Summary: In the New Covenant, God the Son continues to live and appears forever as our priestly intercessor, mediating the love of God to us through the Holy Spirit.
COVENANT Hebrews 8__1-10
The Hebrew word berith is translated covenant in the English Bible. Berith appears 227 times in the Old Testament and means confederacy, league, or covenant. (1)
A particularly graphic use of the term in Genesis chapter 15 shows clearly all the elements of making a covenant and drives home to us why the concept of covenant was of critical importance to Father Abraham and his children. The Sovereign Lord appeared to Abram in a vision. Abram complained to God, “You have given me no children.” The Lord promised he would have children as numerous as the stars. Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord promised the land would belong to Abraham and his children. Abram responded, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
Then the Lord directed Abraham to bring a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.
Abraham understood what was to be done; he slaughtered the animals, cut the carcasses in half and arranged the halves opposite of each other. He understood, because he understood the manner in which solemn agreements, covenants were made in the culture of his time.
“As the sun was setting, Abram fell in to a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a strange country. . . .afterward they will come out with great possessions. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the the great river, the Euphrates.” The opening line to Abram in this vision is “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.” (2)
This vision of Abraham’s, from Genesis 15, tells us exactly how ancient covenants were made. The passing between the parts of the slaughtered animal was a ritual that accompanied the making of covenants at the time of Abraham. The literal meaning of the word berith contains that action.
“Berith has the sense of cutting; a compact made by passing between pieces of flesh - a confederacy, covenant, league.” (3)
The NIV Bible describes major types of royal covenants/treaties in the ancient near East.
“Suzerain-Vassal: A covenant regulating the relationship between a great king and one of his subject kings. The great king claimed absolute right of sovereignty, demanded total loyalty and service (the vassal must ‘love’ his suzerain) and pledged protection of the subject’s realm and dynasty, conditional on the vassal’s faithfulness and loyalty to him. The vassal pledged absolute loyalty to his suzerain, whatever service his suzerain demanded, and exclusive reliance on the suzerain’s protection. Participants called each other ‘Lord’ and ‘servant’ or ‘father’ and ‘son.’ (Ezekiel 17:13-18; Hosea 12:1)” (4)
A Greek word that carries similar meaning to berith is the term diatheke which means
“ . . . a will or testament. . . .and especially to dispose of by will. It denotes an irrevocable decision, which cannot be cancelled by anyone. A prerequisite of its effectiveness before the law is the death of the disposer.” (5)
The term diatheke appears 20 times in the New Testament. It is a derivative of the word diatitemai that means to dispose of by assignment, compact or bequest. Hence diatheke is a contract, especially a will, or a covenant as it is translated into English. (6)
Eleven of the 20 New Testament appearances of the term diatheke is in the Book of Hebrews, beginning at chapter 8 verse 6.
“But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.(7)
To Noah the Lord said, AI am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female to keep them alive with you.” (7)
Through the pen of Malachi, God wrote,
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. (8)
We do not know exactly how many hundreds of years passed between the days of Noah and the writing of Malachi, but we do know that throughout that entire period the culture in which Israel and Judah was nourished placed great value on the idea of a covenant relationship with God that brought unity with God, assured his protection and steadfast love for those who were parties to the covenant.