“To cut a covenant” today often means to just make an agreement, to “cut a deal.” We might just shake hands or put an agreement on paper and mark it with our signatures. But the ancient origins of the phrase come from when people literally “cut” their agreements. For agreements that dealt with something less than life and death issues, ancients would make a verbal agreement. More significant agreements were made in the presence of witnesses and would often include symbols being cut into a surface. It might be of a stone, tree, animal, or doorpost. Later it became a cut into a clay cuneiform tablet, or later still, a mark on paper.
A Cut in Flesh
Really important agreements throughout history can include putting a mark on one’s flesh to attest to a sacred agreement. I remember a company pool party I attended years ago. Since we were all in bathing attire, I could not help noticing a young black man’s scar just above his heart. My coworker then explained to me why there was a three-finger-wide keloid scar in the shape of the Greek letter Omega on his chest. Having it was a matter of pride to him because it represented a lifelong commitment. It represented his Omega Psi Phi college fraternity oath. This took place over thirty-five years ago. I did not work closely with the young man, and I do not remember his name, but I never forgot seeing the mark he made to cut a covenant.
The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, בְּרִית, Beriyth, ties together the act of making a cut with the act of making a sacred agreement. Its meaning is literally “to cut a covenant.” The cut made in the human flesh would not be life-threatening. It was made so that a small amount of blood from the cut could be mixed in one way or another with that of the other covenant maker. Often, a cut would also be made in the flesh of an animal. This cut would ensure that the blood of the animal was shed and death would occur. It was understood that the life of the animal represented the blood of the covenant makers. It represented the lives they would be willing to give for one another.
The modern English word covenant is derived from the Latin convenire meaning “to come together, unite, and come into agreement.” This can mean to come together for business, friendship, marriage, or a sacred spiritual relationship.
The Bible tells us, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” This has been proven in practice and instilled in the heart of man from the beginning . Having our blood in us sustains life and spilling our blood equates to death. The blood of man and beast can easily come to represent their life, their very being.
To cut a covenant in a way that spills blood sets it apart from less important agreements. Entering into a lifelong agreement. as dear as life itself can symbolically, or literally, be sealed with the cutting of a blood covenant.
The thread of blood covenant cuts and promises begins in the first chapters of Genesis. It continues to run through the life and times of every book of the Old Testament and New Testament. Furthermore, blood covenant promises continue even to the last chapters of Revelation.
I believe God placed the concept of making solemn and sacred blood covenant promises in us from the very beginning. In fact, almost everyone portrayed in the Bible knew what it meant to cut a covenant relationship, even if they were heathens, or broke their covenant vows.
A New and Better Covenant is cut
The covenant promise being fulfilled in the life of Jesus was a priceless treasure being purposely hidden in plain sight. What is hidden is that Jesus is on a secret mission to go to the cross to cut a covenant, using not just a few drops of His blood, but all of His blood.
The crucifixion was not an accident, a tragedy, or a mistake. It was the final mysterious act of God cloaking the Light in the darkness. Thereby, Jesus is keeping His and Father God’s covenant promise to sacrifice His own son. But, sacrificing His son had to remain veiled until the instant of Jesus’ death. At that moment, the literal veil in the old religion’s Temple, which had separated man from God, is rent in two.
“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:50-51 Berean Study Bible)
The Gospel, which means the Good News, is not limited to the news that Jesus dies on a cross and rises again to save us from our sins. The Good News is that Jesus does this to cut a covenant. It is authored by Father God and signed with the blood of Jesus. This New Covenant relationship is now ours for the taking.