Blood Covenant

Covenant in Hebrew means a cut-where-blood-flows. The purpose of covenant was to create a binding agreement, more powerful than a contract or agreement. This was to be forever - the life span of the participants, it was to be holy, sacred, to violate the covenant would mean death. The blood covenant was the ultimate insurance of loyalty and fidelity. There were variances of rituals but the common base was a cut-where-blood-flows and the mingling of these two bloods by the cuts being rubbed against each other. A cup of wine would be held under the cuts to catch the dripping blood which was stirred into the wine by an officiating priest, then each participant would drink from the cup. In many cases the witnesses to the covenant would also drink from the cup of the blood and wine. In the minds of the covenant participants they had became one blood and one identity with each other. They would give each other their children to raise in utter confidence that the covenant partner would raise the child as their own.

The blood covenant has been used for centuries as a means by which any two people, families, tribes, villages or towns could enter into a binding unending agreement. Covenant between two persons could end with the death of a participant on either side.

In the case of the David and Jonathan the agreement: 1SA 20:42 "And Jonathan said to David, "Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord, saying, 'The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.'" Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city." (New American Standard Bible) In this covenant made in 1Samuel 18:3 the terms were to bind the families and their descendants forever. Ten years after the death of Jonathan when David is made King over the ten remaining tribes of Israel, David remembers his covenant with Jonathan and begins an inquiry if there remain any of the descendents of Jonathan.

2SA 9:1 Then David said, "Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" 2 Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "{I am} your servant." 3 And the king said, "Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?" And Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet." 4 So the king said to him, "Where is he?" And Ziba said to the king, "Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar." 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar. 6 And Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself. And David said, "Mephibosheth." And he said, "Here is your servant!" 7 And David said to him, "Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly." 8 Again he prostrated himself and said, "What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?" 9 Then the king called Saul's servant Ziba, and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. 10 "And you and your sons and your servants shall cultivate the land for him, and you shall bring in {the produce} so that your master's grandson may have food; nevertheless Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall eat at my table regularly." Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11 Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my lord the king commands his servant so your servant will do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table as one of the king's sons. 12 And Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth. 13 So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate at the king's table regularly. Now he was lame in both feet. (NASB) *Underline not in original text.

David begins a search of the entire House of Saul to find someone he can show "kindness to" for Jonathan's sake. The territory of Saul was in the domain of the ten tribes of Israel, while David was King over Judea and Benjamin the other ten tribes made Kings for themselves for ten years, before they came to David and made him King over them reuniting all twelve tribes under one King.

The first official act of David as King over all Israel is to search for a descendent of Jonathan.

This describes the power of the cut-where-blood-flows. Mephibosheth is totally confused by David's interest in him after all he is cripple and no threat to the throne, he say to David, 8 Again he prostrated himself and said, "What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?". Mephibosheth has no idea that David had cut covenant with Jonathan, and even if they had, without a witness why would David honor that covenant? The answer lay in David, his soul was tied to Jonathan by the covenant. David takes Mephibosheth into his house as one of his sons - as Jonathan's son Mephibosheth was David's son.

The covenant that binds two families together will end when the last remaining heir on either side of the covenant dies. If two families joined in covenant five centuries ago and there is a remaining heir on each side, the covenant still binds them.

The terms and form of the covenant would be decided by the participants. The normal time span for this time would be one year. The agreement to enter into covenant would create a formal planning time. In modern wedding ceremonies this time span is called the engagement where the two have pledge to enter into covenant. During the planning time all the terms of the covenant would be discussed by both sides until agreement was reached. In some covenants one last name would by taken by both sides or participants.

Terms of discussion could include:

It must be understood that after the covenant ceremony the terms could in no way be altered or nullified. All questions and terms must be resolved BEFORE the Covenant Ceremony.

Among the most common of uses of the blood covenant was and is used to join two persons or families or tribes together into one person, one family or one tribe. Each side loses their individualism and becomes one in identity, name, purpose and goals.

PURPOSE: Among the many reasons for joining in covenant, one could be that one family are good farmers and excel at raising crops, and another family could be excellent soldiers. The farmers are not good at protecting their crops and the solders need a friendly source of food. The two families join in blood covenant, and the farmer is protected and the soldier is fed. Why not just use a contract? Because in hard or trying times it is family that you turn to and depend on. When the farmers and the soldiers formed one new family out of the two participating families they gave the new family a name that both sides agreed to. Merchants and manufactures would join in covenant not to cheat each other, one would make the other sell the product. It is important to note that the terms of the covenant were defined by the participants. The covenant did not have to include the taking of one last name - the two families would then give females on both sides and seal the families by intermarrying.

The single most used characteristic of covenant is the cut-where-blood-flows by each participant (one on each side for families) and the mingling of the blood often in a cup of wine and then drank by both participants. Each participants wound would be treated in such a manner as to ensure a visible scar when healed. The scar was the evidence that a blood covenant had been entered into.

RITE & RITUAL: The process always involves a cut-where-blood-flows. The American Indians would cut the thumb and join thumbs together to make blood brothers. In the east most often the cut would be somewhere on the forearm, in all cases the cut would be in place where at a casual glance you could see a scar that indicated the bearer was in covenant.

CUT: The cut made during the covenant ceremony would be treated in such a way as to produce a scar when healed. The scar was evidence that a covenant had taken place. In the east and again in most cases (not always) the blood would be caught in a cup of wine and both participants would drink from the cup and the witness would then drink of the cup. In most cases where the cup was shared a single loaf of bread would be placed before the participants who then broke or cut the loaf and each eat a piece then the remainder of the loaf would be shared among the witnesses to the ceremony. The wedding cake is a "sweet bread" and is first eaten by the bride and groom then the remainder is shared among the witnesses of the ceremony.

The modern day wedding rings are replacements for the scars that would have been part of the ceremony. The symbol of the single loaf of bread was the two being joined by covenant were to be as one with each other as the single loaf of bread. The bread is being reunited into one piece in the unity of the participants. The persons being joined in covenant are as "one" as a single loaf of uncut bread.

Now we come to the larger part of the ritual where animals were sacrificed and their bodies used to create a pathway of blood that the participants would walk through.

Not every covenant ceremony had animals sacrificed in it. Some ceremonies were shorter, others could take all day especially if two families or clans were being joined in covenant.

JER 34:18 And I will give the men that have transgressed my <covenant>, which have not performed the words of the <covenant> which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof.


The participants would sacrifice several animals and cut the carcasses length wise down the spine and lay the animal halves opposite of each other about three feet apart. There being several animals involved a path is formed with half a carcass on the left side and half a carcass on the right side with a three foot space between. After three hours the three foot space between the animal halves would fill with blood that drained from the carcasses. The participants stand facing each other at each end of the path. Each removes their sandals and stand in their bare feet. Each will walk through the path of blood twice. The first participant walks the path through the animal halves to the other. Upon reaching the end of the path, makes a declaration to the other participant that he has just symbolically died and all his (list agreed upon prior) goods listed in will now belong to the other. He then walks back to his starting place through the path of blood which now is a symbolic birth canal and is now born is the new agreed upon identity.

The blood covenant while somewhat gory has at its base a death - rebirth process. Each participant will symbolically die, thus ending their former identity, they will then in the ceremony go through a symbolic rebirth. They are "born" or "reborn" into a new identity the two participants have chosen. Each of the participants will each write out their contribution to the covenant and this written document will be the same as the last will and testament that is enacted after the death of the writer of the will.

DEATH : The two being joined together into one, each make out a will as what will belong to the other upon death, the death that will take place during the ceremony is symbolic because animals will be sacrificed and the animals death takes the place of the persons being joined together. After each makes out their will they then discuss at length with the other exactly what each side is gain from the covenant. The normal time from the decision to enter into covenant to the ceremony is about one year.

When two individuals are joined in covenant they may choose to take one last name to show their common identity. In almost every instance when two families are joined together by covenant, they choose one common last name or they put their last names together and place a hyphen between the names.

Covenant in the Hebrew language means a "cut where blood flows". The blood was the seal of the covenant. The purpose of covenant was to join two persons/families in a permanent relationship that had no way out. Contracts and agreements have been recorded back to the most ancient of times. The ruins of Summer, the pre Babylonian Empire that ruled the Tigris and Euphrates valley, have yielded stone contracts for harvests of wheat, rye and barley. No argument can be made that the people were too unsophisticated to have contracts and that is why they entered into so many covenants.

Marriage is the closest agreement to the blood covenant in modern society, and marriage is today closer to a contract than a covenant.

Grasping and understanding the relationship between God, Jesus and the individual believer can only be achieved by a firm understanding of covenant. The Bible is divided into two covenants the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. If the very subject matter of the two books is covenant, then the believer needs a clear understanding of just what a covenant is and what a covenant is not. Covenant is a permanent lifelong agreement with no escape clause. Covenant is used to join people, families and tribes to each other with terms that can not be altered or nullified.

To end this I will use an excerpt from E.W. Kenyon's book "The Blood Covenant". The description is of the New York Times reporter Stanley in his search for the American missionary Dr. Livingstone.


Mr., Stanley said he never knew this covenant to be broken in Africa, no matter what the provocation.

Dr. Livingstone also bears witness saying that he never knew it to be broken.

In Africa, if one was to break the covenant, his own mother or wife, or his nearest relatives would seek his death, would turn him over to the hands of the avenger for destruction. No man can live in Africa who breaks the covenant . . . he curses the very ground he walks on.

The vilest enemies become trusted friends as soon as the covenant is cut." page 10 Blood Covenant

One illustration of Stanley's might help us to grasp the significance. page 11 Blood Covenant

When Stanley was seeking Livingstone, he was on his first trip to Africa. He came in contact with a powerful equatorial tribe. (Tribe on the equator) They were very war like.

Stanley was not in any condition to fight them. Finally, his interpreter asked him why he didn't make a strong covenant with them? (The tribal chieftain, who was an older man, had taken a liking to Stanley)

Stanley asked what it meant and was told that it meant drinking each other's blood.

Stanley revolted from such a rite, but conditions kept getting worse, until finally, Stanley's lead bearer asked again; why do you not cut covenant with the chief of the tribe?

Stanley asked what the results of such a covenant would be, and was told "Everything the chief has will be yours if you need it!" This appealed to Stanley and he investigated. After several days of negotiation, they arrived at the terms of the covenant.

First there was a parley in which the chieftain questioned Stanley as to his motives and standing, and his ability to keep the covenant. The next step was an exchange of gifts. The old chieftain wanted Stanley's new white milk goat. Stanley's heath had slipped on his journey, and the only thing that would stay in his stomach was goats milk, so it was very hard to give this up, but Stanley had nothing else the chief wanted. (Stanley had questioned his interpreter and was assured the old chief only wanted to be the source of Stanley's blessing and had no intention of with holding the milk from him.)

page 12 Blood Covenant

Stanley gave the chief the goat, and the chieftain gave Stanley a seven foot tall spear that had the top portion wound in copper wire in a very intricate pattern. Originally, Stanley had no idea what that spear meant. Later on as Stanley continued with his journey, right out to the coast of Africa, as soon as anyone saw that spear they would immediately ask if he needed anything, people would fall all over themselves trying to help Stanley in any way.

The old chieftain then brought in one of his princes. Stanley led forth one of his men from England. (Kenyon leaves out the path of blood between the animal parts but in his book Stanley describes it, after each man had walked through the path and now stood facing each other.) Then the priest came forward with a cup of wine, made an incision in the young black prince's wrist, and let the blood drip into the wine. He then cut an incision in the wrist of the young Englishman, and let his blood drip into the wine.

The wine was stirred and the bloods were mixed.

The priest handed the cup to the Englishman and he drank part of it and then handed the cup to the black prince and he drank the rest of it.

Next, they rubbed their wrists together so that their bloods mingled.

Now they had become blood brothers.

These two men were only substitutes, but they had bound Stanley and the chieftain, Stanley's men and the chieftain's soldiers into a blood brotherhood that was indissoluble.

Then gun-power was rubbed into the wound, so that when it healed there would be a black mark to indicate that they were covenant men.

The next step of the ceremony was the planting of trees, trees that were known for their long life.

After the planting of the trees the chieftain stepped forward and told his people "Come trade with Stanley, for he is our blood brother!".

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