Covenant Language of western civilization generally is verbalized and sounds like this…
· You made a promise
· I gave you my word
· We had an understanding
· We all knew the deal…
· We made a pact
· We exchanged vows
· You swore you would never do that again
· I pledge allegiance
· We took an oath
· Our guarantee is in fine print on the box
· She assured us this would not happen
· My word is my bond
· We came to an agreement
· They made a commitment
· That’s not what the contract says
· They had an arrangement
· All I know is that we shook on it
· I heard they formed an alliance
· Together they formed a Union
· Yep, fraternity sisters
· Runnin’ in the same posse
· On the same page
· That’s between him and his crew
· Making the same journey
As a general definition, covenant is a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action or exchange of shared expectations.
A world without covenants would be anarchy. A world with covenants constantly broken and violated is as we have discovered just as bad if not worse.
God has used covenants with mankind forever as His way of confirming His promises and expectations. Our present-day versions of covenants, promises, agreements, contracts and giving our word has become an endangered right before he very eyes. The impact on our thinking about and responses to relationships, doing business and our simple day to day interactions has become adversely altered. Our ability to live rightly and love completely has been damaged and become mostly toxic… no truth – no honor – no trust – no absolutes – no reason – no stability – no accountability – no genuineness – no good faith. This cannot continue to digress or stand as the new norm for human interaction and living, or we will collapse.
The good news is that we can recover, and we will overcome. We can recover we will overcome because we still have knowledge and complete access to the truth – we just need to keep our covenant. To do it, we must recover the biblical patterns and principles of “cutting or making a covenant’ and then begin to faithfully implement them into our daily lives and the people we live our lives with.
In spite of our protests – covenants remain as God’s way. it is the best way to bring back the best intentions and expectations in human relationship and interaction – it is a more excellent way. The process of this recovery and discovery will amaze and empower us all.
I want to show over the next four weeks how if we as a faith based community of Spirit-filled believers and followers of Christ will learn or rediscover the biblical patterns and principles of making covenant – how it will miraculously change and empower our lives in every aspect and avenue. God, marriages, friendships, work and business, church and ministry, children, finance and finally how it will radically change the outcomes of our future.
As your pastor, I’m going to ask each of you to make a small covenant with God and with myself for 4 weeks of faithful attendance, faithful tithing, faithful prayer and faithful reading of God’s word. At the end of those four-weeks I will ask you to join me here on Sunday morning to hear and share the results. I am convinced and I am confident that the windows of heaven will open and there will be miracles and movement in our lives as we have never known or experienced. It is time to cut a covenant Reunion.
Context and Content
They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you.
The Hebrew word for a covenant is b’ariyt, which means “to select the best.”
1 Samuel 17:8
He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.”
In this passage the Hebrew verb barah is used for the choosing of the best man to fight Goliath. This word can also mean to eat, in the sense of selecting, such as we see in the following verse.
2 Samuel 13:6
So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.”
The Hebrew language is a root-oriented language, meaning that every Hebrew word is derived from a root word and that root word is the foundation to other Hebrew words. Each word derived from one root will be closely related in meaning to all the other words derived from the same root.
In the case of the word bariyt its foundation was derived from the root verb barut, meaning “choice meat.” But it is also derived from the verbal root bir’yah, meaning “fattened.” As they are today in ancient Israel livestock that will be slaughtered are fed special grains to make them fat to make them the best or choiced meat of the fattened livestock the choicest.
So how is fattened choice meat related to the word for “covenant?” The phrase “make a covenant,” appears eighty times in the Hebrew Bible and in every instance, it is the Hebrew phrase karat bariyt, which literally means “cut a covenant.”
The Hebrew covenant was instituted by the two parties of the covenant who would take a fattened animal, the best of the flock or herd, and “cut” it into two pieces. Then the two parties of the covenant would pass through the pieces symbolizing their dedication to the covenant and by that act were saying, “If I do not hold to the agreements of this covenant, you can do to me what we did to this animal.” Pretty radical. This methodology of “making” a covenant is clearly recorded in the bible.
“And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts— the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.”
The Hebrew word “know” (yada’), which is a common root in the semitic languages, has a wide range of meanings depending upon the context in which the word is found. Like our English word “know”, the Hebrew word can indicate mental knowledge, that is, that a person “understands” or “has knowledge” of something, as when we say, “I know that 2+2 is 4 and 4+4 is 8.” But the concept of “knowing” something or someone takes on a special meaning in the semitic languages, and this specialized meaning has to do with relationship, and primarily a relationship that is based on the making of or cutting a covenant. We know this not only from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament style) but also from literature outside of the Bible from the Ancient Near East.
We need to add one more word to our mix. In the Bible, we can see how the Hebrew word yada’ which means “to know” can also have the meaning “enter into covenant together” in a verse like Genesis 18:19. Many of the modern English translations (such as the NASB, NIV, ESV) use the word “chosen” to translate yada’ in this verse, where God is speaking of Abraham…
“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” (NASB)
For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (NIV)
For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (ESV)
In this case the old KJV, translates the verse more literally:
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. (KJV)
What does God mean when He says that “I have known him (speaking of Abraham)”? He means “I have entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham.”
It is clear from other literature of the Ancient Near East that the semitic root yada’ (to know) was used in this covenant sense.
So, what does the word “know” mean in direct relationship to Hebrew word Covenant? It means to be loyal to the stipulations and expectations of the covenant that is being enacted between two people of honor whose intentions are to give their best to make sure the agreement or covenant is fulfilled. This definition is clear in Genesis 18:19 when God says that He has “known” Abraham. Obviously, He is not saying that He “knows about Abraham” or simply that He “has knowledge about Abraham.” Moses, in writing the text of Genesis, is using the word “know” or yada’ in a common way that the word was used in the Ancient Near East and at the time he lived.
But why would the word “know” (yada‘) be used to denote a covenant relationship between two people? It is because in the Ancient Near East, a covenant between two people or between a King and his people was considered to be a relationship that could not be broken and that if it were to be broken, it would result in severe conse- quences (the curses of the covenant).
From the beginning of the Bible, we discover that God is the One Who established marriage between one man and one woman. Marriage does not just occur naturally in the created world. In cultures where the Bible has not been the foundation, we see all manner of male-female relationships. Even in some ancient African cultures, men swap wives annually, and in other cultures, polygamy is the norm. In the animal kingdom, the phenomenon where one male animal selects one female as a life-long mate is extremely rare. But when God created Eve, He brought her to Adam, and Adam exclaimed: “This time it is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” and Moses gives us the inspired conclusion: (Genesis 2:24), “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall be one flesh.” Thus, from the beginning, marriage is cast as a joining together in covenant of one man and one woman. This is why the prophet Malachi emphasizes that God hates divorce:
This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
So, when Moses writes in Gen 4:1 that “Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived…”, he is using the word “know” (yada‘) in its covenant sense: Adam was faithful to the covenant of marriage into which he and Eve had entered, a covenant which meant he would have a spiritual and physical oneness with her and she with him, and they would have no such relationship with anyone else. The physical relationship in marriage is an essential part of the “being one” which God intends in marriage. But the physical relationship does not exhaust the meaning of “know” in its covenant sense relating to marriage. To “know” one’s spouse means to be faithful to one’s spouse, not only in the physical relationship but also in all aspects of the marriage: support, comfort, friendship, service to each other, etc.
In the Scriptures (as well as in non-biblical Ancient Near Eastern literature), there is a difference between “knowing someone” and “knowing something.” Since the word “know” in semitic languages can mean “to have knowledge of something,” to “know something” means “to understand it, to be aware of it, to be able to ex- plain it to someone else, etc.” In other words, to “know something” means “to have intellectual understanding of something.” But more often than not, however, in the semitic cultures and languages, to “know someone” means to have a relationship with that person, and very often, to have a covenant relationship with that person.
Another important thing to remember about studying the original Hebrew translation of the Bible and the Hebrew words in the Bible: words, in and of themselves, do not have meaning. Words gain their meaning by the context in which they are found. So the cut, copy, paste approach of western Christianity is not what they would call a “best practice” approach. So, just because the word “know” (yada‘) is found in one place like Genesis 4:1, does not mean that its meaning in another context will be the same.
For instance, the Hebrew word yada‘ is found six times in Psalm 139:
O LORD, You have searched me and known [me]. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.
Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
In this specific Psalm, you will notice that the word “me” of verse 1 is actually not in the Hebrew – it was supplied by the translators. Literally the verse reads: “Adonai, You have searched me and You know.” Then, if you will look carefully at the other five times the word yada‘ is found in the passage, it never has the Psalmist himself as the object of the verb but always the object of the verb is some- thing (not someone):
- You know when translates You know and understand the reason for all of the movements of my life (when I sit; when I stand).
- You know it translates You know the words I’m about to speak, even before I speak them.
- My soul knows it very well translates to recognize and acknowledge the beauty and majestic work of God in creating mankind
- Know my heart translates I willfully acknowledge and openly display my heart (my thoughts, intents, wishes), before You, O God, because I know that nothing is hidden from You. You know my heart.
- Know my anxious thoughts translates You even know what I’m unable to fully express, and I acknowledge that You know all of these things.
So even in Psalm 139, the use of the word “know” (yada‘) does not relate specifically to an intimate relationship as in the marriage relationship. Surely, the Psalmist (who is David) had a covenant relationship with God, and even a relationship of kingly covenant with God, for God had appointed him to his throne. It is in the context of covenant, then, that we should also understand the word “know” in this Psalm. David is acknowledging and therefore affirming that he is maintaining loyalty of the covenant with God, for he is not hiding anything from God, and knows that he cannot hide anything from Him. David therefore confessing full covenant faithfulness to God as king over Israel, and pledges his ongoing faithfulness to God, the Great King (check out Psalms 47:2; 48:2).
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