “finished” His course of faith in the covenant with His Father (John 19:30); a time to remember the completion of His part of the covenant with us; a time to remember His great gift to us and to reaffirm our oath to be faithful to Him; a time of thanksgiving and a time of praise.

Jesus gives us the bread and the wine that is symbolic of Him giving His body and soul (or life) to us. But we do not have any bread and wine worthy to give to Him. One day our course of faith will be finished and the Passover covenant will be fulfilled in us; then we will be face to face with Him and be perfect as He is perfect (Luke 22:15-16). Then He will sit down and complete the covenant meal with us and we can share with Him the bread and the wine that He has given us (see Luke 22:15-18, Matt. 26:29 & Mark 14:25). Then it will be known as the marriage supper. If we are ever mindful of these things how could we break our sacred vow of faithfulness to Him??

James C Sanford

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